Monthly Archives: August 2008

City of Thieves

Title: City of Thieves

Author:  David Benioff

Publisher: Viking, May 2008

Summary: David is a screenwriter who has been asked to write an autobiographical essay for a magazine. He feels his life is not interesting enough to write about so he travels to Florida to interview his Russian grandfather about his life during the siege of Leningrad. The interview lasts a week but focuses on one particular week during the siege when David’s grandfather Lev met his future wife, made his best friend, and killed 2 Germans.

Lev Beniov is seventeen and without family in Leningrad. His father was taken away and his mother and sister fled the city before the Germans surrounded it. He has been living in an abandoned building since the siege and he spends his days keeping watch for fires from the rooftop and trying to find enough food and wood to survive. One evening as he is on fire watch, he and his friends spot a German paratrooper falling from the sky. He is obviously already dead, so Lev and his companions find the body and proceed to take everything they can form the dead soldiers pockets. Unfortunately, the police catch Lev and arrest him for looting. While in custody, Lev meets Kolya, a soldier who has been arrested for desertion. The two are spared by the colonel in charge, but only because the colonel has other plans for them. Their ration cards are taken from them and will not be returned until they accomplish this nearly impossible feat: find a dozen eggs for the colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake. Yes, people are starving to death all over the city, but the colonel’s daughter needs 12 eggs for her wedding cake.

Soon after Lev and Kolya set off on this odyssey to find the eggs, they realize they will never find them in city and must travel behind enemy lines if they have any chance of completing this assignment. The story of Lev and Kolya’s struggle to survive and prevail is at times heartwarming and at times heartbreaking. By the end of this book I cared so much for these two characters that it made me sad to finish the book. This is truly one of the best books I’ve read all year.

Who will like this book?  Everyone, especially those who like historical fiction.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Brain Rules

Title: Brain Rules

Author:  John Medina

Publisher: Pear Press, March 2008

Summary:

“If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a cubicle.”

This is just one of John Medina’s interesting observations detailed in Brain Rules. Medina has narrowed his research down to 12 rules of brain function with a chapter designated for each.

In chapter 1, “Exercise Boosts Brain Power” we learn, among other things, that one of the greatest predictors of successful aging is the presence or lack of a sedentary lifestyle. I personally know a few people who could benefit by reading chapter 4, “We Don’t Pay Attention to Boring Things”. Chapters 7 and 8 detail the effects of sleep and stress on brain function, and Chapter 11 tells us (surprise, surprise), that male and female brains are different. If you are interested in learning why we think and behave the way we do, Medina does a great job explaining the “rules”.

Who will like this book?  Anyone interested in human behavior.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Title: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Author: Junot Diaz

Publisher: Riverhead, September 2007

Summary: Beware the fuku. This ridiculously good novel is part immigrant family saga, part ghetto epic and entirely unforgettable. The narrative traces the history of the de Leon family, from a doctor living under the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic to the titular character – an obese, insular, brilliant aspiring sci-fi writer. Peppered with references to fantasy masterworks such as Dune and Lord of the Rings, and narrated in a vibrant, gritty street Spanglish, this Pulitzer Prize winner tells of the fuku – a devastating family curse akin to the evil eye – that has haunted Oscar’s family through the generations, causing misery at every turn.

Can the fuku be thwarted? Oscar’s quest is reminiscent of those made by his fantasy heroes – equal parts bravery and tragedy. This book is as hilarious as it is haunting, describing the horrors of living under Trujillo and the mortification of being Oscar. Junot Diaz is a true original, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Who will like this book?: Readers who are willing to stretch their boundaries. People interested in stories of the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. Fans of immigrant family dramas.

If you like this, try this: Drown, a collection of stories by Diaz. For more on the Dominican Republic under Trujillo, try In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Dry

Title: Dry

Author: Augusten Burroughs

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, June 2003

Summary: Augusten (author of Running with Scissors and A Wolf at the Table) continues his autobiographical work in Dry. Sadly I am not sure his story is all that unique in terms of living a “successful” life on the outside. He makes a very good living in New York City working as an advertising executive during the day. However, when not at work, and, sometimes when (and certainly at lunch), Augusten’s life revolves around his need to drink to oblivion. He describes the chaos of his life and relationships brilliantly and often they are so “out there” you laugh with him as he reveals how crazy his life/addiction has become. Finally his boss forces him into rehabilitation where he meets and befriends some hilarious and sad personalities. His telling of his return to his life sober makes for a truly moving story. His sadness and regret is palpable when he realizes he may have lost the opportunity to be with his true love. Not for the faint-hearted.

Who will like this book?: Readers who relish the madness of the lives some people live and survive.

If you like this, try this: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

Recommended by: Karen, Administration

Black & White

itle: Black & White

Author: Dani Shapiro

Publisher: Knopf, April 2007

Summary:  Claire Brodeur lives an idyllic life in Maine with her husband and daughter.  She receives a frantic call from her sister informing her that their mother is very ill.  Claire resolves to return to her childhood home in New York City for one day to assess the situation. Once she returns to New York the reason why Claire abandoned her life and her mother – a famous photographer – is revealed little by little.

The tension mounts nicely throughout the book. In spite of the fact her mother is on her deathbed the story is so well crafted the reader feels real sympathy for the daughter.  In the end, as in life, the relationship is somewhat healed.   Shapiro so clearly writes from her heart that readers may be getting a glimpse of some of her life experience. Also of note: Christina Ricci Productions has optioned the book for a movie and Ricci will be playing Claire.

