Monday, February 28, 2011

(26) In praise of adoption

Title: Baby, We were meant for each other by Scott Simon
Publisher: Random House
180 pages
Genre: fiction/ adoption

Synopsis: NPR’s award-winning and beloved Scott Simon tells the story of how he and his wife found true love with two tiny strangers from the other side of the world. It’s a book of unforgettable moments: when Scott and Caroline get their first thumb-size pictures of their daughters, when the small girls are placed in their arms, and all the laughs and tumbles along the road as they become a real family.

Review: Extremely readable, Scott Simon has crafted a book about international adoption that is informative and describes the hard stuff  in a witty light fashion.  This is no doomsday book and while some might feel that he portrays the adoption process in too positive a light its refreshing to read the positive side instead of all the doom and gloom that is usually part of most adoption stories.

Scott Simon describes his painful journey of infertility, the heaps of paperwork and hoops they had to jump through in order to adopt from China in a funny upbeat way. He shares the information overload he encountered from the internet that was often scary and said nothing at the same time. But ultimately this is a love story.  A love story of a man and his wife who fell in love with two children from China who brought love, light and joy to their lives. This is also a love story about adoption.  In the second half of the book Simon focuses on other people's adoption journeys.  If you want a light, easy read about adoption this has it all.

(25) Aliens plot to take over Earth with mind control

Title: Invasion by John S Lewis
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2011)
336 pages
Genre: YA fantasy

I received this book as an advanced readers copy from netgalley.com, it was released in January.

Synopsis: Colt McAlister was having the summer of his life. He spent his days surfing and his nights playing guitar on the beach with friends. He even met a girl and got his first car. But everything changes when his parents are killed in a freak accident.

He's forced to leave his old life behind and move to Arizona with his grandfather. The only person he knows at the new high school is a childhood friend named Dani. And Oz, a guy he's sure he's never met but who is strangely familiar.

But what if his parents' death wasn't an accident? His mother, and investigative reporter, was going to expose a secret mind-control program run by one of the world's largest companies. Before she could release the story, what if agents from Trident Biotech made sure she couldn't go public?

Vowing to uncover truth, Colt gets drawn into a secret world of aliens, shape shifters, flying motorcycles, and invisible getaways.

Review: A fun boy saves the world book.  Colt's parents are killed in a car accident but is it really an accident?  At the funeral he overhears his brother talking to a Senator about how it may have been murder due to a story that his mother, a reporter, was working on.

Forced to go live with his grandfather Colt finds himself transplanted in Arizona where he only knows one person, a girl his age named Dani.  But he can't shake the conversation he overheard about his parents and wants to figure out what really happened. When strange things start happening all around him he realizes he may find the key to what happened to his parents right there in Arizona.  A cell phone he's never seen before shows up in his back pack, a guy he meets at school seems really familiar even though they supposedly have never met, and strange text messages send him on missions to uncover a mind control project being run by the multi-billion dollar corporation biotech.  All of this strange information leads Colt to discover the presence of aliens living in our world and his families role in protecting earth from an invasion.

The opening of the book was a little off to me but it quickly started to make sense and then it flowed quickly from beginning to end.  Although there was a completion to the specific story line in the book it was also left wide open for the sequel.  If you ever dreamed of being a secret agent and flying around with a jet pack then this is the action packed book for you.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

(24) There is no such thing as revenge

Title: The Hoopster by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
Publisher: Hyperion
218 pages
Genre: YA

Synopsis: On the neighborhood basketball court, Andre Anderson jockeys for position among his multicultural group of buddies, but, off the court, the African-American teen's writing talent puts him in the spotlight. Given the opportunity to write a feature article on racism for the national magazine where he works as an intern, he addresses his feelings honestly. As a result, he is brutally attacked by a group of racists, hoping to silence his pen by symbolically crushing his hand in a car door. The incident incites a gamut of responses among his friends, his Latina girlfriend, and his family. His cousin, Cedric, collects a group of avengers and invites Andre's best friend, Shawn, to join them. The white teen is torn between loyalty to his pal and his nonviolent sensibilities. Andre's father, also victim of a racial attack as a teen, loses patience with his son's sullen withdrawal from the family and berates him out of frustration.

Review: This book is amazingly hard to find.  You can purchase the teachers guide but you can't find the actual book.  I finally located a copy on a used book site.  Weird since its the 1st book of a trilogy and the other books are still readily available.

