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Monday, August 22, 2011

Leverage by Joshua Cohen

Reason Read: It was available at the library
Method Read: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult (Gr. 10+)

Confession -- sometimes I read a book based on what is available at the library, especially if I need an audiobook in order to have a book going when I am quilting or stripping wallpaper (both of which I been doing the last 5 days). Because the public library digital collection has become so popular, it is often difficult to find exactly what I want when I want it so I put a bunch of books on hold and check my email in hopes that something I wanted has become available. I rarely remember the names of the books or the reason I chose it, but unless it is a real dog, I go ahead and listen to it.

My most recent choice, Leverage by Joshua Cohen, was touted at being part Friday Night Lights and part The Chocolate War -- an interesting combination that I was anxious to try.

Wow! Was I ever blown away! This is the author's first published book. His website explains that it was taken out of a "slush pile" (a pile that all unsolicited manuscripts are placed in when sent to publisher's offices) and published. (almost unheard of!)

I am always looking for guy reads that appeal to high school boys and this one definitely fits the bill.

It is the story of a high school that has an outstanding football team with players being recruited to Division IA college teams. The team has just been allowed to purchase a "jumbotron" for the field to the financial detriment of all other athletic teams at the school. The main character, Danny, competes on the gymnastics team, and after a brilliant idea by his coach to invade the football team's weight room to work  out, Danny and his teammates become the victims of payback by the 3 captains of football team. After several back and forth incidents of revenge between the gymnasts and football players, the football players decide that they are going to have the last word and commit the most heinous act of revenge on the gymnasts imaginable.

Told in alternating voices, that of Danny the gymnast and a new student Kurt who is an outstanding football player but does not have the same steroid driven anger as the captains. The plot unfolds showing the brutality and fearlessness of bullies to whom the keys to the kingdom have been given.

The language is raw and vulgar -- exactly the way high schoolers speak to one another. The themes are extremely mature and needs a mature reader to handle the sexual overtones.

After reading some of my favorite book message boards, this book is showing up everywhere! It also received a starred review from Booklist, THE premier book review source. I would not be surprised to see it win the coveted Michael Prinz Award for the best Young Adult book of the year.

Grade: A+
Recommend: Yes, with the caveat that the reader is mature enough to handle the language and theme.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Reason Read: Sounded interesting; faculty book club read
Method Read: Nook; iPhone (okay, I have discovered a problem with the Nook -- it runs out of battery life before I do -- thus the need for the iPhone to supplement)
Genre: Medical Fiction

When Cutting for Stone was first proposed as one of the choices for our faculty book club, I was very excited. I had read several reviews of it and it sounded really interesting. What I discovered was a book so good that I simply could not put it down.

The story encompasses the life of twin sons of an Indian nun/nurse and a British doctor who work together in a small mission hospital in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The boys are orphaned at birth and adopted by 2 of the other surgeons from the hospital.

The author of the book, Abraham Verghese, is a doctor and writer having firsthand knowledge of the medical terminology and procedures described in the book. But instead of turning this novel into a 600 page unreadable medical text, he seemlessly integrates the medicine with the prose. In most books involving complicated medical terminology, I tend to skip portions of the text knowing that it won't impede my ability to understand the context of the book. Surprisingly I found myself carefully following the surgical procedures as described because they were so fascinating. (unusual for a science phobe as myself).

Make no mistake -- this is by no means a medical drama in the style of Robin Cook. Verghese uses his knowledge of medicine to create the skeleton -- that which the story is built around. He expertly layers the vital organs of characters and dermis of setting along with the heart of 2 twins briefly conjoined at birth to create a wonderful complex story of 2 people -- mirror images -- very alike yet very different.

The highest complement I can give a book is to compare it to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, a book that is so well written it ruins all others for me. This book is of that caliber and may replace The Kite Runner as my favorite.

Don't be intimidated by its 600 pages -- they will flash by all too quickly and want you leaving more.

Grade -- A++
Recommend? YES

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Reason Read: Interested in topic
Method Read: (don't laugh)Nook app on my iPhone
Genre: Biography

**Starred Review** (when librarians read book reviews, particularly excellent books are considered "starred reviews" -- so with apologies to School Library Journal...)

There are several genres I love to read, one is mystery, one is historical, and one is biographical. Unbroken combines historical and biographical so I couldn't wait to read it.

This is the true story of a man named Louis Zamperini who was and is an extraordinary human being. He began life as a juvenile delinquent and was able, with the help of his older brother, to channel all the energy and mischievousness in the right manner and become a champion runner who competed in the 1936 Olympics, set records at University of Southern California and later survived World War II.

This book chronicles the life of and adventures of Louis Zamperini starting from birth until the present day. (He is still alive at the age of 94!) The author tells us about his early life to set the stage for how this extraordinary man meets and deals with challenges in his life.

