Thursday, December 26, 2013

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Allegiant is the 3rd and final book in Roth's brilliant, dystopian Divergent series. Divergent fans like me have been waiting what seems like a lifetime for this installment, and although the ending had me almost crying and gasping for air, it did not disappoint.

The post-apocalyptic world in which Tris and Tobias must now live is one divided between the divided Chicago that they knew, where groups or factions were determined by one personality trait, and one they never knew existed. Those who showed proclivity for more than one trait were considered "divergent" and therefore dangerous - that is until now. Tris and Tobias find out that there is whole other world where the government watches the city, researching their lives as part of a huge "experiment" to see if people with "damaged genes" can eventually get back to their genetically ideal or divergent state. Divergence is the only good state to be in, according to this government which wants to abolish the factions altogether. While this seems liberating and just to Tris and Tobias and their rebel friends at first, the means by which genetic purity will be obtained is not so liberating. The labels for people are changed, but the outcomes and civil strife that result are just as damaging as the "experiment."

This is the complicated moral landscape that the characters in Roth's world must navigate. Real-life societal issues come into play when one talks about genetic purity, cleansing, war, and human experimentation. When does the end justify the means, etc.? All of this fascinating stuff is wrapped up in a band of very interesting young characters, Tris and Tobias's love story, and their ongoing family battles over power, love, and acceptance.

The intoxicating combination of these elements is what makes this series one of today's hottest tickets, soon to be a ticket at theaters everywhere. So before the first movie comes out in March, do yourself a favor and get lost in the Divergent world. Read the books. You won't be able to put them down until they're done.

The Power by Rhonda Byrne

When I first heard about the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, I thought to myself, "Oh, my gosh. Another dumb self help book full of fake spirituality." Obviously I wasn't ready for it. Then there came a time when I was. I read The Secret with an open heart - a heart that wanted to change my life for the better. And it helped me do just that. This new book in the series, The Power, is a wonderful extension of the teachings of the "law of attraction" which is now a law I try to live by every day.

When you say the term "law of attraction" to people, they immediately think of romance. But that is really not what the law is about at all. It is, simply put, a way to become a happier person by concentrating and visualizing, using positive thought as a means to draw more positive aspects into your life. If your life is full of negativity, people complaining, adversity, illness, or other struggles, then learning the law of attraction is for you. This book helped to reiterate all the practices and also gave them a deeper and more usable meaning in my life. It teaches that by visualizing and living as though your perfect life has already happened to you, those things can come into being. If you are a positive person, positive people, opportunities, and even wealth and properity will come to you.

So, some of you might say that these ideas are still "dumb self-help mumbo jumbo" but unless you try it, you won't see what it can do for you.If you can't do it, or it doesn't work, what have you lost?

Champion by Marie Lu

This third and final book in Lu's Legend series was much anticipated, and I couldn't wait to start it. I was not disappointed in this YA dystopian thriller which contains romance, sci-fi, and lots of twists.

June and Day are estranged at the beginning of the novel, each struggling to make sense of a new government with new military forces. Day tries to adjust to life with his younger brother who now suffers from the left-over symptoms of the plague. June adjusts to her power and influence as the Princepts-Elect, a high ranking military position. They long to be together, but it doesn't seem possible until new horrors in the government threaten them both, and June must ask Day to make a huge sacrifice in order to save their country.

While there are a lot of dystopian novels and series out there right now, Legend is still one of the most exciting. The books got better with each installment, ending with this one, which I think was my favorite. Give it a try and tell me what you think!

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Take a woman who literally changes her name to "Strayed" after her divorce and put her on the Pacific Crest Trail - by herself- and see what happens. This is the experiment that the author puts herself through in this unique memoir about the quest for truth, personal understanding, and perseverance.

 When I first heard the premise behind this book, I thought it was extremely fascinating. It almost sounded like something I could do. It almost sounded fun. And then I read the book. The journey that Strayed undertakes is not something I could ever do. It did not sound fun. But what it was to Strayed was a life-changing experience where she learned a lot about herself, other people, and nature. She literally gives up all her worldly possessions except for those in a huge pack on her back. She has so little money, that she sends it to herself in boxes along the trail, $20 at a time, so that she can buy certain necessities, like Snapple and hamburgers.This is not something I could do. But it is something I can learn from.