I really liked this book.  While the title makes you believe this book is about basketball and sports its really not.  Its about life and how you chose to live it.  Andre dreams of being a writer and is working at a magazine when he catches a break when the editor asks him to write a story about racism. The story gets stunning reviews and lands Andre a feature story and a new desk at the magazine. It also gets him jumped in the parking lot.  While Andre and his friends toy with the idea of revenge, Andre's magazine article gives them something to think about.

I loved that the main character Andre has a stable intelligent family with a mother and a father.  He also has a white friend and a latina girlfriend.  There are great lessons to be learned in this book mainly that violence is not the answer. My main disappointment I had with this book is that we didn't get to read Andre's article. I look forward to the next book in the trilogy.

(23) Finding Grace

Title: Biting the Apple by Lucy Jane Bledsoe
Publisher: Carroll & Graff Publishers
274 Pages
Genre: LGBT/ lesbian lit

Synopsis: Eve Glass, once an Olympic sprinter and now a motivational speaker, has achieved national celebrity. She's the author of two books, Going the Distance: Endurance for Achievers and If Grace is the Goal, and her career and fame are on the rise. Unfortunately, however, Eve's own endurance is waning and her confidence in her expertise on grace is paling. Worse, a former classmate has begun stalking her and threatens to go public with news of Eve's troubled past. Having been a product of other people's dreams her entire life, Eve is now a woman in search of authenticity. 

Review: Interesting novel about finding who you are. The book was written in the perspective of 4 different people.  The first is Nick, Eve's High School track coach and current husband. When Nick first laid eyes on Eve (then called Marianne) he saw something in her that inspired him, a spark that made him want to take her under his wing and protect her, shape her and create her.

Joan is Eve's first lesbian lover and High School crush.  Joan's passion scares her and scares Nick even more.  She isn't in Eve's life very long but comes back as a New York Times writer determined to write a piece about Eve.

Alyssa is hired by Nick to take his place in "managing" Eve.  Protecting her, shaping her, and continuing to create the persona that Nick has created so far. Alyssa is a successful woman who earned a lot of money reshaping men in corporate America and she believes she can help Eve get even further with her career.

Eve has been managed her whole life. First by her mentally unstable preacher father, then by Nick and then by Alyssa.  It isn't until her life starts to slowly spin out of control that she realizes she doesn't really know who she is.  She has been molded and shaped by so many people and relied on them to guide her that she never really took control of her own life. It wasn't until she meets a poet who inspires her to be better than she is that she realizes it might be time to take figure that out.

I found this book so interesting, seeing things from all the different perspectives was really intriguing. The story doesn't have a neat end, its not all wrapped up and I think it was fitting.  You can imagine so many different endings or variations because the characters lives have been shaken up.  They are now all on a quest to figure out who they are and where they fit in this big world. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

(22) Letting Go and Learning how to Live

Title: Descanso by Cynthia Tyler
Publisher: Alice Street Editions
163 pages
Genre: LGBT

Synopsis: Two years ago psychotherapist Chris Cameron was devastated by the murder of her partner Robyn. Even now she struggles daily with the loss as she once again tries to find meaning in her own life. It isn't going well. Strangled by her work environment and suffocated by her own overwhelming grief she finally realizes she is searching to find her own spirit.

Review: Kudo's to Cynthia Tyler for writing a fabulous first novel. I loved that the characters aren't young 20 somethings and that every person Chris interacts with isn't a lesbian.  Her spiritual journey is one that I could strongly relate to.  I may not have lost loved one's to death but most of us have felt the grief at the end of relationship. That feeling of being stuck, unable to move forward, and dreading that you have to start over. It was so easy to relate to the main character, you could feel her pain, her confusion and her struggle.

While Chris struggles to regain her personal life she is also stuck in her professional life.  Watching the decline of her profession, watching as decisions that she knows are detrimental are made without regard to the patients but with a look at the bottom line.  Tyler gives a sharp commentary on the state of psychiatry today. Actually Tyler takes swipes at several very timely topics such as gay marriage, the media and religion.

I was pleasantly surprised by how deep and alive this book was.  Very insightful and well done.

Monday, February 21, 2011

(21) Cornwell trying to regain her edge

Title: Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: Putnam (2010)
358 pages
Genre: Mystery

Synopsis: The story begins at the real Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, where Scarpetta is assisting in developing techniques for virtual autopsies, then shifts back to her recently adopted home at Boston's Cambridge Forensic Center (CFC). A young man's mysterious death becomes even stranger after full-body scans reveal destruction so extensive it's as if a bomb went off inside his body. Scarpetta and husband Benton Wesley-along with her niece, Lucy Farinelli, and ex-cop turned CFC investigator Pete Marino-discover links not only to a government project with the ability to cause mass casualties but also to another grisly case currently under investigation.

