Book of the Month - March, 2008

February 23rd, 2008

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsShadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she's been killed in a terrible accident.

Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him intoduces himself. The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.

He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming. And from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same...

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February 22nd, 2008
Homer Hickam - Rocket Boys - 199"All I've done is give you a book," she said. "You have to have the courage to learn what's inside it."

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

February 1st, 2008

Water for Elephants by Sara GruenThough he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickey train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out -- orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act -- in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was there only hope for survival.

Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continued to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air.

Water for Elephants further romanticizes the age-old dream to runaway and join the circus. Unfortunately for Jacob (our star) it was not his dream to join the circus, but rather coincidence mixed with his last hope. The story is told from two viewpoints: Jacob is now ninety-something years old and we see what has become of our young protagonist, and we see many flashback sequences to the events that took place as he traveled with the circus.

As readers we are exposed to the sharp contrast between his youth and aged eras. With the circus, Jacob's life was so full of adventure and non-stop activity. Now he is resident in an assisted-living facility and he fears he is losing his energy and becoming more and more like the peers with whom he shares lodging. As he relives the excitement of his days with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth he not only longs for a different time, but resets his grip on his past. He is one old man who is not ready to give up on life.

Sara Gruen gave us a beautiful story about a man who refuses to let go of the events that changed his life. As you read about Jacob your heart will break and then, if possible, it will break again. It is much more than one young man's tale of woe, however. The story is one of love, hope, never giving up and some unlikely good friends. You will laugh, worry, delight and cheer with Jacob whether he is twenty something or ninety something. I really appreciate that the author went the extra mile in her research of life in the circus.

I didn't think I would like Water for Elephants, but I heard from too many people that it was good. When that happens, I had no choice but to give it a try. I really liked this book. And I'm glad I read it.

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January 31st, 2008
Homer Hickam - Rocket Boys - 1...I didn't know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, could mend it on the same night.

Book of the Month - February, 2008

January 21st, 2008

The Feast of Love: A Novel by Charles Baxter

The Feast of Love: A Novel by Charles BaxterLate one night, Charlie Baxter wakes with a start from a bad dream and decides to take a walk through his Ann Arbor neighborhood. After catching sight of two lovers entangled together on the fifty-yard line of the football field, he comes upon Bradley W. Smith, a friend and fellow insomniac, who convinces Charlie to listen to the first of many tales that will become a luminous narrative of love in its sublime, agonizing, and eternal complexity.

We meet Kathryn, Bradley's first wife, who leaves her husband for another woman, and Diana, Bradley's second wife, whose cold, secretive nature makes her more suitable as a mistress than as a spouse. We meet Chloe and Oscar, whose dreams for their future together are more traditional than their multiple body piercings and wild public displays of affection might suggest. We meet Esther and Harry Ginsberg, Bradley's neighbors, whose love for their lost son persists despite his hatred of them. And we follow Bradley, ex-husband, employer, and friend, on his journey toward conjugal happiness. The community of souls found in The Feast of Love is unforgettable -- as is the perfect symphony their harmonized voices create.

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Reliquary - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

January 3rd, 2008

Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln ChildHidden deep beneath Manhattan lies a warren of tunnels, sewers, and galleries, mostly forgotten by those who walk the streets above. There lies the ultimate secret of the Museum Beast. When two grotesquely deformed skeletons are found deep in the mud off the Manhattan shoreline, museum curator Margo Green is called in to aid the investigation. Margo must once again team up with police Lieutenant D'Agosta and FBI agent Pendergast, as well as the brilliant Dr. Frock, to try and solve the puzzle. The trail soon leads deep underground, where they will face the awakening of a slumbering nightmare.

A year and a half after the museum beast came to New York, two bodies are found on a routine police dive for a package of heroin thrown off a bridge. No one suspects the museum beast is involved since it was killed and transported away, but Margo Green and Dr. Frock are once again asked to help if they can identify these strangely misshapen bodies.

