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Written by Super User. Posted in Staff Picks

Live at the Cactus Café: “What Was I Thinking?”  

By Christine Lavin (Folk Contemporary Lavin)

51fHCBfXbuL._SY300_There’s chicklit, chickflicks, and Christine Lavin.  Her irreverent folk style addresses the good (hot bald headed men), the bad (becoming a home shopping network shopaholic) , and the ugly (being set up on an awful blind date) of women’s lives.  You’ll laugh until you can’t breathe.  If you are still up for more, try another Lavin sillyfest, Future Fossils.

 



Channel Orange

By Frank Ocean (Pop/Rock Vocalists Ocean)

Frank Ocean‘s debut album, “Channel Orange“ uses its title to reference the neurological phenomenon grapheme–color synesthesia and the color he perceived during the summer he first fell in love.  When Ocean was 19 years old, he first fell in love with a man, and the record details the fall, longing, rejection, heartache and other characters and imagery to create the color perception of that summer.

Ignoring caution about his past or his bankability for his label, Def Jam, Ocean dove in to unconventional urban musical waters.  Sounds slip and slide around his songs, standard song structure only occasionally being employed in his compositions. The tracks flow more free-form than your average Hip Hop/R&B artist.  This sounds more like Soul music via Animal Collective.  His songs are carefully crafted compositions, the sounds surrounding the lyrics, the smooth shiny cover to the words within.  In an interview with the magazine, Rap-Up, Ocean said of his record, “It succinctly defines me as an artist for where I am right now and that was the aim. It’s about the stories. If I write 14 stories that I love, then the next step is to get the environment of music around it to best envelop the story and all kinds of sonic goodness.”

“Thinkin Bout You” is his biggest hit, and for a popular song is surprisingly minimalist.  Soft synths, a bass drum and digital rimshot are about the only backing to Ocean’s singing.  It’s the song that made people sit up and listen, as Ocean sang about that first love, the tornado of emotions and the joy/pain that comes with every moment.  In his “Bad Religion,” the lyrics are Ocean’s emotional confession to a taxi driver about a love affair on the down-low. With sweeping strings, bigger percussion and a blowout chorus by the end, it shows the similarity between religious devotion and romantic emotion.  The Motown-throwback, “Forrest Gump” uses the titular literary and film character to allude to a teenage crush, and is a clever tongue-in-cheek take in both music and words.  The centerpiece of the record, and the true gem of this album is the track, “Pyramids.”  The track is essentially two songs in one, the first half being a dancy funk song using the Egyptian/Biblical story of the fall of Cleopatra VII as a love song. But then the synths slow down, the harmonic elements shifting into a different take on the tune, the Cleopatra character now being a present-day working girl, who dances at a club called ‘The Pyramid’ to support her superficial, meretricious man.  The song is so catchy, so moving, and the instrumentation so polished, that it becomes one of those tracks that you never want to end.  The Pyramids fade out slowly, and becomes the pillar of the emotional record.

Channel Orange appeared on numerous critics’ year-end top albums lists. It was named the best album of 2012 by The A.V. Club, Billboard, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Consequence of Sound, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, musicOMH, The Sydney Morning Herald, Now, Paste, PopMatters, Slant Magazine, Spin, The Washington Post, and Jon Pareles of The New York Times. The album was also ranked number two by Allmusic, Ann Powers, BBC, Complex, Exclaim!, Filter, Mojo, Pitchfork Media, and Rolling Stone, number three by Clash, Jim DeRogatis, NME, State, and Time, and number five by Uncut.  In his top-10 list for the Los Angeles Times, Lawrence K. Ho called it “the most magnetic record of the year” and wrote that it “feels like a work that as the years pass will only grow in stature.”  It was definitely one of my favorite records of 2012, it won the Grammy for “Best Urban Contemporary Album” and deserves some serious attention as an art piece.

Reviewed by Matt


Fado: Soul of Lisbon

Amalia RodriguesMany explorers of world music may have overlooked the small country of Portugal and its rich musical tradition.  Fado, Portugal’s most popular traditional music, originated in Lisbon’s mysterious Alfâma district in the early 19th century, and features dual guitars and a female voice.  The name Fado means fate or destiny in Portuguese, which reflects its wistful and melancholy tone.  Fado focuses on loss and the uniquely Portuguese concept of saudade, which suggests a deep nostalgia for lost love, home or for a happier time.
Fado has a rich history and is very much alive today.  For a more traditional take, try the works of the Queen of Fado, Amália Rodrigues.  Musicians such as Madredeus, Cristina Branco, and Mariza explore more modern adaptations of this unique musical form.

Amália Rodrigues:
Amália Rodrigues (International Portuguese 5571)
Fado Português (International Portuguese 0208)
The Soul of Fado (International Portuguese 0106)

Mariza:
Fado em Mim (International Portuguese 9026)

Madredeus:
O Paraíso (International Portuguese 0228 )

Cristina Branco
Corpo Iluminado (International Portuguese 1512)

Reviewed by Nathan


Philosophy of the World

By The Shaggs (Pop Rock Groups Shaggs)

The ShaggsTired of over-produced, soulless music on the radio?  Looking for something to boost your hipster street-cred?  Why not give The Shaggs a spin?

Long considered a cult favorite, and an excellent example of outsider art, The Shaggs consist of the Wiggins sisters: Dot, Betty, Helen and Rachel.  In an attempt to cash in on the rock and roll phenomenon, and perhaps fulfill the prophecy of a palm reader, Andrew Wiggin withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments and started them off on the path to stardom.  Thought the majority of the records they recorded disappeared with the unscrupulous producer they paid for studio time, a few of the records made their way in to the hands of music lovers who recognized their genius.

How do you describe the music of The Shaggs?  That’s a good question.  I don’t have the vocabulary for it, but Frank Zappa called The Shaggs “better than the Beatles.  Check them out, and deliver your own verdict.

Reviewed by Nathan

Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made It (edited)

By Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff  (789.5 Sh227) 

Hear Me TalkinHear Me Talkin' to Ya is just what the title suggests: an oral biography of American jazz music to 1955. The story is told through the memories of musicians, club owners, engineers, and record producers. Reading alone late at night, I felt as if I was in the same room with the interview subjects. Their stories were so vivid and provided so much flesh to the hollow chronology I had in my head that I just couldn't put the book down. If you enjoy jazz and think you know a thing or two about it, try reading this book. Here a few bits that really got me going:

- In the days before you could buy them at Wal-Mart, Kenny Clarke had to whittle his own drumsticks from old milk crates. 
- Thelonoius Monk first came into Kansas City playing with a carnival, and most musicians found steady work in carnivals. 
- When he moved to Chicago, Charlie Parker was almost killed hopping a freight train. He was rewarded with a free clarinet and clean shirt after impressing the local musicians on his first night in town.
- Stan Getz, who tried to rob a pharmacy without a gun and failed, was arrested only after calling the store to apologize. 
- Dizzy left Cab Calloway's band after a disagreement, but the disagreement was a backstage knife fight between Diz and Cab. Dizzy won. 
- Billie Holiday claims she gave Lester Young the name "Pres."

These are just a few boiled down anecdotes from the book. If you're interested, there are 429 more pages where they came from. Yes, that's right, there are 429 glorious pages of people talking about jazz. If someone is looking for a listener's guide, we have a few of those too. For a more conventionally written history of jazz, try the book Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux. In addition to the narrative, it includes profiles of the most important recordings and minute-by-minute explanations of their most relevant tracks. 

Reviewed by Chris Kux

The Music of Andrew Bird (Pop/Rock Vocalists Bird)

For those who do not know Andrew Bird, his music falls into the contemporary folk category. A fantastic violinist (and somewhat of a whistling virtuoso) Bird's songs, interspersed with ethereal violin interludes, are easy to listen to and upbeat enough to keep me interested from one track to the next. 

Bird's voice is a little reminiscent of the singer of Zachary Condon of Beirut, though not as florid. A good introduction to his work is his album Noble Beast, which has a really great variety of totally listenable songs. Bird's most recent album, Break it Yourself, was just released last month.

Reviewed by Erin Mumford

Blue Delight

By Sun Ra (Call #: Jazz Sun Ra 4654)

If Mr. Ra is a mystery to you, then you have some detective work to do. Blue Delight could be as close as Sun Ra ever came to making jazz with mainstream appeal, but it still crackles with the vigorous intensity and wild flair that put Ra and the Arkestra on the star map. Considering the more cacophonous and less accessible Sun Ra back catalog, this album is particularly enjoyable. On standards like “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Gone with the Wind,” Ra showcases his skills as bandleader, arranger, and performer. In several concise arrangements, he allows soloists room to stretch out and interpret the changes but maintains a taut kineticism by holding the Arkestra wound up and ready to spring into action. But the selections are not limited to classics, either. There are several spaced-out originals pushing 12 minutes in length, with gratuitous contributions from Arkestra stalwarts like Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, and Eloe Omoe. In a fracas of merging textures and clashing tonalities, Ra and the unusually large Arkestra explore the outer reaches of music while never getting too far away from scaffolds of chords or themes. In such a way, new listeners will be safely introduced to the perilous realm of group improvisation, while seasoned fans can still enjoy the frenzy of instrumental activity that is to be expected from Mr. Ra. Guest spots include Billy Higgins, Julian Priester, and Tommy Turrentine, who sound remarkably at ease with their surroundings and move through the music with facility and grace. Ra’s own playing serves as both anchor and centerpiece. In it can be heard the ghost of Erroll Garner’s left hand, and astute listeners will sense the impact of Mary Lou Williams’ more angular excursions in early avant garde jazz. Steeped in a distant memory of blues and swing, Ra’s influences mingle with his own unique proclivities and technical mastery to form an inimitable style that supports and enriches the high powered cast. 

Reviewed by Chris Kux

Check out some more staff favorites from 2011:


Need some great Christmas music to keep you sane this December?  Check out some staff favorites:  

Traditional:
The Wonder of Christmas by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Audra McDonald (Christmas Tabernacle Choir)
Christmas by Michael Buble (Christmas Buble)
Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity by the Cambridge Singers (Christmas Rutter 0811)
Christmas with the Cambridge Singers: Carols and Seasonal Music (Christmas Rutter 9674)
Messiah Highlights (Classical Vocal Oratorios Handel)
Happy Holidays from Kurt Bestor (Christmas Bestor 2002)

Country/Western/Folk
The Christmas Cowboy by Gene Autry (Christmas Autry 4060)
Christmas Songs by Diana Krall (Christmas Krall)
Christmas on the Range (Christmas Anthologies Cowboy 9260)
Rocky Mountain Christmas by John Denver (Christmas Denver 1247)

Christmas Nostalgia
A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi (Shows Charlie Brown Christmas)
The Voice of Christmas by Bing Crosby (Christmas Crosby)  
The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole (Christmas Cole)

Indie
Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens (Christmas Stevens)
Very She & Him Christmas by She and Him (Christmas She & Him)

Downtown Church

By Patty Griffin (Call#: Folk Contemporary Griffin)

Downtown ChurchI’m a Patty Griffin fan, which means my credibility as a reviewer is in question.  But I think I’m right about this—whether you’re a fan of gospel or not, you should give Downtown Church a listen.  

In 2010, Griffin released this album of songs recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville.  And she invited some very talented friends to join her.  Produced by Buddy Miller (a hugely underrated artist in his own right) and featuring Ann and Regina McCrary, Emmylou Harris, Raul Malo, and Buddy and Julie Miller, Downtown Church is the perfect way to get to know Griffin.    