However, it is Strayed's feet that give her the most trouble on this journey. They betray her at every turn, becoming sore and bleeding, until at many points she has to delay her trek just to give them time to heal. But this battle with her feet is, indeed, the most horrifying part of her journey. And that is what I found most amazing.The people along the trail never disappointed her (well, ok, only once). They were friendly, supportive, and positive, including her and making her part of a strung out family of hikers all doing the same thing for different reasons. No one tried to rob her or kill her or harm her in any way. Nature was her cruelest enemy, and that was a very big, and wonderful surprise to me.

While Strayed was too young to be called "middle aged" in the book, her journey is one that screams "mid-life crisis" or "flower child trying to find herself." But it worked for her. The demons that haunted her throughout life, making her seem like a narcissistic flake to some of our book club readers, came to the surface and hiked along with her. And while she may not have gained closure in all aspects of her life (I mean, that would be pretty difficult for most of us to achieve), the journey gave her a kind of peace that allowed her to move on. And isn't that what we all want to do? So, give Strayed's story a try. You might just find yourself in the pages.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I was a little leery of starting a book about flowers. I am not a gardener. I love flowers, but I do not love taking care of them. But this book happens to be about much more than flowers or gardening. It's about the love of flowers, beauty, words, children, and life itself.
Victoria Jones was raised in foster homes. Some bad, some OK, and one very good. It is in her brief stay with one motherless mother-figure who teaches her the names and "meanings" of all the flowers that Victoria is able to blossom herself. But the rest of her life is so filled with hurt and tragedy and isolation, that when she is finally emancipated from the social system, she is at a loss of what to do with her life. But then she comes across a florist and her shop. The florist gives her a job arranging bouquets and delivering to weddings, but it is Victoria's knowledge of just what the flowers mean that people are searching for, longing for. The boy from Victoria's past is also longing for her, and as they reconnect, we discover how different people are but how there is, indeed, love in the world for everyone.
There is a dictionary of flower meanings in the back of this book that I will treasure forever. What a wonderful language to share with others about how you're feeling and how you're feeling about them. I'll never forget this powerful, beautiful book. Give it a try and let me know which flowers speak to you.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

We're starting off the Valley Book Club this year with this wildly popular legal drama/mystery by William Landay. The characters and situation are very unique, and they really made me think about how far we should go to protect our children, how deeply we can NOT know someone close to us, and how terrible things can, indeed, happen to good people.
First, there is a murder victim, a teenaged boy, found in a park. Then there is a DA who tries to approach and solve the case as he would any other, despite the fact that he has a son at the same school as the victim. Next comes the realization by the DA that his son was actually being bullied by the victim. This is followed by a lot of Facebook stalking by the DA, some damning evidence,  and a trial that tears apart their family and the community.
Finally, this is the part where you come to the library and pick up this fascinating book and read it for yourself. And better yet, come to the Valley Book Club's discussion on Sept. 5th.  We'd love to hear your insights!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The English Girl by Daniel Silva

So, I don't usually read too many series that are this long with the same characters. But Gabriel Allon and his cast of black ops spies are just too irresistible. While all series of this kind get a bit formulaic, Silva always manages to entertain me and leave me wanting just one more book.
The English Girl is the story of a kidnapping, a murder, some unrelenting memories, and the skilled team behind Gabriel Allon, Israeli spy, that bring them all together. Is the English girl gone for good? Has Gabriel lost? Will he ever become the chief of intelligence for  The Office? All burning questions. All revealed when you read this exciting new thriller by the master that is Silva. Enjoy!

Friday, July 26, 2013

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

I had no expectations when I started this book, other than I knew that the author won the Women's Prize for fiction. I just learned that she also went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop. No big surprise. Because this is one of the best, funniest, most though-provoking novels that's come along in a long time.

It starts with an ordinary guy named Harold. A nice, married, educated, normal guy. He has an extraordinary brother. Extraordinarily obnoxious, mean, crass, and successful. In comes obnoxious brother's wife who plants a big Thanksgiving kiss on her brother-in-law in the middle of her kitchen. And all goes downhill from there. Or does it?

