Book Reviews

'Til Morning Light is the third novel in the Gracelin O'Malley series by Ann Moore. This historical fiction series follows heroine Gracelin as she travels from Ireland to New York to San Francisco in the mid-1800s. 'Til Morning Light concludes Gracelin's journey as she struggles to balance her own personal happiness with the best life possible for her two young children.

Gracelin is planning to marry Captain Reinders as she waits in San Francisco, working as a cook in a house for a local doctor. But many surprises are waiting for Gracelin in San Francisco – a headstrong housekeeper, her own brother hidden in Chinatown, and her one true love.

Gracelin is an extremely strong female character who survived a great deal of turmoil in Ireland before escaping to America. I was surprised at her openness and her ability to adapt to her surroundings.

I also enjoyed the debates on morality and other issues between Gracelin and Dr. Wakefield. I felt that the author was able to delicately handle sensitive issues that did not interfere with the story. I also noticed an appreciation for faith throughout the book, but it was essential to the story and I did not feel as though the author was preaching to me.

“Lookin’ for a wedding?” he asked in a lazy drawl. When G.W. Vandermark first meets beautiful Lizzy Decker, his world is turned upside down. At the busy train station in Philadelphia, Lizzy, a stunning, blue-eyed petite blonde, is accompanied by G.W.’s level-headed sister, Deborah Vandermark.

Lizzy and Deborah have just finished college and are returning to Deborah’s hometown in Eastern Texas.

For G.W, the most unusual thing about his sister’s companion is a long bridal gown she chooses to wear for the arduous trip. Lizzy has barely escaped a wedding and an overbearing groom she does not love. She now depends on Deborah and Deborah’s “backwoods bumpkin” brother to provide a safe refuge for her.

Embers of Love is the first of the three novels by Tracie Peterson in her latest historical inspirational series, Striking a Match (Embers of Love, Hearts Aglow, Hope Rekindled). Set in a small logging community of Perkinsville in June 1885, this novel portrays lives of two intelligent, educated young women whose thinking are ahead of their time.

Two long-standing schools of thought have dominated discussion in grammar. The prescriptive school looks at the way the language ought to be used. Its adherents set out the rules of grammar as the standard to follow. The alternative, descriptive approach views language as living and evolving – language as it's used.

In The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Mystery and Magic of Practical English, Roy Peter Clark thoroughly explores the shift from the notions of how people ought to speak (prescriptive) versus how they do in fact speak (descriptive).

For instance, “Where you at?” is a common question in current, regional discourse.  The prescriptive approach would pronounce this a faulty use of grammar, arguing it violates both the rule of a complete sentence needing a verb, and the rule not to end a sentence with a preposition. Prescriptivists may go even so far as to suggest that the speaker is uneducated, using sub-standard English.

By contrast, the descriptive perspective would recognize this question as an expression commonly used. The only measure it must meet is: Does it, in fact, communicate? If the person hearing it understands what is being asked, it qualifies as acceptable, and may be considered even to be an advancement or evolution of the English language.

Humor is so subjective. And sometimes it's gender specific. We've tried, guys. Honestly, we have. But we just don't understand why you're so amused with the sound effects produced from every orifice and contortion of your bodies.

Women have enough body issues, thankyouverymuch, and rarely do we find anything to laugh at, even if it is slipping faster than a buffalo on a banana peel.
Here are four classic literary romps guaranteed to tickle your feminine funnybone.

Women find enough humor in the comedies that pass for our daily lives. Which is why we love Judy Blume's pre-teen classic, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Our gal suffers through all the growing pains some of us still experience: boy-girl parties, looking for religion, and wearing handknit sweaters made "expressly for you" by grandma.

Nothing sends us into gales of laughter quicker than the phrase "fix up." Our favorite matchmaker is Emma. Jane Austen's heroine is so loveably clueless and stubborn in her altruistic righteousness, we can't help but smile when she fashionably wears egg on her face once all her love schemes implode.