The songs are a mix of traditional tunes (“Wade in the Water”, a lovely version of “All Creatures of Our God and King”), covers (Hank Williams’ “House of Gold”) and original songs (“Little Fire” and one of my favorites, “Coming Home to Me”).  There’s really not much of a weak link in this one.  

Griffin’s voice is, as always, beautifully clear and compelling, whether she’s tearing the building down telling the story of Samson in “If I Had My Way” or gently reassuring on “Coming Home to Me.”  Seriously, I’m sitting here thinking about which tracks deserve special attention in this review, and heck, they all come to mind. 

Give it a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by Marilee Clark


The Harrow and the Harvest

By Gillian Welch (Call #:Folk Contemporary Welch)

If I found myself in some unimaginable circumstance where I had to choose only five musicians to listen to for the rest of my mortal life, Gillian Welch would be on the list.  It's not that I listen to her all the time, or even anymore than any other artist.  She's just one of the handful that I really don't think I could live without.  And the new record doesn't disappoint.

I was reading an interview with the writer Marilynne Robinson the other night, and came across this statement: "Dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world."  The Harrow and the Harvest is the musical exposition of that philosophy. It's mellow, dark, maybe even a little despairing, but achingly beautiful, and even hopeful at times as well.  The ten songs tell stories of people in difficult and desperate situations-some are hopeful and resolute, some defiant and angry, some just resigned-but each is a spare  and intimate portrait of a life.  Welch and David Rawlings can write and they can play, and the vocals are lovely and evocative.    Plus, how can you not like a musician who lists herself as doing vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica and hands and feet?  Check it out.  My favorite tracks: "The Way It Will Be", "Tennessee", "Hard Times".

Reviewed by Marilee Clark


French Composer Yann Tiersen

Trained in piano and violin from an early age, French composer/performer Yann Tiersen broke his violin and formed a rock band in his early teens.  As his music evolved, however, he found himself returning to the violin, but with a greater spirit of freedom and musical experimentation.  According to his official website, http://www.yanntiersen.com, Tiersen invites us to “…live in an enormous world of sound we can use randomly, with no rules at all.  Let’s play with sound, forget all knowledge and instrumental skills, and just use instinct – the same way punk did.”
While Tiersen is a fearless experimenter of the punk order, an artist who is as likely to pick up a violin as a toy piano or typewriter on his albums, this experimentation never feels alienating or jarring. Tiersen’s vision of a sonic world without rules is grounded in a classical instinct that enables his work to be appreciated by fans of Nirvana and Mozart respectively. 
Three of Tiersen’s albums can be checked out at the Orem Public Library.  I recommend getting a taste for Tiersen’s work by sampling his soundtrack for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Academy Award nominated film Amelie (Soundtrack: Shows AmelieFilm FL 9916), considered by fans and critics alike one of the great film soundtracks in recent memory.  For further adventures in sound, try L’absente (International French 1152) and his more recent work, Les Retrouvailles (International French 5226).

Reviewed by Nathan Robison


Artist: Adele

Album: 21

Call #: Pop/Rock Vocalists Adele

Adele is another one of those full-voiced, British pop divas. Think Duffy, Corinne Bailey Rae, Amy Winehouse. (And if images of drug rehab, bad hair and frightening make-up also come to mind, don't actually picture Amy Winehouse.) This is Adele's second album, and in my opinion it surpasses her first, titled 19--which was also very good.  With vocal qualities ranging from raspy full-out belting, to the gently lyrical, Adele's virtuosity is obvious. My favorite song is  "Lovesong", which has kind of Latin rhythm. It isn't by any means the most popular song on the album, but it is just so tender and heartbreakingly melancholy. Love it.  Anyway... If you like powerful female vocalists, I strongly recommend this album.

Reviewed by Erin Mumford

Artist:  Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor

Album: The Social Network soundtrack

Call #: Shows Social Network 

The soundtrack of this film about the rocky rise of multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, was a commissioned studio-album recorded by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame.) The sound of this album is ambient, electronic, fast-paced and understated. In short, it was tailor made to enhance each scene in the film. And honestly, the score is part of what makes the film itself so good. That said, this album stands on its own. It isn't one of those scores that is bland and nondescript; it isn't sentimental. If anything, it is oddly motivating! 

Of the album, Trent Reznor says, "Musically, this all came out of our secret laboratory - electronic in basis, but mostly organic sounding. Lots of experiments and emphasis on sound fraying around the edges while focusing on the proper emotional tone for the various scenes." http://nullco.com/TSN/
 
I bought this album off of iTunes on a whim, and I have not been disappointed. I am notoriously unable to get anything really productive done if there is music playing. But I find I am mysteriously able to do homework--and quickly--to the quietly driving bass line of songs such as "In Motion" and "Eventually we find our way." By way of proof, I am actually writing this review to the sounds of the The Social Network. In a nutshell, it is good background music: the kind that does the opposite of putting you to sleep.

Reviewed by Erin Mumford

Artist: The National

Album Name: High Violet 

Call #: Pop/Rock Groups National

Take the baritone vocals of Matt Berninger, mix with fresh, unusual lyrics, add a broad range of influences ranging from Alt-country and folk to post-punk, and what you wind up with is The National.

 The new album won’t disappoint.  At times both soft and distorted, the album is smooth, melodic and introspective.  Especially recommended for fans of Elliot Smith, The Shins and Arcade Fire.

Reviewed by Nathan Robison

Featured Films

Written by Super User. Posted in Staff Picks

Movies to Watch When You’re Sick

What do you do when you’re home with the flu, or a nasty cold? I generally find that reading is too taxing for my brain when it’s dealing with fever/cold/congestion, so I watch movies in bed in between naps. Last time I was sick I watched North and South (I may or may not have watched the ending 4 or 5 times because the ending is so good that you have to watch it more than once).  What are some of your favorite sick day movies?


North and South

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When the privileged Margaret Hale’s father uproots the family to take work in the northern mill town of Milton, she is shocked by the dirt and gruffness of the people. But she reserves her highest contempt for the charismatic mill-owner John Thornton.

 

 

 


A League of Their Own

 A washed-up ballplayer becomes coach to one of the All-American Girls Baseball league teams in 1943, and finds himself drawn back into the enthusiasm of the sport.


Pride and Prejudice

 In early nineteenth-century England, a spirited young woman copes with the suit of a snobbish gentleman as well as the romantic entanglements of her four sisters.


The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Mr. and Mrs. Fox live a happy home life underground with their eccentric son Ash. Mr. Fox works as a journalist, but against the advice of Badger, his attorney, he moves his family into a larger and finer home inside a tree on a hill. The treehouse has an excellent view of the nearby farms of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Ash becomes hostile when his cousin, Kristofferson, joins the family for an extended stay. Mr. Fox decides to raid the farms, but this leads the farmers to stakeout the treehouse. The farmers try to dig the Fox family out, but they dig even faster. Mr. Fox organizes a tunneling project to burrow under all three farms and steal all the chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys.


Raiders of the Lost Ark

 Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones, an unconventional archaeologist, who is assigned by the U.S. Government to find the mystically empowered Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can obtain it for their own evil use.


The Cowboys

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When an aging cowhand is deserted by his regular help, eleven greenhorn schoolboys help drive cattle 400 miles.

 

 

 

 


Singing in the Rain

 The transition from movies to talkies isn’t exactly an easy one when a silent movie star (Gene Kelly) who is supposed to be in love with his long time co-star falls for an aspiring actress (Debbie Reynolds) who’s providing her voice.  Classic song-and-dance routines from a top-shelf cast make a delightful, must-see film.


What’s Up Doc?

Two researchers have come to San Francisco to compete for a research grant in music. One seems a bit distracted, and that was before he meets her. A strange woman seems to have devoted her life to confusing and embarrassing him. At the same time a woman has her jewels stolen and a government whistle blower arrives with his stolen top secret papers. All, of course have the same style and color overnight bag.


The Baxter

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Elliot has always been the nice guy. However, he has never had luck in relationships until he met Caroline. Now, just two weeks before their wedding, her high school sweetheart shows up to win her back. For once, Elliot decides to put up a fight.

 

 

 


Anne of Green Gable

Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her.


Upstream Color (SF 19018)

An experimental film.  A film more concerned with experience and emotion than with a driven narrative.  Do not think there’s no story to Upstream Color, because there is – and it’s fascinating – but it’s so hidden and dissected that it takes some time to mentally reassemble.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the film is written and directed by Shane Carruth, who directed the 2004 mind-blower, Primer.  And here, Carruth also serves as producer, actor, cinematographer, editor, composer, casting director, production designer and sound designer.  That level of auteurity is pretty staggering.

The story might be a little dense to try and describe, so I will quote directly from the film’s Sundance Film Festival program guide: “Kris is derailed from her life when she is drugged by a small-time thief. But something bigger is going on. She is unknowingly drawn into the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world, moving to nematodes, plant life, livestock, and back again. Along the way, she finds another being—a familiar, who is equally consumed by the larger force. The two search urgently for a place of safety within each other as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives.”  It is science fiction, and body horror, but to an astonishingly controlled degree.  It is a cerebral, emotional thriller, but with none of the flash-bang of recent mind-benders like Inception, District 9 or Looper.  Those are all essentially intelligent action sci-fi films, with conventional adventure set pieces, archetypes and set pieces.  Upstream Color has none of those.  Its conflict is so internal, the battle in body and brain, that with editing we can assume what is happening, but have zero assurances.

That said, if you have the patience, this is a film to be experienced.  It is a beauty to view, and amazingly was shot on a “consumer-grade” camera, a Panasonic Lumix GH2, with Voigtlander and Rokinon lenses.  From The Hollywood Reporter, “the experience of watching the film… is highly visceral and sensuous; the images possess a crystalline clarity that is exquisite, and they’re dispersed in rapid rhythmic waves in a way that’s especially mesmerizing during this first section,” and  ”Carruth’s is a cinema of impressions and technique, not overt meaning.”  The sound design and score is equally as impressive, carefully edited and toned to balance and brand the images.  As one character is composing music to the microscopic madness, we realize how bound is the brain to tone, timing and theory.

As Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times said, “Color is somehow at once emotionally direct, while narratively abstract.”  It reminds of the intimacy of image of Terrence Malick, the internal horror of David Cronenberg and the philosophy of ‘reality’ of Béla Tarr.  With a little time, a little devotion, a lot of concentration and discussion once the film has finished, Upstream Color could become one of those movies you never fully understand and ultimately never forget.

Reviewed by Matt

Sweet Land (DR 13684)


Sweet LandI liked this movie a lot.  It's a quiet film about a Norwegian bachelor and a German mail-order bride who run into trouble in post-WWI Minnesota.  When the local minister finds out Inge is German, he won't marry them.  So, instead of settling into her new home with a new husband, Inge bunks with the neighbors, a large and rambunctious farm family.  Of course, Inge and Olaf learn to love each other, making the task of gaining their community's acceptance more urgent, and when their friends are faced with a crisis they must decide whether to risk everything to stand up for what's right.  It's surprisingly timely for a film about farm folks in 1920's America, and Salim somehow manages to keep it sweet and gentle without being cloying or silly.  I would recommend.

Reviewed by Marilee 


Pirates of the Great Salt Lake (CO 16434)

Pirates of the Great Salt LakeAccording to the cover, "Pirate talk so salty, you won't believe your buccaneers!"  Because I knew a small portion of this movie had been filmed in the OPL, I wanted to see the movie.  I almost  made it into the movie.  The scene where Kirby Heyborne slams the ref. book down at the Main Floor Ref. Desk...I was almost  in it.  Someone from the production crew asked if I'd be the librarian.  I agreed but was replaced by a woman they brought in to play the librarian.  Apparently the crew member didn't know and mistakenly asked me to take the part.  Hard not to think about what could have been....but, no bitter feelings here.....ARRRGGG!   The movie is silly, however, it has some fun local scenery (OPL, Macey's, etc.).  Young teenage boys will likely love it.  Rated PG-13 for profanity, violence, and some sexual innuendo.  If you just want to watch the OPL part, it's very early on in the movie.  