The kiss and ensuing affair bring on a terrible, horrifying, hilarious chain of events for Harold. The consequences of his actions with his sister-in-law could never be imagined. His life changes so completely in the year following it that the reader is inexplicably drawn in to laugh at the absurdity and cry at the heartbreaking reality. But good guys don't always finish last, and nice guys can learn from their mistakes. Harold is that guy.

I found myself loving Harold's dry wit and tell-it-like-it-is style. He recognizes that his life really couldn't get any worse, so he might as well make it better. The author's writing style in bringing a guy like Harold to life is fascinating, and unique. I loved it, and I couldn't put it down. This kind of dark comedy is not appealing to everyone, including me usually. But I hope you'll give Harold a try. And I hope that you will, indeed, forgive him. I know I did.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

Carey and her younger sister Jenessa are lost. They are hidden. But they are together. They have been taken from their abusive father and sequestered away in a run-down camper in the middle of a huge state park by their meth-addicted mother. She leaves them to fend for themselves for weeks at a time, but they manage to survive, and in many ways form a complete family with each other. But then some unexpected visitors show up: a social worker and Carey's father. They take the girls out of the woods and try to give them a new life that's very different from their old one. The past in the woods, and their present in the real world clash and meld together in very unexpected ways. And together, Carey and Jenessa then must face the secret of the white star night that changed them forever.

This YA debut by Emily Murdoch takes a terrible, harsh setting and plot that seem pretty unbelievable and brings them so alive that you can't stop reading. The characters and what they say and feel are so real, that it gave me some real moments of extreme emotion. So, if you can find this one, don't let it pass you by.

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg

There are so many topics or themes in Berg's new book that intrigued me. As soon as I ordered it for the library, I knew I wanted to read it, but I didn't. It sat on the shelf. Sometimes it was read by other patrons. And sometimes it sat - waiting for me. So one fateful day, I picked it up, and in a couple I days I read it. It was not a mistake of fortune.

In the book, Cece Ross, a motivational speaker, mourns her best friend's passing by changing her own life. She finally heeds the wishes of her friend by getting rid of things she doesn't need, taking a long break from her job, giving back to others, and finding out what the rest of life will hold. Cece feels it will be difficult to do these things, but after consulting her many fortune telling items, she decides it is, indeed, the exact right time. So she sells her house and moves in with three other women, into a beautiful, old house. She starts to volunteer at a hospice, and she takes her new friends on a road trip that they will never forget. And neither will I.

Tapestry of Fortunes was a wonderful surprise for me, full of truth and joy and a realness of character that will stick with me for a long time. So, if I were you, I'd check your Taro cards and then heed them - and pick up this great read!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Taken by Erin Bowman

A patron who likes to read the same kind of YA lit as I do recommended this to me after she checked it out. I'm so glad I did! Because, you know, I've always wondered what it would be like to just be living as part of a great big social experiment where my entire life, and death was controlled by a secret government I knew nothing about. Haven't you wondered that?

All kidding aside, this book, which is first in an upcoming series, is full of great details, relatable characters, action, and emotion. Although it relies on some of the stock elements in recent dystopian YA literature, Bowman makes these elements seem original and gives them, yet again, a new, fresh spin.

In the story, Gray Weathersby lives in a world that simply seems from a long time ago. There is no electricity or running water. The townspeople grow all their own food and build their houses. But the real surprise is that there is something really wrong with the town of Claysoot. Its boys disappear at the age of 18. They know it's coming, they prepare, but in the end, something just takes each boy on his 18th birthday, including Gray's brother Blaine. Forever. There is also the fact that there is a giant wall surrounding the town, and no one has ever climbed over it and survived. That is until Gray and his girl Emma get really angry after Blaine is taken, and they want answers. And the answers are beyond the wall.

I love finding first time authors that have talent, and Erin Bowman is very much one of these. Give her first novel a try, and you won't regret it!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Remember the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I loved that movie. Well, take that premise, of reliving the same day over and over again until you get it right, and then turn it around a bit. Life After Life is about a girl who gets to start over - and over again. It's a book that's really like no other.

