Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blood of Angels by Reed Arvin

I chose this book because Booklist Magazine listed it as one of the best crime fiction books of 2005. It is a legal thriller with some great twists. Thomas Dennehy is an assistant district attorney for Davidson County, Tennessee. He is contacted when a convicted criminal claims to have committed a murder that he already prosecuted. The person he prosecuted, Wilson Owens, has already been executed. And so the drama begins. Arvin is excellent at keeping the tension tight. This was a book I literally could not put down during a snowy day off. Great fun!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Beating the Paycheck to Paycheck Blues

by John Ventura

Citing real life case studies and stories, Ventura gives realistic ways to help the average person get out of debt and start saving, even on a modest income. Important tips include creating a spending plan, making cuts in your spending (like quit smoking), shopping at discount stores, etc. Ventura also gives advice on how to make more money at your job by going back to school for an advanced degree, changing jobs to a higher paying career, or making extra money by selling products on the side, like Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, or Candles. Ventura also emphasizes keeping track of your credit and your credit report. He gives ways to make your score higher, and gives warning signs when you might be heading for financial trouble. I thought the insights were fair and not overly unrealistic.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want

I don't read self-help books very often, because usually I feel that the advice in them is either too general or it doesn't apply to me. But I was intrigued by this one, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, because I had seen her quoted in several articles in women's magazines. She seemed to know what she was talking about, both happiness-wise and science-wise. I figured even if I didn't need to be happier (I'm generally a happy person), I would be interested in the research studies she conducted. I was right--it was a fascinating book, clearly written and easy to understand, and many studies were cited to back up the writing. Lyubomirsky also gives us "happiness strategies," but she stresses that not all of them might be a good fit. For example, one person might be most comfortable with "Giving Thanks," whereas someone else might like "Setting Goals." While I read, I agreed--there were particular strategies that I'd like to employ, but others I'm already doing on a constant basis, or they weren't my style. I loved how the book was custom-made to fit readers' individual personalities. Overall, I have to recommend this book, especially if you are feeling down in the dumps. I wasn't feeling well the day I read it, so it was nice to have a mental pick-me-up. I may have been coughing and feverish, but I was definitely feeling happy!


This novel by Edward Bloor is classified in the young adult section, but that's nothing new for me--there is so much great fiction out there for this age group, and they're usually fast, enjoyable reads, so I read a lot of them. I actually read about it in Unshelved, which is a comic strip about a library. Every Sunday they do a book review strip in full color. This novel is set in the 2030s, and I love futuristic settings. The main character, Charity, is kidnapped--but that is not an uncommon occurrence in this future. Social classes have become farther and farther apart, after another stock market crash, and the United States has been divided into the very poor and the very rich. Lower-class citizens have created a "kidnapping industry," where they kidnap children of the rich and put them up for a large ransom. Also, many poorer citizens work as servants for the rich. It's a bizarre world, for sure, but Charity is just a regular teenage girl trying to figure out her life. There is a lot of action, as well as flashbacks to tell the back story, and the social implications of the plot are thought-provoking. I recommend it for both young adults and adults.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Marley and Me by John Grogan

Ok, so I'm a dog person. My family are dog people. We say things like "Look at Smithy. Isn't he the cutest?" I know, I know. But there is something about connecting with an animal that is, well, soulful.
Grogan has captured this connection charmingly in "Marley and Me." Marley, a blonde lab, has some issues, some behavior issues. He goes berserk during storms, which south Florida, his early home, has in plenty. He can be very destructive, chewing and scratching things up. He can also be very loving, sensitive and loyal. Marley's life spans the early years of Grogan's marriage, several moves and the birth and early childhood of his three children. He was never an easy dog but always devoted.
I listened to the audiobook nicely narrated by Johnny Heller.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Pact

By Jodi Picoult

The Harts and the Golds have been neighbors for over 20 years; their children, Emily and Chris, have been inseparable since infancy. Emily and Chris' friendship blossoms into romance when they are in their early teens, which both families celebrate. Yet, Emily has a secret, one that she cannot tell her parents or Chris, her best friend and true love. A secret that threatens to destroy her. One terrible night, Emily is killed, in what Chris explains is a suicide pact. With conflicting evidence, Chris is put on trial for murder and the two families are torn apart by the ensuing drama. Suspenseful until the very end, The Pact, is an edge-of-your-seat drama about unconditional love, friendship, and the power of truth. I laughed. I cried. I was amazed and astounded. This is by far the best Jodi Picoult novel I have read yet. A must read!!! If you enjoy this book, join me for the 3rd Monday Book Discussion Group on February 18th at 2pm.

