Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy has been hailed as one accomplished writers of our era. The Road certainly is testimony to that statement. It is haunting, lyrical, depressing and full of love. It is an apocalyptic time in the future after an "event" has left the United States covered in gray ash. A man and his son with only a few blankets, a lighter, and a shopping cart are trying to get to what seems like the sea and the southern U.S. The narrative is without chapters and has only minimal punctuation as the two journey. It becomes cyclical as over and over again they find a dilapidated shelter, a bit food, some other lost people. But through it all Papa and the boy continue on because that is what they should do. They are the ones that carry the fire, the fire that gives them the impetus to live and to journey on.

The father is the protector and he will do what is necessary to keep his son alive. He carries a gun with two bullets in case it might be necessary to end the suffering. The son is incredibly morally grounded. He can't comprehend the idea that the when the pair meet a young boy on the road they don't stop to help the child. And so it goes as they travel on. With every step the father becomes sicker and sicker, coughing up blood, but so determined to live for his son. The ending is inevitable and we feel saddened for the boy who must go on.

This book could be used in so many instances on the Advanced Placement Exam. The language and style are the epitome of modern prose. I am anxious to see the film adaptation
starring Viggo Mortensen that will open this November. From the credits it seems that the mother may have more of a role than the brief glimpses that we get in the book of her shortened life.

Definitely another book that will stay with the reader as we ponder our place in this world and its future.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

We are magically transported back to the 1960s in Gary Schmidt's Newbery Honor book, The Wednesday Wars. It is September of 1967 and Holling Hoodhood is starting the 7th grade. He is the only Presbyterian in a class of Catholic and Jewish students and consequently has no place to go when the rest of his class leaves on Wednesdays to go to religious education classes. It is then that he decides that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him. She first has him doing very meaningless chores like cleaning blackboards and erasers. (How many remember cleaning erasers against a brick wall?) But when that doesn't work out as she plans, she decides that he will begin reading Shakespeare. Total proof that she hates him.

Schmidt craftily weaves the Shakespearean plays into Holling's life both in and out of school. He becomes totally involved in the plays and realizes that the Bard speaks to junior high boys as well as English teachers. Holling even joins a community group and plays Ariel in the local theatre production. Needless to say he suffers some repercussions from this decision. 1967-1968 were tumultuous years with the Viet Nam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, atomic bomb drills, and the peace movements. They were also the years of Ralph Houck's Yankees and we meet so many of the memorable players of those years like Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle and Joe Pepitone. There are numerous other subplots involving Holling's father's architectural firm, his sister's running away from home, classmates, and Mrs. Baker's husband who is a soldier in Viet Nam. We get much of the news from the venerable Walter Cronkite.

This book is a gem and well deserving of the Newbery Honor. It is funny, no actually hilarious, and thought-provoking. It is a shame that the cover does not do the inside of the book justice. It is not enticing and that is a definite shame. Read this book and have a thoroughly enjoying experience. For classroom teachers, it begs to be read aloud. Have fun on a trip back in time!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci

It was very frustrating reading this latest novel by Plum-Ucci. It is a real page-turner, but unfortunately, I couldn't devote all my time to reading it. Be prepared to only want to read when you pick up Streams of Babel. Set in New Jersey in 2002, it is the frightening, but all too plausible circumstance of bio- terrorism that is at its center. Cora Holman's mother, Aleese, has suffered a debilitating injury, is addicted to morphine, and has died of an overdose. But did she really? The autopsy indicates it really was a brain aneurysm. How coincidental is it that the mother of one of the paramedics responding to the emergency call is also sick with the flu and exhibits the same symptoms as Cora's mother. Determined to ward off the bug, Mrs. Ederman downs an extraordinary amount of water. It is to no avail and she also succumbs. Results of the autopsy - brain aneurysm. But how much does the water she and Cora's mother drank have to d0 with their deaths?

The novel is told in alternating voices of Cora Holman, Scott and Owen Ederman, Rain Steckman whose father is head of USIC (US Intelligence Coalition), Shazhad Hamdani, a young Pakistani who is v-spying for the USIC, and
Tyler Ping, a young Korean who eats pills and hacks computers. Shazhad has intercepted chatter about Red Vinegar and the intent to kill a significant number of people in Colony One. But will he be able to get information to the U.S. officials quickly enough to save the lives of Rain, Cora, and Owen?