Ursula is born on a terrible, snowy night in 1910. Or is she? Yes, she is. And each time she is born, she gets a little bit further in her life before a tragedy strikes to take it all, and she starts all over again. Does anyone notice this strange reliving? Well, Ursula finally does. She comes to think of herself as sort of clairvoyant, experiencing deja vu when in a situation that requires a judgement, a decision. If she can just make the right choice or avoid the tragedy she feels is coming, she will probably live her life a little longer - before it begins again. While this may seem a little too weird, a little too redundant, Atkinson makes it extremely readable and the characters extremely real.

I found myself holding my breath at each turn Ursula must make, thinking, "Oh, please let her live past this this time." It was also a revelation learning how each turn, each decision could mean so much, life or death. How many decisions in our own lives mean the difference between a good, happy, long life and a sad one or a tragically short one. It's probably good we don't know these things in reality, but it was very entertaining to find out in the fantasy with Ursula.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Once in a great while, a book comes along that reaches into you. It makes your brain remember your heart and your true desires in life. Although it seems like just a little young adult novel, just a little bit sci-fi, a little bit romance- to me it was a lot more.

All we know at the beginning is that Jenna Fox has awakened to a world she doesn't remember. She doesn't know her parents or the grandmother who seems to hate her. She comes to learn that she has been in an accident, an event that she is not to speak of to anyone. But then who would she tell? She has no friends and her parents are keeping her outside contact to a minimum. So she watches videos of her life, one for every year. Her memories begin to resurface, making her feel like an alien in host body. It is not until she demands to have her own life and is allowed to go to school and venture outside that she begins to put the mystery of her life together. But is it really her life to live?

The writing in this book is so interesting that it drew me in immediately. Told from Jenna's point of view, at first the language is stilted, halted, like a robot delivering some lines in a play. But then it is interspersed with short interludes, a kind of poetry, that lets us into Jenna's thoughts more deeply. By the end of the book, when Jenna finally understands her situation and grows into who she is going to be, the style is more that of a "normal" teenager, albeit a very thoughtful one.

The other thing I love about this book is knowing that there are sequels. BUT this book also could stand alone. The ending, while perhaps a bit different than we hope, is satisfying in itself. If you wanted to only read this one book, it would be fine - still an excellent book on its own. This is how a series should be done. But I know that this will not be the last Jenna Fox book for me. I will soon have to read The Fox Inheritance, book two in the series. But until then, I will not forget this beautiful, emotional book for all ages.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

A book club friend donated this book to the library, and then another told me she could not put it down, so I thought I would finally take the time to give it a read. It is the kind of book you can sit and think about long after you're through.

It is the story of William Talmadge who was born to grow the many kinds of fruit trees in his orchard. His mother and father start from nothing, and pass on this reassuring, cultivating work to Talmadge. Talmadge is a common man who struggles with the loss of his sister, who mysteriously disappears into the forest one day. It is this event that shapes him, just as he shapes the trees to bear better, hardier fruit. Then one day he is faced with another struggle when two young girls, both pregnant and running away from he knows not what, enter the orchard to steal his fruit. Instead of chasing them away, he chooses the hard decision of cultivating them also. Their relationship to each other fascinates him, and he can't keep himself from helping them. His life in the orchard makes a shift then, from being all about him, his grief, and the land he is on. It shifts to become about love and the true sacrifice that love takes.

Perhaps it is the beautifully detailed writing, the characters that feel like real people when you're done, or the unique description of life cultivating a fruit orchard. Perhaps it is my own dear connection to my own sisters, or my father's life-long interest in fruit trees and grafting. There are a lot of reasons for me to love this book, and I hope you'll find your own.

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

When we're young, there is a part of our brain that is sadly undeveloped. This part tells us that we are invincible - that whatever we do, it will all work out. We don't seem to get the fact that one action(or lack of action), one decision can change the lives of many, many others forever. It is this one, defining minute that defines the characters' lives in Anshaw's Carry the One.

A beautiful wedding, an unexpected mingling of lovers, and a celebration to excess - and then the accident. An accident that two sisters, their brother, and their friends have to cope with, remember, and live (or die) with forever. How can they cope with such an event? How do they get over the guilt? The siblings all try their whole lives, not only to escape, but to atone for the accident in their different ways. One dives into chemicals, one into art and love, and one into protest. Time goes on, life goes on, but can they ever outrun their connected story? Can they ever do the victim justice? Do they deserve to just move on and live their lives, striving for their own happiness?

