In the Library · Memoir · Non-Fiction · Ying L

High Price | by Carl Hart

High Price

High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society
by Carl Hart
(Harper, 2013, 340 pages)

Author Dr. Hart is a psychology professor at Columbia University. In this memoir he shares with us how he overcame social and economic obstacles to become a scientist and a professor at a prestigious university. He grew up in a dangerous “ghetto” in Miami in the 1980’s. At a young age he was exposed to family violence, street crimes, drugs, poverty, and racism. Some of his friends and family turned to crack cocaine and gangs. Hart was fortunate enough to stay in school and had a good influence from a cousin who loved math.

After being “pushed” by a counselor to take the army entrance exam, Hart joined the army. He was stationed in Japan and England. This provided him a great opportunity to experience different cultures. He also started taking college courses at the army bases. After the army, Dr. Hart made another critical decision to leave his family and friends in Miami who were not supportive of his pursuit of a college degree. He worked at a restaurant and finished his degree in psychology in Atlanta. He went on to earn a PhD at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Hart focused his research in the field of addiction and drugs. He blended research findings with his personal and professional stories to show the complexities of the American drug culture. I really enjoyed the book since I have little knowledge on this subject. If you are looking for a good coverage with detailed research of addiction and drugs, this is not the book for you. The science part is oversimplified. I wish he had explained his results more. Overall, an uplifting, informative and educational read.

Fiction · Mystery · Ying L

Bones of the Lost | by Kathy Reichs

Bones of the Lost

Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs
(Scribner, 2013, 324 pages)

I remember enjoying a forensic investigation novel by Kathy Reichs. I was glad to see this new release at my public library. Reichs, a forensic anthropologist, has written 10+ books for the Brennan series. Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist who examines human remains and assists with police investigations.

Bones of the Lost has three plot lines, which was somewhat irritating at the beginning as I was trying to keep up with various characters and their roles in each event. It started with the hit and run death of a young unidentified girl in Charlotte, NC. The medical examiner’s office was short-staffed, so Brennan was asked to help out with the case. The death didn’t look right to her or detective Slidell. Shortly after this, Brennan was assigned to examine the remains of dog mummies related to an antiquities smuggling case. The “import” business is owned by a Desert Storm veteran. As if that’s not enough, she’s been recruited by the US military to help solve a case involving a soldier who fired on civilians in Afghanistan. Brennan traveled to the war zone and oversaw the exhumation and examination of two villagers. A good portion of the book covers Brennan’s time in Afghanistan, which I found fascinating. Slowly, the multi-layered themes came together with a surprising ending. The connection seemed a bit forced and coincidental. A decent mystery book to read if you don’t mind some gory details.

Andrew S · Fiction

Enon | by Paul Harding

Enon

Enon by Paul Harding
(Random House, 2013, 256 pages)

Enon is Paul Harding’s second novel, and while it is not a sequel to Tinkers, it does continue a family history that started with the Pulitzer Prize winning story of three generations of the Crosby family. Both novels take place in the fictional New England town of Enon and explore the relationships between generations and their ties to the beauty and severity of the New England landscape.

In Enon, we watch the plummeting grief of Charlie Crosby following the death of his thirteen year old daughter Kate. The trauma quickly causes his marriage to dissolve, and he spends the greater part of the book becoming increasingly dependent on prescription pain medications. Charlie roams the town’s graveyard and the surrounding countryside, recalling events from his own childhood and from that of his daughter’s; these reminiscences are interrupted by hallucinatory visions of his daughter and other deceased inhabitants of Enon. The historic town and its changing seasons become characters unto themselves, especially as Charlie becomes more and more isolated.

