22. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, NonFiction, True Crime

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French, 260 pages, read by Angie, on 06/21/2012

Its 1937 in Peking, Japan is closing in and tensions are high. Peking is still relatively safe however. It is a mix of native Chinese, white Russian emigrants, and Europeans. On gray morning the body of a young, white girl is found mutilated at the base of Fox Tower. It is a grisly murder and shocks Peking. Her name is Pamela Warner and this book is the story of her murder and its investigation.

The Peking police and the European police investigate the murder but they are hampered at every turn. They are stonewalled by the British authorities and certain leads are never fully investigated. Politics in Peking are a tricky thing and no one wants to lose face. Pamela’s father, ETC Werner is also problematic. He is a former diplomat who does not have the best reputation with the authorities. The police close the case without ever charging anyone or really coming up with any viable suspects. This doesn’t stop Werner from launching his own investigation into his daughters murder. He uses his own money and investigators and uncovers a seedy underworld of sex and violence against young white women. The perpetrators are upper class Europeans and white Russians. Even with all the evidence he collects Werner is never able to get the British or Chinese or any government to properly investigate Pamela’s murder. It remains unsolved today though Werner’s theories appear to be the correct ones.

Fascinating story full of intrigue and corruption and dangerous elements. Because this is a factual account pulled from the actual historical documents there is a lot of information to digest in this book. French definitely tries to do justice to this story and by the end I think he has. He pieced together a lot of information to really create a truly accurate picture of what events were like a that time. He really shows the people involved and the climate of the times. Peking is on the verge of war and the writing shows this.

I think the real strength of this book is the end once we get into Werner’s investigation. Things pick up and a lot is revealed. The first part of the book (the official investigation) was a little dry for my tastes. There are a LOT of facts about the people, the times and Peking thrust into the first half of the book. I am not sure all of them were necessary for the story French was trying to tell. I am sure they were all completely accurate and information he uncovered during his research, but I don’t think you necessarily have to put everything you find out in the book…maybe put it in the back as notes. A lot of the background information pulled me away from the narrative of the investigation so that the first half of the book didn’t seem to flow very well. The second half doesn’t have that problem because there isn’t the background info dump of the first half; so it was a lot easier to read. I enjoy a narrative book a lot more than information dumping; however, I did think this was an interesting look into a historical story. I was fascinated by the coverup and the stonewalling by the various governments. And I do think Werner and French’s theories on Pamela’s final hours are probably correct; they just make sense. Too bad the authorities never brought anyone to justice for her murder.

22. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Mystery, Tracy

Death Without Company by Craig Johnson, 271 pages, read by Tracy, on 06/21/2012

There is a new western on TV called Longmire. After watching it I discovered it was based on the mysteries written by Craig Johnson. Walt Longmire is the sheriff in the town of Durant Wyoming where in the winter “you needed to know where to park your car so you could find it in the morning”  His job is his life but he does stop and appreciate the beauty of the Wyoming landscape. When the former sheriff asks him to investigate the possible murder of a former lover Longmire is skeptical but when members of her family are assaulted he has no choice. Walt is fortunate to have many friends and fellow law enforcement officers to help him solve the mystery. The only difference I could see between the show and the book is the show doesn’t have his Dog with him. I enjoyed both.

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 06/20/2012

Mr. Terupt is a new teacher for the 6th grade class. Is his class excited? Not really. He has a new way of doing things and they aren’t really looking forward to breaking in a new teacher. We get to hear all about it from each of the students throughout out the book in alternating chapters. The students reveal what’s going on among their friends, at home, at school and with themselves all set against the backdrop of Mr. Terupt’s classroom. The kids learn about themselves, they learn to be strong, who they are and who they are going to become. They learn to think for themselves and to stand up for what is right and for each other.

I thought this was a wonderful book. I loved the alternating narrators; I thought that really gave the book a unique and full voice. Each of the kids had their own voice and characteristics and it was very easy to keep them straight. They all seemed like real kids with real problems too. They faced things that I think kids reading the book can identify with. I can’t wait for the next book by Mr. Buyea.

I liked the idea of the kids in this book learning by doing instead of being taught. There are some great projects in this class; projects that would definitely make school more interesting and fun. However, I do think it makes for an interesting discussion on whether the kids are given too much freedom too soon and whether Mr. Terupt should have stepped in to control some of their antics. Would that have averted tragedy? We will never know but it makes for great discussions. I feel like all the kids learn about themselves and each other in this book and they all become just a little bit better because of Mr. Terupt. Such a great lesson and a great read.

This is a 2012-13 Missouri Mark Twain Award Nominee.

