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Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson

Mrs. Robinson's DisgraceBefore British Parliament passed the Matrimonial Causes Act, marriages could only be dissolved in a private Act of Parliament, the cost and scandal of which made divorces rare. During the summer of 1858, that changed. The new Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes began to grant divorces to the English middle class. On June 14, 1858, a man named Henry Robinson petitioned the court to dissolve his marriage to his wife Isabella on grounds that she had committed adultery. The evidence came from her own diary, portions of which were read aloud over the course of the trial and then widely published in London newspapers. London was riveted by the scandal. Kate Summerscale brings this fascinating story to modern audiences in Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady.

 

In her diary, Isabella Robinson regularly reflected on her unhappiness with her life and marriage. She also wrote about a relationship with a man named Edward Lane, who publicly denied the affair. Standards for proving a wife’s adultery in divorce cases were so low that the diary was potentially enough to condemn Isabella in court despite her husband’s multiple infidelities. To protect Lane’s reputation, Isabella’s attorneys and doctors convinced her to present the diaries as fictional, and her only viable legal defense was to claim that she had imagined the affair because she suffered from sexual mania.

 

Summerscale first read about this story in a book about Victorian scandals while she was researching her previous bestseller, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. She began to investigate the story because she was intrigued by the double standards that women faced in Victorian divorce courts; she wanted to know the truth about Isabella Robinson. Her storytelling results in the gripping tale of Mrs. Robinson’s fall from grace and the ensuing scandal.

Beth

 
 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

posted by:
August 29, 2012 - 6:55am

JinxedSuper-Sized SluggerTed & MeCamden Yards is sparkling with Oriole Magic, and a new generation of fans is energized by the success of this season’s team. For young fans that can’t get enough baseball, there are several new series titles which offer plenty of action on the diamond.

  

The Topps League series by Kurtis Scaletta follows Chad, the new batboy for the minor league Pine City Porcupines. Chad wants to help the hapless team, but in Jinxed, the first in the series, he encounters nothing but trouble, including a jinxed superstar. These illustrated easy chapter books throw readers a magical curve ball since Chad can solve problems using information from his baseball cards. Plenty of detailed on-field action as well as inside-the-clubhouse glimpses will keep readers hooked.

   

Super-Sized Slugger by Cal Ripken is the second title from Baltimore’s Iron Man and Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd. Overweight thirteen year old Cody Parker moves to Baltimore, and the combination of his size and new kid status make him the prime target for teasing. He lives for baseball, but when he beats out the school’s number one bully for the starting third base position, Cody’s life gets even worse. Then the school is struck by a rash of thefts. With this mystery in need of solving and exciting baseball action as the team plays for the championship, this is a fast-paced page turner.

  —

Ted & Me is the newest entry in the popular Baseball Card Adventure series by Dan Gutman featuring time traveling Joe "Stosh" Stochack. This time the FBI wants Stosh to travel back to 1941 to warn FDR of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But Stosh has another idea. Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all times, despite losing five years of playing time to military service. What if there was no World War II? What if Stosh can actually prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor and convince Williams not to serve in the military? The time travel element combined with baseball anecdotes help create another perfect strike in this series.

Maureen

 
 

Quest for Adventure

Quest for Adventure

posted by:
August 29, 2012 - 6:45am

Giants Beware!Poor Claudette. In Jorge Aguirre's Giants Beware!, her peaceful life within the fortress of Mont Petit Pierre is just not nearly exciting enough. Being a tomboy, the daughter of the town blacksmith, she is rambunctious and loudmouthed and yearns for action. Like killing the giant rumored to live on the mountain outside of town. With her timid brother Gaston and her ladylike friend Marie, she blusters her way out of the fortress gate and into the Forest of Death, beyond which lies the Mad River, and then Giant’s Peak.

 

Can these three kids, armed with a wooden sword, Marie’s intelligence, Gaston’s fortitude, Claudette’s stinky feet, and a pug dog named Valiant, survive in the wilderness and defeat the giant? Of course they can, but not in the ways they might have expected. The adults in the story are distinguished by exaggerated or even buffoonish characteristics, but their actions are driven by realistic, largely generous motives.

 

The story strikes a fine balance between being action- and friendship-driven. The art is similarly well-balanced: Rafael Rosado’s ink drawings are strong and lively, with expressive characters and well-drawn landscapes. Digitally applied color is natural, bright, and nonintrusive. Fans of Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules books and Jeff Smith’s Bone series will snap this title up.

Paula W.

 
 

Memories of War

Memories of War

posted by:
August 28, 2012 - 9:20am

The Yellow BirdsDebut author Kevin Powers takes us to the Iraq War and back in his poignant novel The Yellow Birds. Narrating from a secluded cabin in the mountains of Virginia, twenty-one-year-old veteran John Bartle recalls his hellish experiences in Iraq’s Nineveh Province and his current struggles to rebuild a life ravaged by post-traumatic stress.