Review:  I've been a long time Scarpetta fan but the last few books have been seriously lacking.  I was hesitant to buy this one but figured I'd give her another whirl.

Good things about this book? A return of the first person narrative. This is a huge improvement over the last several books.  I like being inside Kay's head.  Seeing things through her eyes.Although slow to start (very slow took me until half way through the book to actually want to continue reading) the story does pick up and get intriguing.

Scarpetta returns to the CFC after a stint at the Dover Port Mortuary to find her lab in a shambles.  Her assistant is MIA and has been leaking information on cases and using her office as his own, her co-workers aren't showing up for work and doing shabby work when they are there, her husband Benton is being allusive and closed lipped when it comes to what is happening at the lab and about the cases she recently stumbled into.  For the first half of the book it seems Kay just whines and complains about the state of the lab, the state of her marriage and her relationship with her niece Lucy and co-worker Marino. It isn't until she loses some of her self pity that she starts using her brain and becoming the investigator we all fell in love with at the beginning.

The case itself is intriguing, the means of death scary and high tech and the political intrigue plausible if only it had all been put together a bit more cohesively. I don't know whats happened to this series, if Cornwell just gave up on Scarpetta or just somehow lost her edge.  I was hoping this book would redeem her past few but while it has its good points its still lacking overall.  There are glimpses of books past but it hasn't quite gotten back up to its potential again. I'm not sure if I'm willing to give my time to any more of these books but I guess only time will tell.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(20)The Courage to Speak Your Truth

Title: Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
Publisher: Speak
167 Pages
Genre: YA

Synopsis: Something's going on. Something more than a high school poetry assignment. Kids are taking a look, leaning in close, asking why or how. Wesley Boone, writing a poem for Mr. Ward's class and actually wanting to read it aloud, poetry slam style. Lupe Algarin, desperate to have a baby so she will feel loved. Raynard Patterson, hiding a secret behind his silence. Porscha Johnson, looking for an outlet for her anger after her mother OD's. One by one, eighteen voices speak up, show themselves to the world and deal with the consequences. Through the poetry they share and the stories they tell, their words and lives show what lies beneath the skin, behind the eyes, beyond the masquerade.

Review: What a wonderful and powerful book.  Every other chapter tells the tale of one of the kids in Mr. Ward's class, how they feel inside and how people seem to see them.  After each persons story you get to read their poem that they read to the class.  As the book progresses you see how the Open Mike poetry readings are making students realize that you have to look beyond the surface to see the real person underneath.  Like an inner city Breakfast club this book breaks down stereotypes.  The angry girl whose mother OD'ed.  The jock who likes to read poetry, the light skinned girl who doesn't want to stand out and just wants to be considered black.  Mr. Ward's Open Mike poetry sessions help students see whats underneath the surface and learn to be more accepting.  Fabulous book!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(19) Discovery of a new Author

Title: Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Publisher: Viking
592 Pages
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance

Synopsis: Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos.

Review:  Diana is the daughter of two of the most famous witch families, the Bishops and the Proctors.  Her parents are killed when she is seven and since then she has decided to live her life as magic free as she can.  She shuns her Aunts attempt to teach her any magic and goes into a profession where research is her companion not magic.  A historian with a focus on alchemy Diana stumbles upon a book that, unbeknown to her, has been lost for centuries. The discovery of the book creates a ripple throughout the supernatural world and everyone is determined to get their hands on it at any cost.

I was hooked on this book from page one, the history, the quotes, the magic all drew me in and wouldn't let me go.  Like a Twilight for adults with better writing, Harkness sucks you into Diana's world leading you along on her magical journey and her education of the supernatural world.

This book is full of conspiracy, intrigue, politics and romance.  There is so much packed into this book that when I was only a third of the way done I couldn't figure out where it was going because so much had already happened! I love to be surprised by books and new authors and Harness definitely fits the bill.

Friday, February 11, 2011

(18) Open Letter or diary?

Title: Dear Linda, An Adoptive Father's open letter to the birthmother of his child by Anonymous
Publisher: Trafford
88 pages
Genre: Adoption,

Synopsis: Often during the past decade this adoptive fathers thoughts returned to the memory of a meeting with a young pregnant girl, a young girl whose ultimate, loving decision changed the course of his life. "Dear Linda," is an open letter to the birthmother of his child. But it is also more,it is an open letter to all birthmothers from the perspective of an adoptive father.