John McPhee is 80 years old, has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965 and has written 28 books. Mr. McPhee has written about Arthur Ashe, Bill Bradley, oranges, Alaska, human-powered flight, a cattle-brands inspector and several books on geology. While factual in nature, his work has the power to draw the reader into the world of each essay’s topic like a good novel.

Reading any McPhee book is a joy but Silk Parachute is something new for him. His beautiful craftsmanship, highly detailed description and ability to turn what, at first glance, would seem mundane into a can't-put-it-down page-turner are all here. But in one significant way, it's different. He writes about himself.

The titular first essay is about his mother and things she did for him when he was young that formed his life -- taking him to the theater and the observation deck at LaGuardia to watch the DC3s land and the gift of a toy silk parachute that "always returned safely to earth". In three-and-a-half pages he calls up scores of images that leave you overflowing with admiration for this now 99-year-old woman.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131 AD) was a mathematician and philosopher at a time and place where such were highly valued fields of endeavor. His work on algebra was a pioneering effort in the discipline. Outside of Persia (modern-day Iran), Khayyam is known primarily as the author of the Rubaiyat.

During his lifetime he was not renowned for his poetry, nor was this type of poetry considered high art. It wasn't until the 19th Century, in fact, that Khayyam got his due.

It was largely thanks to Edward FitzGerald’s translation of some of these poems that the Rubaiyat is regarded a classic work today. From 1859 to 1889, FitzGerald published 5 translations (numbers 2-5 were modifications and expansions of his first attempt – the fifth translation was published posthumously).

It must be noted that FitzGerald’s translations are not strictly accurate – they owe a lot to FitzGerald’s own poetic sense. Still, they capture the spirit of Khayyam’s work, even if in a somewhat romanticized way. The title comes from the ruba’i – a Persian poetic form consisting of couplets, in which there is a rhyme scheme of AA BA in the two lines. FitzGerald cast the couplets as quatrains, with each line roughly equal to a half line in the original.

From the outset, The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale focusing on a man and his son’s quest for survival following a horrific disaster that has destroyed civilization. However, beyond these facts, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what to make of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

At least, this is how a lot of us felt after discussing the story at our recent Barista’s Book Group meeting. Some felt it was a parable about faith. Some felt it was simply a story about the love of a father and son. There were thoughts that perhaps it was a futuristic western. There were also comments that there were religious implications to the story with its focus on good and evil.

But regardless of what we thought the novel was about, we almost all agreed it was a good book. Few of us could put it down once we started reading it and most of us cried at the end.

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born, where he eats and sleeps, and where he plays for hours every day with his beloved Ma. To Ma, Room is an 11-by-11 square-foot prison where she has been confined and sexually abused for the last seven years.

Emma Donoghue’s ninth novel, Room, introduces us to Jack and Ma in a strangely uplifting story of survival, hope, and love. Completely told from the viewpoint of Jack, we learn that Ma was abducted when she was 19 years old by a man they call “Old Nick.” After kidnapping her, he threw her into a windowless, soundproof shed in his backyard and locked the door. Two years into her captivity, and after trying every possible way of escaping, she gave birth to Jack.  

If you glance through Room quickly, you might mistake it for a wannabe crime novel copied from today’s headlines. In actuality, Room focuses little on the crimes committed by “Old Nick.” Instead, it intricately examines the lives of Jack and Ma – how Ma protects Jack, and what they do to mentally and physically survive each day. Donoghue herself describes the story as being about, “the essence of confinement and captivity.”

Many of us may dream about one day waking up, putting on a disguise, and completely walking away from life as we’ve known it. But take a quick second and consider the situation: could you actually do it? Could you throw on a wig and walk out the door without looking back? This is what Holly Hogan does in Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd.

 

Holly wakes up one day, decides she’s had enough, and hits the road in search of her old life.After spending some time in a home for troubled teens, Holly is sent to live in a foster home in England. Instead of embracing a new life in a new place, Holly is haunted by thoughts of her past. When she discovers a blond wig in the attic, Holly takes off in search of her mum in Ireland. A new wig means a new hairstyle, a new attitude, and a new life for Holly. She begins calling herself Solace and embarks on a journey with many ups and downs that almost cost Holly her life in the process.

