Friday, September 30, 2011

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Surprisingly, this is one of those books that you just can't put down. I really didn't anticipate liking it - the library discussion group chose it, and I'm just not a big war fan. But I got truly sucked in from the start.

Louis Zamperini was a troubled kid who made good by learning to run "for" something, instead of "away" from things. His Olympic dreams seem inevitable - and then he enlists for the war effort. Hillenbrand (who also wrote Seabiscuit) does an excellent job of quickly drawing you into Louis' story - he's a very personable guy, and you're cheering for him and laughing at his antics right away. Who wouldn't love this guy?

But the answer to that question, we learn, is a horrifying Japanese prison leader nicknamed The Bird. Zamperini's story takes a tragic, almost unbelievable turn after his enlistment; the fact that it's true doesn't make it any easier to understand.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The ideal man

by Julie Garwood

Ms. Garwood is back with another FBI thriller. This time Agent Max Daniels is hot on the trail of the elusive Landrys who have been running illegal arms into the country for years. Just as his team is closing in, the Landrys shoot another agent directly in front of Dr. Ellie Sullivan. Her quick thinking and proximity to the trauma center are essential to saving the man's life. Unfortunately, she may have gotten enough of a look at the Landrys for her own safety to be compromised. Agent Daniels starts out wanting to protect his witness, until he finds out she has been on the run from a dangerous stalker before and that one is also missing. Both Ellie and Max try to resist temptation as they keep watch for all the threats to her life.

Garwood has produced another zippy, if predictable, read with this one.

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

In 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, Skeeter Phelan is about to become an outcast. She has returned from college just filled with ideas about fairness and the difference between right and wrong. She soon finds herself a job and realizes she knows absolutely nothing about the topic she is supposed to use for her column. The only solution is to befriend the help, but she can't possibly do that in her mother's home. It doesn't take long before she has an idea that will change the lives of everyone she knows, if she and her new friend have the courage to go through with it.

The Help is the story of three women looking at the world in which they live and feeling as though something is terribly wrong. This is a well-written story that leaves the reader desperate to know more about the lives of nearly all the characters. It's funny when you realize you are so wrapped up in the characters experiences you almost forget what you already know about history and get surprised by one or two events.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spud by John Van De Ruit

Proving that boarding schools are the same the world over, this is young John "Spud" Milton's diary: his first ventures away from home, his making friends and forming life-long bonds, and the dream of finding a girl to kiss. Along the way we also meet his odd-ball parents, his senile granny they call Wombat, and a whole cast of characters that make Spud's life interesting.

This book is head-and-shoulders above most of the genre - it could easily have been a throw-away story and instead it's a hilarious book. The reader really becomes part of Spud's world (although I admit to a bit of trouble keeping the immense, nicknamed cast straight), and at the end I was delighted to find there is a second book, "The Madness Continues."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Burger Wuss by MT Anderson

As part of his larger revenge plan on the jerk who stole his girlfriend, 16-year-old Anthony gets hired at O'Dermott's fast food restaurant (think: McDonalds). Unfortunately, Anthony didn't anticipate how bad his life could be with Turner (the jerk) as his shift manager ... he may not have been thinking clearly when he formed his grand evil plan.

It's a very funny book, and written in an almost stream of consciousness that illustrates Anthony's neurotic thoughts. Yet despite the fact we know what's going through Anthony's head most of the time, the reader still is left in the dark as to the actual revenge plan - you don't know what's going to happen until it happens.

The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro

I had a couple of rather drunken years in the early 90's, and Laurie Notaro could easily have been my best friend. The stupid things she does (especially when drinking) are a page right out of my own book.

I don't know if this book is culled from Notaro's Arizona Republic columns, or if these are direct reprints. While some of the stories here seem a bit dated now, if you were a young adult in the 1990s you'll understand and recognize many of the references and situations.

I laughed out loud. And then I was glad I've grown up (some) since then!

Man with a Pan edited by John Donohue

Somehow the stereotype persists that women do all the cooking at home; if a man cooks, he's a professional chef. This book puts that idea on its head by asking 21 men who cook at home to write about their experiences.

Some discuss one recipe, others write about how they learned to cook. Many discuss the challenge of getting kids to eat anything but mac and cheese. A few of the writers are known foodies, a few are non-chef celebrities, and many of them are just regular guys who cook.

You've probably got to be a food geek to really enjoy this book - but if you're the kind of person who read cookbooks for enjoyment, you'll enjoy these "stories from the field" written by men who know their way around the kitchen.