Friday, September 21, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery

by Louise Penny
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, 2012.

Despite the fact that this is the eight book in a series, there are no spoilers in the following review. Enjoy! Chief Inspector Gamache and his second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, are on another case. When a monk dies, they go to Saint Gilbert Entre les Loups, a monastery where few have ever been allowed access. This order of Gilbertines is known for their amazing Gregorian chants, plain songs which can have a profound affect on those who sing or listen - the "beautiful mystery.".

As much as I enjoy Three Pines and the characters from the village, I find that some of my favorite Inspector Gamache stories are set away from there. Because of the unique setting, we really focus on two familiar characters exclusively - Gamache and Beauvoir. I had so many highs and lows I felt like these were real people, real friends of mine. Meanwhile the story, the mystery unfolds slowly until I found myself drawn in and so completely immersed that I want to listen to some plainchants myself just to hear what was described throughout the book.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

by Elinor Lipman
New York : Random House, 2003.

Dr. Alice Thrift doesn't excel at interpersonal communication. Actually, that's putting it lightly. She's an intern who wants to become a surgeon, works long hours, and takes everything seriously. When Ray Russo, a former near-patient for a nose job, starts calling her and asking her out, she's rather flattered and can't quite see how this could go wrong, despite the advice of everyone around her.

I was in the mood for something light and knew an Elinor Lipman book would fit the bill. Despite, or perhaps because of, her serious nature, Alice was a really fun heroine. I'm not so great at reading people either, but even I was a step ahead of Alice and sometimes laughing at her naivete. She tells you on the very first page that her relationship with Ray doesn't work out, so reading this felt kind of like watching a car wreck - you just can't look away.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


by Marie Lu
New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2011.

Day has been on the run ever since he failed his Trial. He's a wanted criminal according to the Republic, but he cares for an orphan, Tess, and still checks in on his family in a poor section of Los Angeles. June is a prodigy; she scored a perfect 1500 on the Trial and is the youngest in her class by a few years. She hopes to eventually enter the military like her brother, Metias. When tragedy strikes their lives are unexpectedly brought together.

This teen dystopia has a little bit of everything: adventure, romance, two sympathetic narrators that each get to tell their side of the story. As a reader, you know more than they do, and I've read enough of the genre to pick up on the clues: I was only surprised by one or two revelations. There were a few moments that I had to really suspend disbelief, as they seemed too coincidental or not fully explained. While not a perfect book, it's fast-paced and kept my interest throughout. I can see why it's a popular choice for teen readers looking for something after The Hunger Games, and I'll continue reading when the sequel, Prodigy, comes out in January.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Chosen

by Chaim Potok
New York : A.A. Knopf, 1992 (25th Anniversary Edition).

Fifteen-year-old Reuven Malter plays softball for his yeshiva, and gets hurt when Danny Saunders hits a ball right to his eye. He may lose sight in the eye, and he's naturally extremely angry at first. But the accident turns out to be the beginning of an incredible friendship between two Jewish boys from very different backgrounds and belief systems.

I can't remember exactly why I had this book on my ever-growing list of books to read. I certainly didn't know a thing about the plot; I knew about the author a little only by reputation. I loved Potok's writing style, the way you see everything through Reuven's eyes but still get a window into the other characters through how they act and speak - there's no paragraph explaining who each of them is or where they came from, just a slow unveiling of Danny, Reb Saunders, Reuven's father, and other secondary characters. Set during World War 2 and just after, despite some of the heartbreaking occurrences, at its heart this is a warm story that I would enjoy revisiting often.

Sorry for the lack of a cover image - it was pretty plain, and I didn't think you'd care to see a random blue rectangle.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Broken Kingdoms

by N.K. Jemisin
New York : Orbit, 2010.

The second in the Inheritance trilogy. I managed not to have spoilers for it, but you should also check out my review for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Oree, a blind young woman who can see only magic. She has left her family behind to live in Shadow, the city below the World Tree in Sky, and sell her wares to tourists. When she finds a godling in the alley, dead, the Order Keepers are suddenly interested in Oree - and there interest can be dangerous.