As a chronicle of a father’s grief, Enon is heartbreaking and poetic. It wrestles with perennial questions of mortality, the afterlife, and whether or not there is something like a beneficent and providential being who oversees the passage from life to death. For all of the severity and despair of its major themes, Enon also has its humorous moments. Charlie’s metaphysical meditations, which Harding so eloquently describes, are contrasted with the colloquial dialogue of various characters that run through Charlie’s memories.  As painful as this book is to read, there is hope to be found – even if it is a sometimes elusive and hard-won hope.  It is also interesting to note that both of Harding’s novels owe a heavy debt to transcendentalist writers like Emerson and Thoreau, among others. The best compliment I can think to give to both Tinkers and Enon is that, having read them, I feel a certain compulsion to go read the transcendentalists in order to better prepare myself to reread Harding’s books with an even greater appreciation.

Fiction · Gwen B · In the Library · Thriller

Taking Eve | by Iris Johansen

Taking Eve

Taking Eve by Iris Johansen
(St. Martin’s Press, 2013, 339 pages)

Overview:

As a forensic sculptor, Eve Duncan’s mission is to bring closure to the families whose loved ones have vanished. She knows their anguish—her own beloved daughter, Bonnie, was taken from her when Bonnie was just seven years old. It is only recently that this mystery was resolved and Eve could begin her journey to peace. Now Jim Doane wants the same kind of answers that Eve always longed for. His twenty-five-year-old son may or may not be dead, and he has only burned skull fragments as possible evidence. But he cannot go to the police for answers without exposing his dark past, so instead he chooses a bold step to find the truth—one that takes Eve down a twisted path of madness and evil and into the darkest heart of her own history. In this thriller from bestselling author Iris Johansen, Doane needs Eve’s skills and he’ll do anything to get them…even if it means Taking Eve.

I have read every book in the Eve Duncan series. I was so excited when I found out about this trilogy. This is book number one. It was good, but a little disappointing. I’ve always had a hard time putting her books down once I get started, but this one didn’t grab me as all of the others did, and some of the wording was repetitive. I hate to be critical because she is one of my favorites. It was good, just not great. I guess my expectations were high since the other books in the series have all been great. I’m hoping that Hunting Eve, the second in the trilogy, will be more along the lines of what she’s written in the past. I felt it just left you hanging, but maybe that was her point. It will be necessary to read the trilogy to see how it ends. I hope the next two will have more suspense and action to them, like the Eve Duncan series I know. If you are an Iris Johansen fan, though, and have kept up with the Eve Duncan series, I recommend you read it.

Fiction · Jean R · Mystery

The Heist | by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Heist

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
(Bantam, 2013, 320 pages)

The Heist is a new fictional series from the author of the Stephanie Plum novels, Janet Evanovich, and co-author, Lee Goldberg. In The Heist, we are introduced to FBI agent and former Navy SEAL, Kate O’Hare, who has been making a career of tracking down con man, Nick Fox. Kate finally catches Nick only to have him escape from custody. When Kate catches Nick the second time, she is told by her boss that Nick is now working for the FBI. Nick will be using his talents to help Kate bring other con men to justice. In this novel, Nick and Kate must find an investment banker who embezzled 500 million dollars and get him to return the money.

In The Heist, the reader is introduced to a whole new set of characters created by Evanovich and Goldberg. Besides Kate and Nick, there is Kate’s retired father who has a military background. There is Kate’s sister who wants to play matchmaker for Kate. For good measure, there is an actor, a construction worker, a make-up artist, and even pirates!

The Heist is a light-hearted novel which takes lots of liberties with reality. I enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t as funny as the Stephanie Plum novels. If you enjoy Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg, or just a good “con”, you might want to give The Heist a try.

Fiction · Mystery · Sadie J · Thriller

Night Film | by Marisha Pessl

Night Film

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
(Random House, 2013, 624 pages)

Scott McGrath is a journalist who’s reputation was scorned by the underground horror director Stanislas Cordova in a setup that McGrath can’t prove. Years later, McGrath has the opportunity to prove Cordova is truly a monster when Cordova’s daughter, Ashley, is killed by an apparent suicide. McGrath unwillingly acquires two accomplices to help with his investigation; Hopper, an attractive drug dealer who claims to have gone to camp with Ashley when they were younger, and Nora, a struggling actress new to New York and in need of some excitement and money. Together they embark to find out what happened to Ashley and the mystery of the Cordova family.