Reviewed by Art

Featured Nonfiction

Written by Super User. Posted in Staff Picks

A Natural History of the Senses 

By Diane Ackerman, (152.1 Ac573)

content.chilifreshDiane Ackerman’s bestselling exploration of human and animal sensory experience is at once scientific, poetic, and deeply personal.  Ackerman moves from the cultural impact of the senses on human civilization around the world to the science behind this natural wonder, and the importance of bringing the senses into life and writing.  Often sensual, always highly readable, Ackerman’s work recalls Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and reminds us, figuratively, to stop and smell the coffee.
 
 

 


Into the Wild 

By Jon Krakkauer (917.9804 K858) 

The author tells the unfortunate true story of Christopher McCandless' life and eventual death in a remote region of Alaska.  Although there were aspects of McCandless' interests (i.e. his love of Jack London's writings and the classics) that I could identify with, I had a hard time understanding his occasional lack of common sense in dealing with the world around him.  The Alaskan wilderness would eventually take his life through starvation.  I do admire McCandless' strength in battling the situation he eventually found himself in.  He could have easily committed suicide with his gun.  But, he chose to try and hang on, hoping someone would find him.  A fascinating, but sad story.  

Reviewed by Art

The Geeks’ Guide to World Domination

By Garth Sundem (031.02 Su723)

Geeks' GuideThe tagline reads, “be afraid, beautiful people.”  
If you are ever wondering how to slap some killer paper, rock, scissors, or which secret combination(s) to join, how to build a laser beam, or be up on World Leaders Who Also Happen to Be Hot, then this is THE book for you. It's like Stephen Colbert wrote Schott's Miscellany and combined it with one of those hardware store Pocket Refs... for WoW* fans.  Packed with info and ready to get your geek on.

Reviewed by Mike 
 
* World of Warcraft

 


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 

By Rebecca Skloot(616.0277 Sk45)

This is a definite read and recommend for me.  Fascinating science Henrietta Lackscombined with history, law, and the very human story of a family in turmoil struggling against a bureaucracy they are not equipped to fight.  In the 1950s, an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks was treated for an extremely aggressive form of cervical cancer which soon took her life.  She left a husband and five children, and a clump of cells that had been cut from her tumor during an examination.  Without her or her family's knowledge or permission, those cells were cultured.  They behaved radically differently than other cells had in culture, though; not only did they divide prolifically, they didn't ever die.  This had enormous implications for the world of science.  It gave researchers a source of human cells for experiments, and soon her cells, known as HeLa, made their way to labs all across the world.  The resulting questions of individual rights versus the advance of science make for a multifaceted, fascinating discussion.  Most touching to me was Lacks' family.  Skloot spends a good portion of her book following their lives and examining the repurcussions of their mother's death on her children.  She tries to untangle the irony of the billions of dollars people and organizations have made off those cells while Henrietta's children were unable to afford decent health care.  If you think we've entirely transcended racism and its accompanying evils, you may be surprised by the Lacks' story.

Reviewed by Marilee


Pyongyan:  A Journey in North Korea 

By Guy Delisle (951.9304 D3796)

PyongyangIs anyone familiar with Guy Delisle? He's terrific. I found him a few years ago after a professor gave my wife a copy of Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2006 which featured an excerpt from the book.  

Pyongyang is a graphic memoir documenting the author's stint in North Korea. He was there for two months working on a French animation production. The book is hilarious, and I highly recommend it. Delisle was every bit as confused by North Korean culture as a guy from Canada, or anywhere else that's reasonable, can possibly be. The narrative conveys all his confusion and frustration with intelligent humor, wit, compassion, and timely sarcasm. Delisle wonders, where are the handicapped people? He was told North Korea has no handicapped people, and reasons that everyone in North Korea must be an over-productive superhuman. At the former Rumanian Embassy, which has been converted into a snazzy recreation facility for foreigners, he encounters a Libyan man who has chosen to live in North Korea for five years, and still has three more to go before returning home. It smacks of a new slogan for the Korean tourist board: "Come to North Korea... it sure beats living in Libya!" Delisle is left feeling uneasy and isolated after his evening of intended relaxation.

More to the point, if you don't know Delisle then get on the stick! You might really like it. Pyongyang is an offbeat travel memoir that entertains and informs. The artwork is black and white, plaintively illustrating the text in a way that doesn't distract conventional readers who may be newcomers to the graphic novel format. Happy reading.

Reviewed by Chris

Paranormal America: ghost encounters, UFO sightings, Bigfoot hunts, and other curiosities in religion and culture

By Christopher Bader (130.973 B1417)  

Paranormal AmericaThis book does not try to determine if ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, astrology, etc. are real.  Instead, the authors focus on breaking down paranormal beliefs by groups in the U.S. population (i.e. race, sex, education, etc.).  Some interesting findings: women are more likely to believe in astrology and mediums than men, blacks have the highest belief in ghosts, men (especially young ones) are more interested in monsters like Bigfoot.  Bigfoot hunters are generally better educated that the average American.  Are people who believe in the paranormal crazy?  If so, a majority of the U.S. population is crazy.  However, the more paranormal phenomena a person believes in, the more likely they are outside the "mainstream."  In other words, most Americans only believe in a couple of paranormal phenomena.  Those who believe Elvis is alive and regularly attending the Manti Temple in Utah, that Bigfeet are piloting UFOs, that a variety of ghosts are haunting their home, and who regularly seek out astrologers for guidance are fairly rare.  But, they do exist.  Most are far outside the mainstream and like being there.  I enjoyed this book and would recommend to those interested in the sociology of the paranormal.  

Reviewed by Art Nifong

The Wealthy Barber

By David Chilton (332.024 C4393)

This personal finance book is presented in a non-threatening and easy to understand manner.  The main character's father guides him to a local barber who has done well financially by following sound financial principles.  The barber dispenses his knowledge to some pupils during weekly meetings in his barbershop.  I would highly recommend this book, especially to those new to the subject of personal finance. 

Reviewed by Art Nifong

The Housing Boom and Bust

By Thomas Sowell (332.7209 So92)

An interesting look at the bursting of the housing bubble this past decade and the recession it caused.  What happened?  Who is to blame?  According to Sowell, a variety of actors were involved: government officials and agencies who believed everyone who wanted to own a home should, advocacy groups that claimed the old mortgage rules were inherently racist and needed to be discarded, profit seekers who were buying properties to quickly flip for money, the Federal Reserve which lowered interest rates for years, etc.  I thought this was an interesting and informative book.  I don't know that I agree with some of the author's libertarian takes on the free market.  I believe regulation can actually strengthen the market by providing rules and a framework for people to work from.  However, I would recommend the book to those interested in the subject.

Reviewed by Art Nifong

Check out some more staff favorites from 2011:


McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld

By Misha Glenny (364.106 G4879 and also in Spoken Word)

McMafiaGlenny is a BBC reporter and world-renowned expert in criminal networks.  He worked extensively in Eastern Europe before the fall of the USSR.  Elated by the fall of the iron curtain, Glenny was thrilled, along with many of the pro-democracy contacts he acquired, by the new governments that replaced the tyrannical regimes.  
Unfortunately, Glenny and his friends were shattered when new corrupt regimes (usually closely tied to or directly working with organized criminal networks) took the place of the old Communist ones.  Next, he soon realized that his research into Eastern European Mafias and crime syndicates flowed over borders and was soon entangled in a worldwide scourge.  
The book is an attempt to outline these connections and Glenny moves around the world outlining each region's major criminal enterprises (the section on drug policy in Canada and the US was interesting). 

The picture that Glenny paints fills in the depressing statistics that I remember reading in international political science textbooks.  For example, criminal activity now accounts for 15 to 20% of all financial transactions globally. Glenny claims that criminal enterprises have flourished since the deregulation of the financial markets in the 1980s (which allowed criminals to easily merge legal and illegal activities and launder their money) and the massive power vacuums that appeared in the wake of the dissolution of the USSR.  Russian oligarchs, Ukrainian revolutionaries (the Orange revolution no longer seems so magnificent after Glenny explains who the leaders were), British Colombian dope dealers, Thai sex traffickers, Caribbean tax havens, Dubai slave labors, and a host of other groups make appearances as Glenny outlines each region's problems and their interconnection to the globalized world of licit and illicit economies.The book was fascinating.  

Reviewed by Eliot Wilcox 

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

By Chris Ware (741.5973 W22)

Jimmy CorriganI’m at a loss of how to describe Chris Ware’s graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.  Critic Ted Rall calls it the “comic equivalent of Joyce’s Ulysses – No one’s ever read it,” he says, “and those who have know that it sucks, but it sure looks great on your bookshelf.”    On the other hand, Dave Eggers calls it “Arguably the greatest achievement of the form, ever.”  Add to that the glowing praise of the LA Times Book Review:  “Nearly impossible to read.”

This is a pretty good summary of the experience I had reading Jimmy Corrigan.  Like Ulysses, which I keep trying to read every year, and only get about ten pages in, it took me a few false starts to get into this book.  The first two pages are crammed full of large blocks of tiny type interspersed with simple stick figures explaining the finer points of pictorial language among other things.  The following pages are even more intimidating.  Surrounding an image of the globe are dozens of cartoon boxes showing the lives and development of the characters in the novel and where they fit in the cosmic scheme of things. And the LA Times makes a great argument; Ware likes large blocks of tiny text and lots of panels of various sizes and shapes, which can sometimes make it difficult to follow the multigenerational narrative.

Having said that, Jimmy Corrigan is one of the most rewarding books I’ve read this year.  While the novel feels overwhelming at first, concentration and close reading pay off and the pieces eventually snap satisfyingly into place.  The storytelling of the novel, which I initially found to be confusing and alienating, instead allowed, or rather forced, me to take a more active role in the novel.   I found myself deeply empathizing with the characters and their experiences, ranging from the unexpected loss of a tooth, to the many ways you can lose a parent or child.

The narrative focuses on Jimmy Corrigan in 1983 Chicago.  Jimmy is the scion of at least four generations of loneliness, abandonment and loss.  One day he gets a letter from the father he never knew, inviting him to come and meet him and get reacquainted.  As the story progresses, we see snatches of the lives of Jimmy’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather.  At the center of it all is the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago.  Jimmy’s great-grandfather, an abusive and negligent father, worked on the exposition buildings and has promised to take his son to see the fair when it’s complete.  As Jimmy’s relationship with his long-lost father develops, the older Jimmy’s looming visit to the fair one hundred years previous builds to a climax which is felt by all the Corrigans throughout the generations.

Jimmy Corrigan is a fantastic example of what graphic novels and comics are capable of.  Ware’s experimental organization and storytelling methods, along with precise illustration and sharp writing, enable the reader to experience literature in unexpected ways.  This book made me think about family and fatherhood in a different light, and made me thankful for my own family in ways I can’t vocalize.

Reviewed by Nathan Robison


The Elements:  A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom 

By Theodore W. Gray (Call# 546 G7948)

My son has a favorite element:  boron.  It baffles me that a kid would have a favorite element at all, let alone one that rhymes with moron, isn’t radioactive or isn’t gold.  When I ask him why boron is his favorite he just shrugs in a “if-you-have-to-ask-you’ll-never-know” way and tries to explain its impressive properties.  Apparently it’s an important ingredient in silly putty, giving it that bouncy if you throw it/squishy if you squeeze it property.  And combined with nitrogen it’s nearly as hard as diamond making it handy in industry.  And then he went off on all his other favorite stars of the periodic table.  He’s totally obsessed.