As a youngster, Zamperini was incorrigible frequently running away from home, stealing from neighbors, friends and stores and just generally running amok. His older brother, Pete, whom he idolized began to worry as Louis got older and continued to pursue his wanton ways. So he encouraged Louis to take up running track. Louis had always been fast (he had to be to outrun the people he stole from) so agreed to give it a try and was very successful. Running became a life long outlet for Louis to use as a form of physical as well as a mental workout.

After competing in the Olympics and breaking records at USC, he joined the Air Force and was made a bombadier. (My father was in World War II and served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, so I am always fascinated with any story that includes facts about WWII -- especially in the Pacific theater.)

His life took a dramatic turn after being shot down by the Japanese -- a turn that he almost didn't survive.

In later life he met Billy Graham and was changed in a fashion that he never would have expected. It had been a long and windy road from juvenile delinquent to upstanding Christian man.

Laura Hillenbrand (who also wrote Seabiscuit) does an outstanding job relating to the reader a real sense of who Louis Zamperini was and what motivated him. Since Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood, authors have been using real events and people to create books that read like novels instead of dry fact driven tomes, and indeed Hillenbrand has a true gift for this type of writing. What makes her writing that much more notable is that Hillenbrand has a debilitating form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which caused her to spend 2 years confined to her bed during the research and writing of the book which took her a total of 7 years to complete. When interviewed after the publication of the book, Louis Zamperini states that he did not even realize that she was disabled because, even though they never met in person, there was never any indication that she was ill.

I highly recommend this book to everyone.  It was such a compelling read that I could not put it (my iPhone) down!

Grade: A++
Recommend? Yes, yes, yes.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Reason Read: Curiosity, Faculty Book Club, Looked like an easy read
Method Read: Nook
Genre: Humor, Non fiction

I remember Saturday evenings in the 1980's when the kids were little and Kevin and I would listen to Garrison Keillor on the radio do "A Prairie Home Companion". Kevin proudly purchased Lake Wobegon Days for me knowing how much I enjoyed APHC. I eagerly began to read it, but didn't get very far -- I couldn't hear his voice -- that wonderful mellow baritone that drew us in every Saturday night was not there.  It just didn't translate, and that was my fear when I first saw the book Bossypants.

I really like Tina Fey (LOVE Amy Poehler and Kristin Wiig) and recognize that as a woman in comedy she has revolutionized the way we see comedians in the 21st century -- but would I like her book?

Her book was a joy and pure unadulterated fun to read. Her voice translates perfectly into the written word, probably because she has been a writer far longer than an actress.

I found that I began to like her better as a result of reading her book (except for the fact she did her undergrad at UVA). If Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock are a staple in your household as it is in mine (Kevin and Elyse are currently working their way through all 80 episodes of 30 Rock on Netflix) you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Kudos Tina Fey!! I loved Bossypants.

Grade: A+

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Reason Read: Pleasure, Faculty Book Club Choice
Method Read: Audiobook

The Postmistress has everything I like -- it's historical fiction, it takes place in a small New England town, the main characters are strong women, it takes place at the beginning of WWII, however it wasn't the formulaic novel that I had envisioned (and truthfully, desired). That is not to say that I didn't like the novel, I did...I think.

The main characters, a female reporter, a doctor's wife and a female postmaster, find that the rumblings of the war in Europe affect each one of them differently. Though part of it does indeed take place on Cape Cod, a large part of it takes place in London where the female reporter is a war correspondent with Edward R. Murrow. (which the audiobook reader pronounces "mur o" with the emphasis on the second syllable which I have never heard before).

The doctor's wife and female postmaster both live in the same small village where the wife (Emma) has come after her marriage to the young doctor. She knows no one, and has no family, so the female postmaster (NOT "postmistress" as she points out) takes on the task of watching over Emma after her husband runs away to London to join the medical corps. He runs away due to a medical procedure that goes wrong and is unable to face the community. (the young doctor has a lot of baggage that is revealed as the novel progresses)

Okay, this is the part where I am supposed to say all the reasons why it is so well written and how the author did a fine job developing her characters -- all of which are true. But the shallow reader in me thinks that the ending is rather odd and unsatisfying, and that the male characters in the book are largely egocentric, selfish people who leave the women to suffer, and therefore I felt unsettled after I finished reading it.

Overall Grade: B-
Recommend? Yes

About this blog...

Once upon a time there was a librarian who couldn't remember any of the books she reads. Her name is Becky and she (I) is/am the owner of this blog.

On this blog I am going to be posting books I have read and my opinion of them. I have a diverse tastes in books. Some books I feel I must read to keep up with my kids at school, and some I read because they are on the bestseller list and people expect me to read them, some I read for a faculty book club which I am a part, and some I read for pure, unadulterated pleasure.

I am also a passionate quilter, so I listen to many of my books. I will also comment as to the reader of these books because the reader can make or break a book for me.

I also use an eReader. My personal preference is Nook because I can download eBooks from the library.

I will specify which manner I consumed the books -- you see, I feel weird saying "read" because I listen to so many.

I hope you enjoy this blog and participate in it by commenting on books you have read.