The friendship and interaction among the teens is natural and believable. The idea of water supplies being targets for terrorists is more than frightening and credibly portrayed. As the terrorists are exposed the reader has a sense of urgency to finish the book and find that they are aptly punished. But, is that reality? The suspense will hold the reader beyond the final page of the book. A great solid teen-read!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva

Last year I discovered Daniel Silva and I spent last summer reading all 7 of his Gabriel Allon novels. I couldn't wait for his new book, Moscow Rules to come out this summer. I wasn't disappointed. Allon is an agent for the Israeli Mossad and is also an incredibly gifted art restorer. Silva tackles world issues through the activities of Allon and has earned his place, in my opinion, next to Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsythe, two of my favorite authors in the spy and international intrigue genre. Moscow Rules begins with the horrible death of Aleksandre Lubin, a Russian journalist, in France. He has information about a Russian plot to sell arms to terrorists. Allon is called from his honeymoon in Umbria to make contact with a another Russian journalist in Rome to get information about Lubin's death and of the impending terrorist activities. The meeting goes sour and Allon becomes fully involved in the investigation, much to the chagrin of his new wife, also an Israeli agent.

The action moves from Rome to London to Moscow all with lightning speed. On the journey Ari Shamron, Sarah Bancroft, Eli Lavon, and Uzi Navot, characters from previous Silva novels, join the investigation. It is journey that keeps you on the edge of your seat as Allon, the English, American, and French governments attempt to capture ringleader Ivan Kharkhov and intercept the shipment. Adding to the intrigue is the willingness of Kharkhov's wife Elena to cooperate with Allon. As the plan is fabricated and the mission becomes clear, we know that the danger to all involved is life-threatening and we are fascinated as to how Ivan will be thwarted and Elena and intelligence agents will get out alive. Mindful of the "Moscow Rules," the rules of engagement developed by the CIA during the Cold War Period, each of the operatives knows his or her role and must not deviate from it.

There is no shortage of plot twists and turns in this novel as we revel in Silva's magnificent use of language and description. One feels the quiet and comfort of Umbria, the rich life of Saint-Tropez, and the tenseness of clandestine meetings in Washington, London, and Moscow. You just can't get enough. And so the wait commences until the next thriller by Daniel Silva is published.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

If you have ever been to London, you will have seen that the London Eye dominates the skyline along the Thames River across from Parliament. When one flies the Eye, you experience breathtaking views of the city and on a clear day, the countryside for roughly 20 miles. Siobhan Dowd sets her mystery around this landmark. Ted and Kat are on half-term break and are really not looking forward to a visit from Aunt Gloria and their cousin, Salim who are on their way to relocating in the United States. From the onset of the novel we know that Ted is a very special kid. He is consumed with meteorology and numbers and thinks outside the box. As the book progresses we see that he most likely as Asperger's syndrome. Salim has always wanted to fly the Eye and so Aunt Gloria, Ted, Kat and Ted and Kat's mom, Faith, set out the day after their arrival to do so. While Gloria and Faith have coffee, the 3 young people stand in queue for tickets and boarding. But, what luck! A stranger approaches them and offers a free ticket. He bought it and realizes that being claustrophobic, he could never get into one of the pods.

Since Kat and Ted have flown the Eye, Salim takes it and boards for his flight. The flight takes exactly 30 minutes and Kat and Ted wait for him. The people in his pod disembark, but Salim is not among them. Maybe it was the wrong pod. Could they have missed him? Where is he?

The mysterious disappearance has everyone puzzled and the story that ensues takes the reader on a very wild ride. Ted is certain that he can figure it out. He and Kat develop some nine theories as they try to find Salim. The police become involved. But time is ticking away and throughout the next 3 days the family becomes more frantic. To test a few theories Kat and Ted venture out on a trip through London and the Tube. As they develop and test the hypotheses, we get an incredible and fascinating insight into how Ted's mind really works.

This is a great mystery, full of Britishisms, some laughter and some very tense moments. I tried to pick up on some clues through the course of the story, but must admit, I missed one that would have helped me solve it. It is a page-turner and would be a fun book for both boys and girls. Siobhan Dowd was a wonderful author and it saddens me that she will write for us no more.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I must say that I was a little more than skeptical when I heard that The Invention of Hugo Cabret had won the prestigious Caldecott Medal for 2008. How could a 500+ page book qualify for this honor that is awarded for the most distinguished "picture book" of the year? I am NOT skeptical NOW after reading Hugo. What a gem that is surely to go down as a favorite for generations to come.

