Monday, June 29, 2009

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Do you like a little history with your fiction? Or a little fiction with your history? This book might just work for you.

Connie Goodwin has just completed her qualifying exam to enter the dissertation program at Harvard. Rather than spend the summer doing research for her PhD, she moves up to Marblehead, Massachusetts to clean up her grandmother's long-abandoned house. The house turns out to be straight out of the last century, with no electricity, no phone, and rudimentary running water. It's also full of antiques, strange substances in glass jars, and old books, one of which hides a key with a mysterious parchment on it.

Soon Connie is too busy researching the name on the parchment - Deliverance Dane - to devote much time to her studies, much to her advisor's displeasure. She discovers that Deliverance was tried for being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials, and has possibly left behind a book detailing all of her "spells." Throw in a brewing romance, and Connie has her hands full for the summer. When her new friend, Sam, becomes seriously ill, it is up to Connie to discover the whereabouts of Deliverance's book in order to help Sam recover - can she do it in time to save him?

This book has a little bit of everything - history, romance, suspense, magic, etc. I especially enjoyed the historical details of life in the colonies during different eras. If you enjoy reading about Deliverance Dane, give The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff a try, another book that features both contemporary and historical family stories. This book is great for beach reading or settling in for a long day on a lounge chair or hammock. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

Dewey Readmore Books, a shivering, bedraggled tiny orange kitten, found out what good luck and wonderful, kind library staff and patrons were all about. From the first few words of the book, it is almost impossible not to be drawn into this true story of a kitten who fell upon great fortune - good people and a satisfying place to call home: a library - despite an inauspicious introduction to the library and his library friends.

Dewey is more than a story of hardship or of a kitten triumphantly rescued from death’s door on a frigid, icy Iowa morning. Rather this is a story of life, and lives, and how intertwined lives can become. This is a book that reminds us that animals can snuggle their way into our hearts and lives even if we didn’t intend it to happen; they can easily connect with us in ways we never expected.Dewey shared his 18 years with so many in Spencer, IA. He taught many valuable lessons, such as be happy with what you have, and share your unique gifts of love. Dewey speaks to some of the mysteries of life, libraries, and a very special “someone.”A wonderful, easy and pleasant read, of course, for animal lovers, and especially cat lovers.

Thanks to Paula N. for the review!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Liesel Meminger has just watched her little brother die and be buried in a strange town when her mother deposits her with her new foster parents in the small town of Molching, Germany and disappears. Needless to say, Liesel has some trouble adjusting to all the changes in her 9-year-old life, waking up every night in her new home with a nightmare. Luckily, her new Papa, Hans Hubermann, is a gentle, kind man, who takes Liesel under his wing, sitting up with her every night when she has her nightmares, eventually using this time to teach the illiterate child to read. His wife, Rosa, is rough around the edges, and while Liesel grows to love her as well, she is closest to her Papa.

Liesel, the Book Thief, stole her first book at her brother's burial - The Gravedigger's Handbook - when it fell out of the grave digger's pocket. Hans teaches her to read with this book and doesn't ask too many questions when she comes home with other books, but reads them along with her. Words become of utmost importance and comfort in Liesel's life.

Growing up in wartime Germany, Liesel is witness to many acts of cruelty, but also acts of great courage and kindness. Her neighbor, best friend, and co-conspirator, Rudy, is her loyal companion and continuously demonstrates his willingness to to anything for her. Zusak shines the light on the other side of Nazi Germany - not everyone was a goose-stepping monster, there were plenty of good-hearted folks living within the regime.

The tale is narrated by Death himself, who is quite taken by Liesel the first time he meets her, when he collects her brother's soul. Through his telling, occasional asides and foreshadowing, we get to know and love Liesel (and sort of get a kick out of Death.) The writing in this book is absolutely lovely in its imagery, language, and style. Zusak has written an unforgettable book about the Holocaust, about life, about love and friendship, and also about death. Who could resist a book where books are so crucial to the story line? This book is actually marketed towards Young Adults; however, it is a wonderful read for adults and older teens alike. Do yourself a favor, stick with the beginning which can be a little daunting to get into, have the tissues handy, and dive right in to this book. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beach Reads

Are you looking for a good summer read? Here are a few suggestions of books that are not to heavy, perfect for a relaxing day at the beach, in a hammock, or just lounging around the house:

Jennifer Weiner, one of my favorite authors, has a new book coming out in July, Best Friends Forever. If you cannot get your hands on this one in time for your getaway, one of her older titles is always a great choice as well. Good in Bed, the hilarious tale of a plus-sized woman whose ex-boyfriend publicly humiliates her in a magazine column is a great beach read.

Charlaine Harris's "Southern Vampire Series," featuring Sookie Stackhouse, has reached an all new audience with the advent of the "True Blood" television series on HBO. The books (and Sookie) are funny, sexy, and full of the supernatural. The first in the series, Dead Until Dark, was published in 2001.

A book that is receiving plenty of buzz is a memoir called, Perfection, by Julie Metz. After her husband unexpectedly passes away, Metz learns that he has had several affairs over the course of their marriage. Rather than ignore these facts, Metz chooses to confront the women. The knowledge that this is a true story adds to the interest level; however, some early reviews found the book to be very dark and "mean-spirited."

The "Nerd" series by Vicki Lewis Thompson is a fun and sexy choice for the summer. Each book features different characters that have two things in common - they are nerds, and they are sexy. Although this is technically a series, each book can be read on its own, so there is no need to read the books in order.

The Beach House by Jane Green is a wistful tale of an older woman who, out of financial necessity, opens up her Nantucket home to renters. Suddenly, this hermitic widow has people in her life once again, including her son Michael. With her old house now teeming with life, Nan finds herself learning to open herself up once again.