Though this is the second in a series, you can read it without having read the first (though it will have spoilers for the first story, should you decide to go back). In fact, I'd gone over a year and a half since reading the first book, and had no trouble following this one. It takes place about ten years later, and the reader slowly (re)discovers what happened in the interim as Oree either shares or learns more about what's really going on. It's a compelling story with really excellent worldbuilding. The Gods are at the same time very human and yet different, and make for interesting interactions whenever they show up. I will definitely not be waiting another year and a half before reading the next book in the series.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Open: An Autobiography

by Andre Agassi
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

Tennis star Andre Agassi bares all in his account of his life, from young phenom whose father pushed him to "Hit harder" and asked (or coerced) players to hit with his son, to troubled teen at the Bollettieri Academy to revered veteran of the game.

My father read this soon after it came out, and recommended it to me. Whenever it came up, he'd talk to me about Agassi's father, or what Agassi said about other players - he was not a fan of Connors, for example. The one phrase that kept coming to mind while reading his memoir was "brutal honesty." I mean, Agassi goes so far as to tell you in the acknowledgements who his ghostwriter/co-writer is (incidentally, this added a book to my TBR list, The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer), as well as setting the record straight in ways that do not always portray him in the best light. This is a candid account for sure, as Agassi literally opens up about his struggles and how he comes to terms with who he is. His present-tense narrative with no quotation marks for speech could have been distracting, but instead it made the past events all the more immediate. It's hard to say I enjoyed it, but I found it compelling and would definitely recommend it to sports fans and biography fans alike.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Out of the Blue

by Victor Cruz, with Peter Schrager
New York : Celebra, c2012.

If you follow football at all, you probably heard about Victor Cruz. He was an undrafted rookie free agent who signed with the New York Giants' football team, only to sit out most of the 2010 season with a hamstring injury. But in 2011, he made headlines, apparently coming out of nowhere to become Eli Manning's go-to receiver on third down. Cruz's autobiography details exactly where he came from, starting in a rough neighborhood in Paterson, New Jersey to go to the University of Massachusetts, through all the hardship and determination to make it in the NFL.

As a huge Giants fan from a family of Giants fans and a UMass alum, I may be biased, but I think even non-football fans would enjoy this read. He has a sense of where he's come from and knows he's a role model. Cruz shows how many times he could have ended in failure by bad decisions or just pure bad luck, and how hard his mother and his coaches worked to make him the young man he is today. The style of writing is chatty and personable (in my head, I could often hear Cruz's voice from my dad's highlight DVDs). An entertaining and inspiring read I'll be recommending to my family.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Gray Wolf Throne

by Cinda Williams Chima
New York : Hyperion, 2011.

***As the third book in the Seven Realms series, this review will necessarily have spoilers for The Demon King and The Exiled Queen.***

Having avoided the assassins' attempt on her life, Raisa is now alone. She's trying to travel back home while also allowing Amon Byrne to find her, and avoiding areas of war in the Seven Realms not to mention the other assassins sent by someone who clearly prefers having her sister, Mellony, on the throne. Meanwhile, Han Alister is trying to find Raisa - whom he knew as Rebecca - as well, but he's afraid her trail may have grown cold.

If you enjoyed the first two books in this series, then The Gray Wolf Throne will not disappoint. The author finds an excellent balance between action and character development, as Raisa and Han each have to find their way in the midst of political turmoil to, well, avoid death at the hands of their enemies. They are both compelling characters, and alternating between their perspectives with third-person narration allows readers to nearly get into their heads but get a slightly more holistic view of events because we know what they think about themselves and each other. I'm looking forward to reading The Crimson Crown when it comes out in October.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven

by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
HarperCollins, 2012.

A mysterious man shows up at Sempere & Sons book store looking for Fermin, setting Daniel on a quest to find out about his friend's past.

This is the third in the connected stories in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle. While it's not necessary to have read The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game beforehand, I think I would not have been as emotionally connected to events and characters if I had not. Of the three, I think this book stands alone the least, though it still could, as the author intends, be the introduction to the cycle set in 1950s Barcelona. In fact (and I never thought I'd say this), it made me want to go back and reread The Angel's Game because I have the feeling I completely misunderstood it the first time around.

While it still doesn't hold a candle to The Shadow of the Wind which is one of my all-time favorites, I loved getting Fermin's back story and am truly looking forward to seeing where the next book takes these characters.