It turns out that the reason for my son’s obsession with boron and its one hundred and twenty-ish periodic table chums is because of Theodore W. Gray’s book The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom.  This fascination for chemistry and the elements made more sense to me when we looked at it together.  For one, the book just looks cool.  Each page is sleek with its black background, nifty charts and tables, as well as lots of cool pictures of objects both strange and familiar made from each element.

Not only are the images and design of the book very attractive, the book is full of interesting anecdotes and facts dealing with the bizarre nature of many elements and the brilliant minds who have discovered them and their properties.  For example, though it’s a metal, lithium is light enough to float on water and for some strange reason, helps certain people regulate mood.  Heck, Kurt Cobain even wrote a song about it.  The element potassium is radioactive, which means that bananas give off radiation.  The metal gallium has a melting point of around eighty degrees which makes it perfect for practical jokes.  And most helium sold in the U. S. has added oxygen to prevent suffocation if inhaled.

Mr. Gray’s book is incredibly funny, well-written and extremely informative.  (Now I know how many pounds of uranium I can legally possess:  up to 15 lbs.) Technically the book is considered “adult nonfiction,” but it will captivate and enlighten both young and old.   Read it and you’ll come to a greater appreciation for boron.

Reviewed by Nathan Robison

Featured Fiction

Written by Super User. Posted in Staff Picks

Angle of Repose 

By Wallace Stegner (Stegner)

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The novel opens when wheelchair bound historian Lyman Ward decides to chronicle the lives of his extraordinary grandparents and their struggles to settle the western frontier.  From boom towns in Colorado to near starvation on the banks of an Idaho river, and finally quiet and near-peace in California, Lyman travels with his grandparents to discover he is connected to his family in more ways that he ever imagined.  The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972, and was written when Stegner himself was presented with a brief biographical history and series of letters that would inspire the creation of one of American fiction’s most memorable couples: Susan and Oliver Ward.

  

The Grande Complication

By Allen Kurzweil (Kurzweil)

My mother-in-law liked this book, and considering it's about books, libraries and librarians, she thought I'd like it.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I thought I'd send you all a little review.

This is the story of Alex Short, a neurotic reference librarian at an unnamed New York library that sounds a lot like the NY Public.  Alex is obsessed with writing, so much so that he has a notebook attached to him via a "girdle" at all times.  He wooed Nic, his French artist wife through books, which they recorded in a book collaboration called "Slips of Love," detailing the reference slips of books they shared during courtship.
However, their marriage is not doing well; Alex's graphomania seems to be getting in the way of their relationship, in spite of Nic's various art projects, such as a pop-up Kama Sutra and a topo map of her body, aimed at rekindling their love.

Enter the eccentric millionaire.  Henry James Jesson III catches Alex's attention one day at the library when he requests, in beautiful calligraphy, a book about antique furniture with hidden compartments.  Alex is obsessed both with handwriting, and "enclosures," such as secret compartments and hidden rooms.
Eventually Jesson requests Alex's help.  He needs a researcher to aid him in his quest of a lost object.  Jesson is a collector of books and antiquities, and has acquired a mysterious case of curiosities.  It is apparent, though, that one of the niches is empty, and Jesson wants Alex to help him identify the missing artifact, and then locate it for him.

I really enjoyed this book and I'd recommend it to fans of Umberto Eco and Arturo Perez-Reverte.  The library scenes, with the idiosyncracies of library staff and patrons, as well as the politics and competition between departments, were hilarious.  

Reviewed by Nathan


The Age of Miracles 

By Karen Thompson Walker

Age of MiraclesIt is often the small and mundane disasters that bring the distant problems of a larger world into focus.  A recent novel that very subtly deals with this modern anxiety about environmental and social collapse is Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel, The Age of Miracles.     

Thompson deftly addresses both large and small scale disasters by pairing the transition from childhood to adulthood with a global environmental crisis.  In the world of Thompson’s novel, eleven-year old Julia and her family wake one morning in southern California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the earth’s rotation has begun to slow.  This lengthening slowly increases, increasing the length of day and night, and bringing with it fears of ecological disaster, social strife and the end of the world.  What better way to illustrate the turbulence of adolescence than a major global catastrophe?

This unstable world with its ever changing sense of time is a perfect backdrop for the little disasters in Julia’s life.  In the up-and-down world of junior high, Julia’s relationships crumble, new ones form, and she becomes aware of loneliness and cruelty, as well as the redemptive powers of love and friendship.  But in this world turned on its head, day and night have also become unstuck, disrupting the old rhythms of life.  The strangeness of adolescence is mirrored in the uncanny changes of a world no longer predictable.

Walker’s novel is beautiful.  Written in a soft-spoken first person point of view, her simple, direct language captures fear and anxiety for the future discovered in the little disasters in life, the small things we take as signs for the disasters to come.  Which is worse? she seems to ask the reader, the end of a relationship, of society as we know it, of the world, or the worry that precedes it, starting from the first awareness of a problem?  

Walker balances the greater conflict of her novel with more mundane tragedies, from the lies loved ones tell, to a nighttime snowfall, to a dead blue jay on the porch.  By weighing these lighter tragedies against the more fantastic elements of the story, the reader feels the impact of these impossible events, and feels the changing of the world through the affect it has upon the characters. 

Reviewed by Nathan 
Portions of this review have been published or will be published in the Provo Orem Word.


So Much for That 

By Lionel Shriver (Shriver)

So Much For ThatYears ago, I read We Need to Talk about Kevin, by this author and was stunned.  I didn't recommend it to others, because I found it difficult to do so.  It is reminiscent of Columbine.  Shriver's latest novel was sparked by her having had a friend who was diagnosed with mesothelioma.  The friend's husband came to Shriver after the woman's death to show her bills from their 2 million dollars of medical expenses in the course of her treatment.  In this novel, Shriver follows a woman and her husband as they face this diagnosis, laying bare their dwindling bank account, their fights with their insurance company, the desire to "make someone pay" for her getting the disease, the fickleness of friends and family who promise help but disappear when the going gets rough, and the desire to keep hope in spite of horrific circumstances.  Someone told me she saw exactly where "Kevin" was headed.  I suppose you could say the same about this novel, but I found it very true to its core subject matter.  There are some stock characters, some preaching, and some incredulities, but much of it is "spot on," and I came to care about this couple.  What constitutes a good life?  A good death? 

By Evelyn 


Post-Apocalyptic Utah:  A Look at Brian Evenson’s Immobility (Evenson)


ImmobilityBrian Evenson's latest novel, Immobility, is a fascinating study in community, explored in the ruins of an apocalyptic Utah county.  The novel opens decades after an unspecified disaster called the Kollaps, when progatonist Josef Horkai awakens from storage with little trace of memory.  He's paralyzed from the waist down and told by technicians and the cryptic Rasmus that due to an incurable disease he was put in storage decades before to prolong his life until a cure could be found.  However, a dire situation requires his immediate attention.   Horkai is a "fixer," one who fixes problems for "the Hive."  A group living in ancient vaults in a distant canyon has stolen a tube that contains a seed or grain that the Hive desperately needs.  

And so Horkai begins a strange journey, carried by a pair of “mules,” or men who are trained to carry burdens, across a radioactive wasteland.  He scans the barren mountainside, looking for a large, block letter, but can’t remember why.  They pass the ruins of an X-shaped building near a toppled bronze statue.  They follow a crude map toward the “point of the mountain” and the mysterious vaults hidden in a canyon.  

While the setting is specific to Utah county, it takes a local eye to see that the author is referring to an actual location.  The familiar sights of my hometown, seen through Evenson’s apocalyptic imagination, thrilled me.  In fact, it was Evenson’s ties to Utah and Mormonism that originally drew me to his work, and have kept me coming back for more.  He’s had a rough relationship with BYU and the LDS church, but I've never read an author who writes from a place so close to my own, and though my faith is no longer his, I appreciate Evenson’s often objective view of Utah and Mormon culture.  His language reflects the speech patterns and dialect of Utah and Mormons, which is always satisfying to see in a work of literature.

Evenson's style is sparse and contained, mirroring the blasted landscape in a way reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  And like McCarthy, Evenson creates in Immobility meaningful, sympathetic characters plunged into horrifying scenarios.  His protagonists, and Horkai is no exception, are ethical men, acting according to their own sense of morals in spite of what is done to them and what they are forced to do by those who hold power.

Immobility is more than a thrilling post-apocalyptic romp through Utah county.  Evenson is a thinker, and the conflict of the novel raises existential questions about discipleship, ethics, identity and otherness as well as community membership.  At what point, he asks, do the needs of the community outweigh the needs of the individual?  While it’s hard to ignore Evenson’s turbulent relationship with Brigham Young University and the LDS Church in light of these questions and the novel’s conflict, Evenson elucidates these issues in a way universal to humanity; it's Utah alright, but it could be anywhere.  His questions about community can be applied to any organization, Mormonism and other organized religions, as well as political groups and governments.  

If you haven't read any of Brian Evenson's books, I highly recommend them, but they’re not for everyone.  Evenson's work is dark, violent, sardonic and critical of formal religion, which he portrays as highly hypocritical and detrimental to the individual.  However, Evenson is one of America’s finest contemporary writers.  He tells visceral, taut stories which are thought-provoking and eerily beautiful, calling to mind the best of Camus, Poe, Borges and Kafka.  

And who knows?  You might even pick up some valuable post-apocalyptic survival tips.  

Reviewed by Nathan Robison

Sister

By Rosamund Lupton (Lupton)

SisterSister tells the story of Beatrice Hemming, who receives a phone call during a Sunday lunch party at her apartment in New York, telling her that her sister Tess is missing. Since Tess is sort of flighty—artistic and mercurial and prone to adventures—Beatrice is initially more annoyed than alarmed, but she still rushes to London to help her mother find her sister. Except there will be no rescuing Tess, who was eight months pregnant with a child fathered by her married art tutor; her baby was stillborn and she has, apparently, committed suicide in her grief.

Except Beatrice knows her sister would never do that. Mostly she is certain because she knows her sister; part of that knowledge is that they both watched their brother die from cystic fibrosis when they were kids. Beatrice knows that that experience taught Tess that life was too valuable to waste. Unfortunately, Beatrice's knowledge about her sister is not enough to convince the detectives, who find reasons to explain away the evidence she uncovers.

This is a murder mystery that reads more like a gothic thriller. Creepy, intriguing, and puzzling, the story raises hackles and inspires chills. But even better than the spine tingles and the how-will-this-turn-out anxiety, Sisters is a beautifully written novel; it just happens to be about a murder. Beatrice, as the oldest sister, takes on a burden of guilt for her Tess’s death, especially as she sees how her shortcomings and mistakes unfolded to create an opportunity for the murder. The mystery is intriguing; the reader discovers truths and details only as Beatrice does, and the ending? Well, the ending is comes as a thing both unanticipated and perfectly foreshadowed in the story.

The novel is written as a letter from Beatrice to Tess, a technique that allows Beatrice to tell the story of uncovering the murderer while simultaneously writing about Tess's death and its effect on her. “Was the feeling that all is right with the world, my world,” Beatrice wonders at Tess's funeral, “because you were its foundations, formed in childhood and with me grown into adulthood?” How does a person go on as the only sister left? How do past experiences influence the present? How do we make sense of violence—or can we ever? Sister reminds us that answers are almost not the point; instead, the point is to  live what Tess called the “sacrament of the present moment”—to take nothing for granted and to live without fear, as if flying.