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Andrea, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Teen Books

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour, 307 pages, read by Andrea, on 06/20/2012

Based on the cover, I thought this book looked like a good summery, fun-in-the-sun kind of book. Completely wrong. The book’s timeline basically covers a group of friends’s week long road trip together after high school graduation before they all have to face the grownup world.The Disenchantments are a three-girl band (Bev, Meg, and Alexa) that pretty much stinks and their roadie/bodyguard/transportation Colby. The band was the brain child of Bev, stemming from a crazy idea she came up with their first year of high school. Sadly since they have all just graduated, (except Alexa, who is one year behind them) and they don’t have much time left together before they have to move Meg in to her new college dorm.

Colby and Bev have been best friends that go way back and he believes he has life after high school all figured out. The Disenchantments’s “farewell tour,” and then a year long trip to Europe with Bev, a trip they’ve been planning out and saving up for for years. However, just miles after the tour has started, Bev announces her decision to go to college. She applied and was accepted, and now Colby is faced with the terror of not knowing what he is going to do with his life now that he is out of high school. Everyone he knows has a plan but him.

I liked this book because it reminded me of how great it felt the summer right after high school graduation. Like the book, it is full of possibility and promises, saying goodbye to people you know and saying hello to those you have yet to know, and making tough decisions to show that you are on your way to being an adult.

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: , ,

Just My Type: A Book about Fonts by Simon Garfield, 356 pages, read by Tammy, on 06/17/2012

Think those are just letters you are reading. Think again. Simon Garfield takes us through the history of different type styles and tells the story of the most common and popular. How type is an artistic medium in it’s own right and can cover meaning and emotion all on it’s own. He also explores the lives of the original typographers the legibility of highway signs and hidden messages in presidential campaign fonts. You’ll never look at text and all of those font style choices the same again.

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Business, NonFiction, Tammy · Tags:

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin, 145 pages, read by Tammy, on 06/02/2012

I’ll admit it I picked this book up because of the purple Holstein pattern on the book and then checked it out for the title.

It’s an interesting read for those concerned with business, marketing and reaching new customers. I think it could give you some good ideas for a business or for a non-profit and even a library. I think it’s main message is we can’t just keep doing everything the same and still stay vital and important to our community and customer base. We need to keep striving to improve, be memorable and provide excellent service.

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tammy · Tags:

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas, 305 pages, read by Tammy, on 06/03/2012

Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors. Her characters always come to life for me and I can see the landscape they are living in.

This story is about how the lives of a farm family and their rural Colorado community are affected by the government building an internment camp for Japanese American citizen during WWII right outside their town in an area known as Tallgrass by the locals. After a young girl is killed all suspicions turn on the “foreigners” at the camp. The teenage narrator, Rennie, struggles with her own thoughts of what is right versus her own fears and suspicions. Dallas describes the countryside and the emotional workings of a family that ring true to life and take you back in time to the 1940s.

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: NonFiction, Science, Tammy · Tags:

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson, 250 pages, read by Tammy, on 06/12/2012

Winner of the National Book Award in 1952 this non-fiction book about all the water on planet Earth and how it affects all life and how we affect it holds up surprisingly well. Well written and smooth flowing though it is full of science facts and terms. This book will make you care about the seas, the oceans and all of the water cycle and why corporate and city pollution do matter.

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Tammy · Tags:

Jingo by Terry Pratchett, 464 pages, read by Tammy, on 06/15/2012

Vol. 21 of Discworld. It isn’t much of an island that rises up one moonless night from the depths of the Circle Sea — just a few square miles of silt and some old ruins. Unfortunately, the historically disputed lump of land called Leshp is once again floating directly between Ankh-Morpork and the city of Al-Khali on the coast of Klatch — which is spark enough to ignite that glorious international pastime called “war.” Pressed into patriotic service, Commander Sam Vimes thinks he should be leading his loyal watchmen, female watchdwarf, and lady werewolf into battle against local malefactors rather than against uncomfortably well-armed strangers in the Klatchian desert. But war is, after all, simply the greatest of all crimes — and it’s Sir Samuel’s sworn duty to seek out criminal masterminds wherever they may be hiding … and lock them away before they can do any real damage. Even the ones on his own side. Satire of war over a tiny bit of land and national pride. Also of the practice of training and arming the very same countries that become your enemy. If only this solution at the end could work in the real world

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: NonFiction, Science, Tammy · Tags:

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 378 pages, read by Tammy, on 06/16/2012

Haunting, well written text on the damage done by pesticides to the land and water well all depend upon for everyday life. First written as 3 articles in The New Yorker in 1962 Rachel Carson shows her expertise not only as a marine biologist but also as a lyrical writer. She draws you in. She is credited with starting the environmental movement mainly from discussions that arose from this book. Even though it was written 50 years ago her concern for the environment and the responsibility we all have to take for how we affect it is still relevant today. I did not know before reading this book the there was a classic environmental book but this is it; deserving the title both as a work of science and a literary work.

20. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel, 304 pages, read by Angie, on 06/19/2012

This is an amazing prequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It tells the story of Victor Frankenstein as a teenager. Victor lives in Chateau Frankenstein with his twin brother Konrad and his distant cousin Elizabeth. They have an idyllic life until Konrad falls ill with a mysterious disease of the blood. This sets Victor on the path of finding a the Elixir of Life. He discovers a passion and talent for alchemy and delves deeper into the Dark Library they discovered in the Chateau.

Victor and Konrad are twins but they couldn’t be more different. Victor is the dark to Konrad’s light. Where everything comes easy to Konrad Victor struggles. While there is no doubt that Victor loves his brother he is also jealous of him. This jealousy comes out in regards to Elizabeth. Konrad and Elizabeth are in love, but Victor is also in love with Elizabeth. He tries to convince her of his affections at every turn. She is innocent and religious compared to the dark and scientific-minded Victor, but she also has a wild and animal side that comes out on their adventures.

And their adventures are grand in this book. The quest for the Elixir of Life is fraught with danger. They have midnight quests through dangerous forests; they explore deep underground in flooded caves, and the final ingredient almost costs them their lives.

This book pays homage to Mary Shelley’s book and does a great job of tying the two books together. It has been a while since I read Frankenstein but I think Shelley would be fine with Oppel’s interpretation of Victor’s childhood and introduction into alchemy. It is a very real descent into the world of dark magics and alchemy and his motivations are clear. But we also see his passion and ambition that sets him on the path to Frankenstein. Very interesting book and definitely one I would recommend.

20. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Tracy, Travel

Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson, 324 pages, read by Tracy, on 06/20/2012

Bill Bryson is a popular travel writer who lived in Britain for two decades. He wrote this book before moving back to the USA. Anyone who has been to England can relate to this book and it might make you homesick. Or you might want to hop on a plane and visit. The villages and the people are all delightfully funny and are heard to say “I’m terribly sorry but” a lot. He includes a glossary of terms like: “lay-by Parking area beside a highway, often used as a depository for unwanted mattresses and other household rubbish”. I really enjoyed this book and have my own copy.

19. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Andrea, Contemporary Fiction, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

The Silenced by James DeVita, 495 pages, read by Andrea, on 06/19/2012

16-year-old Marena is stuck in a world most teens would consider a bad dream. Ruled by a totalitarian style government, the country she lives in and its people have been beaten down mentally and physically to protect the government’s ideals. Revolutionaries are snuffed out or reprimanded quickly. Marena, whose mother dared to speak out against the atrocities of the government gives her life for the rebellion’s cause. Similar to her mother, Marena and two of her friends decide to form the White Rose, a secret effort to crush the government.

I found it very interesting that the story was based loosely on the life of Sophie Scholl and a small group of German students who formed the White Rose resistance group against the Nazi regime during WWII. The Silenced makes you think about what you would do if you knew something was wrong. Would you have the courage to stand up for what is right even if no one else was willing to take a stand with you because it meant death? This book made me think about the past governments in various countries’ history and how they failed and if maybe they might be tried again just to see if it would work.

19. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Mystery

Richard Castle's Deadly storm. A Derrick Storm Mystery by Brian Michael Bendis, 112 pages, read by Brian, on 06/16/2012

Who doesn’t like the ABC Monday night television show, Castle?  Ok…some guy in Wisconsin doesn’t like it but he doesn’t have television, so we don’t care.  Castle is a writer who teams up with a New York detective to solve crimes, then writes novels from the ideas he gets from solving crimes.  This graphic novel adaptation has everything; red herrings, sexual tensions, cheesy lines, larger then life bad guys everything you would expect from Castle.  Story is good but not great and the artwork is fine but again, not great.  A quick so sit down under a tree and enjoy yourself some Castle.

18. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Last Dragon by Jane Yolen, 142 pages, read by Brian, on 06/16/2012

Take a dragon, a hero who is a liar, the mentor that is a girl and you have a fantastic graphic novel.  Two hundred years ago dragons were banished from the islands of May and now that last dragon is back to bring a world of hurt to those who stand in its way.  Jane Yolen is a gifted storyteller.  The prose is poetry and a treat to read. Rebecca Guay did the art work which is amazing in it’s own right. The story is simple, entertaining and predictable but because of the prose and art work it is a joy to read.

18. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever by Chris Roberson, 160 pages, read by Brian, on 06/15/2012

Cinderella: Fables are Forever is another installment of the World’s greatest spy, Cinderella.  This time our femme fatale is battling the deadly assassin, Silver Slipper, to regain control of her life.  Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, is after Cinderella and chase gets deadlier when Dorothy enlists her friends from Russian fables.  Unlike a Disney preview, I will not tell you the whole story.

If you have never read the Fables series, give it a try.  The characters are from well known fables that are transformed into the modern day world.  I like the Cinderella character because she has all the makings of an excellent spy and makes you feel ward and cuddly too.

18. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, Fiction · Tags:

I Am a Pole (And So Can You) by Stephen Colbert, 32 pages, read by Brian, on 06/17/2012

Stephen Colbert has written a warm, touching and sarcastic book about a pole trying to find the right profession.  You will laugh, cry and it may become a part of you if you are not careful.  I loved the book and I salute thee, Stephen for making me chuckle.

18. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Andrea, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal, Thriller/Suspense

House of Dark Shadows (Dreamhouse Kings, #1) by Robert Liparulo, 295 pages, read by Andrea, on 06/15/2012

The first book of the Dreamhouse Kings series, House of Dark Shadows was one of those creepy books that makes one a little bit jumpy – especially while reading at night or while no one else is around. The characters and the creepy situations they are made to face throughout the book reminded me of the Goosebumps thriller series from the 90’s, but only for a more mature reader. The series centers on the King family who moves into a house that seems to have portals that lead to different time periods and places throughout the world. Unfortunately for them the portals seem to have let someone in who seems to be quite a threat to the family considering he has taken Mrs. King with him into another portal. Seems exciting and will continue to read the next book in the series to see what happens to the King family next.

18. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Mystery

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, 256 pages, read by Angie, on 06/17/2012

Mo (short for Moses) lives with the Colonel and Miss Lana and is very lucky. She washed up during a hurricane when she was a baby and was discovered by the Colonel. Mo has her best friend Dale and the Cafe her family runs in Tupelo Landing, NC and life is pretty good. That is until a lawman comes to town and Mr. Jesse ends up murdered. Suddenly Dale is a suspect, the Colonel and Lana are missing and Mo has to solve the mystery or what is happening around her.

This was a delightful story. Mo is a wonderful small town girl with a lot of gumption. I loved her and Dale as the Desperado Detectives trying to solve the murder in town. The mystery is a good one; you have murder, kidnapping, bank robbery, amnesia. Sounds like a lot, but it does work and Turnage ties it all together nicely. The only thing that doesn’t get solved is who Mo really is, but we don’t really need to know that. She discovers that she doesn’t need to know who her Upstream Mother is. She has a mother and father and family right where she is.

Is this book over the top? Yes! The author takes Southern to a whole ‘nother level. The names are ridiculous and so are the characters at times. But does it take away from the book? Not really. You get used to it after a few chapters and it just becomes part of the story.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher at PLA 2012. Thank you!

18. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, 313 pages, read by Angie, on 06/15/2012

Auggie Pullman has been homeschooled his entire life, but he is now going to be going to fifth grade at Beecher Prep. Auggie is not like the other new kids at school; sure he is smart, he wears the same kinds of clothes, and he likes the same kinds of things as the other kids, but Auggie looks different. Auggie has had over 20 operations on his face to make it more “normal” but it is never going to look like the other kids. He has been called freak, freddy kruger, told his face has melted and lots of other mean things. Will he ever make friends at school? will he ever have a normal life?

Auggie pulls at your heartstrings. His story is touching, heart-warming, sad, joyful, makes you want to cry; I could go on and on. He is such a little trooper through everything he goes through in this book. You can imagine the horror he has to face every day just trying to fit into a world that doesn’t accept him. I think this is a good story about bullying and seeing the good in others and accepting people for who they are not what they look like. The book has a great message.

The book is told not just through Auggie’s voice but through the voices of those around him. We hear from his sister, his friends, her friends, etc. Some of these work better than others and some seem pointless, but they all show what life is like around Auggie. It is not easy for anyone.

I guess my one nitpick of this story is that it is almost to simplified. This is almost a fairytale version of what someone in Auggie’s situation would go through. We do see the hardship and the bullying, but then things turn around and he has his happily ever after kind of moment. Doesn’t make it a bad book (because it isn’t); I just think it simplified things way down. Still the book is a delight to read and I would definitely recommend it.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher at PLA 2012. Thank you!