Archive for February, 2008

That Summer by Sarah Dessen

This is my YA book of the week. I love Sarah Dessen, and this was her first book, which I had never found time to read.

15 year old Haven’s summer is framed by two weddings – her father’s to Lorna Queen (the weather pet of the local TV station) and her sister’s to dull Lewis. In between these weddings her world shifts as life as she knows it changes.

This is sort of a coming of age tale, but more about coping with change. It was a nice, quick read.

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February 29, 2008 at 7:28 pm Leave a comment

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

I first heard of Sudhir Venkatesh while reading Freakonomics, where the chapter “Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?” explores the financial realities of a gang and was based on Sudhir’s time spent observing a Chicago gang.

So I was eagerly awaiting this book (which is subtitled: a rogue sociologist takes to the streets, rogue apparently being in vogue now since Levitt’s book was about a rogue economist.) and it lived up to my expectations.

The author documents his 6 years (? I think, as the time-line isn’t super clear) spent “observing” in a Chicago projects and the access the gang leader, J.T. gave him. The book is readable, and does raise issues, but not in a preachy way. Sudhir’s struggle about the legality of what he is doing is interesting and realistic.  It’s also a rare look  at what it’s like to live in the “projects.” (something I know nothing about).  The ending comes quickly and a bit anticlimactically, as in 1996 the Robert Taylor Homes are set for demolition, and Sudhir’s graduate studies have come to an end and he’s off to Harvard.

February 29, 2008 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

Grounds for Murder by Sandra Balzo

This is the sequel to “Uncommon Grounds” which was published a few years ago to much critical acclaim. This book was ok, but I think suffers from a sophomore slump.

Maggy Thorsen, is the divorced owner of the coffeehouse “Uncommon Grounds.” It’s time for the annual “Java Ho” a coffee trade show and Maggy gets roped in to running the barista competition. The book opens with Maggy discovering a dead body of the conference coordinator and then flashes back for the next 100 pages to catch the reader up on how Maggy got there.

I remember liking Uncommon Grounds, and I don’t feel this lives up to that book’s promise. I didn’t get a good sense of Maggy, even with the subplot of her thwarted romance with the hunky local sherriff and there were a couple of secondary characters (Maggy’s friends and co-workers) who I kept confusing because they weren’t distinct enough as characters. But it was only 217 pages and an ok enough mystery. The ending did feel a little forced.

February 26, 2008 at 9:52 am Leave a comment

No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

I love a good mystery. This more in the thriller genre and was recommended by a co-worker.

Cynthia Bigge is 14 when she wakes up to an empty house. Her entire family – parents & brother – have vanished. Fast forward 25 years. Cynthia, now married and with a daughter of her own, is still looking for answers to what happened to her family all those years ago. Then strange things begin happening, and people begin to die.

This was a great read. It’s narrated by Cynthia’s husband and the pacing is excellent, with the climax basically a suspenseful joyride. Also, the author wrapped up all the tangled plot lines, which I always appreciate.

February 23, 2008 at 7:32 pm Leave a comment

Beginner’s Greek by James Collins

Too long. But good.

Beginner’s Greek is tale of love, missed opportunities, friendship and fate. Peter and Holly meet during a cross country flight and are smitten. However, Peter loses Holly’s number. Fast forward 7 years, and Peter is about to get married, no not to Holly, instead he is marrying Charlotte because Holly is married to Jonathan, Peter’s best friend. Several twists occur as fate tries to bring Holly and Peter together. There’s also a subplot about Peter’s job and the boss who is out to destroy him.

I enjoyed reading this, but at 441 pages it’s a commitment and I think too long. I ended up skimming that last 100 pages because I was tired of Peter & Holly being apart and just wanted it to be over. The narration shifts between various characters some conspiring for and some against Peter & Holly’s love. All the characters are very well described, some in too much detail; although the details did come up at the end and the author tied everything very nicely together, especially with the bookending prologue and epilogue.

February 21, 2008 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

After taking a young adult literature class I realized I like science fiction books! So now that I’m in charge of selecting young adult books at my library, I’m trying to read at least one YA book a week. So this week’s pick is Unwind which appealed as both a YA novel and a science fiction novel.

In the not too distant future, parents can decide to have their kids “unwound” and their body parts are given to those who need them. Three different kids, each an Unwind for a different reason are brought together when they go AWOL. This intense novel explores deep issues – including where life begins, where life ends, trust, suicide bombers, and love (it is a YA novel after all).

I was pulled in from the beginning and couldn’t put this book down. Just when I thought it was getting predictable the author served up another plot twist which kept me wondering (and reading) what would happen next. Also, I was pleased the novel didn’t have a dramatic, happy ending. The ending was satisfying, and fit with the story that was being told.

A great read. Very thought provoking. Would be good for discussion.

February 17, 2008 at 4:53 pm Leave a comment

Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell

I read this because I was interested in watching the new NBC show starring Brooke Shields.

The three storylines focus on “three New York City women at the top of their fields, each navigating her way through business, relationships, scandal, success and betrayal.”

Nico O’Neilly is a editor in chief of Bonfire magazine. Wendy Healy is president of Parador Pictures and Victory Ford is a successful fashion designer. I liked Nico the best, and thought she was the most developed character. 

The book was ok, I had trouble keeping track at the beginning of some of the minor characters, and I didn’t like that a lot of the story seemed to be told in “flashback mode.” For instance, the character would open the chapter, and then relate what had happened since we last saw them. I didn’t have a good sense of the timeline of the novel either, and it wasn’t until the end when I realized the entire novel is supposed to take place in one year.

Also, there were some interesting observations on how can women have it all and money and power. Not typical chick-lit.

February 16, 2008 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

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