While it is their work to find out the identity of the bodies, it is up to the police to find out where they came from and how they made it to where they were discovered. This portion of the story was the most interesting to me as it described (how accurately I cannot say) the vast network of tunnels beneath Manhattan and the communities of homeless people who live there.

While I really enjoyed this book, it is not one I can recommend broadly. I consider Reliquary to be a guilty-pleasure sci-fi thriller. It had wonderful suspense that would probably leave most readers on the edge of their seats, but there were enough murders and far-fetched scientific "discoveries" to limit the number of readers who would enjoy this book. And at times there was almost too much going on. I was content with the complexity of the story, but they lost me with one particular subplot which continued (seemingly) only to keep one of the recurring characters involved.

I don't think I am the only one who is skeptical of sequels. I think that can be evidenced by Reliquary being labeled as "sequel to the New York Times best seller Relic" and it not being a bestseller on its own. I thought Reliquary was just as good if not better than Relic. Don't be afraid to pick up this sequel.

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January 2nd, 2008
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 56"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure."

Stormchaser - Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell

December 28th, 2007

Stormchaser by Paul Stewart & Chris RiddellFar, far away, jutting out into the emptiness beyond, lies the Edge. Both the land and the air are filled with strange peoples and terrifying creatures; action -- and danger -- await at every turn. On board the famous sky ship Stormchaser, Twig eagerly looks forward to the adventure and excitement that lie ahead in his new life as a sky pirate. The crew's quest: to collect stormphrax -- the precious substance created at the heart of a Storm the very moment it unleashes its most intense power. Only a sky ship as powerful as the Stormchaser, piloted by a man as brave and fearless as Cloud Wolf, could risk entering such a storm...

You probably do not need to read Beyond the Deepwoods first, but I would recommend it. The story doesn't skip a beat as it transitions from book 1 to book 2, but any references to the earlier story are well explained. Stormchaser featured the same beautiful drawings by Chris Riddell and was equally as easy to read. I enjoyed book 2 a little more because it seemed that it was written for a slightly older audience, but I still feel that The Edge Chronicles is written for readers younger than "Harry Potter" age.

I really enjoyed the look into the history and culture of Sanctaphrax and its population of academics. That was probably my favorite part of Stormchaser.

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December 27th, 2007
Arturo Perez-Reverte - The Club Dumas - 239-40

"He's the medieval fool, the joker in a pack of cards, the jester. He symbolizes destiny, chance, the end of everything, the expected or unexpected conclusion. Look at the dice. In the Middle Ages, jokers were privileged beings. They were permitted to do things forbidden to others. Their purpose was to remind their masters that they were mortal, that their end was as inevitable as other men's.

"Here he's stating the opposite," objected Corso. "Fate is not the same for all."

"Of course. He who rebels, exercises his freedom, and takes the risk can earn a different fate. That's what this book is about, hence the joker, paradigm of freedom. The only truly free man, and also the most wise. In occult philosophy the joker is identified with the mercury of the alchemists. Emissary of the gods, he guides souls through the kingdom of shadows..."

Book of the Month - January, 2008

December 21st, 2007

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Thunderstruck by Erik LarsonIn Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men -- Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication -- whose lives intersect during one of greatest criminal chases of all time.

Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners, scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed, and the rich out-did one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, "the kindest of men," nearly commits the perfect crime.

With his superb narrative skills, Erik Larson guides these parallel narratives toward a relentlessly suspenseful meeting on the waters of the North Atlantic. Along the way, he tells of a sad and tragic love affair that was described on the front pages of newspapers around the world, a chief inspector who found himself strangely sympathetic to the killer and his lover, and a driven and compelling inventor who transformed the way we communicate. Thunderstruck presents a vibrant portrait of an era of séances, science, and fog, inhabited by inventors, magicians, and Scotland Yard detectives, all presided over by the amiable and fun-loving Edward VII as the world slid inevitably toward the first great war of the twentieth century. Gripping from the first page, and rich with fascinating detail about the time, the people, and the new inventions that connect and divide us, Thunderstruck is splendid narrative history from a master of the form.

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