Review: Perhaps I got the wrong impression of this book by its synopsis but it was not what I expected.  What I expected was an adoptive father explaining his feelings toward the birth parents of his child.  What I got instead was a detailed history of their infertility, and the life of his daughter up to age 10.  This book is only 88 pages and it wasn't until the 84th page I felt that this book lived up to its title.  In his last chapter entitled End of the Beginning, the author finally comes back to the adoption, talks about talking to his daughter about her birthmother and how he feels when he does.  He also ends with another heartfelt thank you which is how the book began.

Overall I was not impressed and don't understand how this book can be billed as an open letter to all birth mothers from the perspective of an adoptive father.  It is quite simple a chronicle of  his daughters life. While there were a few redeeming passages the overall book was underwhelming and not really a letter to the birth mother at all, unless you consider it to be 10 years worth of updates on the health and well being of their child.  I would save your money and pass on this title.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

(17) Lost on the way to the Altar

Title: Deadly Vows by Brenda Joyce
Publisher: Harlequin
384 pages
Genre: Romance

I received this as an advanced readers copy from netgalley.com This title will be released in February 22, 2011

Synopsis:New York City, 1902

Something happened on the way to her wedding…

On the morning of her wedding to Calder Hart, amateur sleuth Francesca Cahill is lured away to a private viewing of a portrait that could destroy her entire family: the nude Hart commissioned of her. Her desperate quest to recover the scandalous portrait leads her into a dangerous trap with no way to escape—until it’s too late. And when Francesca finally arrives at the church, it’s vacant. She has unintentionally jilted Hart at the altar.

When Hart tells her their estrangement is for the best, Francesca is devastated. With a blackmailer intent on destroying her reputation, Francesca turns to Rick Bragg, the city’s powerful police commissioner. Together they scour the sordid streets of lower Manhattan, following a deliberately laid trail of clues in a race against the clock. And once it becomes clear that Bragg’s marriage is failing, Francesca must war with her feelings for him, battle Hart’s jealousy and escape a killer—all as she fights to win Hart back. But sometimes, passion just cannot be denied…

Review:  What can I say that I haven't already said about this series?  I'm in love with Francesca! Her independence, her ability to find herself in the most precarious situations and her ability to get out of them. The men in her life are all bold and gorgeous, especially her fiancĂ©e Calder Hart who is a hurt little boy trapped in a delicious manly package.

This book has it all, romance, mystery, kidnapping, conspiracies, love triangles, wealth and forbidden love.  Its a bit like a historical Janet Evanovitch.  I can't get enough! The publisher is launching Deadly Vows with the previous 2 titles in an attempt to grow the series and attract new readers. If you would like to see the Deadly series continue, you can help! Give a friend an old, used book and get her hooked. Pitch the series to everyone, chat about it online in chat rooms and on reader websites. And of course, run out to buy those books!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

(16) Coming To Terms with the Truth

Title: Probation by Tom Mendicino
Publisher: Kensington Books
333 pages
Genre: LGBT lit

Synopsis: A middle-aged married man whose indiscretion in a men's bathroom forces him to re-evaluate his chosen life becomes a surprisingly sympathetic narrator in this potent debut. When Andy Nocera is arrested at a public highway rest stop, his wife leaves him, prompted by her father, for whom Andy works. Resigned to putting his life back together, he moves home with his mother, recently diagnosed with cancer, and takes a job as a traveling salesman around which he schedules his court-ordered therapy with a stubborn Jesuit priest. Andy attempts to detangle his motivations for both getting married when his emotions lay elsewhere and settling for an existence as a dutiful son.

Review: Andy's life is spiraling out of control.  First he is arrested for an indiscretion in a bathroom, sentenced to probation he then loses his wife and his job.  Plodding along through his life with a sales job he hates, living with his mother who is dying and attending therapy sessions with a priest that constantly irritates him.  Andy is having a hard time reconciling his desires with the expectations of the people around him.  He hates his frequent hook-ups but can't bring himself to admit he's gay.

Mendicino's coming out story of a married man rings true in so many aspects.  From the self loathing and fight Andy puts up admitting his sexuality to himself,  to the despair of watching his mother dying of cancer.   This book is downright depressing in so many ways and it is difficult to wade through it but there is redemption in the end and well worth the read.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Title: The Ruins by Scott Smith
Publisher: Vintage Books
509 Pages
Genre: Horror

Synopsis: Two young couples are on a lazy Mexican vacation- sun-drenched days, wild nights, making friends with fellow tourists. When the brother of one of those friends disappears, they decide to venture into the jungle to look for him. What started out as a fun day trip slowly spirals into a nightmare when they find an ancient ruins site....and the terrifying presence that lurks there.