From the opening page's picture of a moon and then the sketches of Paris at night, the reader is entranced by the charcoal drawings and words have yet to appear. We learn that Hugo has taken over keeping the clocks wound and synchronized at a train station in Paris after his uncle disappears. He lives in a small room, also occupied by an automaton that was rescued from the ashes of a fire that killed Hugo's father. Hugo forages for food since he has no way to cash his uncle's paychecks. Our empathy builds for this young orphan as he tries to do the right thing, but who is eventually caught stealing a small wind up mouse from a toy store in the station. He needs some parts to fix the automaton because he knows from his father's notebook that the mechanical creature holds a deep secret. The shop owner takes his notebook and holds it as ransom. Hugo will need to work in the shop to try to make amends.

Enter Penelope, the shopkeeper's godchild. She befriends Hugo and the two embark on the journey that will lead them to discover the secret. Through magic, a bit of cinematic history, and the exploration of days gone by, the two friends eventually share their deepest thoughts and feelings about their lives with each other. Not all of them are happy.

This book can be read on many levels. It is an insight into cinema and the contributions of Georges Méliés, the tragedy of young people left to their own devices for survival, and some real history as illustrated by the train crash at the Gare Montparnasse. As the Caldecott committee stated, "Neither words nor pictures alone tell this story." Pick it up and you will be lost and enchanted for a good couple of hours.

For background and history of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, click here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is a well-known author of adult books and poetry. His first novel for Young Adults is an absolute winner, literally. It won the prestigious National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2007. Based on Alexie's life it is comedic, tragic, and poignant in so many ways.Told in the 1st person, the novel recounts the year that Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, leaves the rez school to attend a white school 20 miles from his home. Junior is a Spokane Indian who suffers from multiple physical issues. He was born hydrocephalic, he stutters, and he lisps. In addition his parents are alcoholics and the family is extremely poor. When handed a book in math class on the first day of school, he sees that his mother's name is listed on the inside of the book. It had been used since his mother was in school and that was not fair. He heaves the book and it hits his teacher in the face. It was at this point, after his suspension, that Mr. P. encourages him to attend the white school. "You've kept your hope. And now you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope."

And so he does and he meets people who give him some of that hope. But he still has to go home to the rez. The year goes by and Junior tells us of trying out for the basketball team, facing his good friend, Rowdy, on the court, trying to understand why is sister Mary has runaway, and lamenting the countless funerals he must attend. He is fourteen and already has attended forty two funerals. "That's the difference between Indians and white people." His talent on the basketball court allows him ,finally, to be accepted, tho the process is not without pain. His coach reminds him of the Vince Lombardi quote (no not the win or lose one), but "the quality of a man's life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor." That should be a mantra for us all.

The book is enhanced by the cartoon-like drawings Junior draws. Some are just hilarious as he attempts to get his thoughts down on paper. Drawings are understood by everyone and transcend speech and language. And these drawings do that for this book. This was an amazing book and one that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned. Yes, in times it is raunchy and earthy, but it is blatantly honest and captivating and should be a must read by all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis

A Death in Vienna is a very absorbing novel that is set in turn of the century Vienna. Charlotte Lowenstein, a very attractive medium, has been shot. But there was no bullet. She is found in a locked room - locked from the inside and there is no evidence of an escape by the murderer. Could it be an illusion or is a supernatural being the perpetrator? Enter Dectective Oskar Rheinhardt who enlists the aid of a cutting edge psychoanalyst, Dr. Max Liebermann to try to solve the murder. There are numerous suspects, many of whom have participated in seances with Charlotte. They include a banker, a locksmith, a count, and a well-to-do couple. Tallis masterfully develops each character and sets them against the back-drop of the beautiful and bustling city of Vienna, almost allowing the city to become a character in herself. The investigation becomes a study of forensic and criminal methods versus psychological. Several additional story lines become interwoven within the main story line, the engagement of Max, the treatment a very disturbed Amelia Lydgate. And then in the midst of all the action, one of the prime suspects is bludgeoned to death and is found in a room locked from the inside. Is it the same killer or a different one?

