Friday, December 31, 2010

New York: The Novel

My Rating: 5/5
Pages: 860; Speed: Small Print, Not Fast, but Engaging
Subject: Historical Fiction
Winner of the David J. Langum, Sr., Prize in American Historical Fiction
Named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post and “Required Reading” by the New York Post

"Edward Rutherfurd celebrates America’s greatest city in a rich, engrossing saga, weaving together tales of families rich and poor, native-born and immigrant—a cast of fictional and true characters whose fates rise and fall and rise again with the city’s fortunes. From this intimate perspective we see New York’s humble beginnings as a tiny Indian fishing village, the arrival of Dutch and British merchants, the Revolutionary War, the emergence of the city as a great trading and financial center, the convulsions of the Civil War, the excesses of the Gilded Age, the explosion of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the trials of World War II, the near demise of New York in the 1970s and its roaring rebirth in the 1990s, and the attack on the World Trade Center. A stirring mix of battle, romance, family struggles, and personal triumphs, New York: The Novel gloriously captures the search for freedom and opportunity at the heart of our nation’s history" (barnes& Rutherford's extremely readable work makes one almost forget they are learning history, as the reader is wrapped in a generational patchwork of time-appropriate individuals and their interrelated human stories. A must read for any history buff and well worth the time.

Available here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Finding Alice

My Rating: 4/5
Pages: 371; Speed: Regular
Subject: Psychology, Religious Fiction

"Sliding into the Rabbit Hole… Would She Ever Return?" (back cover). Alice Laxton is a regular college girl who begins experiencing irregular non-drug-induced visions, voices and psychotic episodes. Her mother is worried and her landlord is starting to get complaints, as regular encounters with the people she loves turns frightful and suspicious! Through a rapidly spiraling imbalance of reality, she finds herself in the rabbit hole of schizophrenia. Soon, she is convinced she is "the chosen one" called to uncover hidden truths from God. She believes a guardian angel and others are speaking to her (or rather shrieking) as she becomes obsessed with journal writing and protecting an imaginary key. Before she knows it, she's locked up in a mental institution, Forest Hills. After traditional therapy of dooping drugs and occasional arm restraints, she breaks free and finds herself meeting Wonderland-like characters on the real streets of Portland. The twin homosexuals remind her of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb, but they give her the rules of homeless living and lead her to "the cat lady" Faye. It is imperative that this girl learns to differentiate between her controlling church's "joy-is-sin" teachings at Salvation Center and the genetic existence of her mental disease. Said in first person, you can see the hardships of steering her rampant mind as she struggles with who to trust and which reality to believe. A good read for anyone trying to find hope and love in mental illness as a whole, particularly with schizophrenia. This award-winning author of more than 90 books has a bit of a Christian undertone, but is not too preachy. The wonders of the mind possibly have a stairway back, but can Alice first discover she's on the wrong end of the looking glass?

Available here

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Thursday, July 22, 2010


My Rating: 5/5
Pages: 272; Speed: Very Fast
Subject: Teen Fiction, Choices & Transitions

I have had this book on my shelf for years but never guessed it would take only hours to rush through! This succincly written non-fiction is of a thirteen-year-old girl from Napal who lives the simple life with her family. When their meager lot sinks deaper, they decide she must work in the city as a maid for a rich family to help carry her weight. After traveling hundreds of miles, she arrives at "Happiness House" where she learned the unfathomable truth that she has been, unknowingly by her family, sold into prostitution. Trying to survive the torture of existence, she learned of the stories of the other girls; some even choose to stay there-for fear of the "bad Americans-" all lies to keep them from rescue or running away. It's devastating to walk these days with her (written in diary form) as she tries to follow her mother's motto: "Simpy to endure is triumph." I highly recommend this well written text, whose chapers are sometimes but half a page. Cry, see the realities of what exists in the world, and feel what it would be like to be Sold.

Available here.

(in the teen section, but a bit heavy subject matter; handled with discrepancy in most places)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Help

My Rating: 5/5
Pages: 451; Speed: Regular
Subject: Occupations-Fiction, Social Issues

"Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step..." (Amy Einhorn Books). A delightfully fresh story line on Southern white ingratitude and black maids' living conditions. Three characters narrate this drama-that defies social lines and statues quo-in voices real and humorous.  Their knots may lead to lost friendships, work, or love interests, but can they be true to conscience without losing everything?  Author Kathryn Stockett grew up in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's (the where and when) so her authentic first novel honorably tributes the true hands that raised her. Their chains may be loosed as "the help" find a voice of their own!

Available here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Twenties Girl

My Rating: 4/5
Pages: 435 ; Speed: Fast
Subject: Women's Fiction, Mystery

Author of the popular Confessions of a Shopaholic series, Sophie Kinsella writes a delightfully heartwarming read for the chick-lit lover. Twenty-something-year-old Laura Lington is facing a crumbling headhunting business, a heartbreak from the-one-that-got-away, and discouragement from her parents. Even her famous uncle, founder of Lington Coffee (Starbucks equivalent) won't give her a chance. At the funeral of her unknown great aunt Sadie, the deceased's ghost demands help from Laura with unfinished business (and unmended heartbreak). Sadie-in her feisty twenties flapper form-can't rest without her dear missing necklace. Laura doesn't believe in ghosts, but after being pestered in the most professionally embarrassing ways, gives in. They ensue on jewelry-hunting mayhem as Laura sees her family through knew light and learns the difference between infatuation and love. Taking place in modern-day London, this quick read leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy as generational differences blend and confidence is discovered. With plenty of fashion, dancing, and a splash of art history, Laura's already spazzed life gets turned upside down as Sadie tries to teach her the real way to live-twenties style.

