Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blue Ocean Bob Discovers His Purpose by Brooks Olbrys

In this children's book, Brooks Olbrys uses a young boy named Blue Ocean Bob to illustrate the power of positive thinking and how to be content with what you have already.  The book is based on the teaching of Bob Proctor.  Bob Proctor has spent 40 years teaching people how to use the power of their minds to achieve success.

Bob is determined to discover his life's purpose.  He asks the creatures around him such as his best friend Alba, a bird.  When he doesn't receive an answer, he decides to take off and find someone who can tell him.  He queries a dolphin and when he doesn't get the answer there, goes further and consults, Doc.  Doc is an ancient turtle who serves as the judge and arbitrator of the ocean animals.  After talking to Doc, Bob decides that his purpose is to protect the animals of the ocean.

The book is written at about a four to eight year old level.  It is illustrated by Aleksandra Beaucher in her debut as an illustrator.  Her art is simple and powerful with bright colors and striking lines.  This book is recommended for children and for parents looking for books that emphasize positive thinking.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Did Not Survive by Ann Littlewood

Iris Oakley arrives at her job as a zookeeper to a horrific sight.  Her boss, Ken Wallace, is in the elephant's enclosure, lying face down and still as the big animals roll him from side to side.  Iris, whose husband was killed by the big cats only months before and who is on lighter duty due to being pregnant, calls the police.

At first it is thought that the elephants have killed him, which causes dismay among the zoo personnel.  But soon an even uglier truth emerges.  Wallace was not killed by the elephants, but struck over the head and left to die in their habitat.  There is a killer loose in the zoo.

Iris is determined to help the police find the killer.  There are lots of suspects.  There are the zoo protesters, who hate the very idea of the zoo.  There is the new zoo veterinarian who seems to have secrets in her past.  New zookeepers have come to work recently and they don't seem to be fitting in well with the existing staff.  Then there are the other issues.  Animals are disappearing and zoo staff are having strange things happen to them; events that could be precursors to another murder.  Can Iris discover what is going on before someone else loses their life?

Did Not Survive is recommended for mystery lovers.  Iris is an engaging protagonist, spunky in her determination to overcome the fate life has served up to her, leaving her pregnant and widowed at an early age.  The plot is intricate enough to please puzzle solvers, with enough action to keep the pace of the book brisk.  Readers will be eager to try additional titles by Littlewood after finishing this one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Talking To Serial Killers by Christopher Berry-Dee

Henry Lucas.  Arthur Shawcross.  Carol Bundy.  Ronald DeFeo Jr. Aileen Wuornos.  Harvey Carignan.  John Scripps.  Michael Ross. Kenneth McDuff, Douglas Clark.  For those who follow the true crime genre, this list of names sends a chill down their spines as they realise the list is one of infamous serial killers from the recent past.

Christopher Berry-Dee is a criminologist, and the editor of New Criminologist magazine.  This book is a compilation of his interviews, both in person and letters or audio, with various serial killers.  The reader is given a synopsis of each criminal's crimes and a view into their early background.  The details of the crimes are interspersed with the actual quotes from the killers about the various crimes.  There are excuses, protestations of innocence.  Berry-Dee records it all, but lets the reader know that these men and women were convicted and put on Death Rows around the country for valid reasons.

This book is recommended for true crime buffs.  They will read about some killers who are new to them, as well as having the psyche of more famous killers explored.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kara, Lost by Susan Niz

Susan Niz's Kara, Lost starts with Kara climbing out the window of her bedroom to run away.  Raised in a dysfunctional family, her parents have decided that she is either on drugs or has mental issues and are trying to force her to take medication she doesn't want to take.  Being sixteen, she can see no option except to run away and try to survive on her own.

Once on the streets, Kara discovers that life is even harder there than at home.  She expects to be able to live with her sister, but her sister's boyfriend is not interested in sharing their apartment.  She moves from situation to situation, counselors, acquaintances, always moving on when they can't provide what she needs. At one point, she is injured in an accident, hospitalized and her parents come to retrieve her, only to put her into a home for troubled teens. She learns to question the motives of those willing to help her.

But there are positive moves.  Kara finds a job and over the weeks, befriends the owners of the restaurant where she is a prized employee.  She is able to rent an apartment and furnish it with small items she is able to purchase.  Finally, she finds a way to start to finish her high school education so that she can move on to a successful adult life.