The crimes are solved in a very clever manner as a result of some ingenious twists and turns of the plot. Tallis weaves the historical into the novel as we witness a symphony conducted by Mahler and an exhibit opening of Klimt's paintings at the Secession. And, of course, no novel set in 1902 Vienna would be complete without an appearance by Sigmund Freud whose influence of thought at the time is quite evident. We also get a glimpse of a Freud who is trying to push the sales of a book of jokes, no less.

A Death in Vienna transports the reader to the titular city in every way. We can taste a sachertorte at Demel's, hear the works of Beethoven and Wagner as conducted by Mahler, smell the coffee at the Imperial and other cafés, be awestruck at the beauty of the Hoffburg Palace, and lose our breath as we ride high above the city on the Riesenrad. It was a very good trip indeed. A great combination of thriller, historical and psychological fiction.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

There are books that, when you read them, you know will stay with you for a long time. Jay Asher's first novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, is just such a book. Clay Jensen receives a package of tapes that detail the thirteen reasons why Hannah Baker has committed suicide. Recorded before her death, the tapes are Hannah's own accounting to the thirteen people who contributed to her decision to end her life. Just as Clay must know why he is involved and listens to the tapes without a pause, we want to know what has happened to this young woman that has caused her to make such a decision.

Hannah's taped voice appears in italics, interspersed among the the thoughts of Clay. Although he has had a crush on Hannah for a time, he cannot figure out what has caused him to be included in the persons who will be receiving the tape. Also among those receiving the tapes is the boy who was her first kiss and ruined her reputation, the one who labeled her as having the best a-- in the school, the girl who pretended to be a real friend and a peeping Tom who stalks her outside her window. All of them have played a major role in her high school life, but were their actions enough to really put Hannah over the edge.

This is an eerie story. At times it feels that we are eavesdropping on a very private conversation between Hannah and Clay. But we read, anxious to get to the end because we have to have the answers. This book resonates with the truth - the truth that, even what seems as an inconsequential action, can have consequences that snowball. This novel is so well written and so powerful The lives of those who have received the tapes will never be the same. It is a guarantee that the reader's life will not be the same either upon finishing the book.

Don't wait to read this one!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

I have been a devoted fan of Jennifer Donnelly since I first read A Northern Light. In addition, I have had the wonderful pleasure of hosting Jennifer at our school.
Having read The Tea Rose, I anxiously awaited the second in the trilogy. I boug
ht a copy while in the UK, but gave it to a friend as present. As the school year winds down, I couldn't put off reading The Winter Rose any longer. It is a long historical saga, but isn't that what we fans love? Reviewers have said that it went on 200 pages longer than necessary, but I disagree. I didn't want it to end.
The Winter Rose continues the story of the Finnegan family, this time with Charlie Finnegan at the center of the action. However, Charlie is now known as Sid Malone and is a seemingly ruthless criminal who controls a band of thugs in London's East End. The novel commences as India Selwyn-Jones graduates from the London School of Medicine for Women and begins work for Dr. Gifford, a quack to be sure. India is passionate about medicine and is resolved to provide the best treatment for the hordes of patients whom she sees. At the same time she is engaged to Freddie Lytton, a hardened ne'er do well, who is interested in her for her money. As is to be expected the paths of Freddie, India, and Sid become entwined and the inevitable triangle is conceived. Fionna Finnegan becomes obsessed with finding Charlie and as a result enters the picture.

From East End of London to Whitechapel to New York, California, and Africa and Mount Kilamanjaro, Donnelly weaves a wonderful adventure and romantic novel. Her descriptions of the times, characters, and setting are meticulously researched. You know what Victorian London looks like and how it smells - the pubs, the tunnels, and the wharves. You can feel the jostling of your teeth as the primitive railroad crosses the African continent. You love India and despise Freddie. At times I felt like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. As close as Sid and India get to having a fulfilling relationship, the rock slides back down and you start over again. The minor characters are also well drawn, especially Ella Moskowitz and her family. They add a sense of place and also serve as catalysts in moving the plot along. Seamie Finnegan reappears and the subplot involving him and Willa Alden with their adventurous spirit and need for exploration seems to foreshadow the plot of the next novel in the trilogy.