 

Private Bartle’s story begins in basic training, where he quickly befriends an eighteen-year-old recruit named Murphy. They become inseparable, and Bartle takes it on himself to protect Murphy and get him back home safely. But once they arrive in war-torn Iraq, these two young soldiers discover that neither is ready to face the physical and psychological battles yet to come. What unfolds is a testament to friendship and loss set against the horrors of war, as well as a moving portrayal of how war affects not just soldiers but also their families and friends at home.

 

Powers, an Iraq veteran himself and recent M.F.A. graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, has the voice of a poet and wrote The Yellow Birds largely based on his own war experiences. Early praise from authors like Colm Toibin and Ann Patchett hails this novel as a “superb literary achievement” and proclaims it a modern classic. In fact, New York Times bestselling author Chris Cleave has compared Powers to Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy for his use of spare, lyrical prose.

 

Rich with flashbacks, metaphors, and written in a stream-of-consciousness style, The Yellow Birds will stay with you long after the final page. Readers who enjoy this new novel may also want to try Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain and Fobbit by David Abrams, two equally wonderful stories that take a satirical spin on the Iraq War.

 

Alex

categories:

 
 

I Went to Area 51 and All I Got Were These Lousy Superpowers

AdaptationCrash your car miles from nowhere on Nevada's Route 375, aka Extraterrestrial Highway, after a series of strange events have led to airplane crashes and highway closures, and what do you expect? Recover from life-threatening injuries only to be handed a non-disclosure agreement and be escorted home by two agents in black suits... oh yeah, this can't be good.

 

In Adaptation, many questions are posed to the reader. What happened to debate partners Reese and David in the month following inexplicable bird attacks that shut down the nation's air traffic? How have they recuperated so quickly from their crash? And what's with the strange vertigo that Reese feels whenever she touches David, or her mom, or even total strangers? Then there's the free-spirited pink-haired girl to whom Reese is irresistibly attracted.

 

Malinda Lo sets up an intriguing situation for her appealing, believable characters, and does a particularly nice job communicating Reese's discomfort as the unusual things she experiences and observes after she attempts to resume her normal life in San Francisco grate against everything she knows. The book loses some steam in the last third, as other characters drop away and we are back to just Reese and David, but by then it is too late for the reader - how's it going to end?

 

Suspenseful, girl-powered, contemporary science fiction full of realistically diverse characters making realistic contemporary use of technology. Plus hot kissing! Hard to resist.

Paula W.

 
 

The Price of Beauty

The Price of Beauty

posted by:
August 27, 2012 - 7:30am

Great-Aunt Sophia's Lessons for BombshellsLisa Cach introduces Grace Cavanaugh who is a bit of a frump, a strong feminist, and an impoverished grad student in Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells. Grace needs to finish her dissertation in Women’s Studies, which is based on the thesis that beauty in women leads to misery. As she struggles with her work, she receives an offer to act as a companion to her great-aunt who she has only met once as a child. Grace jumps at the chance to head to Pebble Beach, for what is sure to be a summer of comfortable quiet during which she will be able to focus on her studies. But Great Aunt Sophia has other ideas, and for Grace it becomes a summer to remember.

 

Sophia is a former B-movie star who at eighty-five still attracts attention wherever she goes. She decides that Grace is a project and upon hearing her thesis, Sophia sets out to prove Grace wrong. Sophia’s object is to change Grace outwardly which will then improve her self-esteem and create an empowered and desirable woman. Before Grace can blink, she has a trainer, a personal shopper, and some truly awesome lingerie. As Grace’s appearance slowly changes, so too does her view of herself and her perception of beauty. Grace quickly attracts the attention of Declan, a bad boy with a commitment phobia, and Andrew, Sophia's handsome but deadly dull doctor. Grace’s head is telling her to go for Andrew, but her pesky heart and that sexy spark keeps leading her to Declan.

  

In the end, Grace's thesis is turned on its head and she finds personal satisfaction in her appearance and appeal. This fun story goes past a simple ugly duckling transformation tale with plenty of wonderful and unique characters, a whole lot of humor, and a sprinkle of spice! 

 

Maureen

 
 

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

DreamlandImagine waking up in the middle of the night on the floor, disoriented, clutching your leg in pain. How did you get there? Why aren’t you still asleep in bed? And what happened to your leg? After actually living through this frightening sleepwalking scenario, David K. Randall, a journalist for Reuters, decided to investigate his personal nightmare, determined to find out  how he could prevent it from happening again. His book, Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, leads us into the mysterious and occasionally bizarre corners of neurobiology, psychology, and sociology that deal with how and why we sleep.