Susan Niz has written a haunting story of what life is like for runaways and throwaway teens on their own.  She chronicles the pitfalls and the difficulties that have to be negotiated, exploring all the usual vehicles of help and showing why they often do not work.  This book is recommended for parents, teens, and those interested in helping this population.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago

It is the mid 1820s, and Ana Cubillas is the daughter of wealthy Spanish parents.  She is assured a life of luxury in Spain, but her interest is caught by the memoirs of one of her ancestors.  He traveled to Puerto Rico with Ponce de Leon, and his account of the journey and the country he found there fires Ana's imagination.  As a woman, she has little opportunity to explore her obsession.  That is, until she meets the Argoso twins, Ramon and Inocente.  She fuels their sense of adventure and convince them that they should go manage their family's sugar plantation in Puerto Rico.  Ana marries Ramon and the three travel to their new home.

Thus starts Esmeralda Santiago's new novel, Conquistadora.  The novel follows Ana's life for the next forty years.  It is a sprawling historical that explores daily plantation life, slavery and the relationship between the slaves and their owners, politics, economics, military adventures, epidemics and medicine as well as human love relationships.  The reader learns about all these topics, but it is the story of Ana that drives the book just as her indomitable will drives her and all those around her to conquer the land and create a legacy for those who follow.

Life was often short and brutish on the plantation, and death was never more than a moment's inattention away.  Children are born and if the parents are lucky, they survive to carry on the work of the family.  Civilization is built on rigid social structures, but one of the draws of the colony is the ability to escape the class one was born into and to rise to wealth through hard work and luck. 

Santiago has written a compelling novel that educates while entertaining the reader.  She has written extensively about her Puerto Rican background and is a contributor to NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.  Her book, Almost A Woman was adapted into a film to PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.  This book is recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My God, What Have We Done? by Susan Weiss

Pauline and Clifford, newlyweds, spend their honeymoon at a strange choice.  They are drawn to the Los Alamos nuclear testing ground and museum.   Pauline is drawn to Robert Oppenheimer, the man who shepherded the development of the nuclear bomb, and the men who toiled for years to create it.

In My God, What Have We Done?, Susan Weiss alternates between the lives of Clifford and Pauline and the men at Los Alamos, contrasting their lives.  The scientists are drawn together from all over the United States, chosen for their brilliance.  They work together to build the ultimate weapon, able to make the project happen even though they had divergent backgrounds and agendas. 

Weiss also follows the early marriage of Clifford and Pauline.  They settle in Boston, where Clifford is a teacher.  Pauline has worked as a homeless advocate until their marriage.  She looks for a job, then discovers that she is pregnant.  They have their first child, a son, and when he is old enough that she starts looking again, discovers that she is pregnant again, this time with a daughter.  Pauline continues as a stay-at-home mom and soon falls victim to the loneliness and disconnect that this role can have.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy stories outlining familial relationships and how they work or do not work.  The men at Los Alamos came together with a grand purpose, fought through strife and loneliness to accomplish a purpose and created a weapon that, when it exploded, changed the world.  Weiss shows the similarity to a marriage.  Two divergent personalities come together for a grand purpose; that of making a new life and family.  There are issues and differences to work through.  The family either melds into a strong unit capable of taking on all stresses or explodes, throwing the members hither and yon.  Readers will take away this analogy and be able to apply it to their own lives.  This is a strong book with an inspiring message.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

If I Tell by Janet Gurtler

Jasmine has enough to deal with.  It's hard enough to be raised by your grandparents because your mother got pregnant at sixteen and wasn't ready to raise a baby.  It's even harder when those parents were different races, leaving you the only multi-race girl in high school.  Add in being the girl always left out, a role that Jaz had starred in after a bullying incident in fourth grade that almost resulted in her death. 

Now her mom is happy, with a new man and about to give Jaz a new baby brother or sister.  Except.  Except that Jaz saw the new man kissing another woman at a party.  If she tells her mother, her mother will be crushed and she is already having a difficult pregnancy.  If she doesn't tell, Jaz will be consumed with guilt and resentment. 

Jaz has a few tension releasers.  She is a talented musician and can always count on playing her guitar and songwriting to release pain and work through situations.  She has one good friend at school.  Then there is Jackson.  Jackson, another one the high school gossips about.  He is rumored to have dealt drugs and spent time in Juvie, but it is also one of the hottest guys in school.  Jackson seems to want to be Jaz's friend, but can she trust him, and will it just be a friendship?