Let me first say that I’m not a fan of anything extremely creepy or scary movies or books. But this was fantastically creepy. It was so dark and twisty and you could see’ McGrath getting so drawn into the mystery that he started losing his mind. But that was ok because Pessl leaves the reader right on the balance between knowing McGrath is losing it and wanting to be drawn into the mystery with him. I would definitely recommend reading this in print instead of an e-book though. Pessl adds screen shots of McGrath’s research and pictures of various documents that he comes across which really added to the reader being a part of the investigation. But I read on some reviews the pictures don’t turn out very well on e-readers and they’re something you don’t want to miss out on.

Also I might hint to the end with this last part so stop reading if you’re considering reading this (and I would recommend it), but I read some other reviews online about the end and I have to disagree with them. Some reviews stated that this was too big of a read for what information the reader received in the end. But that wasn’t the point. McGrath was the one who pushed himself to the edge and then went even further, which was Cordova’s view of his movies and of life. McGrath succeeds in that challenge so he gets to know the end. As readers, we didn’t have to push ourselves like McGrath so we don’t get rewarded with the end of the story. Also there is apparently some interactive portion throughout the book that connects with an app on your phone. I have a sneaky suspicion that reveals more about Ashley’s mystery but I wasn’t able to try it as the book wasn’t mine and I had to return it. So the end remains a mystery to me.

Fiction · Mystery · Sadie J

Jury of One | by Laura Bradford

Jury of One

Jury of One by Laura Bradford
(Hilliard & Harris Publishers, 2005, 172 pages)

Ocean Point is a small vacation town where not a lot out of the ordinary happens. That is until people start being murdered after visiting one of the local fortunetellers on the boardwalk.  Mitch, the town’s detective, now has his first big mystery to solve and is eager to prove his worth to the community. Elise is a young journalist who has just graduated and would like to make a name of herself in her new town. As more people are murdered, the town is desperate for the killer to be caught and Elise and Mitch seem to be the only people who can figure out this mystery.

I really wanted to like this book. The idea behind the mystery is interesting and had potential but it just fell flat. This was one of the author’s first novels and she actually doesn’t even list it on her website anymore so that should have given me a hint. The story needed a little bit of editing and more time spent in the subplots to make the read more entertaining. For example, I would have loved to see more happen in Elise and Mitch’s relationship but the reader only got to see the very beginning and the hope that they are good for each other. Also, the editing. There is literally a line in the book where Elise and Mitch are talking about the evidence over the phone and Elise says, “I’m looking at my finger right now.” I wanted to like this book but I just couldn’t.

Fiction · Julia P · Quick Read! · Relationships · Young Adult

Counting by 7s | by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
(Dial, 2013, 384 pages)

I loved this book for so many reasons – I wouldn’t even no where to begin. Counting by 7s follows 12-year-old Willow Chance as she starts at her new middle school. Willow is adopted and she’s… unique. Her parents have adapted to their daughter and her interests because, truth be told, Willow is something of a genius. She has her quirks, but they suit her and they serve their purpose.

Willow manages to acquire some new people in her life as she finds her world taking an unexpected turn. These are people with their own struggles but who who want only the best for her, and she for them. Told from a variety of points of view we see the clarity through which Willow views her own life. We meet her first real (and best) friend, Mai (who Willow quickly learns Vietnamese to talk to); Quang-ho, Mai’s brother who treats Willow the way any older brother would; Pattie, Mai’s mom and nail salon owner; Dell, Willow’s guidance counselor who has a number of internal struggles he’s gradually trying to figure out; and Jairo, a taxi driver whose life Willow manages to change in ways he never could have expected. All these characters have some impact on each other and Willow, and it was a pleasure to read the way this whole story played out.