As an outsider looking in on Holly’s situation, I started to wonder about Holly and why she so desperately wanted to find her “Mam” and return to her old life. If her life was so wonderful before, how did she end up in a place for troubled youth? The farther she treks on her journey, bits and pieces of Holly’s past life come to light, however, and soon we can see that everything wasn’t as wonderful as she remembers it, even if she can’t yet realize it herself.

Libraries have started grouping thrillers, action/adventure novels, and suspense together under one umbrella that we like to call “Adrenaline.” What do all these books share? The ability to get your blood pumping and to literally stop you from putting them down.

Here are some of the best adrenaline reads from the past year. Click the title links to see the items in our catalog, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, put one or two on hold.

They’re Watching by Gregg Hurwitz

What would you do if you found out you were being watched? When Patrick Davis starts to get DVD’s showing him inside his home, going about his day, he realizes that he is in serious trouble. And then he gets a phone call asking, “Are you ready to get started?” and that is when the fun really begins. This is one nonstop ride full of action and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very end.

Do you think of Heaven as a place where disembodied spirits float in the clouds, listening to harp music for eternity? Many people stereotype life in Heaven as a church service that never ends.

In his thought-provoking new book, Randy Alcorn dispels all misconceptions about a believer’s eternal destination and presents a compelling case for one of the least-talked-about subjects in Christianity.

The founder of Eternal Perspective Ministries, a nonprofit organization that promotes an eternal viewpoint and helps underprivileged people around the world, Alcorn based his entire book on biblical study, research, and extensive reading on the subject of Heaven. The book is divided into three sections: “A Theology of Heaven,” “Questions and Answers about Heaven,” and “Living in Light of Heaven”.

In “A Theology of Heaven,” Alcorn explains that contrary to a popular belief, Heaven is a real, physical place where bodily resurrected people live and engage in various meaningful creative activities. Heaven will not be a foreign place for us but we will recognize it as home: “Too often we’ve been taught that Heaven is a non-physical realm, which cannot have real gardens, cities, kingdoms, buildings…So we fail to take seriously what Scripture tells us about Heaven as a familiar, physical, tangible place.”

Move over Jane Austen, there are new “It Girls” in town. After getting their fill of the witty, drawing-room banter of impoverished spinsters with no prospects in the Regency period, readers and viewers are ready for the lusty power plays of spirited wealthy heiresses and socially manipulative dowager countesses and their secret sidekicks, butlers and ladies’ maids. In short – it's a whole new century!

Imagine an American Jane Austen writing about 19th century America, but more tragic than comic, and with a strangely helpless man at its center – and there you have Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Like Ms. Austen’s novels, Ms. Wharton’s work is focused on the mores and manners of the aristocracy.

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up in what appears to be an idyllic English boarding school – but not everything is what it seems. The children at this school are groomed for a specific and special purpose. They are genetically engineered clones, bred to end their lives as organ donors for the rest of the population.

It is almost impossible to review a book like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go without giving away major plot points. This is because the author gives you all the information you need to know from page one. The plot is not what makes this book remarkable; this is a book about characters, and the ways they react to extraordinary circumstances.

Kathy narrates the story, relating her memories of her childhood, and her friendship with Ruth – a manipulative but sensitive classmate – and Tommy, a kindred spirit with a volatile temper. The narration moves from memories of the children’s years at Hailsham, the boarding in the English countryside, to their time spent together after graduating, to Kathy’s present, as she reviews the path her life has taken.

What scares you most about yourself? Is it the other person you hide just beneath your facade? The one you pretend doesn’t exist – the one capable of performing acts you could never commit on your own? That primeval fear is confronted in Stephen King’s new book, Full Dark, No Stars.

First, let’s clarify what Full Dark, No Stars is not. It isn’t a classic Stephen King horror story filled with vampires, scary monsters or zombies. It won’t have you looking under your bed at night for a pair of glowing eyes or wondering what’s lurking in your closet while you cower beneath your covers. Instead, you’ll be pondering a much darker thought, “Am I the real monster disguised in a costume of skin and hair?”

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