The Winter Rose is a wonderful novel, guaranteeing many hours of reading pleasure.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

New Feature

Have just added a link to my bookshelves at GoodReads. Now you can see what I am reading and what's on my shelf to read next.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor

Originally published in 1938, Address Unknown is a short story or novella that is immediately engaging and eventually haunting. Told in a series of letters between two business associates who are really like brothers, it chronicles the rise of nationalism and Hitler in Germany in 1934. Martin Schulz moves his family back to Germany after having lived in San Francisco where he was co-owner of an art gallery with Max Eisenstein. The two carry on a correspondence with Eisenstein, a Jew, becoming very concerned over the policies of Germany and Hitler. Eventually, Martin requests that Max no longer write him since he is afraid of losing his position in German society and politics. The story climaxes when Max asks Martin to help track down Max's sister Griselle. Max's letters to Griselle have been returned address unknown after she openly proclaimed her self a Jewish actress. In a turn of events and twist in plot that is reminiscent of O'Henry, the book leaves the reader with shock and questions as to what is really morally right in that world and even today.

According to Charles Douglas Taylor, Kressman Taylor's son, in the forward to the book, Katherine wanted to write "about what the Nazis were doing and show the American public what happens to real, living people swept up in a warped ideology." It gives evidence that we as a people were aware of what was happening in Germany and how we chose to react or not react to the situation. A must read for any introduction to the study of the Holocaust.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rash by Peter Hautman

It is the latter part of the 21st century and Bo Marsten is living in the USSA (United Safer States of America). The society has change into one where it is better to be safe than free. One needs a helmet to take a walk, 50 pounds of pads and protective equipment to run a track race, and french fries and beer are outlawed as are body piercings and tatoos. The rules are so stringent - 3 strikes and you are out that more than a quarter of the population are serving time in penal camps. Clearly the camps are what makes the economy run. So when Bo is accused of afflicting his classmates with a rash after he lost his temper and stopped taking his Ritalin-like medicine that teens must take, he is sent to a prison camp in the tundra of Canada. The camp, surrounded by polar bears, is run by McDonalds and produces pizzas. The guards are corrupt and Bo is tapped to play on the illegal tackle football team whose goal it is to defeat the team from the CocaCola plant. Clearly the intent is to see which team can more brutally attack the other. But wait Bork, the A.I., Bo has been creating for his science class is determined to spring him from the camp. Each time Bo logs into his WindO, a computer like device that knows your every move, Bork offers him legal advice. In some hair-raising turn of events, Bo attempts to leave the camp and return home.

This novel is difficult to categorize. It is a great football story, a unique entry in the genre of dystopian literature, and a very successful satire on the state of our society and where it might be heading. Hautman is brilliant in his description of the world as we might come to know it. Remember, it wasn't too long ago when bicycle helmets weren't required. Shopping at a mall is easily done by looking at holograms that show all sides of a product. How ironic, too that safety laws are being enforce by Phillip Morris, Co?

The laughs are there, but the discussion of life in the U.S.S.A. in 2o74 will linger long after the laughter stops. Don't miss this book!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Where are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark

Time for some fluff reading and Mary Higgins Clark's 2008 novel. Where Are You Now follows much the same and predictable format of Clark's previous mysteries. In short chapters, she introduces a plethora of characters who all have a connection to the central premise. Charles "Mack" Mackenzie has been missing for ten years. However, not a year has passed that he hasn't called his mother on Mother's Day. Not even his father's death in the World Trade Center collapse has brought him home. This year is no exception and his sister, Carolyn, is bound and determined that she is going to find her brother. She will leave no stone unturned to find him. Her search involves the landlord's apartment where her brother last lived. What is it that they are hiding. Leesey Andrews has disappeared from a Greenwich Village Club that is owned by Nick DeMarco, a roommate of Mack's. Are the two connected? And Bruce Galbraith, another roommate, has hurried his wife Barbara off to Martha's Vineyard. Is he trying to hide something? Add to these subplots the acceptance of Mack's mother of his disappearance and her desire to get on with her life. She shows this determination by setting off on a vacation to the Greek isles, accompanied by family advisor Elliott Wallace. Throughout the investigation Carolyn finds herself in a life-threatening and dangerous situations. This was one of Clark's better efforts. She skillfully pulls off a couple of startling twists that eventually solve the mystery. This is an easy and enjoyable read.... a good beach or vacation novel.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Winner of the 2008 Prinz Award, The White Darkness is an unforgettable read. Not only is the story multifaceted, but the language is rich in structure and words. Symone Wates is a 14 year old English girl who is fascinated, or should we say obsessed with all thing Antarctica. Her bookshelves are full of accounts of the geography and expeditions to the continent at the bottom of the world. Her best friend and spiritual partner is Titus Oakes, a captain who died nearly 90 years ago in the failed Capt. Robert Scott expedition. Her father has just died and her Uncle Victor has stepped in to take his place. Sym believes that her father never really liked her anyway, so to have a doting uncle gives her a small bit of comfort. Imagine Sym's excitement when Victor decides to take her mother and her to Paris for the weekend, especially since it is approaching exam time. But wait, at Waterloo station Sym's mother can't find her passport and not wanting to spoil the others' getaway, decides to remain in England. (How did the passport really end up in Victor's possession?)