Reviewed by Amy Sorensen

The Leopard

By Jo Nesbo (Nesbo)

Norwegian Jo Nesbo has been hailed for writing detective thrillers in the vein of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.  Nesbo's The leopard is currently on best-seller lists and receiving wide acclaim.  Be forewarned.  If you recoiled from Larsson's The girl with the dragon tattoo (original title: Men who hate women), due to violence, Nesbo's The leopard is not for you.

The Leopard is the sixth in Nesbo's series featuring Harry Hole and is set in Norway.  While the enigmatic detective tortured by inner demons may be mystery cliche, Nesbo's writing is anything but.  As someone who has read widely in the genre over the years and has become jaded by much that is published, I was fascinated by Nesbo's plotting.  There were plenty of surprises, without heavy foreshadowing.  I had not read the novels preceding this one, and did not feel lost at all. 

Hole has been called back to Norway from Hong Kong, where he has retreated after what he has declared will be his last case.  His nemesis the Snowman, a serial killer, has caused his lover to go into permanent hiding, and his life is spiraling downward.  In Norway, two deaths of two women have led police to believe there is another serial murderer at work.  Once faced with the evidence of the gruesome crimes, Hole is determined to find the killer.  The trail takes him to the mountains of Norway as well as to Africa.  A savvy policewoman turns his head, but he does not lose his heart. 

Reviewed by Evelyn Schmidt

1Q84

By Haruki Murakami (Murakami)

It's 1984 in Tokyo. Aomame is stuck in traffic, and she is late for an appointment. She abandons her taxi, walks past idling cars, and descends an emergency stairwell, not realizing at first that her atypical act has initiated a shift in the world. She begins to notice differences in this new world, there is a second moon for one, but there is little she can do about it. She renames the world 1Q84; the Q is for question mark in a “world that bears a question.” 

Meanwhile, Tengo’s editor asks him to ghostwrite a novel for Fuka-eri, a troubled dyslexic girl with a story called Air Chrysalis about a girl raised in a cult controlled by sinister little people. He agrees against his better judgment, and as he becomes immersed in Fuka-eri’s narrative, he begins to notice disconcerting parallels between the novel and the world around him. It seems to him that recently the world has become a place where Air Chrysalis could actually happen. He, too, notices there is a second moon in the sky.

1Q84 alternates chapters between Aomame and Tengo, and it soon becomes apparent that this new world is drawing the pair together. In fact, at 1Q84’s core, nestled amongst vigilante killings, surreal situations, and Orwellian machinations, is a powerful romance. 

The strength of 1Q84 lies in its characters, every one evocative. Tengo, like many of Murakami’s protagonists, is isolated and introspective. Aomame, somewhat idealized, is a determined woman who is uncompromising in her drive for justice. Other characters, major and minor, elucidate motives and clarify the nature of this oddly transformed world. 

While in many ways, 1Q84 is milder than some of Murakami’s works, both in levels of surrealism and in content, some readers may still find the novel too graphic. A must-read for Murakami fans, 1Q84 is not a necessarily a bad initiation for readers unfamiliar with the works of this cult favorite, but weighing in at over 900 pages, the novel contains an astonishing amount of detail and more repetition than is necessary. Initiates may prefer to start with a leaner work such as Norwegian Wood or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but by no means should they pass up a chance to read this master of the craft.

Reviewed by Mindy Hale

Check out some more staff favorites from 2011:
  • The Sojourn 
  • The Night Stranger
  • The Dovekeepers 
  • Cat's Table 
  • Borrowed Light 
  • The End of Everything 
  • Please Look After Mom 
  • The Lover's Dictionary 
  • Wedding Quilt 
  • The Night Circus 
  • Sister 
  • Jamrach's Menagerie 
  • After the Golden Age 
  • The Marriage Plot 
  • Only Time Will Tell 
  • I Think I Love You 
  • Bin Laden's Bald Spot 
  • We the Animals 
  • The Tragedy of Arthu

The End of Everything

By Megan Abbott (Call #: <M> Abbott)

The End of EverythingMegan Abbott always manages to create a story that is edgy, complex, delicate, and quite profound.  The result, for me, is a book that stays in my mind for several days afterward.  A good thing.  The End of Everything marks a shift for Abbott, who many consider to be the reigning Queen of hard-hitting Femme Noir and who is securely established on my list of favorite authors of genre fiction.  The shift comes because this book isn’t a clear-cut genre book.  There is suspense and tragedy and mystery for sure, but it’s really a simple coming of age story about a couple of thirteen year-old girls – best friends.  Although, there’s really nothing simple about coming of age.  Or thirteen year-olds.  Or girls.

Anyway, the story involves thirteen year-old Lizzie and the sudden disappearance of her best friend, Evie.  It is then up to Lizzie to comprehend the tragedy and obsessively uncover and realize clues and events that help the mystery unfold.  Throw in a potentially volatile dynamic between Lizzie and Evie's father and sister, Dusty, and it starts to get really interesting.  In fact, Dusty might be the most interesting character in the book.  Dusty, Dusty, Dusty...

Abbott’s intense style creates a sense of desperation that doesn’t feel too different from swimming upstream.  But it’s the delicate treatment of characters dealing with troubling subjects, the subtlety, and the ambiguous description of perceived events that create a surprisingly remarkable vision of adolescence that left me both, paradoxically, restless and content.

I thought it was good, but it’s definitely not recommended for everyone.

Reviewed by Mike Smith


Across the Universe 

By Beth Revis (T Revis)
 
Across the UniverseAmy has been cryogenically frozen aboard a spaceship destined to land on a new planet 300 years from its departure from Earth. When Amy is unfrozen and awoken prematurely, she finds herself basically imprisoned in this microcosmic society where most of the people appear unable to think for themselves, and lies upon lies are told to in order to keep secrets. 

Amy finds herself caught in a dangerous power struggle between the ship's leader, Eldest, and his understudy, Elder. Furthermore, it appears that whoever unplugged her seems to have it out for other cryogenically frozen passengers on board--including Amy's parents, whom she will be older than when the ship finally lands. If...it finally lands.

This was fascinating science fiction. It displays many of the earmarks of a classic dystopia (lack of individual thought, rebellion, reform) but puts it all in a metal container hurtling through space towards an unknown destination. And you can only imagine the kind of tension a simple lack of space can create. In combining a little mystery with a little romance and a little horror, Across the Universe becomes, overall, a nice take on a well-trod theme.  

It is YA, but for thematic reasons I would recommend it to older teens and adults. Though not graphic, there are definitely some disturbing situations in the novel.

Reviewed by Erin Mumford

I Think I Love You 

By Allison Pearson (Pearson)

I Think I Love You
In 1974, Petra and her friend Sharon have two worries:  keeping on the good side of their tenuous friendship with queen-bee Gillian and obsessing over David Cassidy. Head-over-heels in groupiefandomness, the girls spend hours assembling magazine pictures and posters of David Cassidy, kissing said posters, reading Tiger Beat (which Sharon's aunt gets her from America) and The Essential David Cassidy Magazine (which comes to their small town in Wales via its London publishing office), and perfectly completing the David Cassidy contest quiz that is certain to get them a trip to meet David Cassidy himself.  

Petra should be practicing her cello more often, since she's going to be performing for Princess Margaret soon, but instead she panders to Gillian and dreams about conversations with David. 

“I never revealed my favorite song to the other girls,” she explains. “If I told them, then they could copy my idea. . . he was going to be so impressed I hadn't chosen one of his obvious hits, wasn't he? ‘Gee, that's amazing, Petra. You dig “I am a Clown”? Wow. No one else ever noticed that song and it means so much to me.’”

Their obsession falls apart after the disastrous White City concert (where dozens of girls were injured from crushing onto the gates, and one girl died), but twenty-five years later Petra discovers something hidden in her mother’s closet: the letter from The Essential David Cassidy Magazine informing her that she had, indeed, won the contest and a trip to meet her dream musician. Much hilarity, growth, and change results from her decision to track down her prize. 

The powerful thing about Pearson’s novel is how it redeems Petra (Sharon, too) from the more humiliating aspects of musical puppy love as it reveals its mysterious inner workings as “the great engine of life, revving up back then.” That being obsessed with a musician as a teenager is sort of a practice for future, real relationship redeems us all, in fact, from our own embarrassing (yet never forgotten) dream relationships.


State of Wonder 

By Ann Patchett (Call #: Patchett)

State of Wonder revolves around the character of Dr. Marina Singh, who performs research for a pharmaceutical company in the Midwest.  The company is partnered with Dr. Annick Swenson, who is doing field research on a mysterious drug in a remote area of the Amazon, but she is providing the company with little feedback as to her progress.  When one of Marina's colleagues is sent to find Dr. Swenson, he dies in the jungle.  Marina is then sent to accomplish what her colleague could not.  She is to go to Dr. Swenson's research site, determine what progress is being made on drug development, and report back to her boss.  She also wants to provide her colleague's wife some information that will be a balm to her grief.
 
Marina journeys down the Amazon to meet with the mysterious Dr. Swenson, a woman who significantly altered the path of Marina's life when she was in medical school.  The voyage through the jungle and the character of Dr. Swenson have caused comparisons to Conrad's Heart of darkness.  Patchett's descriptions of the Amazon are as multi-layered as the jungle floor.  Marina finds herself in a world totally unlike any she has ever imagined.  Dr. Swenson, enigmatic as ever, is accompanied by a young deaf boy, named Easter, who came from a neighboring cannibalistic tribe, and Marina finds nurturing him helps give balance to her new life.  She finds her eyes opening as she discovers the true nature of the drug being researched, and she is pushed by Swenson to regain confidence in herself.
 
Of the two main characters, the seventy-five year-old Swenson is the more interesting.  She went to the jungle as a young woman and has become more focused on life there as time has passed.  She is practical enough to see the advantages of the firm's financial support for her work, while retaining her independence through isolation.  She is prickly and reveals little about herself, but realizes Marian's usefulness to her project.
 
Ultimately, the "white man" intrudes, with cataclysmic results.  As quiet and meandering as the novel is for the most part, its ending is a ride down the rapids.  I was spellbound throughout.  This is a novel worth savoring.

Reviewed by Evelyn Schmidt 

How to be an American Housewife : a novel 

By Margaret Dilloway (Dilloway)
 
The author incorporated her own mother's experiences in this novel, in addition to a guide she found for Japanese housekeepers working for Americans, written after WWII.  At the beginning of each chapter there is an excerpt from a fictitious guide titled "How to be an American housewife" with tips for the Japanese woman who has married an American G.I. and moved to the United States.
 
The novel opens with Shoko's voice.  She has a debilitating heart ailment, possibly due to radiation effects from Nagasaki, and is facing surgery.  She recalls her childhood in Japan and her decision to marry an American soldier so that she would have greater opportunities.  She has been married to Charlie for many years and has two grown children, but now that she is gravely ill she wishes to return to Japan to reconcile with her brother.  He was very angry that she married one of the American conquerors and felt she shamed the family.
 
As it becomes apparent a trip to Japan is beyond Shoko's capabilities, she begs her daughter to go in her place and find the brother.  The second part of the novel is told in Suiko's (Sue) voice, as she and her teenaged daughter go on Shoko's mission.  Once in Japan, they encounter relatives and a culture they never knew.
This is a sweet story of two cultures, generational conflicts, identity, and pursuing one's dreams.

