Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Reviews: Goodness Gracious Green & The Glory of Green

Author: Judy Christie
Title: The Glory of Green, Goodness Gracious Green, 
Description: Books 2 and 3 in the Green series, set in rural Louisiana. Lois has determined to keep the paper and stay in Green, but the good ol’ boy brothers who sold her the paper are experiencing sellers’ remorse and have filed suit to get the paper back. Meanwhile, mysterious fires at the paper are causing damage and frightening the staff.  In book three, a wedding opens the book, but a tornado hits Green during the reception, causing death and destruction and unsettling the town for months afterward. Lois and the News-Item staff rally to keep their town alive.
Review source: ALA
Plot: Small-town life.
Characters: The characters continue from the previous book. Many of Lois’ co-workers at the newspaper have small subplots of their own, and Lois becomes aware of the needs of the local migrant community.  
Writing style: Folksy.
Audience: Christian chick-lit.
Wrap-up: I’m enjoying this series and reading about Lois’ growth as a Christian. Book three has been my favorite in the series so far. Both books 3/5*

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: Cry, the Beloved Country

Author: Alan Paton
Title: Cry, the Beloved Country
Description: An old priest from rural South Africa goes to Johannesburg to find his sister and his son, with whom he has lost touch. Transplanted from their rural lives, they have succumbed to bad company, temptation, and poverty. While the sister agrees to return to their small village to raise her son, the priest’s son, Absalom, has suffered a different and heartbreaking fate. Meanwhile, a rich white landowner finds that his son has been murdered in a burglary gone bad.
Review source: This was a book group selection.
Plot: I pretty well described the plot above, but the plot is barely important compared to the characters and the writing.
Characters: Stephen Kumalo and uJarvis, Absalom and Arthur, are white and black, young and old, poor and rich. They are both richly drawn characters and representations of South African people.
Writing style: This book is literally beautiful. It’s just poetry.
Audience: everyone.
Wrap-up: One good thing about the book group is that it gets me to read some classics that I should have read by now, but just haven’t, somehow. This book surpassed its reputation and all of my expectations; it was lovely, and it broke my heart. 5/5*

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: The Lincoln Conspiracy

Author: Timothy O’Brien
Title: The Lincoln Conspiracy
Description: Washington D.C. police detective Temple McFadden happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time; he sees a man murdered and ends up with a couple of documents that two powerful, clever, and possibly lethal men want really bad. Lincoln has just been assassinated, and Booth shot, but the Capitol is still buzzing with the aftermath of the crime and the challenges of reforming a nation after the Civil War. When the documents appear to have information about Lincoln’s assassination, McFadden decides to keep them and try to discover why people are so eager to get them.
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Plot: I love how O’Brien brought in actual historical characters; the research here seemed meticulous and the characters interact with “real people” in an entirely believable way (check out the story of Elizabeth Keckley).  There are plenty of plot twists; it took me awhile to figure out what was actually going on, but O’Brien ties it all together by the end.
Characters: The characters are probably the reason I enjoyed this book so much. I loved the main character and his wife and their friend Augustus; McFadden seems to have devoted friends all over Washington, and they all add color to the story.
Writing style: O’Brien keeps the plot moving but doesn’t neglect character or historical detail to do it.
Audience: Mystery fans, Lincoln buffs, those who like historical fiction.
Wrap-up: You can probably tell I like this book an awful lot. I would read any books in this series that O’Brien writes in the future.  5/5*

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review: Perfume

Author: Patrick Suskind
Title: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Description: Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in eighteenth-century France with two unusual traits. First, he has no scent (this leads all of his foster mothers to reject him); second, he has the best sense of smell in history. He can smell anything , anyone; he remembers every smell; he desires to create new scents and perfumes and learns everything he can about them. Unfortunately, this, combined with his lack of human emotions, leads him to take, well, rather extreme steps to collect scents that he covets.
Plot: This isn’t a mystery, nor is it a thriller. The best I can describe it would be that it is the book that results when the author asks himself, “What if there were a person who cared only about what he smelled?”
Characters: All of the major characters in the book are repulsive. Grenouille himself does not seem human.
Writing style: What I really enjoyed about this book was the description of smells of all sorts. In this way, it seemed to do for smells what Ann Patchett does for music in Bel Canto.  In other words, sometimes an author can write about one specific thing in a way that seems revelatory to me, and that’s what Suskind does here. Also, I was really interested in the details about perfume creation in the eighteenth century.
Audience: Literary fiction.
Wrap-up: I was riveted by this book for the writing, not for the characters, which is usually the case with me. 4/5*

Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Review: Witches (YA)

Author: Rosalyn Schanzer
Title: Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem
Description: A nonfiction account of the Salem witch trials, written for grades 6-10.
Source: ALA
Writing style: Documentary, and incorporating primary source material from time to time. There are some accounts of torture and stories of supposed devil-worship that might bother some kids (or their parents).
Major ideas: The author speculates about what might have caused the witch hunts, but she does not go out on a limb to assert any radical theories. She tells the story chronologically and points out—rather subtly—the opportunities that people had to make moral choices and the outcomes of those choices.
Wrap-up: This was an engaging tale of a truly horrifying period in America’s history. I should also mention the scratchboard illustrations, which I thought lent some sophistication to the book. 3/5* (just because I’m not the target audience)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Book Review: Orwell's Luck (YA)

Author:  Richard Jennings
Title: Orwell’s Luck
Description: The narrator (we never learn her name) finds a partially paralyzed rabbit on the morning paper on New Year’s morning, and determines to care for him until he is healed. This rabbit appears to have some special qualities, however. He may be communicating with her via the daily horoscopes.
Review source: ALA
Plot: Pretty cute. Will the rabbit send a message? Will the rabbit survive?
Characters: Orwell, the rabbit, is significantly the only character in the book who actually has a name. Everyone else has a role: the mom, the dad, the sister, the cat, the dog, the neighbors.
Writing style: Ostensibly narrated by a twelve year-old girl, this narrator is extremely well-spoken with a wide vocabulary. She is also thoughtful, entertaining plans at various points in the narrative to be a detective, a veterinarian, and a philosopher.
Audience: I’d estimate 5th – 9th grades. It was a one-hour read for me, and I enjoyed it.
Wrap-up: Pick it up if you enjoy clever, thoughtful YA lit, or if you have a middle-schooler who loves animals, reading, or both. 4/5*

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Some of my Favorite Nonfiction

Today I’d like to highlight some of my favorite types of nonfiction. I mentioned one of my favorite nonfiction genres last time: booksabout competition.  They aren’t the only type of nonfiction I enjoy, though. I’ve also mentioned here some of my favorite Christian authors, and they often write in another genre that I enjoy, the spiritual memoir. Here I would mention Traveling Mercies and Girl Meets God as highlights.

I also enjoy reading accounts of travel, especially the sort of “western everyman set down in Asia” type of book typified by a title like Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan  by Bruce Feiler.  Another subgenre of travel books I love are trail books; the king of them all is Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and I’m really looking forward to reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Being a trivia buff, I also enjoy reading books about trivia. A. J. Jacobs did a good job with The Know-it-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. (I’ve enjoyed his other books as well). In a similar vein are the books where someone tries something unusual and writes about it: Supersize Me (Morgan  Spurlock), Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich), Pledged, etc.

I’m looking forward to reading more nonfiction—let me know if you have any titles you think I’d love!