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Come on Up for the Rising

Come on Up for the Rising

posted by:
December 4, 2012 - 7:45am

ReachedUnless you have been living under a rock, you know that teens are driving the literary and cinematic marketplace these days. Popular series such as Twilight and The Hunger Games have exploded into pop culture, and many adults are coming along for the ride. In the crowded market of dystopian teen fiction, Ally Condie has carved out a niche with her Matched series. The long-awaited finale is Reached, and fans of the series will be thrilled to discover what becomes of Cassia, Ky and Xander.

 

The three main characters have been separated as they serve The Rising, and the action begins early as the “rebels” take over the territories and distribute the plague cure. Until it is certain that everyone is recovered, healthy and safe, a quarantine is imposed. Ky is flying aircraft that carries the cure as well as supplies for those in need. Xander is a medical officer, directly treating the infected and distributing the cure. Cassia is working as a sorter, and her sabotage of the matching ceremony data is the impetus for the Rising. As the days drag on, frustration and loneliness lead all three to question the effectiveness of the cure and even the rebellion itself.

 

The main messages in Condie’s Matched trilogy are the impact of creativity and individuality on a society. The importance of creativity on the human spirit comes full circle in this final book, and the singing of the first non-Society song is a tear-inducing moment. The theme of individuality that runs through the series is mirrored in the three protagonists, and Reached is told from their alternating points of view in quick chapters. Ky, Xander, and especially Cassia all show growth and maturity in Reached, as each becomes more self-aware and less egocentric. Love is still their underlying motivation, but it is no longer the intense, gut–wrenching angst of the young but a more thoughtful and inclusive love. New readers should begin with Matched by looking for the highly appealing and eye-catching cover art that easily identifies this well-written dystopian series.

Sam

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An Everyday Obsession

An Everyday Obsession

posted by:
December 3, 2012 - 8:15am

The Dangers of Proximal AlphabetsTo the average observer, Ida, Jackson, and James are ordinary childhood friends. They imagine fantasylands, have sleepovers, and run amok outdoors, all in each other’s company. But they don’t stay children forever. In The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, Kathleen Alcott exposes the obsessions, insecurities, and weaknesses of the trio as they grow from closely enmeshed friends into troubled and estranged adults. 

 

Told from Ida’s point of view, much of the story focuses on Ida and Jackson, or I and J, as they call each other. From their earliest meeting Ida sees Jackson as uniquely hers, and Alcott’s simple and poetic prose unveils the seeds of Ida’s disquietingly intimate obsession with him. As an infant she cried when she was first separated from him, as a child she listens to his eerie sleep-talking conversations with James, and as an adult she proudly catalogues for the reader some of his most personal idiosyncrasies. James, Jackson’s younger brother, is slowly marginalized within the friendship into a mere witness to Ida and Jackson’s growing closeness. As they age, Ida and Jackson gradually become a couple and James drifts into mental illness. Jackson’s boyhood sleep-talking has transformed into more disturbing sleep-walking, and Ida’s response to his unconscious actions threatens to unhinge their strangely dysfunctional relationship.

 

Although quite short, this novel is packed with subtle emotions and extremely human relationships. The characters are all eccentric in one way or another, yet they seem so normal when viewed through Ida’s eyes. Part coming-of-age story and part psychological drama, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a thought-provoking and bittersweet read perfect for a cold fall night.

 

Rachael

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Religion, Philosophy, and Adventure

