Staff Book Reviews

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor
Ogawa, Yōko
3 stars = Pretty Good

This novel was very interesting, especially since it is written from the housekeeper's perception. It is a translation of a Japanese novel about a housekeeper and a professor who has a brain injury. The professor cannot hold memories for long, they start erasing after 80 minutes. The housekeeper and her young son become part of the professor's universe of mathematics and learn about living in the present even as his memory slips away. A very interesting novel.

Duane
Book Review: Writing Creative Nonfiction
Forché, Carolyn
4 stars = Really Good

The first essay opens up with a study of "why I write." From there, the editors take us through myriad teachers and experts of creative nonfiction as they explore the variety of work that is creative nonfiction. There is much to inspire writers, but the essays appeal to avid readers who want to understand the format and learn from masters of the genre. The information is deep at times, and writers will want to explore some essays for longer periods as they process their responses. The essay "why I write" alone will require some introspection and aid in the learning process. It should be required reading for creative nonfiction writers and students.

Cindy
Book Review: River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
Millard, Candice
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Great for the reader interested in history, science, and adventure. A wonderful insight into Theodore Roosevelt's lifelong love for nature.

Abby
Book Review: Gone Girl: A Novel
Flynn, Gillian
4 stars = Really Good

I really liked the direction this book took in the middle. I found both main characters to be fascinating. It reminded me of another marriage I know in real life that went horrifically south. The book also illustrates the disturbing reality that life isn't fair and bad people rarely get their due.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Left Neglected: A Novel
Genova, Lisa
4 stars = Really Good

s a neuroscientist, author Lisa Genova uses her knowledge of human brain conditions to weave fiction stories. Her first book, Still Alice, is a moving and accurate depiction of early-onset Alzheimer’s, written from the perspective of the person stricken with the illness. Left Neglected explores a traumatic brain injury, again from the vantage point of the person dealing with the problem. Of course, depending on the area and extent the brain is damaged, symptoms vary widely on this subject and Genova chooses a fairly rare condition called Left Neglect, in which the right hemisphere of the brain in damaged in such as way that while the person is not paralyzed, they are unaware of anything on the left – to include the left side of the body and the left side of the world around them. The story Genova generates, from the main character’s original high-powered, multi-tasking life to her slow recovery, is somewhat bland and predictable. You can guess that she is going to have to learn to slow down and appreciate the little things in life. And you are pleasantly surprised that her marriage remains intact. But what is fascinating about this book is that the reader continuously tries to understand what it would be like to lose everything “left”. The mostly unknown power of our own brains, and the fact that we are all at the mercy of this organ to perceive our world accurately is what makes this book intriguing to read. How do we know what we believe we perceive is all there is? What if there is more out there, but our brains simply don’t know how to register its existence? The vast power our brains have over our entire reality and how we filter information and make sense of it is an individual experience – no two people perceive the world in the same way. No wonder we have so much trouble relating to one another! While the plot didn’t wow me, I found this book incredibly interesting simply because Genova imparts fascinating and thought-provoking information in the form of a very readable story.

Libby
Book Review: Pines: A Novel
Crouch, Blake
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Pines is the story of Special Agent Ethan Burke, who has found himself in the creepy little town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. He wakes with an injury and temporary amnesia. And as he starts to put the pieces together about how he got in a place that is a little too Norman Rockwell for its own good, well, things get really strange. And scary. An action-packed story that is equal parts horror, thriller and science fiction, Pines will keep you up all night turning the pages. Extra kudos because this author is from Colorado. Watch for the TV Series that will be based on this story

Kirk
Book Review: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
Lamott, Anne
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

There is no one quite like Anne Lamott to provide an astute, thought-provoking, and humorous perspective on spiritual matters with such simplicity, honesty, humanity, and modest profundity that leaves one convinced that there are truly only three essential prayers that find expression in every human heart. No stranger to heartache, struggle, doubt, addiction, questioning, failure, angst, and chicken-heartedness, Anne’s writings resonate with all who keep an open, inquiring mind and a tender heart. I highly recommend that you read one of her earlier books (such as Traveling Mercies) to understand where Anne comes from and the forces that have shaped her thoughts and inform her wisdom.

Sandy
Book Review: The Age of Miracles: A Novel
Walker, Karen Thompson
3 stars = Pretty Good

How would you react if the rotation of the earth had begun to slow. This is the story of a family and their reaction, from the point of view of the family's young daughter. A good story, but should be in the teen area, not adult fiction.

Toni
Book Review: The Unfailing Light
Bridges, Robin
3 stars = Pretty Good

Book 2 in The Katerina Trilogy. Katerina Alexandrovna, the 16-year-old Duchess of Oldenburg in St. Petersburg, Russia 1889, is a necromancer. While attending The Smolny Institute for Young Noble Maidens, she yearns to study to become a medical doctor, but first she must reconcile the Light Court of Czar Nicholas with the Dark Court of his brother, the Grand Duke Vladimir. Lots of tension and adventure as Katerina lives in a society of blood-drinking princes, poisonous veshtizas, dark faeries, the creatures she accidentally brings back to life, and the return of the lich tsar.