Review: This book was creepy.  At first you aren't quite sure what is going on but then as you figure out what is happening it gives you the creepy crawlies.  I never thought killer plants would be scary but when I started having dreams about my house plants creeping across my room to kill me I realized that Smith might have been on to something.  Giant worms, killer crocs, and sharks these have all been done to death but plants?

The group dynamics were perfect and Smith does keep you wondering what's going to go wrong or happen next.  Will they be saved? Can they get out of this?  If you are looking for a creepy read this one has you covered.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

19th Annual African American Children's Book Festival

The 19th Annual African-American Children's Book Festival was held at Philadelphia Community College today.  There were a wide range of vendors ranges from those for educators to Children's book authors and illustrators.

They had a good turn out although I thought the room was laid out a bit strangely and wasn't very well organized.  Some of the Educational vendors had massive attitude problems as well.  When one of the vendors asked a woman if she was an educator and she responded yes but she had forgotten her ID the woman looked at her and replied "well I guess you're out of luck huh?" I was stunned.

I ventured to this book expo with a white friend who has two African-American children so he could look for books for his kids.  While there, one of the other vendors said to him "well if you had your kids with you I might take pity on you and give you a free book". Again I was stunned.  I don't know who recruited the volunteers or even if they were volunteers who were working the educator tables but they need to rethink who they send.  Alienating the people who attend is not the way to bring people back.

Aside from the rude staff I did find some interesting books.  I also found a great lacking in books for African-American boys of any age other than sports or history books.  There were plenty for girls.  Books about hair, books about teenage girls, books about self esteem for girls etc but none for boys.  I'm not sure why.  The more I thought about it the more I realized that most of the YA books I've read haven't had African-American protagonists, or even very many characters of color.  Where are all these books? Am I missing something? If I am please point me in the right direction!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

(14) The Big Disconnect

Title: The Winter of Our Disconnect: How three totally wired teenagers (and their mother who slept with her iphone) pulled the plug on their technology and lived to tell the tale.
Publisher: Penguin
265 Pages
Genre: Memoir

Synopsis: Maushart decides to have her family take a six-month experiment into an unplugged life. No smart phones, ipods, laptops, game stations, hand held game devices, tv, or pc's. Easier said than done in a house with three digital native teenagers.  The first two weeks of the experiment Maushart also shuts off all the power in the house, hoping that in two weeks when it comes back on having no ipod won't be as important as the fact that they now can turn on a light or use the fans.  Internet is available outside of the house in wifi cafe's or friends houses.  The no technology zone only pertains to their home.

Review: I felt like Maushart was living in my home.  I've got three teenagers, two of which are very wired.  The third is an anomaly in this house.  She doesn't watch tv, hardly ever remembers to charge her cell phone and doesn't really listen to her ipod.  She is however completely addicted to her computer and watching anime through the computer in Japanese with subtitles.  Go figure.  The rest of us however are complete addicts.  Between facebook, twitter, you tube, downloading games, movies, surfing amazon and texting its like we have a IV of information flowing through us at all times (you know there is a problem when your kids text you from a room away instead of getting up and coming to talk to you).

I found Mausharts experiment refreshing, funny and scary at the same time.  The book was a mix of diary entry's and  well researched information on the effects of technology on the next generation and its terrifying.  The technology that we think is so helpful and necessary is often a distraction from real life.  Our relationships suffer as we forget how to interact, our work suffers from constant distraction, our sleep suffers from falling asleep to the dim lights of computers, ipods, or tv, our health suffers from not getting out to exercise and eating in front of computers etc and we find ourselves dependent on constant stimulation.  Her experiment should be a cautionary tale to all of us to unplug or at least limit our use of this technology and start living in the real world.

Mausharts book definitely made me realize how dependent and addicted I am to technology.  I am now very conscious of how many times I glance at my blackberry, or open the computer just to browse facebook.  I may not be turning off the internet and canceling my Fios subscription but it has definitely made me rethink how I use technology.

You may wonder if the experiment worked.  To an extent it did.  Of course the family was happy to get their technology back but they learned that boredom isn't such a bad thing, there is a life without technology, their sleep improved and when the cable was turned back on they didn't find themselves as enamored with it as before.
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