Andrew S · Essays · Non-Fiction

When I Was a Child I Read Books | by Marilynne Robinson

When I Was a Child I Read Books

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, 224 pages)

In the title essay of this collection, Robinson reflects on the culture of the western United States, the way that it shaped her childhood, and subsequently, her fiction. She believes that in the west, “lonesome is a word with strongly positive connotations” (88). This theme is carried throughout the collection as Robinson meditates on the elusive distinctiveness of human nature and the inherent value and mystery of each individual who bears this nature. Paradoxically, the majority of these essays deal with the question of what makes a good society. Robinson does a remarkable job of showing how the two concerns are interwoven.

In “Imagination and Community,” Robinson argues that the imaginative skills needed to write good fiction are some of the same skills needed for the proper functioning of a democratic state. Her definition of democracy is well worth quoting: “Democracy, in its essence and genius, is imaginative love for and identification with a community with which, much of the time and in many ways, one may be in profound disagreement” (280). “Austerity as Ideology” bemoans a current political and economic trend of reducing human beings to purely rational consumers at the expense of funding for education and other endeavors which speak to the depths of the human experience. Following one of her favorite approaches to contemporary cultural issues, Robinson reexamines old and, to her mind, misread texts in order to mine traditional wisdom to address current problems. In this volume it is Moses, the Old Testament, and the laws that make up much of the Torah which she looks to, upending the modern view of these texts as violent, severe, and outdated in order to demonstrate that they exhibit a vision of a society that requires generous provisions for the poor, the alien, and the disadvantaged.

Each one of these essays is both challenging and beautiful as Robinson brings her learned perspective to religious, political, scientific, and cultural questions. She has a knack for combining particular and detailed historical sketches, metaphysical and poetic meditations, and personal experiences to form trenchant critiques of contemporary culture. However, in shaping these criticisms, she also manages to convey a sense of the beauty and mystery of the world we live in and the collective human capacity to navigate it so remarkably and yet so fallibly.

This collection will be of particular interest to those who have read and appreciated Robinson’s fiction. It grants the opportunity to see how the concerns and themes of a novelist are honed and shaped. However, even those who haven’t read Housekeeping, Gilead, or Home will appreciate these essays, so long as they bring an interest in the big questions of what it means to live well as both individuals and as a society.

Fiction · Julia P · Quick Read! · Relationships · Romance

Nowhere but Home | by Liza Palmer

Nowhere but Home

Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer
(William Morrow Paperbacks, 2013, 384 pages)

Queen Elizabeth Wake, who goes by “Queenie” for obvious reasons, has just been fired from her most recent job as a chef at a New York hotel restaurant. She has worked all over the U.S. but this recent firing caught her off-guard. Unsure where to go she calls her older sister and decides it might be worthwhile for her to take a pit-stop in her hometown of North Star, Texas. She hasn’t been there in more than ten years and while she’s excited to see her sister and nephew, she’s not looking forward to going back to a world where her family is viewed as trash.

Queenie’s mother had something of a reputation for being the town slut. Unfortunately that reputation was passed on to her kids, so no matter what they did or how hard they tried to be accepted in their small town, the stigma remained. Because of this Queenie was never allowed to openly date her true love, Everett, because he came from one of the wealthiest families in town. She had to watch him marry someone else, despite knowing she was the one he loved. Now that she’s back Queenie is trying to figure out what she wants to get out of life. While she’s thinking her friend’s husband gets her a job at the local prison cooking last meals for the prisoners about to be executed. This is obviously a difficult thing to do and while Queenie at first enjoys the opportunity to make something amazing to send these prisoners “on their way” she soon gets in her head and has a hard time thinking about the people she’s cooking for and knowing it will be their last meal on this earth.

This is a book about second chances and coming out of someone else’s shadow to shine on your own. This was a quick, enjoyable read. I’m glad I picked it up on a whim at the library.