Book Reviews

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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

As we ring in a new year of adventures in reading, Kansas City Public Library staff members look back on their favorite books from the past year – not all of which were published in the past year.

Amazing Grace by Steve Turner book cover

Of all the English hymns written in the 18th century, “Amazing Grace” stands out as the most popular and the most performed hymn of all time. The song reaches out across cultures and nations and was translated in various languages.

I recently started to attend a Laotian church in Kansas and was surprised that the congregation sang this song in Lao, not in English. As a native Thai, I am familiar with this hymn in Thai language, which is often sung in churches in my country.

The story behind the song “Amazing Grace” might not be as well-known as the composition itself. Most people know it was composed by John Newton, an English clergyman. Newton was a captain of slave-trading ships, but after his dramatic religious conversion while he was at sea, he forsook the lucrative trade and became a parish priest of the Church of England and later, a staunch abolitionist. It was during his overseeing of the church in Olney that he began penning “Amazing Grace” and other hymns to be accompanied with his sermons at religious and social gatherings.

Bad Taste in Boys book cover

Kate Grable is your typical teenager with aspirations to be a doctor in her post-high-school career. She is the student trainer for her high school’s mediocre football team, and she has just discovered that the coach may be giving the players steroids. 

In Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris, life isn’t so bad for Kate until this unethical finding. But after some close calls with a few of the players, Kate does some investigating, and her worst fears are confirmed. It’s actually not steroids that the coach has been injecting in the players. Turns out, it’s a zombie virus.

Bayview High School is soon under attack from football playing zombies, and no one realizes it but Kate. Everyone else chalks up the players’ odd behavior to fatigue and poor manners, while she is sure that something else is going on.  Why else would a football player bite her on the face while crooning longingly, “Mmm…Brains…”?

Things get out of control when Kate and her younger brother are attacked by the coach. The attack leaves her brother as the next possible victim, while Kate finally has the evidence she needs to go the authorities and hopefully put a stop to the mayhem: the coach’s severed zombie foot.

There’s something about this season that brings out a little misanthrope in some readers. They’re not Scrooges, just a little cynical regarding the forced merriment. For those readers, I’ve got a list of books that fall on the not-so-nice side.

For all the writers in The Worst Noel: Hellish Holiday Tales merry Christmases are all alike, but the unmerry ones are unmerry in their own unique and hilarious ways. A family on their way to a Christmas ski vacation hits a deer (“Donner is Dead”), and the mother begins to contemplate Darwinism and why it hasn’t kept deer from crossing the road to get to the other side. An off-kilter gift-of-the-magi scenario has two poor New York artists trying to please each other with the worst gift imaginable (“Gift of the Magi Redux”). Don’t look in this book for decorating tips or delicious holiday recipes.

Walter Mosley Ptolemy Grey

At the end of each year I review my book log to see what I’ve read this year. All I write down is the year, month and the title and author of the book I finished and in what format I read the book, print, electronic or audio.

I don’t take any notes or make any comments. Just keeping a list is enough to bring back a memory of whether or not I liked a book. The only guideline I have is to list only books I’ve completed.

This year, I’m going through the list looking for the best 11 books I read this year. Not all of them were published in 2011, but they were all read in 2011.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I received a much-coveted galley of this first in a trilogy about a young academic witch who uncovers a magic book in the Bodleian Library and becomes romantically involved with a handsome vampire-scientist as they try to investigate the genetics of their families. I remember gobbling this book during those wretched snowstorms in January.