Reviewed by Evelyn Schmidt

Please look after Mom : a novel

By Kyung-suk Sin
 
This novel, told in four voices, is by one of South Korea's most well-known authors.  An elderly couple has come into Seoul to visit their children for a birthday celebration, only to be separated in a crowded subway station.  As the train pulls away, the husband realizes his wife is no longer with him.  The family mounts a desperate search.  Mom was experiencing debilitating headaches and possible dementia, and could be unable to remember how to contact anyone.  As her daughters, son, and husband recall episodes in their lives with Mom, they are filled with regret.  They realize their mom faced many difficulties in the face of their lack of appreciation, and frequent scorn.  The husband finds he was blind to the fact that his wife was helping others in their village, while he was wrapped up in his needs.  Each person's thoughts concerning Mom illuminate aspects of her selfless character.
 
 
The tone of the novel is haunting.  Many aspects of current daily life in Korea, and what villagers endured during the Korean War, are quietly revealed.  Much of this will be unfamiliar to a Western reader, but the themes of generational conflict, parental love, and regret for not having appreciated another person until it is too late are universal.

Reviewed by Evelyn B. Schmidt 


The Radleys

By Matt Haig (Haig)

Not all vampires sparkle and abstain.  And according to Matt Haig’s novel, not all of them should.  Dr. Peter Radley and his wife Helen are leading what appears to be an average middle class existence—they’ve left London to a quiet neighborhood where they’re raising their teenage son and daughter and inviting the neighbors over for dinner every once in a while.  What the neighbors don’t know, and Radleys are desperately trying to keep from their kids, is the fact that they are closeted vampires.  Following the instructions laid out in The Abstainer’s Handbook (parts of which pepper the narrative) Peter and Helen are living a humdrum existence without blood and clearly heading for a quiet crisis as a result.  The crisis comes in an unexpected form.  Clara, who has taken a typically adolescent approach to her eating, has decided to go vegan, leading to an uncontrollable blood lust that emerges when a boy attacks her at a party.  Peter and Helen have a great deal of explaining to do, not to mention the cover up, and when Peter draws his hard-living, blood-gorging brother into the mix to lend a hand, things go from bad to worse for this family.  Is there any hope for these unconventional vampires?

Haig’s novel is a clever spin on the familiar family drama.  Blood lust is not nearly as dangerous to this family as dishonesty, disloyalty, and hidden regrets.  Definitely a good alternative for  the vampire loving crowd  that have outgrown Twilight and its ilk.

Reviewed by Marilee Clark

The Glass Rainbow

By James Lee Burke (Burke)

The P.I./cop with a tortured past, difficult love-life, and trusty sidekick is fairly standard in the mystery genre, and many mystery authors are known for evoking a sense of place, but none does it better than James Lee Burke in his Dave Robicheaux series.  

Burke's The Glass Rainbow is his latest gem.  Dave, a cop in New Iberia, Louisiana, is faced with the possibility of a serial murderer when several girls are found dead in a neighboring parish.  When no one else seems to care, Dave and buddy Clete Purcell go digging, and are not afraid to confront the local scion who is dating Dave's adopted daughter.  

Classic mayhem ensues as the forces of good and evil collide.  Burke's descriptions of Louisiana bayou country are always worth the read.  He truly "gets" the South, and the ways in which social classes and race relations are still affected by the events of the past.  And Dave can always be trusted be loyal to family and Cletus to the end.

Reviewed by Evelyn Schmidt

The Reapers are the Angels 

By Alden Bell (Bell)

I wouldn't necessarily call myself a zombie fan. I've watched a few zombie movies at my husband's request, but that's about it. So how strange is it that I have a zombie novel on the top of my favorite-new-books list? Strange enough, but this is an awesome novel. The Reapers are the Angels isn't about the zombie apocalypse, but the post-apocalypse. Twenty five years, in fact, since the dead began to walk the world in all their gory, violent hunger. Since Temple was born into this infected world, the zombies are just part of her existence, and perhaps it's that fact—she doesn't remember any pre-zombie life—that makes her the character she is.
 
Moses Todd, who is both a father figure and an enemy of Temple's, calls her a miracle hunter. In even the direst of situations—and, with zombies, there's a lot of dire—she is able to find, see, and appreciate beauty. "Ain't no hell deep enough," she realizes, "to keep heaven out."
 
Temple and Moses run a cross-country race; she's trying to find a home for Maury, a mute man she's taken responsibility for. He's trying to avenge his brother's death. As the novel progresses, some of Temple's history unfolds, too, a burden she carries and tries to understand. What is right and wrong? How do you live in a ruined world? These are questions Temple tries to answer. She contrasts people—who hide in their enclaves—against the zombies, who, while soulless and driven by their grotesque hunger, are at least driven. She nearly admires the zombies more.

In that sense, the novel isn’t really about zombies at all. It’s about not wandering through our lives, driven by hungers we don’t understand, bumping against wonders we have grown blind to. It’s about living, and how, in a ruined world, one might accomplish that. The gory hunger of the zombies serves as a balance, letting the reader see what is still miraculous.

Reviewed by Amy Sorensen 


Inherent Vice 

By Thomas Pynchon (Pynchon)

Pynchon’s latest follows a hippie P.I. who goes by the name of “Doc” and has a penchant for toking up before working gigs along the shores of Southern California.  When his ex-girlfriend, Shasta, pays him a surprise visit asking for a look into her Big Shot boyfriend Mickey Wolfmann, Doc’s groovy life takes a plunge down the proverbial rabbit hole.  

Hooked on a drug-fueled sprawl into shady real estate ventures, missing saxophone players, hooky stewardii, mind-blowing murders, and a surf-rock band that may have become zombies, Inherent Vice is a pulpy homage to sixties beach bum stoner pop culture, with brilliant satire, campy and outlandish characters, and enough metaphors and references to knock you bleary-eyed silly. 

Which, of course, means that I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It also means that I'll be humming Dick Dale and the Ventures for the next three weeks...

Reviewed by Mike Smith

Featured Teen Books

Written by Super User. Posted in Staff Picks

Young Adult Dystopian Novels

I confess: the dystopian genre is one of my favorites. I have a complicated theory for why, based on current feelings of political, social, environmental and/or general doom, but I also like them because they are enthralling. There are seemingly a million different ways that humanity might create a perfect society—and fail miserably. They are dangerous, these bad places; they serve as warnings of where our current path might lead us. Based on the recent influx of YA dystopias, young adult authors seem to share this fascination. Some classics, some new, here’s a list of dystopias perfect for a teen reader.

content.chilifresh10. Birthmarked trilogy by Caragh M. O’Brien. Set on the un-lake shores of a vanished Lake Superior, this trilogy tells a story of genetics, environmental damage, water rights, and birth defects. Gaia Stone is the daughter of a midwife, so she knows the requirement made by the Proctorate: every tenth baby a midwife delivers is taken from its mother to live inside the Enclave, where it will live with everything those outside the Wall don’t have: comfortable housing, education, healthy food, and the rarest thing, plentiful water. What Gaia doesn’t know is why. When her mother is taken captive by the Proctorate, she must delve into the secrets of the Enclave and her society—and eventually try to find a solution for the population’s largest ills.
 
 

9. Matched trilogy by Ally Condie. In the Society, all choices are made for you, such as where you’ll work and who you can marry. But when a computer malfunction shows her two boys’ faces during her Matching ceremony, Cassia starts to wonder if the Society’s choices are always the right ones. Using poetry and art as underlying threads, Condie’s series explores the way choice influences both individuals and society, and how thinking for yourself is perhaps the only real strength anyone has.

8. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Almost a century ago, after a violent war, Panem was formed out of the ruins of the thirteen rebellious sections. Heavily controlled by the government, the twelve remaining districts must each year send two teenaged tributes to the Capitol to play the Hunger Games: a ruthless battle to the death in an environmental-controlled arena viewed by the pampered Capitol citizens. Katniss Everdeen volunteers as the District 12 tribute when her sister’s name is chosen in the lottery. As much about the strength of emotion as the destructiveness of violence, the trilogy tells a fast-paced adventure story that explores the depravity of power and the limits of courage.

7. Unwind by Neal Shusterman. To put an end to America’s second Civil War, fought over abortion, the US military created the Unwinding Accord and the Storking Initiative. Abortion is now illegal, but the Storking Initiative allows anyone to leave an unwanted baby on any doorstep and requires that household to raise the child until he or she is 13. At that age, the Unwinding Accord provides a simple and humane way to manage the unwanted child: he or she is “unwound,” body parts harvested as donor organs. Three potential unwinds—Connor, Risa, and Lev—try to escape their fate.

6. Feed by M. T. Anderson. In Titus’s future America, no one needs keyboards or CPUs or tablets or cell phones—everyone accesses the ‘Net with the Feed, a brain implant that puts you online all the time. You can chat without talking and learn things without teachers and find out important stuff like where the best parties are, what the latest coolest song is, and how to best show off your lesions (if you’re lucky enough to have any). When Titus meets Violet during a spring-break trip to the moon, their Feeds are compromised and he starts to see the cracks in his seemingly-ideal society.

content.chilifresh5. Genesis by Bernard Beckett. Anax’s dystopian world reveals itself through her historical research and the brutal exam she is taking to gain admittance to The Academy, the regiment of scholars that rules her Republic-based society. Outside of the Great Sea Fence, the rest of the world has been decimated by climate change, plague, and war, but upon her island, a strict peace has been established. The cost of it is the last bit of knowledge her research and exam reveal to her. Beckett says that he likes “reading to leave a little scar tissue” and this novella’s twist definitely creates a wound.
 
 


4. The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster. This novella, written in 1909, is a prescient exploration of how technology might control humanity. Everyone lives in small, hexagonal-shaped rooms while the Machine does everything they need. If they want to attend a class, they watch it on a screen. If they want to talk to a person, they do it with instant messages. There are buttons for everything: food, baths, literature, conversation. No one does uncivilized things anymore, such as talk face to face, or touch, or even see other people. The ending will haunt and surprise you, and perhaps make you abandon your computer for a hike in the woods.

3. The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry. Lowry’s series begins with the 1994 Newbery-award winner, The Giver, which tells the story of Jonas, who has just turned twelve and lives in a community free of war, family turmoil, poverty, or discontent. At age twelve, children are given their life assignments from the Elders, the community’s leaders. Jonas receives a surprising role: he is to be the Receiver, the one person in the community who knows what life is like in Elsewhere—outside of their society. As he learns about life before Sameness, Jonas is first saddened and then disturbed, and when he learns what happens to Released babies, he decides to take action. Each book in the quartet works together, but can be read as a stand-alone as well.

content.chilifresh2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Firemen in this society don’t stop fires, they start them—conflagrations of books, which are illegal. Guy Montag, a third-generation fireman, starts to realize how empty his life is when he takes the chance of reading a book instead of burning it.
 
 
 


1. Anthem by Ayn Rand. Equality 7-2521 lives in a society that strives for peace. Everyone is treated equally; there is no poverty, war, or hunger. Yet his curiosity and desire for learning set him apart, making him question where human happiness is to be found. In the city’s dark, forgotten tunnels, Equality writes and experiments, eventually re-discovering electricity, yet his light bulb doesn’t bring him the redemption he seeks. Perfect for teens, it examines the power that just one individual can wield.
By Amy

The Drowned Cities

By Paolo Bacigalupi (T Bacigalupi)

In a future where global warming has flooded the coastal cities, Washington D.C.  
is a battleground for various factions, the armies made mostly of child soldiers. Few live long enough to become adults so soldiers recruit children by force for replacements, turning them into killers and torturers with no respect for civilians or anyone outside their own army. Civilians orphaned and/or maimed by the war are called war maggots, but the most loathing is for the children of the failed Chinese peacekeeping force that spent a decade trying to save the historic and art treasures of the former national capital.  