Who will like this book?:  Readers who don’t always expect constant action but enjoy the slow unravelling of a family secret.

If you like this, try this:  Readers who enjoyed Shapiro’s especially - Family History:  A Novel (2003).

Recommended by: Karen, Administration

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

Title: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

Author: Paul Theroux

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2008

Summary: In 1975, Theroux’s book The Great Railway Bazaar, a 28,000-mile intercontinental journey via rail from London to Tokyo became a travel classic. Thirty years later, Theroux decided to retrace his steps. The result is this fascinating account of the places you vaguely knew existed (Tblisi), probably would never go to (Bangalore), but definitely should know something about (Mandalay).

Who will like this book?: All who love great travel books and love to travel vicariously.

If you like this, try this: The Great Railway Bazaar. Dark Star Safari. The Kingdom by the Sea, all by Theroux.

Recommended by: Cliff, Reference

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Title: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Author: David Wroblewski

Summary: I could have lain in the hammock for hours on end with the new book by first-time author David Wroblewski.  What a storyteller! The story takes place in 1970′s Wisconsin at the Sawtelle farm, whose owners, Gar and Trudy breed a wonderfully smart, unique dog — the Sawtelle dog.  But a child is missing in their life and a son is finally born to them. Although Edgar is mute, even as a young boy it is obvious that he is a keen and intelligent observer of people and dogs, and he communicates with both by signing.

Gar’s brother, Claude, shows up at the farm one day (Edgar is now 14) and his father puts Claude to work on the farm. But the tension between the brothers is palpable.  It is clear that two brothers are very different and have unspoken grudges dating all the way back to their childhood. Unexpectedly, Gar, Edgar’s father, dies, apparently of an aneurysm, but Edgar suspects murder. And Claude continues to insinuate himself on the life of the farm and into the affections of Edgar’s mother.  The parallels to “Hamlet” occur throughout the book and culminate in a fantastic scene where Edgar’s dead father appears to him in a sheet of rain.

David Wroblewski has woven together a coming-of-age story, combining fiction and the supernatural to drive you to a pulse-pounding end.  Even though the book is about 550 pages, it is worth the investment.

Recommended by: Susan Z, Reference

HeartSick

Title: HeartSick

Author:  Chelsea Cain

Summary: Archie Sheridan was the lead detective tracking the Beauty Killer, a prolific and monstrous serial killer. When he himself is kidnapped by the murderer, Gretchen Lowell,  she tells him he will be her 200th victim. Gretchen keeps Archie longer than her other victims but eventually turns herself in and allows Archie to be rescued. This, however, doesn’t happen until after she has so cruelly tortured his body and mind, that he will never be the same person he was. Since her arrest Archie has visited Gretchen in prison every Sunday, hoping that she will give him information about her other victims. Archie’s obsession has led to his divorce and an addiction to pills.

Now Archie has been asked to come back to investigate another possible serial murderer. He asks to have a young journalist follow along with him on his investigation so she can report on the current case. He also hopes her reports will end the speculation about what happened to him while he was held captive, and if he really is irreparably damaged. Will Archie ever break away from the psychological hold that Gretchen has on him? Will he be able to catch this new killer that is stalking high school girls? You’ll just have to read HeartSick and find out.

Who will like this book?  This one is a little gruesome, but if you like thrillers this is a great book.

If you like this book, try this: The follow up to this book, Sweetheart, will be out in September 2008.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

The White Mary

Title: The White Mary

Author: Kira Salak

Summary: After all the buzz about this book I thought I would have liked it much more than I did. The writing was very good and the descriptions of the jungle travel are very vivid, but the story was a bit too slow paced for me. I think it could be that I just didn’t care much for the main character. Although I didn’t personally like this book, it was very well written and I’m sure it will appeal to many others.

Marika is a journalist who covers human interest stories in war torn countries. She has narrowly escaped death several times but continues to travel alone to these dangerous regions. When she hears the news that her idol, fellow journalist Robert Lewis, has committed suicide, she decides to write his biography. During her research she comes across a letter written by a missionary who claims to have seen Robert Lewis in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Although she has settled down for the first time in her life while she writes Lewis’s biography, she cannot forget the letter and sets of to PNG to search for him. The novel follows Marika, called White Mary by the local people, through the jungle led by her guide Tobo, a witch doctor from a local village who does more to help Marika than just lead her on her quest. Tobo is by far my favorite character in this story.

Who will like this book?  Anyone who enjoys stories with strong characters and vivid descriptions about exotic, dangerous locations. Just remember to pack some bug spray, mosquito netting, and a big floppy hat because you’ll actually feel the bugs and the blistering sun while you’re reading.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

A Prisoner of Birth

Title: A Prisoner of Birth

Author: Jeffrey Archer

Summary: A modern day version of The Count of Monte Cristo, this enthralling story is full of interesting characters and suspenseful twists and turns, A young British auto mechanic, Danny Cartwright, is wrongly accused of killing his best friend, who is also the brother of his pregnant fiance. He is imprisoned, and he spends his time reinventing himself and creating an elaborate revenge plan.

This is not a literary masterpiece and some of the plot is far-fetched, but the story still makes for an exciting and engrossing read. Archer is a great storyteller, and this book was hard to put down.

Who will like this book?:Readers of this would also like Archer’s other books, and Harlan Coben

Recommended by: Laurie, Circulation Clerk