Thursday, December 29, 2011

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Remember The Scarlet Letter?  This is a rewrite set in a dystopian future when church and state are no longer separate but co-mingled in all but a few holdout states.  In this future those found guilty of a crime are Chromed.  They are genetically altered so their skin color reflects their crime.  Yellows have committed misdemeanors, blues are sexual predators and reds are murderers. 

Hannah Payne committed murder in the eyes of the law when she had an abortion.  She refused to give any information about the man who performed the procedure or the identity of the father.  By withholding this information her sentence as a Chrome has been extended by six years to sixteen.

Reverand Dale is a charismatic religious leader who speaks for leniency at Hannah’s trial since she was a former member of his congregation.  He is now in Washington D.C. serving in the highest religious position in the country.  He was also the father of Hannah’s child.

All of this sound a little familiar?  It’s a unique retelling where things don’t always go the way you suspect and character motivations aren’t always what they seem. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Murder on the Cliffs: A Daphne Du Maurier Mystery by Joanna Challis

Where did Daphne Du Maurier get her inspiration for the classic tale Rebecca?  From becoming involved in a murder investigation!  When Daphne comes across the body of a woman at the bottom of a cliff she finds herself in the center of a scandal.  Did the bride-to-be commit suicide?  Or was she pushed?  There are a number of people who would want the young woman dead, but did any of them commit murder?

The author works the real-life authoress into this fictional mystery very well.  Never do you feel like you are getting a history lesson or a biographical sketch.  You learn about the times and the woman through the course of the narrative.  It is also a well written mystery with a gothic air reminiscent of Rebecca.

If you are a mystery reader, you may be interested in joining the Mysterious Mornings discussions.  Our next theme/sub-genre is Real People – Unreal Crimes.  A list of suggested authors and titles is available at the Bridgewater Library and titles are on display right now.

If it’s a mystery and the main character is famous for something other than solving crimes, and is now solving crimes, then it fits this month’s sub-genre.  Just keep in mind how the main character’s fame and profession affects the mystery because that will be a major talking point at our discussion on Wednesday, January 11th at 9:30am at the Bridgewater Library.

Wickedly Charming by Kristine Grayson

Wickedly Charming by Kristine Grayson

What if all the characters in fairy tales actually existed?  What happens after the happily ever after?  Well, Prince Charming and Ella (that’s her real name, the Cinder part got smushed on by the Brothers Grimm) are divorcing.  Mellie, the stepmother from the Snow White tale, is trying to get a grassroots movement off the ground to ban the lies (meaning the fairy tales).  And Dave (the name Prince Charming uses in our world) just wants to run his bookshop and get books at the book fair.  That’s when he runs into Mellie who is protesting the book fair.  He tries to pass on his love to books to her; she sees a way to get her message about nice stepmothers out there; and they start collaborating on a plan.  Could Prince Charming fall for an Evil Stepmother?  Is there life after Happily Ever After?  If you’re a fan of romance, retold tales or just a fun, quick read, you’ll enjoy visiting the Greater World (where we live) and the Kingdoms (where the fairy tales happen). 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Legend by Marie Lu

Legend by Marie Lu

Missing The Hunger Games?  Looking for the next big dystopian series?  Look no further.  Lu has a winner with Legend.

It’s some time in the future in what is now part of the Republic, the place we know as California.  The West Coast is not only a location prone to earthquakes, but devastating hurricanes happen with frightening regularity.  It’s also a hotbed of plague with mutant forms of the virus sprouting up in the poorer sections of the cities every few months.

If you’re from a wealthy family like June, life in the Republic isn’t so bad.  Add to her comfortable living situation the fact that she scored a perfect score on her Trial (mandatory testing given to all ten year olds in the Republic) and you have a girl on the fast track to success.  June loves the Republic and wants to be a great solider, just like her older brother Metias.

If you’re from a poorer family like Day, life in the Republic isn’t so great.  Add to his not-so-great living situation the fact that he’s on the run for his actions against the Republic.  While he’s not working for the Colonies he is considered one of the biggest enemies of the Republic.

Told in alternating chapters by June and Day (you just know these two are going to meet!) this is a great edge of your seat tale about life in a place that is good or horrid depending on where you stand and a place where nothing is at it seems to be.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield

Are you the sort of person who notices the type style in advertising and signs?  Does it drive you nuts when something you are reading changes fonts in the middle?  Do you know the difference between a serif and sans serif typeface?  Then this is the book for you!  (Even if you aren’t currently a font fanatic, this book will help you become impassioned about the printed word!)

Garfield takes you on a journey through the history of printing and the font revolution Steve Jobs created when his Apple software came preloaded with a number of fonts.  You learn which fonts are most airport friendly, which fonts you’ll find in France and which fonts were created for special purposes and have become legendary.  (You’ll also learn about some font flops and most hated fonts.  Comic Sans being the most hated of all.)