Vickie
Book Review: Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
Grogan, John
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

John and Jenny were young and in love. They brought Marley home and oh my goodness ! Marley was very mischevious, such as chewing through sheetrock, stole womans undergarments. Obediance school did no good as he was expelled.

Mike
Book Review: These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901
Turner, Nancy E
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read! The characters and the imagery of the time and place bring you right into Arizona at the turn of the century. Written in a diary format and loosely based on the memoirs of the author's grandmother the authenticity of life in territorial Arizona is felt in every description of the land, people and time. Sarah exemplifies the life of so many women from my ancestral past. Strong, courageous, kind, funny, loving and smart. Her quest for an education and fulfillment of dreams touches the heart. I found at the end of the book I yearned to know more about this incredible women... If you do too, don't miss the sequels "Sarah's Quilt" and "Star Garden".

Rhonda
Book Review: A Memory of Light
Jordan, Robert
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

The final book in the Wheel of Time series, a finale 23 years in the making, it is well worth the wait. If you are looking for a place to start the series DO NOT begin here, book 1, “The Eye of the World” is really the only place to start. After the expected extended prologue, where the maneuvering and plotting found through out the series are intermixed with scenes from a desperate battle, the book plunges head first into The Last Battle, and almost never looks back. Even if Mr. Jordan had lived to fully write this last volume I believe it would have still had a completely different tone, and it is certainly far different from any prior book in the series. Be prepared for a far darker book, with less certainty that all will work out for all the “good” characters, but I feel this shift in tone has been forecast even in books fully written before Mr. Jordan’s death. In the end, for fans, not all your questions will be answered, and we leave this world with interesting stories that will never be told, but as at the end of Lord of the Rings I find myself mostly content with where most characters end and with a series that I will soon start from the beginning once again.

JT
Book Review: I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats
Marciuliano, Francesco
4 stars = Really Good

A short sweet book full of humorous poems if they were written by cats! You forgot one option mentioned above for reading audience: cats! Great pictures and perspective on the part of the author.

Susi
Book Review: Remember Me
Clark, Mary Higgins
4 stars = Really Good

This suspenseful book has great character and plot development without sacrificing "the surprise" ending. The setting on Cape Cod makes it more memorable and enjoyable. Mary Higgins Clark's earlier books were great, but I feel this one is among her highest achievements.

Johanna
Book Review: Hattie Big Sky
Larson, Kirby
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Historic books are so tough to get right. The history might be accurate but the prose downright boring, or the prose might be fantastic, but the facts totally off-base. For "Hattie Big Sky" the author took bits of her grandmother's past, combined it with several trips to Montana, and countless hours of research, to create a fantatic heroine with the flavor of the Old West who lives in that remarkable era of the 1918-1920 where there was still the possibility of obtaining manifest destiny. Hattie's a plucky little 16-year-old whose uncle left her a claim in Montana, all 300+ acres of claim, that she has to 'prove up' by a certain date if she wants to keep the land. She heads out, on her own, for Montana to make good on her uncle's claim. This is literally one of THE BEST historic novels I have read in I don't know how long. It's what you would call 'clean' teen historic lit. It's even got a spiritual angle since Hattie does an awful lot of praying, but you never feel preached at, which is refreshing. Teens and adults alike will enjoy this book, not only because of its heroine, but because it feels fresh and original, and it's always fun knowing a story is inspired by real-life events.

Carissa
Book Review: Flight Behavior: A Novel
Kingsolver, Barbara
4 stars = Really Good

Dellrobia Turnbow and the migrating butterflies that show up in Feathertown have something in common. They are both just surviving their circumstances. The butterflies had their habitat destroyed and inexplicably chose to winter in TN. Dellrobia has married into a family that doesn't understand her or her stifled dreams. She planned an act of desperation that would disgrace her when she happened into the "valley of fire" ablaze with millions of monarch butterflies. Her discovery is perceived differently by the locals, the urbanites and the academics who are drawn to this phenomenon. The ensuing events help Dellarobia to find her voice. Barbara Kingsolver has a reputation for writing about issues relating to the degradation of the planet's natural resources. Readers of her environmental writings will not be disappointed.

Ann
Book Review: Wow! Said the Owl
Hopgood, Tim
4 stars = Really Good

This is a great read for preschoolers who are learning their colors. The illustrations are simple and eye-catching as is the refrain "WOW!" said the owl. It keeps kids interested, teaching not only colors, but also about night and day. It's a keeper.