Religion, Philosophy, and Adventure

posted by:
December 3, 2012 - 7:45am

The Elephant Keepers' ChildrenPeter Hoeg has created a delightful novel with a cast of zany characters in his newest book The Elephant Keepers' Children. Fourteen-year-old Peter and his older siblings Tilte and Hans are thrust into a mystery when they are informed that their parents have mysteriously vanished. Hans manages to evade capture, but Peter and Tilte are caught and taken to Big Hill, a home for abandoned children and recovering addicts on the island of Fino. Determined to find their parents, Peter and Title plan and execute an elaborate escape, beginning an adventure that is destined to change their lives forever. They encounter several curious characters along the way, including Count Rickardt Three Lions, a recovering heroin addict and resident of  Big Hill, Leonora Ticklepalate, a nun in Fino’s Buddhist community and resident computer scientist and IT specialist, and Lars and Katinka, two police officers who are also star-crossed lovers chasing the children. Not everyone they encounter is out to help the pair. They are also being chased by a hapless bishop and her secretary, and a professor and his wife. Peter and Tilte are aware that their parents are up to something and they believe they are going to a conference in Copenhagen that will gather together great scientific minds and religious leaders of all faiths. Along the way, Peter reflects on his own brand of spiritualty and wonders what is left when you cut through the dogma.

 

Readers may remember Peter Hoeg from Smilla’s Sense of Snow but will encounter a very different novel with The Elephant Keepers' Children. Peter is an imminently likeable narrator, and the novel is full of humor, adventure, and incredibly memorable characters. There is also a philosophical undercurrent running through the novel that readers who enjoy a second layer will certainly appreciate. The tone and atmosphere are remarkably fun and there are a few great chuckles along the way.

 

Doug

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The Second Time Around

The Second Time Around

posted by:
November 30, 2012 - 7:45am

Rescue My HeartBarefoot in the Rain According to the Sinatra song, “Love is lovelier the second time around.” These two new romances prove him right with stories of couples giving love a second chance. Rescue My Heart by Jill Shalvis, the third in her Animal Magnetism series, brings readers Adam’s long-awaited story. When he was a teenager, Adam Connelly left behind Holly Reid, the only woman he ever loved, to join the military and make something of his life. After a rescue mission in Afghanistan went terribly wrong, Adam returned to Belle Haven, the veterinary clinic he runs with his brothers, to piece his life back together. He trains Search and Rescue dogs and coordinates rescues, but no longer works in the field. Holly is desperate to find her father who is missing on the mountain. When she asks Adam to help her, he can’t refuse. The longer Adam and Holly are together, the more he realizes that he never stopped loving her. Full of loveable dogs, steamy romance, and snappy dialogue, Rescue My Heart, like Adam and Holly’s relationship, was definitely worth the wait.

 

Fifteen years ago, Jocelyn Bloom, the heroine of Roxanne St. Claire’s Barefoot in the Rain, left behind her abusive father and her life in Mimosa Key, Florida. Her only regret is that when she escaped that world, she had to leave behind Will Palmer, the boy next door and her first love. Jocelyn returns to Mimosa Key after a tabloid scandal damages her reputation as a celebrity life coach in L.A., and she finds that Will is caring for her estranged father who now has Alzheimer’s. It’s time for Jocelyn to make some serious decisions in her life, and Will is determined that they give their love a second chance. St. Claire is known for her heart-pounding romantic suspense, but her new contemporary romance series shows her versatile talent. Readers will want to revisit her Barefoot Bay series soon.

 

Beth

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Here Comes the Hostage Taker

Here Comes the Hostage Taker

posted by:
November 30, 2012 - 7:30am

Love BombSomething old, something new, something borrowed, something explosive? In Love Bomb by Lisa Zeidner, Tess and Gabe’s wedding is hijacked by a rifle-wielding woman wearing a strapless white wedding gown. Her ensemble is completed with an antique gas mask and a small bomb strapped to her arm. Tess and Gabe wanted a simple home wedding with close family and friends. Tess’s mother, Helen, had the usual worries of weather and food that accompany hosting such an important event.  And of course, the guest list was a bit tricky as it included bitter exes, jealous girlfriends, and way too many psychiatrists. But those wedding day worries pale in comparison to the hostage drama that unfolds.