 

Each chapter in this fascinating book deals with a different sleep conundrum, from sleep exhaustion in the military to the effect of artificial light on circadian rhythms to whether you can commit murder while sleeping. Over the course of the book a deceptively simple formula emerges—what you do while you are awake affects your sleep, and how you sleep affects your mind and body while you are awake. Intriguing tidbits of information sneak their way into the pages with such frequency that the reader marvels at how little she seems to know about such a vital bodily function. 

 

Though not a scientist himself, Randall’s forays into the realm of sleep science are well backed by an abundance of research, as evinced by the lengthy bibliography he includes at the back of the book.  His prose remains accessible, captivating, and often humorous while still keeping science at its core.  Dreamland provides an enigmatic taste of the often unsolved mysteries of sleep science that is sure to satisfy both the curious and the casual reader. 

 

Rachael

 
 

Fierce Women

Fierce Women

posted by:
August 24, 2012 - 7:30am

Tigers in Red WeatherTigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann is the story of two cousins growing up in Tiger House on Martha’s Vineyard. The first cousin, Nick, is getting married to the devilishly handsome Hughes when he returns from the war. But Hughes returns a different man, slightly distant and living in his own head. Nick requires variety and excitement, but what Hughes provides is stability and normalcy, and they begin to drift slowly apart. Helena is the second cousin, and she was engaged to a man who was killed in the war. She instead marries Avery, who works in Hollywood in the film industry. Later, Helena discovers that Avery’s sole purpose in life is to maintain a collection pertaining to a dead actress and this drives a wedge between the couple.

 

Years pass, and Nick gives birth to daughter Daisy. Helena has a son named Ed, and the children become good friends. One fateful summer in the late fifties, Daisy and Ed discover the body of a young maid left beaten, strangled and covered in a blanket. This discovery affects all of the residents of Tiger House. Relationships deteriorate, secrets are kept and then revealed, and the world spins off its axis.

 

Klaussman, the great-granddaughter of Herman Melville, creates a compelling story. It is told in five parts, each focusing on one of the characters, and several scenes are replayed featuring a different point of view. This technique allows the reader to get a clear picture of the troubles facing Tiger House as well as the extent of the dysfunction within. Because of the unique storytelling style and the strong character development, this would be a good choice for a book club.

 

Doug

 
 

Who Would You Choose?

Who Would You Choose?

posted by:
August 24, 2012 - 7:00am

I Couldn't Love You MoreDon’t be fooled by the cover. Jillian Medoff’s new novel I Couldn’t Love You More looks like a light beach read from the outside, but inside that cover, readers will find a challenging novel about family bonds and the choices we make. Medoff creates characters who feel very real, and she skillfully pulls readers into a story that will make them laugh and cry along with her characters.

 

All in all, Eliot Gordon is happy with the life that she has created with her partner Grant and their blended family. She loves Grant’s daughters Charlotte and Gail, who they are raising along with Hailey, their daughter together. Like her stepdaughters, Eliot comes from a broken home, and she has a complex but loving relationship with her mother and sisters. But when Eliot’s ex-boyfriend Finn, who she has always considered “the one who got away,” arrives in town, Eliot begins to reexamine her life. Finn’s appearance also leads to a series of events that culminates in the unimaginable. Eliot is forced to make a choice that no parent can fathom when two of her children are caught in a life-threatening situation, and Eliot can only save one. The rest of the novel explores the fall-out from Eliot’s split-second decision.

 

Praised by authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, I Couldn’t Love You More is funny, relatable, and wrenching. Medoff explores complex family relationships and the reality of being a stepparent with remarkable honesty and depth. This novel is tailor-made for book club discussions and includes a Reading Group Guide.

Beth

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Yes We Canada!

Yes We Canada!

posted by:
August 23, 2012 - 6:03am

America, But BetterIn these days of political polarization in the United States, an unlikely party has come to the rescue of our fractured populous. In America, But Better: The Canada Party Manifesto, humorists Chris Cannon and Brian Calvert lay out an “intervention from your continental BFF”. With the scantest of seriousness, the authors skewer American stereotypes on issues such as illegal immigration, gun control, obesity, and marriage equality. Starting with a cheeky foreword by none other than Abraham Lincoln, the witty and pointed observations about the direction of America are by turns hilarious and mildly shaming.

 

This is a quick read, peppered with sidebar promises of what will change if the Canada Party is elected to run the US: “We will continue building oil pipelines, but they will carry maple syrup. If there’s a spill, at least the animals will be tasty.” One chapter describes the benefits of combining similar cities within the two countries as a cost-saving measure, including Van Francisco, Queboston (two places where no visitors can understand the locals), and Dalgary. Another takes on corporations as people, use of the metric system, and of course, a primer on hockey. Wry, silly, and smart, America, But Better is a not-so-gentle nudge that pokes fun at American Exceptionalism, and the way the rest of the world views us as a nation.

Todd