If you’re looking for an entertaining read and also looking to learn something which may one day help you on Jeopardy! you’ve found a good one here.  The chapters are short and basically stand on their own so you can read a bit, have a giggle or two, and put it down for a day and not lose anything. 

I recommend only reading this book in its physical print form.  The typeface changes to illustrate various fonts and the illustrations are wonderful.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran

As we are aware, history is written by the victors.  Therefore, most of what I knew about the French Revolution was from the side of the citizenry, even though their side was a brutal one.  The Reign of Terror is a very appropriate description indeed!  What made this book, and its main character, unique was the way both sides of the revolution were portrayed.  You get to see the revolution from the beginning, when it was just talk in a salon, through to the road running red with traitorous blood: the definition of traitor getting vaguer and vaguer as time went on.  You also get to see into the court of Louis and Marie Antoinette by the sculptress’s tutelage of the king’s sister.  The woman we now associate with wax museums was a sought out artist in her time.

It was interesting to see how involved (albeit unwillingly) Tussaud was in the French Revolution.  (If you don’t know how, I’m not giving it away here!)  The process and expense of the wax figures at that time was shocking, but not more so than the popularity of her museum and the price of admission. 

This is a fascinating read of another time and place which the Popular Fiction Book Discussion Group will be discussing Madame Tussaud on Tuesday, February 21st at 7pm at the Bridgewater Library.  Please contact the library at 908-526-4016 x105 if you would like to signup to attend this discussion.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Robert Greenblatt

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Robert Greenblatt
Reviewed by Cassandra, Librarian at Mary Jacobs Library

It seems that every nonfiction book I've reviewed for the blog has been my all-time favorite. I guess I should continue on that trend with this book! The Swerve is in my top 10 favorite nonfiction books of 2011 and it might just be one of my all-time favorite books.  It is a quick listen on audio at just 8 discs and the reader, Edoardo Ballerini, is easy on the ears.

In explaining how European civilization started to push away from Christian religiosity of the Middle Ages into a worldview we recognize as our secular own, Greenblatt traces book hunter Poggio Bracciolini, in 1417, on his quest through Medieval monasteries to search for ancient manuscripts. On this quest he unearths Lucretius's "De rerum natura" (On the Nature of Things.) This book-length Latin poem, written in the 1st century B.C.E., is described as remarkably beautiful and gripping, while being a great example of Epicurean philosophy (available from It is the story of how this particular manuscript was found, copied and passed along that Greenblatt believes led the way out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance and then into modern philosophy.

In essence, this book is an ode to the power and tenacity of manuscripts and the celebration of the scribal skills of men such as Poggio and Niccolo. There is also an amazing insight into medieval religious fervor and the medieval monks who toiled in monastic scriptoria and discreetly inserted grumbles - "Thin ink, bad parchment, difficult text" -onto the pages they produced.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

You don’t have to read Shanghai Girls to appreciate See’s latest book, but it certainly helps since this is a direct sequel taking place IMMEDIATELY after Shanghai Girls ends.  This is the story of Joy, an idealistic and na├»ve nineteen year old who decides to go to China to find her biological father.   It is also the story of Pearl, her mother, who follows her daughter to China.  If the story took place today it would be complicated enough, but in the book it is 1957 and Joy has just entered Mao’s China. 

Seeing Mao’s communes and the transformation of the city of Shanghai is startling.  I knew that things under Mao were bad; I just was unaware of how bad.  Mao’s unreasonable demands on the communes (fertilizing the fields with crushed glass, seeding ten times the normal amount, competitions for harvest times) caused the great famines that killed up to 45 million people.  You get a great understanding of why there wasn’t an uprising of the people, it’s hard to rebel when you are dying of starvation.

Narrated in the first person by both Joy and Pearl you get great insights into these two characters and get to see the transformation of Joy into a woman and the love Pearl has for her wayward daughter.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Dana is a secret.  She is the daughter of a hidden family.  Her father James has two daughters, Dana and Chaurisse, born only four months apart, yet only one can claim him as her father in public.  Dana is not that daughter.

Dana grows up knowing her father is a bigamist, knowing all about her sister and her family.   She knows that if Chaurisse wants to attend a certain program or work at a certain place she cannot.  She feels that Chaurisse is the lucky one, the favored daughter.  Things start to unravel when Dana and Chaurisse start to hang out together.  Dana is trying to learn everything she can about her sister while Chaurisse is thrilled to have a new friend.  Secrets don’t stay secret forever.

Set in the 1980s in Atlanta this is an interesting look at how this social situation could actually seem to work for an extended period of time.  I read an interview with the author and she was amazed at how many letters she received from people like Dana who were from hidden families. 

I think the best part of the book was the perspective switch at the midpoint.  The first half is told from Dana’s point of view and suddenly we have the story from Charuisse’s viewpoint.  While it was jarring at first since the girls are more alike than either would ever admit, seeing the other side of the story was in interesting storytelling device.