Uncle Victor also is fascinated with Antarctica and believes in the theory that there is a hole that lead to the hollow earth that can be reached from there. What a coincidence that it is called Symme's Hole. With the trip to Paris being a ruse, Victor now makes the final preparation to travel with Sym to Antarctica to begin his own exploration. They travel to South America and meet up with the Pengwings Tour Group. He also meets up with Manfred Bruch, a film producer from Norway, and his son Sigurd, just a few years older than Sym. He offers to pay Victor a huge sum for filming the ultimate discovery. But wait, members of the tour are getting sick, a plane has exploded as an evacuation is planned. What is happening?

As the novel continues it is an adventure and survival story extraordinaire. Victor, Sym, Magred, and Sigrud set off across the continent in a Hagglund all terrain vehicle searching for Symme's Hole. It is a journey through the White Darkness complicated by fog, blinding snow storms and a very limited fuel supply. Throughout her life and this story Sym has confided in and trusted the judgement of Titus. Her conversations ARE real and now at a life and death crosswords she has to decide whether she should put her trust in him, or Uncle Victor, who has been a mentor and has loved her when her father didn't, or Sigrud, who has shown her that she is young woman who does not have to be awkward around the opposite sex. In the end we all hope that she has made the right choice.

An author's note at the conclusion of the book explains the fate of the Scott expedition and is a helpful addition.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Henry James' Midnight Song by Carol De Chellis Hill

It has been a very hectic couple of months for me with lots of classes in the library so it has taken a while to finish this incredibly crafted novel. To assign a genre to the book would prove most difficult as it is a combination of gothic, historical fiction, mystery, satire, and philosophical and social critique. The setting is fin de siecle Vienna with a cast of well-known characters that include Edith Wharton, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and of course, Henry James. A mysterious manuscript that details the story when it is delivered to an isolated cabin in Maine. Women in Vienna are being murdered and notes have been left that add further intrigue to the story. And then another murder, a corpse is found at 91 Bergstrasse, the home of Freud by his wife and the hysterical maid and disappears as fast. Was it really there? Special Investigator Maurice LeBlanc is recalled from Paris to investigate the murders and arrives on the scene that leads him to the Countess von Gerzl's house and a family from the states that is staying with her. The characters become so intertwined that eventually they are all suspects in the murder. Deeper into the novel are the themes of feminism, antisemitism, nihilism, and even a prediction of Hitler's rise to power. The ending was totally unpredictable and had me guessing right to the end.
I was fascinated with the historical setting and am curious to read further about Henry James and Edith Wharton. It really was great read packed with literary, philosophical, scenic references. Carol De Chellis Hill includes scholarly footnotes of explanation that are really a part of the manuscript that professor relates. Definitely a stimulating read and one that will rank among my favorites.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo

After just a couple of weeks on the job as a new reporter, Lesley gets the opportunity to interview world-renowned violinist, Paolo Levi before a concert that will celebrate his 50th birthday. She is is told, however, that she must not ask him The Mozart Question. To her amazement, upon meeting with Mr. Levi, and asking the first question that comes into her mind, she is told his story from the very beginning of how he started playing the violin. By the British Children's Laureate this is a story that takes you from the beautiful city of Venice to the horrid concentration camps of World War II. It is Paolo's story from a boy who wants to have what he knows he can't and what he will do to get it. It is a story of secrets that need to be told and in the end it is a story of hope and perseverance.

