Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Maybe This Time

Every so often I try a new author. This time it was Jennifer Crusie, a New York Times bestselling author. I thought the book might be a "chick-lit" sort of book, but I really liked the book. A little romance, some ghosts, some larger life lessons and all in all a satisfying read.

The story starts out with Andie Miller in her ex-husband's office trying to return 10 years worth of alimony checks. The marriage broke up because Andie, the free spirit, couldn't deal with the workaholic her husband North Archer had become. Flash forward 10 years and Andi is engaged to a man who is more her style. Hence the need for closure with North.

Before he lets her go, North asks Andi for a favor. Never one to refuse him, Andi agrees to help sort out North's niece and nephew who have been recently orphaned. After going through a series of nannies, the children are in desperate need of not only watching but schooling. Andi, a former teacher seems like the ideal candidate to North. Plus she might be able to find out about the ghosts that the children claim are haunting the house. The children refuse to leave the house in southern Ohio even though it's quite creepy to everyone else.
Andi agrees to help for one month. Off to southern Ohio, Andi quickly moves and starts to investigate things. The housekeeper has been there for 60 years and maintains the house is haunted. The house was brought over from England, stone by stone. And yes, people have died in the house.

So, is the house haunted? Is Andi really encountering North in her dreams? Who are the mysterious people roaming the grounds? When North arrives, alarmed by Andi's claim that the house is haunted things take a turn for the worse. Bodies start piling up, Andi starts rethinking her engagement, the kids are getting more and more withdrawn and a seance adds more to the mix.

While this is not great literature, the characters are sympathetic. You actually like these kids and want things to turn out well for them. The story line moves at a brisk pace and is entertaining - a ghost story with a little romance thrown in. I found the book thoroughly enjoyable. A nice light read.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Book From a Fascinating Internet Thinker

Are you or any of your friends Grobanites? Grobanites are not space aliens, but rather fans of singer Josh Groban.  A number of Grobanites connected online, in order to run an auction that initially raised $16,000 in honor of Josh Groban, which led to the eventual creation of the Josh Groban Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation that has raised nearly a million dollars for a variety of charities.  None of these Grobanites had experience running a charity; nor did they have any goal of creating a new organization.  Instead, they had time, the means to connect (the internet) and most importantly, as far as internet guru Clay Shirky is concerned, they had passion and love for what they were trying to do.

Shirky's Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age offers many other anecdotes of people using their free time to create and share with no particular profit motive.  Contrary to what many assume, money is not the only thing motivating this type of behavior - Wikipedia, open-source software and the Grobanites are just three examples of sharing for a common good.  According to Shirky, there is a spectrum of types of sharing, from uncoordinated sharing based around common interests to sharing that helps communities or society as a whole.  There are various motivations for these types of sharing, and these motivations are explored in this book.

Clay Shirky is one of my favorite internet trendwatchers and his blog is a must-read if you're interested in the internet; in particular its effect on old media.  If you're looking for a business book that considers the psychology behind why people share, Cognitive Surplus is a good option.  It's a nice overview of participation on the internet, and it offers some tips for organizations looking to take advantage of these online social interactions.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

The Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass

CoverThe Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass, is a novel about class as well as family. Percy Darling, curmudgeon and patriarch, is a retired Harvard librarian living in a picturesque New England town. The town is surrounded by historic homes, not least of which is his own. But unlike some others, he has let his own fall to disrepair after the early and tragic death of his wife, Poppy.

The story begins as Percy recounts his barn's conversion into a preschool for "tiny perfect children, along with their preened and privileged parents." (p.1) The book proceeds from the alternating points of view of three main characters: Robert, grandson to Percy; Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool; and Celestino, a Guatamalan day laborer. Ira and Celestino are portrayed as outsiders looking in on this wealthy hamlet, both depending on the beneficence of its residents.

Sandwiched into this mix are Percy's daughters--Trudy, the successful oncologist, and Clover, the free-spirited teacher at the preschool. Like some other characters in the book, she has made youthful and impulsive choices, and now, bears the consequences.

The Widower's Tale touches social issues such as illegal immigration and conservation. Glass is never heavy-handed as she shows the inequities of the class system, shedding light on the lives of immigrant workers who tend the homes of the wealthy.