While this sounds like a really depressing, heavy book full of dark emotions, it is so much more than that. It has humor, too, and the beautiful, realistic writing style that brings these unforgettable characters to life. It's a book that makes you think, and a story that carries you forward. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

From the first page of Khaled Hosseini's new novel, the reader is drawn in and held captive by the beautiful writing and enthralling story filled with wonder, sadness, and impossible choices. A book club friend was kind enough to lend me her advance reader's copy, I could not put it down once I started. I think it will take a high spot on my list of favorite books.

In the opening of the book, we are first entranced by the folktale that is told to a young boy and his sister. The tale tells of a much-feared div or ogre who steals a child and whose father is so torn apart by grief that he devotes his life to finding him. But what he finds at the ogre's mountain is a place far better for his son than the poor home he could provide. Is the beautiful home, riches, and education offered by the ogre better for the boy than the simple love of his father and the sureness of family? Can the father stand to leave his son and sacrifice his love? This becomes the real choice that the storyteller must face. This choice, this time involving a daughter and a rich acquaintance, begins the chain reaction that unfolds into a family saga spreading across the world: Kabul, Paris, San Francisco, and Greece.

If you enjoyed Hosseini's The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, then you will not want to miss this one which will be available on May 21, 2013. Please let me know what YOU think!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

The premise behind this novel is mesmerizing: A woman commits a crime and then goes into hiding for virtually the rest of her life, with only a handful of people knowing the truth. Can she keep the secret forever? Can a criminal redeem  his or her life and be happy and "normal" ever again? Are secrets sometimes necessary or will they always be barriers to true happiness?

CeeCee Wilkes, a 16-year-old impressionable girl who has lost her mother at a very young age, finds herself in love with someone who wants her to help him commit a kidnapping. He has his reasons, which seem noble, and she truly just wants someone to love. When the crime goes wrong and all the perpetrators go into hiding, CeeCee has to create a life that she has no clue how to start, and she must keep secrets about her lover while being separated from him forever.

As I said, there are a lot of great questions explored in this light, easy read in a style I would compare to Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts or the like. While this is not my favorite kind of writing style, there are many things I liked about this book. It was fast-paced, had interesting characters, and as I said above, a dynamite plot premise. Its weaknesses lie in the, what I will call, unbelievable stupidity of the characters and their crime. I do realize that there are stupid crimes committed every day, but sometimes in this novel both the dialog and the characters' motivation seemed a bit contrived and very stilted. The characters often used very overused expressions in their speaking, and the descriptions seemed quite cliched, and I would kind of go, "Ugh, really?" But then the plot would move ahead and keep me engaged. I wanted to find out what happened to these idiots. I wanted to know if the remaining victims of the kidnapping were for real, or if they had some evil elements themselves.

So, if you like some light, general women's fiction with a little mystery thrown in, then this is your ticket. Give it a try and come to our book club to discuss it on May 2nd!

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

Reading two nonfiction titles in a row in our book club maybe wasn't the wisest choice. And in total ignorance, I actually believed this to be a novel when we picked it for our list. Let's just say it would have made a fabulous historical novel. But it is not a novel.

What it is is the true account of a devoted couple in Warsaw, Poland who own a very successful zoo. They are not only devoted to each other but to their son Rys and to each and every animal held within. There are wonderful stories of pigs, badgers, and birds kept as pets in the villa beside the zoo. There are stories of the owners' love of nature and creatures within the painstakingly created habitats. But then World War II takes all of that away. But it also gives the couple, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, a new and dangerous focus: switching from saving the animals to saving Jews trying to flee Poland or simply trying to stay alive during the war. The Zablinskis put themselves in constant danger, using the zoo they loved as a hiding place, a portal, and a refuge.

This is a unique story with intense detail of the natural world, both things that Ackerman is famous for. For a naturalist, a veterinarian, or a very avid gardener perhaps, this would be a great read. For me, someone who has read many, many World War II stories focusing on the holocaust, the book took a wonderful story and bogged it down in needless detail, leaving it bereft of action and the intense emotion that a reader should feel when reading a book about the holocaust.

But my opinion is just one. There were some in our book club who couldn't get through the book, and there were some who absolutely loved it. So, if you really like good nonfiction, please read The Zoo Keeper's Wife and tell me what you think and why you liked it. We'd love to hear your comments!