 

As the players in this theater, the wedding guests realize that this woman is seeking revenge for love lost. The guests each wrack their brains to try and seek a connection with the masked woman, and soon are confessing secrets and sins in the hopes of placating the “love terrorist.” Among the confessors are the bride’s thrice-married father, her recently divorced brother, and the groom’s sister’s movie-star boyfriend who is no stranger to stalkers. All of the psychiatrists try to take over the situation and talk to the hostage taker, but it is Helen who creates a bond with her and begins to pick up clues as to the woman’s identity. 

 

The reader learns of Crystal’s (the hostage taker) sad story before the wedding guests, and her motives are almost understandable. Despite the heavy artillery and potential for bloodshed, this is a comedy of manners about love gone horribly wrong. The hostages’ stories about failed love are the centerpiece of this story and are entertaining, depressing, and pathetic. This satirical story about the infinite varieties of passion and heartbreak reaches a tender, satisfying, and surprising conclusion. 

 

Maureen

 
 

Just in Time for Flu Season

SpilloverSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen is a fascinating look into the world of infectious diseases, specifically those that travel from animals to humans, otherwise known as zoonosis or spillover. Humankind is all too familiar with zoonoses in the form of influenza, Ebola, SARS and AIDS. In order to get a sense of the scope of interspecies diseases, keep in mind that about 60% of all infectious disease cross between animals and humans. According to Quammen’s research, zoonosis has killed 30 million people since 1981. To investigate spillover viruses, he travels all over the world with virus hunters. He describes multiple mysterious outbreaks of disease, coming from a wide range of animals such as bats, gorillas and pigs. Quammen believes the next major pandemic will come from a nonhuman animal virus that will infect and spread into the human population.

 

David Quammen is a terrific science writer and he knows how to tell a good story. He is excited about his subject and takes a warm, personal approach with his readers. He makes this very complicated and frightening subject accessible and easy to understand. Spillover is thoroughly researched, includes an extensive bibliography and is chock-full of fascinating, engaging material. Although Quammen takes issue with Richard Preston’s Hot Zone, readers who enjoyed Hot Zone will love Spillover.

 

Zeke

 
 

A Girl, a Guy, and a House

A Girl, a Guy, and a House

posted by:
November 29, 2012 - 7:30am

Young House LoveIf you’re looking for fresh DIY ideas for your home, look no farther than Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update, and Show Your Home Some Love by Sherry and John Petersik. The Richmond, Virginia couple bought their first home in 2006. It was in need of a lot of TLC, and they soon began a blog where they documented their home improvement projects. The popularity of their Young House Love blog grew beyond their wildest expectations, currently receiving over 5 million hits per month. After the Petersiks' daughter Clara was born, they purchased a second fixer-upper and started the process all over again. They are now chronicling the transformation of their new home on their blog.

 

Their new book pulls together some of their favorite budget-friendly ideas with clear photos and step-by-step instructions to help you create the same looks for your own home. The Petersiks warn readers that they will have to get their hands dirty to complete the projects in the book and that home improvement may be addictive. Creative projects like dressing up an old dresser with wallpaper, creating wall art from a drop cloth, or crafting 3-D butterflies from pages of old books are inspiring. Each project includes the cost of materials as well as an estimate of time and skill level required for completion. Their style includes a variety of textures and pops of color that add modern flair. The Petersiks’ engaging narrative makes Young House Love great for both DIY-ers looking for new ideas and less-motivated readers who prefer watching HGTV to tackling their own projects.

 

Beth

 
 

The Festival of Lights

The Festival of Lights

posted by:
November 28, 2012 - 8:01am

The Count's Hanukkah CountdownDaddy Christmas and Hanukkah MamaThe Count’s Hanukkah Countdown, a new Shalom Sesame title by authors Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer, is fun way to get into the holiday spirit. A childhood icon, the lovable purple Count has been counting with children for decades and now he and Grover, the shaggy blue monster, share the story of Hanukkah with them as well. Shalom Sesame, an international spinoff of Sesame Street, has been introducing Israel and Judaism to children and families for years through PBS, videos, and books. Parents and kids will recognize the familiar brightly colored characters by Tom Leigh, longtime children’s book illustrator of Sesame Street and Muppet books. Together, they prepare for this fun Festival of Lights featuring the special number eight – the perfect Hanukkah number – and traditions like exchanging gifts, playing the dreidel game, eating latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and lighting the eight candles of the menorah, one for each of the eight nights. Kids and adults who share this book can count on having a totally awesome Hanukkah!