Mahlia insists she is “drowned city” like her now-dead mother, but the army that catches her insists that she is Chinese and they cut off her hand. They plan to cut off all her limbs, but a boy risks his life to save her. Mouse becomes her protector, and she his protector.  Both children are taken in by a doctor in a little town hoping to stay out of the notice of the armies in the endless civil war. It is by chance that the two children come across a dying half man, a genetically-engineered, killing machine named Tool. Mahlia risks all to save his life, and now she persuades the recovered Tool to help her rescue Mouse from the army that has captured him. 
This engrossing, visceral novel is a companion to the Printz Award Ship Breaker. Tool is the continuing character, but it certainly stands alone.

Reviewed by Pat


Cosmic

By Frank Cottrell Boyce (J Boyce and T Boyce)

cosmicI loved Cosmic.  LOVED IT.  Read this book.  Read it with your kids or by yourself.  Read it if you love your dad, or don't have a dad, or want to be a dad someday.  Read it if you always wanted to be an astronaut, or if the last great frontier always scared you out of your wits.  Read it if you are an unusually mature 12 yr old, or a sometimes unusually immature 30-something.  Just read it.  

Cosmic has an extraordinarily tall 12 year old, Liam, who is dealing with the advantages and disadvantages of his height. He discovers on a school holiday to the amusement park that his physical stature and premature facial hair get him entree to a host of grown-up privileges, like riding cool thrill rides all day and (almost) test driving a Porsche.  Much to the consternation of Mom and Dad, Liam begins to take advantage of his abilities, even going so far as to bring a classmate, Florida Kirby, along on his adventures to pose as his daughter.  Somehow (and I had no problem suspending my disbelief on this one, Cottrell's just that good) Liam and Florida find themselves in China posing as father and daughter in an attempt to experience the coolest thrill ride ever: a trip into space. 

A Telecom entrepreneur wants to send 4 extraordinary children into space, and Liam convinces her that sending one dad would be a good idea because he can't stand the idea of coming all that way just to get fame-obsessed Florida a seat in the rocket.  But to earn his way onto the spaceship he's got to beat out the three other authentic (if misguided) dads by convincing the 4 kids to vote for him as best dad.  

It's sort of a 21st century Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but better, with shades of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  I love the British sense of humor (I laughed out loud throughout), but it's also sweet and smart and filled with wonder.  For the first time in my life I wanted to see the world from out of this world.  And there's a tenderness for the bond between father and child, and a respect, too, for the way a father's love can save his child.  Trust me, you will love Liam; you will learn to love Florida.  You will love this book.

Reviewed by Marilee  


Marcelo in the Real World 

By Francisco X. Stork (T Stork)

MarceloI really, really, really liked this book.  More YA novels should be like this.  Marcelo is a seventeen year old boy with Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.  His dad is a high-powered Boston attorney who thinks Marcelo needs to be challenged by getting away from the comfort of his private therapeutic school and into the "real world", so he arranges for his son to spend the summer working in the mail room of his firm.  At the firm he meets a number of real-world people, from jerkwad Wendell to Jasmine, the girl who runs the mail room and soon becomes Marcelo's friend.  The story of Marcelo's summer is one of the best and most unique coming-of-age stories I've ever read.  Told in his first person narration, Marcelo recounts his struggles to make sense of the "real" world and discovers the dilemmas that mark adult life.  He finds weaknesses in his father and in himself, he's faced with agonizing choices where the right thing will also hurt him and people he loves, and he begins to unravel the mysteries of love and attraction.  Marcelo is a delightful character--awkward, but also smart, thoughtful, courageous and deeply compassionate.   There is some raw language, and it's not suited for young teens or those who are easily offended by all the things that easily offend on every side of the cultural divide, but it's one of the best, truest YA novels I've read in years.

Reviewed by Marilee


Scarlet

By A. C. Gaughen (T Gaughen)

ScarletWill Scarlet likes to slip about unseen. It’s only natural. A thief, and a fine one at that, Will’s livelihood depends on it. But Will has well-kept secrets of another kind too. Will is actually a she, and the less people outside of Robin Hood’s band that know she is a girl the better. Walking unnoticed through taverns and sneaking soundlessly into prisons in Nottingham is easy enough for Scarlet, who honed her stealthy skills on the streets of London where she was forced to fend for herself for years before Robin took her in. More difficult for Robin, John and Much is getting Scarlet to open up about her past. When the infamous Thief Taker Guy Gisbourne is hired by the sheriff to sniff out Robin Hood, she’s forced to either face her demons or let her unflinching loyalty to Robin waver. But everyone knows that won’t happen. The past it will be then, with any pain and humiliation that may accompany it. Perhaps Scarlet’s better-forgotten memories deserve less suppression than she hitherto thought.

Scarlet  caught me off guard. I’m not a die-hard fan of Robin Hood by any means so I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be to this latest retelling, but my hesitation was unfounded. Entertaining from the first page, I loved Scarlet  for a myriad of reasons, the first for Scarlet herself. She is an extremely strong protagonist, a fact that is sure to polarize readers. But I absolutely adored her for the fierce, unapologetic way she conducts her life. The pain of her past is hers alone and only under extenuating circumstances will she disclose why she ran and why she robs the rich to feed the poor. I respected her pride and found her secrecy true to life. Besides the immediate connection I felt to her, Scarlet charmed me with her – ahem – more amoral skills. An excellent liar, a deadly knife thrower, and a vicious hand-to-hand fighter, Scarlet is one part fearless urban fantasy heroine and another part Megan Whelan Turner thief. Being a girl has no bearing on her integral place in the Hood, and I enjoyed the dynamic she brought to the band and her at times uneasy relationships with both John and Robin. So much is said in the pregnant pauses and meaningful glances between Scarlet and Robin. Add the characterization to the romance and the perfectly paced and spaced prison-breaks, roadside thieving, and character-driven scenes and Scarlet  is a near perfect Robin Hood retelling. I hope AC Gaughen has something else up her sleeve because I can’t wait to read it.

Reviewed by Holly Grierson 

The Running Dream

By Wendelin Van Draanen (T Van Draanen)

Running DreamThe story follows the emotional and physical healing of sixteen-year-old track athlete, Jessica Carlisle, after she becomes a below-knee amputee. After a car accident leaves her barely able to hop, let alone run, Jessica sinks into depression, barely able to cope with the loss of her leg. But her youth and athleticism enable Jessica to learn how to move about, and eventually walk, in amazing time. Still, Jessica wants to run again, and with the help of good friends, teammates and a supportive community, Jessica pushes herself to make that dream come true--for herself as well as for another disabled friend. 

Disclaimer: I'm not a runner; I hate running. I'm told you either "get" running or you don't, and I definitely don't. But I really liked this book. The author did a good job of making a runner's obsession accessible even to us non-running types. Typically, I have not found contemporary teen lit to be interesting or even particularly believable, but I may have to revise my opinion if I can find more authors like Van Draanen or Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. She managed to convey what seemed to be an authentic rendering of teen life without any gratuitous profanity or promiscuity. In short, I loved it. Highly recommend. (It is a Beehive nominee, for anyone who cares.) 

Reviewed by Erin Mumford

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater (T Stiefvater)

On the fictional island of Thisby, nineteen year-old Sean Kendrick trains horses for Benjamin Malvern.  His mother, like so many of Thisby's residents, emigrated to the mainland years before, and his father lost his life to one of the fearsome cappail uisce, the water horses that emerge from the sea every November.  Puck Connolly is an orphan, too. She and her two brothers, Finn and Gabe lost their parents when a water horse attacked them on their fishing boat.  As the annual race of the water horses approaches, Gabe announces his intention to leave the island.  In a desperate attempt to keep him home, Puck announces her intention to ride in the Scorpio Races.  

No woman has ever ridden in the races before, but when she finds out they will lose their home to Malvern without a serious influx of cash, she is determined to try to win the purse.  The cappail uisce are as bloodthirsty and unpredictable as they are fast and strong, so Puck decides to ride her dun mare instead, another first.  No one quite has the touch with the water horses as Sean, and he's won four of the last six years on his beloved cappal stallion, Corr.  Sean's determination to win is just as urgent as Puck's.  He wants to buy Corr from his boss, and Malvern has agreed to sell as long as he wins again, and the purse will provide the last of the price.  Only one of them can win, and as Puck and Sean's curiosity about each other grows into something stronger, the stakes rise even higher.  

This is a masterful fantasy.  It's somehow both intense and subtle at the same time, with a beautifully detailed setting, fully developed characters, and a narrative that manages to be effortlessly breathtaking and thoughtful.  Thisby is fully rendered--grounded enough in real world details to keep you rooted in the story even as magical, carnivorous equine beasts start roaming the island on a dark and stormy night.  It is told alternatively between the two main characters, whose voices are both believable and differentiated.  Both boys and girls will like this book--enough bloody, heart-pumping racing scenes and slow-burning love story to keep everyone happy.  And the romance?  Mmm-hm.  When these two finally realize what's going on between them, it actually means something. I like that a lot.   It's also very cinematic--I found myself imagining how it would look on screen as I was reading it.  We're still early in 2012, but if this one doesn't show up on best of lists in December, it'll be a shame.  
Reviewed by Marilee Clark

Girls Don’t Fly

By Kristen Chandler (T Chandler)

Of all the YA standouts here in Utah, I really think Chandler ranks as the most underrated.  I’m guessing this is due to the almost myopic focus on sci-fi and fantasy in YA generally, but it’s a shame because she’s writing contemporary realistic fiction that easily could go toe to toe with the best of that genre—Sarah Dessen included.  Chandler’s sophomore effort focuses on Myra, a seventeen year old working class girl living in a fictional community near the Great Salt Lake.  Myra ‘s in the midst of struggle.  In addition to her family’s working poor status that keeps her continually responsible for her three little brothers while Mom and Dad are working, her older sister has moved home from college and lost her scholarship after finding herself pregnant at 19.  Add to her troubles a sudden, unwelcome break up with her high status boyfriend and you’ve got a recipe for a smart, poignant coming-of-age.  

Reviewed by Marilee Clark

Check out some more staff favorites from 2011:


Variant

By Robison Wells (T Wells)

VariantIf you like James Dashner, you gotta give Variant a go.  It's a page-turner—the kind that'll keep you up all night and leave you cursing the months and months you'll have to wait for the next one. Seriously, the last page will have you screaming for just some little hint of what comes next!

Benson Fisher is a 16 year old foster kid who thinks he's found a way out of the endless stream of unsatisfying temporary homes.  He's received a scholarship to Maxfield Academy, a private boarding school.  But this is an odd boarding school: isolated, without teachers, and run by unseen powers and the social maneuverings of three "gangs", the Society, Havoc and the Variants. Each group is responsible for some part of the running of Maxfield—and they've established a tentative truce after the violently turbulent relationships between the students resulted in several deaths before Benson's arrival.  The students are essentially prisoners, held in by walls, razor wire and the security detail contracted to the Society.  The rules are simple and straightforward, but the punishments are sinister and result on a number of kids just disappearing.

Almost from the moment he arrives, Benson is looking for a way out.  He's a smart, tough kid--a convincing and mostly likable character.  The pros of this book: a fast-paced, cinematic plot that will appeal to fans of James Dashner, Suzanne Collins, and Michael Grant; undeniable appeal to teenage boys and especially reluctant readers, and a wild cliffhanger ending. Cons are few: a sometimes annoyingly masculine viewpoint  that will likely turn off the independent-minded end of the girl reader population (sometimes it seems Benson's only means of relating to a girl is the urge to protect her), and that wild cliffhanger ending that will drive you nutty until volume two of this trilogy is released!