Legend and Prodigy by Marie Lu

I may be the only YA enthusiast in America to have missed these two novels, but I'm glad I've finally seen the light. Filled with great characters and an involving dystopian plot, I'm really glad I picked them up right  as Prodigy hit book stores everywhere.

The main characters, June and Day, are seemingly as opposite as can be. June is a born prodigy: smart, cunning, and completely loyal to the Republic created in the wake of a war that separated the United States into regions which constantly fight each other. Day is a rebel with street-smart skills and daring, living almost alone on the streets, trying to steal enough to save his mother and brother who suffer now from one of the "plagues" that are killing hundreds in the Republic. When June is assigned to find Day and stop his covert hijinks, she is surprised by what she finds. And Day, only focused on his family and using his Robin Hood type skills for good and not evil, is shocked to find himself in the company of a Republic prodigy.

So, can the two work together for the common good? What is that good? Will there be love? Will there be war? While all these questions may seem like you've seen them all before in other books and movies of late, Lu has created her own world and this world poses unique, interesting questions about the role of government and the polarization of our beliefs. While not quite as engaging, in my opinion, as Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth(see my earlier posts on these), they are action-packed, YA fantasy of the highest quality.Give them a try if you haven't already, and tell me your opinions!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Everyone who reads this true-life account of a courageous World War II prisoner of war brings it to me at the library and says, "Have you read this? You should read this! It's incredible!" But, when our Valley book club picked it, I was wary. After all, this was the author of Seabiscuit, a book lauded by critics and readers everywhere, and one that is cemented in my top ten most boring books ever written. I know, I know. I need a little nonfiction in my life, right? Or do I really? Was this one going to be a huge snooze like most of the nonfiction I'd read in the past few years?

The answer is: Mostly no. It is the harrowing story of Lieutenant Louis Zamperini, a former world-class runner, and an airman whose bomber crashes into the Pacific in 1943. But that is just the beginning of this tale of survival. And one would think that being stranded in the middle of the ocean, miles from anything but circling sharks, would be the worst thing that could happen in one man's story. But it's certainly not. In fact, this part of Zamperini's journey seems almost like luxury when compared to the rest of his horrifying experience in the Japanese war camps. 

Zamperini's life is truly a testament to the strength of the human spirit and of the human body. It was well worth the read and I did find it inspiring despite the almost unbelievable details that at times were, like Seabiscuit, quite repetitive. But if you can skim or sift through the repetition and focus on the story and the wonderful characterization of Zamperini himself, it's a fast, rewarding read. But I have to say, after the harsh realities of this nonfiction, I'm ready for a little fantasy. Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

I am one of those crazy women who used to read every Oprah Book Club pick there was. I have to say I loved most of them. So, when Oprah started her 2.0 club, I had to pick this one up. As per most of Oprah's choices, it is the story of a strong woman with a hard life, in this case Hattie Shepherd. It is also the story of her twelve children.

Each chapter is devoted to the life of one of Hattie's "tribe." They are quite a mix of struggling, searching kids who all resent their mother for some reason or the other, even while she gives up everything in her own life to raise them with next to nothing and a cheating, womanizing husband. Their lives encompass the issues of race, religion, wealth, social status, sexual orientation, and psychological issues. The reader wants to love and hate them in all their splendid glory. But it is Hattie who saves them all, in her way. While not a very "loving" or demonstrative person, she nevertheless gives them the spirit to survive despite what life throws at them, and in the end, she is still their savior.

Hattie's life is the quintessential question mark in most middle-aged women's lives. Is it ever going to be enough? Can I give up all of myself for them, my children and my family? Or must I save a piece of me for me? You'll love finding out what Hattie decides for herself. Don't shy away from the power of Oprah. :) Take a look at this one. You'll be glad.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Since my introduction to British television in the forms of "Downton Abbey," "Upstairs Downstairs", and "Being Human", I was really looking forward to this English story of love, prejudice, family disputes, and middle age. The novel, however, is really not like any of these.

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) has lost his wife, and now he has also lost his beloved brother. But more pressingly, he may lose his brother's hunting rifle, which is one half of the matched pair that Pettigrew's father bequeathed the brothers. The father's wish was to have the pair, more valuable when together, be reunited at some point. But when the Major tries to bring them together, his sister-in-law and son are more interested in the money that could be had from their sale than an old man's dying wish and family tradition.