Available here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

My Rating: 5/5
Pages 331 • Speed: Slow but captivating
Subject: Biography & Travel

After an overwhelming bout with depression and divorce, eloquent writer Elizabeth Gilbert leaves her New York life behind to take a year-long journey to find herself.  In some of the most intriguing parts of the world-Italy, India and Indonesia-Gilbert spends four months in each place and the reader gets to piggy-back for the ride.  This real-life travel memoir gives a step-by step eccentric yet hilarious account of her search; destination-a balance between worldly pleasure and spiritual harmony.  In Italy she learns that, to speak Italian, you "say it like you eat it," since there all of life revolves around food.  In India (where they say, "Congratulations to meet you") she finds her initially grueling Yogic path to inner peace.  In Bali, Indonesia she claims the joys of contentment and love and makes a roadmap of overcoming obstacles and regret.  The people and events are described so vividly, you feel you're experiencing the moments along with her, or at least watching the movie (which comes out this August starring Julia Roberts).  Told through witty vocabulary and captivating descriptions, each site's history and culture is an intellectual bonus.  Her journey's spiritual depth is filled with humorous honesty and self-deprecation.  By the time you put this book down, you feel like you and Elizabeth Gilbert are personal friends, knowing all her deepest fears and greatest triumphs.  I can't wait to read her sequel Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.

Get it here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Getting the Girl

My Rating: 2/5

Pages 250 • Speed: Very Fast
Subject: Self-Actualization and Social Situations

On the other side of the tracks in Sydney, Australia, Marcus Zusak tells the seemingly real (& often profane) story of a sweet, confused adolescent who narrates with "an earthly working-class dialect" (phrase quoted from  Cameron Wolfe is used to being the quiet one in his aggressive family.  Living in the shadows of his older brothers, (Steve, the local soccer star, and Rube, who has never lost a fight--or struck out with a girl) he's longing for companionship. "My brother never really had to say or do anything. He just had to stand somewhere... or even trip up a gutter and a girl would like him."  Rube's latest weekly fling-Octavia-was thrown to the curb, but she was different from all the rest.  She wasn't embarrassed by Cameron-and he becomes obsessed with her, even sharing his closet poetry. They potentially have a connection unlike anything she had with his brother. For her, he even stops waiting outside the window of a 'missed opportunity' he'd previously walk across town to pretend to visit.  Octavia is mezmorizing!  When Rube finds out his little brother's trying to pick up his "scraps," there's a face-off between family loyalty and self-actualization.  And how does Octavia feel about this?  I absolutely love the way Zusak plays with words and incarnates his characters; but the storyline is bland, so the low score pains me despite the writing technique.  Does Cameron get the girl?  And will his brothers ever give him the respect (or at least acknowledgement) his ego yearns for?  Very masculinely told, with not a few profanities in blunt teenage street talk, I feel like I've just read the real-life journal of a struggling teenager.

Get it here.
(I still can't figure out if the cover is of a guy or a girl. Weird.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

90 Minutes In Heaven

My Rating: 4/5
Pages 205 • Speed: Fast
Subject: Inspirational

In 1989 Don Piper's car was crushed by an eighteen wheeler at 110 mile an hour impact against the metal rail of a bridge in Texas.  He was pronounced dead at the scene and for 90 minutes remained without a pulse.  Don Piper immediately went to heaven where he saw his deceased family and friends praising God with music, joy, and glory beyond description.  Meanwhile, back on earth a bystander who happened to be a minister felt the undeniable impression from God to go pray for the victim.  Despite the EMT's reassurance that he was already deceased, he knew what he had to do.  After offering prayer he began to sing "What Friend We Have In Jesus."  The dead man woke up and began to sing with him.  For the next several months Don Piper underwent excrutiating surgeries, pain and procedures.  He said his biggest trial was not the pain, but tasting the sweet joys of heaven without being allowed to stay.  Not wanting to be thrown into a looney bin, it took 2 years for him to share his experience with anyone.  After realizing what hope his message can bring, he's written a book- unpretentious and direct.  Chapters are of his life before the accident, his short time in heaven, and the pains of recovery learning.  He shares  lessons of humility, service, and faith that won't be soon forgotten.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Being Enough

My Rating: 4/5
Pages 214 • Speed: Regular
Subject: Christianity, Inspirational, Self-Improvement

Do you ever feel that no matter how much you give, it just isn't enough?  In life, love and especially the endless landscape of spirituality, when can we truly say, "I gave it my all"?  Chieko Okazaki, 1st Counselor of the Relief Society General Presidency, teaches the peace-giving truth that our heart is enough.  Chieko's unique voice gives intellectual encouragement through quick-witted stories and interesting personal epiphanies.  (This is most generally a Christian book.)  She starts off by telling the New Testament story of the widow who gave two mites to the temple.  Christ taught that this woman gave more than the rich because she gave all that she had.  Even so it is with our time, talents, and efforts. This is a book of hope that no matter your circumstance, Christ can save and redeem you through your faith.  This especially applies to those with financial loss, medical trials (such as depression), divorce, or the death of a loved one.  She quotes the scriptures heavily; one such is, "Our hope is not in our own strength but in the strength of Christ, 'who is mighty to save.' (2 Nephi 31:19)."  In the end, my favorite was from the Savior: "Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.  Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.... I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (D&C 6:36-37; Hebrews 13:5).  I just loved reading that when we do all we can, we are enough, if we let Jesus Christ make up the difference.

Get it here.