Tiffany
Book Review: The Hunger Games
Collins, Suzanne
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

The Hunger Games is the first book in this trilogy and it really sets the stage for a different kind of world. This world is a tough and brutal environment for this population, especially the children who are of age to be picked for the annual Hunger Games. Katniss is the main character in the trilogy and she is a complex young woman. I really enjoyed all of the books in the series and highly recommend them!

Lisa
Book Review: Catfish Alley
Bryant, Lynne
4 stars = Really Good

I chose this book for my book group to read not knowing much about it. As one person in my book group put it "An unexpected pleasant surprise of a book". Lynne Bryant told a gripping story of a small town in the south that even though things in our country have progressed, they really haven't. It is the story of Roxanne who has her own secrets and how she becomes friends with an elderly black woman and her life is changed forever. Lynne Bryant really knows how to write characters that are so life-like, that you just want to meet someone like Grace, Adelle, and Mattie in person. This is a wonderful book for book groups because there is lots to discuss.

Melissa
Book Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home
Janzen, Rhoda
4 stars = Really Good

I really loved this book and highly recommend it. I listened to it on CD, but Rhoda Janzen's writing style is just fantastic. She made me laugh and she gave me lots to think about. Even a Mennonite History Primer was funny, but I did learn a few facts about the Mennonites while laughing. I really loved the stories that involved her mom. Even though lots of the book was funny, it was also tough at times to hear how badly her ex-husband had treated her. Rhoda was very lucky she had her family to rely upon. The best line from the book is "I suddenly had the feeling you get when, after a long sea swim, you touch bottom and draw a breath of relief: you made it, land ho, sharks from this point on extremely unlikely." It made me think of some of my hard journeys in life and feeling that same sense of relief.

Melissa
Book Review: Bond Girl
Duffy, Erin
3 stars = Pretty Good

I liked Bond Girl even if parts of it were formulaic. Erin Duffy did a great job at describing how Wall Street was right before the economy meltdown as well as what is like for a woman to break into the "good old boys network". At times I felt sorry for Alex how she was treated and at other times, I couldn't help but laugh. I do wish Erin Duffy had fleshed out Kate Katz a.k.a Cruella. I would have loved to know more about her. Overall I thought it was a good first effort and I do hope Erin Duffy has plans to write more books.

Melissa
Book Review: Me Before You
Moyes, Jojo
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

*Me Before You* had thoughtful meditations on what constitutes a well lived life.

Cynthia
Book Review: Please Look After Mom: A Novel
Sin, Kyŏng-suk
3 stars = Pretty Good

The mom who had taken care of her family and given endless love was missing. She vanished in the crowd in the Seoul station. She was illiterate and elderly. She came to Seoul to celebrate her birthday to save her children's time and money. After her disappearance, the story starts with a view from each family member (daughter, son and husband). Each family member follows her trace to find her. While they are struggling to find her, they realize that the mom was ignored and neglected. For example, they found out about her stroke through their doctor, remaining unaware of her illness since then. In the end, they realize that she holds a crucial role in all of their lives. Her name was Park So-nye; like meaning of her name, she was an ordinary girl like all of us who had many dreams for her future. As time passes by, her name and her dreams were sacrificed for her to take the role of a mother without her children's knowledge. Each narrator describes how he or she saw the mother in their point of view. Throughout this book, we come to question the true meaning of family.

Hyun Sook
Book Review: Fahrenheit 451
Bradbury, Ray
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Classic literature. This book deeply engages the issue of intellectual freedom.

James
Book Review: The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the America
Wade, Stephen
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Writer and musician Stephen Wade plumbs the deep river of American traditional music as he explores the back stories of 12 field recordings from the Library of Congress’ Archive of Folk Culture. Beginning in 1928, the Library of Congress established the Archive of American Folk Song with the goal of collecting “all the poems and melodies that have sprung from our soil or have been transplanted here, and have been handed down…from generation to generation as a precious possession of our folk.” Passionate collectors such as Robert Gordon, John and Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and many more, traveled the nation’s back roads, and beyond, with cumbersome recording equipment to capture the voices and music of everyday folk. In so doing, they created what is arguably the most valuable archive of the American experience.

In his book, Wade examines 12 musical performances, from among the Archive’s more than 150,000 sound recordings, tracing the stories of the performers and the songs, placing them in the social and cultural context of their time, and following the remarkable influence they have had on our modern culture. Using historical sources and well as recent interviews with family descendents and friends of the performers, Wade gives these largely unknown men, women, boys and girls the recognition they have so long deserved as bearers of real American culture. The lives of these performers often were tragic or bittersweet and the recordings they made in coal camps, prisons, churches, front porches and schoolyards both bear witness to the circumstances of their lives and transcend them. We are fortunate that these recordings were made in rural America during the 1920s-40s and that they have been diligently preserved in our national library. We are also fortunate that Stephen Wade has taken the time to dig deeply into the lives of these performers and write about what he has found.

The book is accompanied with a CD containing the performances captured in the original field recordings and discussed in the book’s 12 chapters.

Dennis