Right Behind You by Gail Giles

Gail Giles never ceases to amaze with the way she can hook you on a book with the first lines. The three things we know about Kip McFarland are:
"First, you don't know my real name."
"Second, I murdered somebody once."
"Third... well, maybe this will tell you."
And so begins Right Behind You. Reeling from his mother's death and the rough life he is living in Alaska, Kip ignites Bobby Clarke for showing off his new baseball gloves. Years of therapy and institutionalization later, Kip becomes Wade Madison and begins a new life in Indiana where he seems to have it all together. But despite the second chance, one night of too much to drink brings his world collapsing around him and for a second time his family must move away to Texas where Wade meets Sam, a girl who has her secrets as well. The book is written in short chapters, much like a diary and will put the reader through every emotion. At times you want to hate Kip (Wade), and other times you will cry for him.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

What Happened to Cass McBride by Gail Giles

The latest by Gail Giles is a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat with enough twists to keep everyone engaged in this story. Cass McBride seems to have it all - grades, being a great "R.P" (resumé packer), and a student of her father who could talk his way into or out of any situation. She will need that skill to survive being buried alive by Kyle, the brother of David who was in her history class and recently committed suicide. Narrated by the investigating officer, Cass, and Kyle Kirby, her captor, the book slowly unveils the connection between them all including the note that is pinned to David's hanging body - "Words are teeth, and they eat me alive. Feed on my corpse instead." Definitely a gripping read.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

"I, Deanna Lambert belong to no one and no one belongs to me. I don't know what to do."
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr is the masterfully told story of Deanna whose life has been defined since she was 13 as the girl who was caught in the backseat of Tommy Webber's car by her father. Add to that the fact that her father hasn't really spoken to her in 3 years as he deals with his disdain of her actions as well as his shortcomings. To further add to the dysfunctional Lambert family, her brother and best friend, Darren, has married Stacy and is now the father of baby April. They live in the basement of Deanna's parent's home. During the summer of the story, Deanna must again face the repercussions of her action and come to terms with those around her. Working at a pizza restaurant, she also must confront Tommy again. With a resolve to get her life on track she examines her relationships with her brother, her best friend, Lee, and her loyal friend, Jason.
The voice in this book will ring true with teen readers. It is a wonderful read.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Good German by Joseph Kanon

Set against the backdrop of the Potsdam Conference at Schloss Cecelienhof, The Good German is a spy thriller, mystery, and a love story all at the same time. The characters are intricately drawn and the city of Berlin described in a way that you can see the horror left as the aftermath of war. The book commences as Jake Geismar arrives in Berlin to cover the conference. There is an ulterior motive - to find Lena, his former lover. In Potsdam he witnesses a body being washed ashore - an American soldier and from that point he is on a mission to find out the murderer. The investigation leads him to Professor Brandt, Lena's father-in-law and ultimately to Emil, Lena's husband, a scientist who is working with Werner von Braun building rockets.
The book was a bit slow to start, but once you figured out the characters and their inter-relationships, it became a page-turner. There are some thrilling chase scenes, some very heated romantic scenes, and a bit of comedy at times. The depiction of the rally after VJ day with Patton, Truman and Churchhill puts the reader in the midst of Berlin where there is distrust among the allies. One comes away with the realization that there were choices men and women had to make that were not easy and fraught with moral dilemmas and the question that begs to be answered - who were or was the "good German."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

While touring Germany in 2002, this books was hailed as the ultimate German story. I bought it upon returning home and always meant to read it. The length demanded dedication to the read and I must admit I felt it would be dry and a difficult read. Spurred by the reading list for our Burgen und Berge Honors trip, I tackled it during Christmas vacation and I am so sorry that I had not read it sooner. I didn't want to put it down and was sorry that it had ended. The story of the Buddenbrooks family begins in 1835 and continues to the book's end in 1876. Mann is incredible as he characterizes the members of the family. His descriptions are magnificent and you immediately can picture them all in your mind. Johann (Jean) becomes the ultimate patriarch with a devotion to the well-lived life. Elisabeth, his wife, upon his death assumes the role as mentor, and devoted matriarch. Their children, Tony, Tom, Christian, and Clara all have happy and sad times in their lives. We struggle with them as they celebrate the good and bad times. The detail that Mann gives us - of Christmas on Meng Strasse, a Prussian school or the summer at Travemünde - allows the reader to be a part of his work. It will not soon be forgotten.