Friday, January 18, 2008


This is a magazine kept back in the teen area. It's easy to overlook because it looks a lot like a catalog or mailing. Inside, though, are all kinds of ideas for projects. Not the most useful projects, mind, but projects that are simply interesting or fun. My favorite examples in issue 8 are plans for a model ornithopter - basically a rubber band-powered balsa airplane that flaps its wings and actually flies, and a "pummer" - a rudimentary robot that does nothing but pulse a tiny LED when its surroundings grow dark. These examples are pretty typical of what's in the magazine; ideas that aren't flashy or filled with the promise of material gain, but instead show off interesting concepts. It's an interesting read for anyone who's ever taken something apart to see how it worked.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Jane Austen Book Club

by Karen Joy Fowler

I read this book for the Ladies' Night Book Group, which meets this Thursday, Jan 17, at 7pm. I starting reading it, but because of the multitude of characters, I chose to listen to it on audioCD instead, hoping the narrator's voices would help me connect each character.

The story is about a group of women, and one man, who form the Jane Austen Book Club to discuss their favorite author. The chapters are divided into parts containing one Jane Austen novel discussed at one of the main character's house. If you have not read Jane Austen, have no fear. The story is about the character's themselves and their stories, how they came together, which turns out to be an eclectic bunch.

For starters, you have Jocelyn who is a older, single, breeder of Australian Ridgebacks. Sylvia, who was Jocelyn's best friend growing up, and going through a divorce with her husband of 30 years. Allegra, her lesbian daughter who is going through a separation from her girlfriend. Prudy, a high school french teacher who has never been to Paris. Bernadette, the eccentric thrice married woman who love to tell stories about her husbands. And Greg, a Sci-Fi fan who met Jocelyn at a hotel that was hosting a dog show and a sci-fi convention at the same time.

It is fun and fascinating to peek into the world of an intimate book club, who are so much more than Jane Austen fans. Fowler does a wonderful job at capturing the complexity of interpersonal relationships among men and women. For some, the point of view, which is first person plural as in "We couldn't believe Greg hadn't read Pride and Prejudice," can be a little disconcerting but I was able to overlook it and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

This movie was also released in theatres recently, though I have not seen it. Wait for it on DVD!

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Indian Bride by Karin Fossum

This is the most recent book in the Norwegiian series with Inspector Sejer. A lonely middle aged man goes to India to find a bride and actually falls in love with a waitress working in a restaurant near his hotel. They get married and he returns to Norway. She is to follow when she takes care of details at home. On the day of her arrival, he can't pick her up because his sister is in a near fatal car crash. This is how the novel begins. Fossum writes a great psychological mystery. The characters are dark and complex. I've loved the whole series but this one ends ambigiously and I'd love to discuss the ending with somebody.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Jack of Hearts

This is the second collection in Bill Willingham's series about Jack of fables; you know, the giant killer, the frost guy, he who jumps over candle sticks, etc., etc. (what, you thought they were different Jacks?). It's a spinoff from Willingham's excellent Fables series, and is equally good.
Jack is an unlikely hero. He's a cheat, a liar, a supernaturally charming creature driven solely by the id aspect of personality. It just so happens that his goals often mesh with doing the morally right thing in a storyline. At least in the end. That tension is funny and telling, not just about Jack but about those he encounters.
I've written before that Willingham's work is among the best in graphic novels, and this most recent installment is no different there.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Water for Elephants

Sara Gruen's circus book has been a bestseller since the moment it was released. A library customer came in raving about it, saying it was the best book she'd read in a long time--she told me I had to take it home immediately. And I was definitely curious to see what the buzz was about. This is the story of Jacob Jankowski, a young veterinary student who runs away with the circus after his parents die in an accident. The story is full of pomp and circumstance, major drama and huge, traumatic plot events. I found it a little over-the-top at times (pun intended), but I was riveted throughout. I agree that it's a fantastic novel, as well as an excellent book discussion read.

Gods Behaving Badly

This novel by Marie Phillips is a light, fun treat for the intellectual set. It was just what I needed to relieve a drought of boredom with the usual chick lit fare. What would happen if the classical gods from ancient Greece were still alive today? Phillips' vision of this possibility is fanciful and funny.