Wendy Wax has a smart new paperback out, titled The Accidental Bestseller. When three professional writers come together to help their floundering friend Kendall write a final book to fulfill her contractual obligations, they decide to publish it anonymously, giving them the freedom to share some pretty shocking secrets in the book. Can they all live up to the scrutiny when the story becomes a surprise bestseller?

Sophie Kinsella veers away from her "Shopaholic" series this summer with Twenties Girl, a tale about twenty-something Lara and the relationship she forges with the ghost of her Great-Aunt Sadie. This is a light mystery, with Sadie pressuring Lara to search for a piece of family jewelry despite the many other things Lara has going on in modern-day London. Also watch for The Wedding Girl, written under Sophie Kinsella's real name - Madeline Wickham.

If none of these books sound appealing to you, give us a call or stop in for further selections - we have too many great reads here, and we're sure to have something for everyone. Hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Moloka'i is the poignant tale of a young girl who is diagnosed with leprosy in the late 1800's, and sent to the leper colony on the island of Moloka'i, in the Hawaiian islands. Rachel Kalama is the baby of her close knit family. Growing up in Honolulu, the world is her playground, until one day an odd wound is discovered on her leg - her mother is able to keep it covered up, and warns the children not to tell anyone about it. One day, Rachel and her sister Sarah get into a knock-down, drag 'em out fight, and Sarah calls Rachel a "dirty leper" during the midst of it. The health inspector is waiting for Rachel when she gets home. She is removed from her family and taken to a hospital for testing, ultimately ending up at the leper colony on Moloka'i, far removed from friends and family.

Due to the extreme toll leprosy seemed to take on the Hawaiian natives and the lack of knowledge of communicable diseases, the Moloka'i settlement was created so that lepers would not be spreading their illness to others. What was not taken into account was the effect this isolation had on the patients' emotional and mental well-being. Despite the fact Rachel's uncle and girlfriend were already living on the island, Rachel had to move into a boarding school for girls, run by nuns. Here, Rachel grows into a young woman, forging relationships with both other patients and nuns that will span a lifetime. The book follows the course of her life - her loves, her losses, her triumphs and her defeats. Despite being banished to a remote island due to her illness, Rachel manages to live a full and satisfying life.

I do not want to give too much away, as I want you to fall in love with Rachel yourself, as I did. She is a strong and incorrigible spirit who fights for what and who she believes in. Despite being handed the equivalent of a death sentence when banished to Moloka'i, Rachel chooses life and love over death and misery. She refuses to be defined by her illness. Not only was Rachel's tale inspiring, the story of Moloka'i - a real place - was also intriguing. This book is a fine work of historical fiction, mixing just the right amount of fact with fiction, and I look forward to reading Brennert's latest, Honolulu.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

There is the excitement of exhilirating action - Denny Swift is a race car driver. It is a family story: Eve and daughter Zoe help to make Denny’s life whole and happy. But it is Enzo, a Labrador-terrier mix who through thick and thin remains steadfastly at Denny’s side and is Denny’s support and cheerleader. Enzo’s perspective drives this story of how to go about this thing called life. Enzo loves everything he is able to experience, learning about racing, life and what it means to be – well, human. His main regret is that he does not have opposable thumbs; and he can’t wait to become a human in his next life, which he surely believes he will become. He tells us of his bursts of insight; he tells us about his tiny gleaned truths.

Though this story is somewhat over the top, still it is a joyous exclamation mark about what it means to be compassionate, loving and able to succeed even in the face of wrenching, heartbreaking loss. It touches on themes of loyalty, faithfulness, hope, and life at its most incongruous. Racing is a metaphor for life and its challenges, turns and jolts and remembering to appreciate the present. All from the perspective of a dog’s eyes. For animal lovers and race driving enthusiasts this is a warm and charming story. It is mostly about how a dog masterfully holds a family together in his unique style.

A wonderful read. Plan to wistfully use your Kleenex. (Review courtesy of Paula N! Thank you!)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

Picoult tackles another tough topic in her latest offering. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe, happily married, are trying to conceive a child. While they already have a daughter, Amelia, from a previous relationship of Charlotte's, they would like nothing more than to add another member to their family. Charlotte seeks out the assistance of her best friend, Piper, who also happens to be an Ob-Gyn. Despite her initial hesitancy, Piper agrees to treat her friend.

During an ultrasound in Charlotte's 27th week of pregnancy, Piper notices something alarming - the baby has multiple broken bones. She immediately refers Charlotte and Sean to a specialist, where they learn that their baby has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI,) or brittle bone disease, and may not even survive the birth experience. They choose to continue the pregnancy, and baby Willow makes it through the birth, developing into a smart - but fragile - little girl.

Through a chain of events that unfold, Charlotte gets it in her head that she would like to sue for wrongful birth, in an effort to gain some financial security for Willow's future. Of course, this will mean that she will be suing her best friend, as well as having to testify that Willow's birth was a mistake. Her decision is controversial, both in the community and within her own family, causing a rift with her husband, as well as contributing to Amelia's already problematic self-loathing.

I won't include any spoilers here, however this book reminded me alot of My Sister's Keeper, also written by Picoult. Handle With Care is told from multiple viewpoints, enabling the reader to get into each character's head and life in order to better comprehend their particular perspective. Each character's voice is as if they are speaking to Willow; yet the reader never hears from Willow herself. Picoult is as masterful as always with her storytelling abilities, and I found it difficult to put this one down. Have some tissues at hand and get ready to fall in love with Willow! If you have not read My Sister's Keeper, I would highly recommend that title as well.