Through a series of events and the Major's interesting friendship with the neighboring shop keeper, Mrs. Ali, Major Pettigrew and his family must come to terms with their relationships, their circumstances, and their sense of what's important in life. It is the woman and outsider in this case, Mrs. Ali, who is the only one who really seems to understand who she is and what's important. It's not race, or religion, or possessions that make life worth living. It is only our love of others that really matters. When put to the test, what would you be willing to give up for the ones you love? This is what Major Pettigrew learns about himself. It, in the end, is not a very hard decision after all.

The characters in this novel are wonderful and the descriptions vivid. And while some of the plot is very interesting and brings up all kinds of thought-provoking issues, there really just wasn't a lot happening in there. The pace of the whole novel is so slow, that I had to really commit to moving on with it. I am glad I did, as the ending is very satisfying, but it was difficult at times. Give it a try, and tell me what you think.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

When I got interested in this new series by Justin Cronin, I didn't really know what it was all about. I saw a review for the 2nd book called The Twelve, and it sounded mesmerizing. So, I thought I better read the first one first,The Passage, and when I got into it, it was very different than I thought. But it grabbed me from the first page and held me there for a long time.

So here is what it really is about, and you have to promise not to laugh or go to the next blog post. The plot sounds pretty bizarre, even to me, but like I said, it's mesmerizing. The world, and more precisely in this book, the United States, has been taken over by a race of "virals" which are essentially vampires. But these vampires are not your beautiful, Edward and Bella type vamps. They were "created" through a secret government experiment which injected death-row inmates with a "virus." This virus brought about a vampire-like change in the original twelve inmates, making them into blood-thirsty, killing machines, which the government thought perhaps could be a great, next-gen weapon. But when the virals escape, they begin to systematically take over the States, killing or creating virals by the millions. Virtually unstoppable.

Cronin's story details this scenario while also delving into some very interesting human characters who are fighting to survive with the few humans that are left in the world. They finally decide that they can no longer stay inside a protected, lighted compound, but need to seek out other survivors to pool resources and fight.

And then there is Amy. Amy 's story to me is what drives the book. She is a small girl of 12 or 13 who was also injected with the virus. But instead of becoming a horrible creature, she became the one soul who can see inside the beasts, feel their pain, and help them to whatever lies on the other side of their lives and deaths. In the end, the Twelve original virals understand her power and try to destroy it. But Amy has a band of very reliable teens defending and protecting her, even as they themselves are discovering her power.

So, yeah, it's pretty weird. And also pretty amazing. If you need a little sci-fi in your life mixed in with some good innocent romance, supernatural spirituality, and a fast-moving plot, then pick this one up. I can't wait to read The Twelve - new at the library!

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Serena Frome is a college student with a pretty normal life aside from an affair with a much older man. She reads a lot of books and doesn't expect a lot of excitement from her life. But this older man becomes the starting point for her new life - as a spy for MI5.

Serena's love of books, her willingness to learn from her father-figure lover, and her inner need for excitement make her say yes to being part of an MI5 operation called "Sweet Tooth" in which she is to groom a little-known writer to put out work in line with the government's current agenda. The writer, of course, does not know he will be working for the government, and he begins to trust Serena. And she begins to fall for him. The question is, can she lie to everyone, including herself, about her hidden agendas?

Now, I am a big fan of spy-thriller books and movies. As you probably know if you read this blog, I love Daniel Silva, and my still-favorite TV show of all time is "Alias." So when I picked up this book billed as an interesting, complicated spy story with a female lead, I said, "Yeah, right up my alley." What I got with this novel was more than that - and less. The writing is brilliant, thoughtful, complex, and everything you'd expect from Atonement author McEwan. But the story itself is a more psychological character study than spy thriller. So, the story is rich and characters interesting, but fast-paced and thrilling, it simply isn't.

So, if you love McEwan's literary style, good characters, and a thoughtful plot you'll like this book a lot. If you want your characters to also shoot at bad guys, blow stuff up, and engage in races against time, you probably should try again. It's all what you want and what you like. Let me know what you think!