As in the Three Junes, the dark specter of illness looms over this quiet town. Having finally found passion after years as a widower, Poppy watches as his new love struggles with treatment for breast cancer. Julia Glass does not spare the reader graphic descriptions in this book any more than in her earlier novel.

The Widower's Tale, all 400 pages, is hard to put down. Glass builds a story using humor, sadness, and suspense. She is a writer with whom one identifies, for who has not made regrettable choices, and often, paid dearly for them? All of life is an act of evolving.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

This book has great promise. It is billed as "The heirs of Sherlock Holmes gather to solve the world's most perplexing cases." And they do solve them with a combination of great deductive reasoning skills, some artistic talent and some good old fashioned luck.

The book chronicles the story of the Vidocq Society, a group of men and women from all over the world and from a variety of professions. There are artists, police officers, pathologists, coroners, attorneys, and judges. Eugene Francois Vidocq was a scandal in France - a career criminal who went onto start what is widely considered to be the world's first detective agency.

The VSMs (Vidocq Society members) were originally Frank Bender, an artist who had an uncanny ability for facial reconstruction and creation of death masks, William Fleisher a police detective and Richard Walter a forensic psychologist. These three men gather, in Philadelphia to start investigating "cold cases." The first case was a decades old case of the "boy in the box."

They are very successful. From 1984 until the time of the book printing (2010), they had investigated more than 300 unsolved murders, solving 90% of them. They did it by simply taking a fresh look at the information the various police agencies had pieced together during the original investigations. The book chronicles the exploits of the group from their beginnings to the current time. It is relentless in it's descriptions of murders, crime scenes and snippets of the main investigators lives.

What the book does is bring the reader into the minds and patterns of thinking of the investigators. There is a very complete description of the descent into psychopathology of a serial killer. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is very graphic in parts. It also contains several pictures taken directly from police files.

I thought the book was interesting, although I was really ready to be done with murder and mayhem by the end of the book. It should also be pointed out that the conversation portions of the book feel contrived. Who really knows what a killer said to his victim 50 years ago? I would recommend it with a strong caution. If you like true crime and graphic descriptions this book is for you.

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger


When I saw this book on the New Fiction Shelf, my initial reaction was "what is this  doing here? It's a graphic novel, it doesn't belong here!"  And then I opened the book, and was completely entranced. I could not do a thing other than be drawn in and compelled to read and look until the book was over, and if I have time today, I'll read it again.

This local author of The Time Traveller's Wife has created a beautiful tribute to books and readers and libraries, with an enchanting gentle plot that draws you through the artwork.  It is set in Chicago, so you will see familiar sites as you learn about a special bookmobile that appears to our main character only at night, and contains a very special collection.   Highly recommended!

Highly recommended!

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fall Into a Good Teen Book!

Check out some of these new YA books for fall:

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a futuristic world, teen Nailer scavenges copper wiring from grounded oil tankers for a living, but when he finds a beached clipper ship with a girl in the wreckage, he has to decide if he should strip the ship for its wealth or rescue the girl.

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The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen

When high school sophomore Mason finds a beautiful but catatonic girl in the nursing home where his mother works, the discovery leads him to revelations about a series of disturbing human experiments that have a connection to his own life.

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The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin

An unlikely romance develops between a science-minded girl who is determined to reclaim her reputation and a boy with Asperger's Syndrome.

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The Julian Game by Adele Griffin

In an effort to improve her social status, a new scholarship student at an exclusive girls' school uses a fake online profile to help a popular girl get back at her ex-boyfrined, but the consequences are difficult to handle.

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Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

In 1980s Australia, nearly fourteen-year-old Plum fears the disapproval of her friends, feels inferior to her older brothers, and hates her body but when her glamorous neighbor befriends her, Plum starts to become what she wants to be--until she discovers her neighbor's ulterior motive.

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A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner

As she tries to sort out her feelings of love, seventeen-year-old Cass, a spunky math genius with an introverted streak, finds a way to memorialize her dead best friend.

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Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson

On her sixteenth birthday Claire discovers strange things happening, and when her mother reveals their family secrets, which explains the changes, Claire feels her world slipping away.

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I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

In rural Ohio, friendships and a beautiful girl prove distracting to a fifteen-year-old who has hidden on Earth for ten years waiting to develop the Legacies, or powers, he will need to rejoin the other five surviving Garde members and fight the Mogadorians who destroyed their planet, Lorien.

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