 

In Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, two parents’ cultural and holiday traditions combine to create a unique experience for one little girl and her family. Like the pop culture reference to the fictional “Chrismakkuh” (Christmas + Hanukkah), this happily blended holiday features the best of both traditions. The gently colored stylized illustrations are gouache, collage, and colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper. They depict the quirky happy hipster family stuffing the Christmas turkey with cranberry kugel dressing, leaving latkes and milk for Santa, and decorating the Christmas tree with a shiny star and gelt (chocolate coins). They even use both candy canes and candles on the menorah. It’s a warm, loving story great for multicultural families and others who might like to create some new traditions of their own.

Andrea

 
 

A Dream Delayed

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri RousseauA painter who never gave up on his dream is the subject of the picture book biography The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall. Making a living as a toll collector, Rousseau was restless. As much as he enjoyed his time spent in Parisian parks, he wanted to capture the beauty of nature he witnessed onto canvas. At the age of forty, he made his first attempts to paint the scenes he imagined.

 

Self-taught as an artist, Rousseau ventured into natural history museums and studied books and photographs to make his botanical and zoological paintings accurate. When he had enough paintings completed, he entered them into competitions. His "naïve" style, however, was met with the jeers of so-called expert art critics. Year after year, his paintings brought unintentional amusement to the establishment who found his paintings flat and simple. But decades later, attitudes on art had changed, and Picasso and other well-known artists led a re-evaluation and celebration of Rousseau’s work.

 

While none of Rousseau’s actual paintings are used in this book, Hall’s illustrations (in homage to his work) are astounding. Markel capably introduces the artist to a new audience of young readers who are likely unfamiliar with his work. Readers of this title are certain to remember Rousseau's style when encountering his paintings in the future. The message is clear without being overt – a dream delayed is better than a dream never realized.

Todd

 
 

Behind Mansion Walls

Behind Mansion Walls

posted by:
November 27, 2012 - 8:01am

The InnocentsSisters Charlie and Alice Flaherty are The Innocents in Lili Peloquin’s gripping debut that mixes a splash of The Great Gatsby with a dash of Gossip Girl. The duo arrives in posh Serenity Point, a beach town on the Connecticut coastline to spend the summer before heading off to boarding school. Their lives have changed drastically, and a mansion in Serenity Point is a long way from their tiny apartment in Cambridge. But in the span of just a few months, their parents divorced, their father moved across the globe, and their mother married the uber-rich Richard Flood.

 

The sisters approach their new life differently. Alice, the elder by one year, is more introspective, while Charlie is a free spirit looking for fun. Charlie becomes fast friends with the hard-partying, maybe-couple Jude and Cybil, while Alice is drawn to Tommy, the handsome son of a scandalized physician. The country club is a world full of secrets and Alice and Charlie grow increasingly shocked as they learn more about their stepfather, his family, and even their own mother. Just one year ago, Richard’s wife died from cancer and their sixteen year old golden girl daughter, Camilla, committed suicide soon after. Alice is intrigued by inconsistencies surrounding Camilla and starts investigating, but the truth proves to be highly disturbing. Things get really creepy when Alice finds photos of Camilla and realizes she is a dead ringer for the dead girl. And what about Alice’s clandestine boyfriend Tommy? Turns out he was Camilla’s boyfriend at the time of her death.   

 

The Innocents is the first in a new series which has something for everyone – mystery, romance, and good old-fashioned drama. Readers won’t have long to wait to learn what happens next with these compelling teens as the sequel, This Side of Jealousy, is scheduled for summer 2013.

Maureen