Reviewed by Marilee Clark  

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

By Jessica Day George (T George)

Sun and MoonI'm not much of a fantasy reader, but this one worked for me. It's an adaptation of the Scandinavian folktale East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

The youngest daughter of a poor Norwegian woodcutter is caught up in the enchantment of magical Scandinavian creatures. Nameless, overworked, and under-appreciated, she is nevertheless kind and beautiful, and she has an uncanny ability to communicate with animals.

This comes in handy early in life when she rescues a mystical white reindeer who gives her a name, and later when a giant isbjorn (polar bear) intrudes on her home and promises her family wealth and prosperity if she will live with him for one year and one day.  She agrees out of a desire to help her family, and is whisked away along with her wolf Rollo to an enchanted ice palace.  During the day, she explores the palace, acclimating to the finery she now enjoys and trying to decipher the odd symbols carved in the walls. By night, she retires to her suite, where she drifts to sleep in comfort. That is until she feels someone slip into the bed next to her. Each night a man sleeps beside her, and every morning he's gone, and no one, not the enchanted isbjorn or any of the other magical creatures, will answer her inquiries about anything.

It's beautifully written; I can't wait to read it aloud to my nieces. This one would be great for fans of Shannon Hale, Donna Jo Napoli or Martine Leavitt.

Reviewed by Marilee Clark


Nevermore 

By Kelly Creagh (T Creagh)

Nevermore

With a football player for a boyfriend, lots of friends, and a spot on the cheerleading squad, Isobel has it all. Now if she wasn't so close to flunking English. Because if she does, she'll be kicked off the squad and miss Nationals.  That's why she's a little worried when she's paired up with mysterious, Goth/emo Varen Nethers for the team project. Turns out that Varen is just as loath to be teamed with Isobel, but their professor insists that there's no trading allowed. So Varen and Isobel come to an agreement that the project will be on Edgar Allan Poe,

and Varen will do all the research and Isobel all the talking. The dislike is equal on both sides until Isobel's possessive boyfriend Brad finds out she's making excuses and sneaking around to work on their project together. This is when the bullying starts, and instead of taking Brad's side, Isobel defends Varen. Suddenly outcast from her group of friends, Isobel spends more and more time with Varen. It's when she finds the strange writing in his notebook that she first begins to warm to him. But then the dreams come, and she starts feeling and seeing things that shouldn't be possible. Soon enough she discovers Varen's created a world with his mind that may trap him forever if she doesn't find a way to reach him.

Nevermore surprised me. From the popular mean girl cliché to the paranormal world Kelly Creagh has so thoughtfully and painstakingly created using the works of Edgar Allan Poe, I was impressed by the depth and originality of it all. From the beginning I knew there was more to Isobel  - the girl who truly liked cheerleading for the athleticism of it and is the #1 flyer on the squad. The partnering of two high school students from different cliques to work as a team is very Twilight but I knew that would be the only similarity. Turns out that was enough to hook me, and for the most part the 500+ pages flew by. I loved Varen. He's cold, internal, and doesn't feel like he needs to respond when addressed. The slow development of their relationship from hate to misunderstood to friends and more is compelling. So is Creagh's usage of Poe's works – with which I'm not all that familiar.  She's done her research and it shows. In addition, her lush writing was arresting at times.

Of course a review of Nevermore wouldn't be complete without discussing the nightmarish figures of the dream world. The enigmatic figure Reynolds and the startling bird-like, decaying creatures of the Other are truly chilling. Though somewhat confused in the latter half – when Isobel crosses completely into the otherworld – and badly missing Varen in the latter fourth which made that section plod, I read their reunion with a fluttering heart. Varen and Isobel individually and as a couple are Creagh's real strength. Ending as it did I would've been seriously disappointed – but little did I know Nevermore is the first book in a trilogy. And since I didn't get nearly enough of Isobel and Varen, I'll certainly be there next January when Enshadowed is released.

Reviewed by Holly Grierson

Chasing Brooklyn 

By Lisa Schroeder (T Schroeder)

One year ago Brooklyn lost her boyfriend Lucca. Now it's his friend Gabe who's died. If her still painful and raw grief wasn't enough, his death has made the small sane part of her snap. Worst of all, Gabe, not Lucca, is now haunting her dreams. Instead of his human self it's a gray-skinned, red-eyed Gabe on a relentless chase after her.

It's also been a year since Nico lost his brother, Lucca. The only way he knows how to deal with the loss is to run – literally. But he can't run forever, and it's looks like his problems will catch up to him unless he heeds his own ghost, Lucca, whose messages to help Brooklyn are becoming more desperate.

There's so much that is beautiful in this haunting story of loss and grief. As novels dealing with death tend to do, Chasing Brooklynreminded me of how the experience can have many similarities with other loss novels on the surface but can still be its own original work, exploring something very human and universal in a totally different, but right way. There is also so much that I loved, starting with the eerie, blue-green cover and the reaching hand. I loved the journal-entry format, which fit the free verse well. The sparse, emotional verse also seems very appropriate for a story about void. Most of all I loved struggling Brooklyn and damaged Nico, whose pain was palpable and felt true to life. These two go from training partners, to friends, to "it's complicated"and more, and I enjoyed every sad, confused and sweet minute of it. As you can guess neither wants Nico to be the second-best replacement of Lucca, and that's the root of the conflict. If you're looking to try a novel in free verse please pick up Chasing Brooklyn. I'm anxiously awaiting my copy of the companion novel I Heart You, You Haunt Me.

Reviewed by Holly Grierson


Mare's War 

By Tanita S. Davis (T Davis)

An unconventional grandmother and her two teenage granddaughters leave for the summer on a road trip from California to Alabama to attend a family reunion. Tensions run high at the beginning as each girl expresses misgivings about spending an entire summer away from friends in a car with the slightly-off "Mare," as they call her. As they drive, however, Mare unfolds the story of how she ran away from home at age 16 and joined the WAC in WW II, detailing the experiences she had, the friends she made and the important lessons she learned. So what starts out as the road trip from hell for Octavia and Talitha Boylen becomes a poignant journey with their grandmother down her memory lane to a reunion, and a reconciliation, with the past.
 
This is a first novel for Davis and quite good. The storyline involving the teenage girls is written in a way that is engaging for teens, and Mare's story about her home life in Alabama and her life at war is quite compelling. Davis is herself African American and obviously put a lot of research in to tell the story of the African American women serving in WW II. What is clear from the story is that it is also a largely untold component of the entire 20th century civil rights movement--a movement I often took for granted as beginning with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. It was a good mix of contemporary and historical fiction.
 
Reviewed by Erin Mumford

Anna and the French Kiss 

By Stephanie Perkins (T Perkins)

Seventeen-year-old Anna couldn't be more equipped for her senior year. She has Bridge, her fun and quirky best friend, Toph, her co-worker and new love interest, and the perfect starter job for a film buff at the local movie theater.  But in an attempt to show he has some class to go with his bestselling sappy author status Anna's father has announced that she will be moving to Paris to attend SOAP (The School of America in Paris) instead. Although she misses home, Anna's lucky enough to fall into an awesome group of friends, which includes insta-crush Etienne St. Clair, the American born, half-French, British-raised hottie of the school, who just so happens to have a long-time girlfriend. As Anna and Etienne quickly become friends over the course of a year full of romantic misunderstandings and misassumptions, Anna tries not to think that her wishes might come true. But in the City of Light, anything could happen.

It was not only the enchantingly authentic Paris that had me from the first page but the pitch-perfect voice of Anna. She's sarcastic, brutally honest, and full of the angsty teenage insecurities that everyone's been through. I enjoyed being in her overanalytic, unsure mind. The back book blurb by YA author Justina Chen Headley is spot on: "but-does-he-like-me?!" was perfectly captured in this book. I found this whole approach completely refreshing amongst the many love or lust-at-first-sight YA romances. It was a fun ride to see Anna and Etienne grow from acquaintances to best friends and potential lovers. I love a slow buildup with plenty of witty conversation, chance encounters, and just plain ole hanging out, and this had it all. I could say a lot more but I won't because it's hard to do this book justice, and many others have already said it better.

An incredibly sweet story, smile-inducing humor, an endearing protagonist, and the perfect charming and stylish nice guy? You can't ask for much more. Let's just say I'll be there in a year for the first companion book to Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door.

Reviewed by Holly Grierson


The Big Crunch

By Pete Hautman (T Hautman)

June is a 16 year-old nomad, roaming from school to school as her dad's consulting job changes.  Wes is just beginning his junior year as a bachelor, having broken up with Izzy over the summer.  There is no instant attraction here, no intense, mysterious gazes over the microscope in biology.  Hautman has created a very realistic portrait of a teenage relationship—from it's inauspicious beginnings (he thinks she looks a little like a fish, she starts dating his geeky friend) through a surprising attraction and inevitable heartbreak, to a satisfying, but uncertain ending.

Hautman has no magical solutions for his teenagers.  The truth is it's really hard to fall in love when your life is still inextricably connected to your parents' whims.  As Wes and June travel through the four seasons of their relationship, they struggle with jealousy, confusion, and insecurity, even as they are enjoying that first blush of a romance, where every sense is heightened and the whole world seems a little more intense. 

Reviewed by Marilee Clark


The House of Dead Maids 

By Claire Dunkle (T Dunkle)

I know there are several Hollow Kingdom fans roaming the stacks here, and although I haven't read that series yet, I can see how you could fall in love with Dunkle.  She  creates a low murmur of creepiness in this Wuthering Heights prequel that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Dunkle has melded Emily Bronte's famous blackguard Heathcliff with a fictionalized historical character, Tabatha Aykroyd, who was the Bronte's long-time and well-beloved maid.  Young Tabby is taken from her orphanage to Seldom House by Miss Winter, where she discovers some odd circumstances.  An apparition of a girl she recognizes as the last maid Miss Winter picked up from the orphanage haunts her.  Of course, no one will explain what happened to Izzy, or why she is haunting Seldom House; nor will they explain what's going on when "young master" appears, a dirty six year-old urchin with no name who the old master refers to as "a heathen git".  Tabby, tough little soul, is determined to get some answers about the old master and maid, and her role as young maid to the young master.  The answers she finds are quite disturbing.

I haven't read anything quite like The House of Dead Maids.  It reminded me of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book with the ghosts and the creepy illustrations, but without the tenderness of Gaiman's story.  This one is more straight scary ghost story.  It also had an echo of  Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery".  A slim volume, I think it would make a delightfully creepy Halloween read aloud for the younger end of the YA audience, but enjoyable by anyone who likes a good cobwebby story.

Reviewed by Marilee Clark

Paranormalcy

By Kiersten White (T White)

There are plenty of vampires and werewolves in this novel, but unlike the Twilight series, nobody falls in love with them.  The heroine is Evie--a 16 year old agent with the International Paranormal Containment Agency.  

Evie can see through paranormal "glamours," so she's sent out on missions throughout the world to bag and tag hags, vamps, werewolves, banshees and all other supernatural creatures so the agency can keep them in check.  But when paranormals begin turning up dead, and shapeshifter/elemental Lend breaks into agency headquarters, Evie begins to question her world and her work.  

It's a funny, clever novel that doesn't take itself too seriously.  Still, I'm reserving all my paranormal romance adulation for the YA author who can make the kraken sexy.

Reviewed by Marilee Clark
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About the City of Orem Library

The Orem Library is open Monday through Friday 9am until 9pm and on Saturdays from 9am until 6pm. We are closed Sundays and Holidays. Click here for a list of observed holidays.

If you need to return books outside of these hours, a 24 drive through book and media drop is located on the North side of the Library.

The Main Library is located at 58 North State Street in Orem, Utah at the north end of the City Center Complex (on the northeast corner of State and Center Streets). Parking is to the east of the library building and is accessed from 100 North. If you need assistance please call 229-7050.