Janet Gurtler has written a young adult novel that explores the intricacies of growing up different, being isolated and finding your way when you're not the All-American girl.  She explores Jaz's various relationships with sensitivity and guides Jaz and the reader through the labyrinth of emotions common to teenagers making their way in the world.  This book is recommended for young adult readers and those interested in the world teenagers face each day.

Murder In The Senior Manor by Kathryn Braund

Louise Knight lives in the Senior Manor and is content to do so.  That is, until she goes to do her laundry and discovers the body of another resident, Maddie Young.  Maddie, eighty-six, has been murdered.  Louise raises the alarm and is distraught to realise that she is the police's prime suspect.

Desperate to clear her name and find justice for Maddie, Louise and some of her friends decide to work on the case themselves.  They discover that Maddie might not have been the sweet, hapless lady they all thought.  Instead, some of her actions may well have made her enemies.  Can Louise and her crew of senior detectives discover the truth before one of them falls prey to the murderer?

Kathryn Braund has written a delightful mystery.  It falls into the cozy part of the detective story genre.  The reader learns about senior living arrangements and the friendships that emerge in this kind of residence along with discovering the clues that solve the murder.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Grand Pursuit by Sylvia Nasar

In Sylvia Nasar's Grand Pursuit, she outlines the theories of economics that have controlled the world.  The book covers the period from the time of Dickens, one of the first men to lament the lives of the poor, to the present day.  Along with the various theories that have held sway at different times, she introduces the reader to the surrounding historical events and the lives of the economists whose thoughts impact everyone around them.

The book is separated into three parts.  The first part covers the rise of the Socialist theories that sought to understand the plight of the poor and determine methods to improve the life of the everyday man.  Individuals covered include Charles Dickens, Engels and Marx, Beatrice Webb and Sidney Fisher.

The second part covers the period leading up to WW I and continues through the end of WW II.  This period also covers The Great Depression.   The reader is introduced to economists such as Schumpeter, Hayek and the early days of Keynes.  Fisher and Webb were still working at this time but new theories were advanced by men such as Robinson and Milton Friedman.  The economists struggled to understand the causes of the Depression, the best method to assuage the cracks in the economy, and the best way for the world to recover from a world war.

The final part covers the period from the end of WW II to the present.  This was the heyday of Keynes, and his disciples were at the forefront of the recovery and the decision not to impoverish the European nations who went into such debt for the war.  Economists from this time period who were just emerging include Samuelson, another woman, Joan Robinson, and an Indian economist, Sen.  This was the time of the rise of Communism in Russia and China, and Nasar is unsparing in her depiction of the millions killed or starved, and the failure of many economists such as Robinson to see the truth, blinded by their own beliefs and unwillingness to face the truth.

This book is recommended for all readers who wish they understood economics better so that they can make better decisions.  Nasar has a real talent for taking complex ideas and writing about them in such a way that the reader is not intimidated by the subject matter.  There is exactly the right mix of theory and biography and the book never lags.  Grand Pursuit is a major accomplishment in its depiction of this difficult topic and its narrative of a century and a half of history told from an economic standpoint.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Love In A Dish by M.F.K. Fisher

One of the preeminent food writers of the 1930’s to the 1990’s, M.F.K. Fisher redefined how those who loved fine cuisine talked and wrote about it. She wrote twenty-six books, most of them in the food appreciation genre. She was a lifetime achievement award recipient from the James Beard Foundation and the American Institute of Wine and Food.

In Love In A Dish, readers are given a series of her short essays about food and cooking. She talks about her time in Provence and her rudimentary kitchens and simple fare there which inspired her to make wonderful meals from whatever was available. Another piece discusses the relationship between food and love; how feeding your lover defines the caring and importance one attaches to another. There are pieces that discuss her culinary education as she grew up. Her father introduced her to the delights of seafood and good wine; while her grandmother was a disciplinarian who insisted on strict standards at the table as well as other areas of life. There are entire essays about specific food; the oyster and how it should be eaten (cooked or raw?), the potato and all the myriad methods of cooking it and how to choose and enjoy wine.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy food and cooking and reading about them. Outside of the field of interest, the writing itself is delicious; her prose clear and lyrical. The book, like most anthologies, is best read a bit at a time when one has a quiet moment to appreciate the writing. Readers who finish Love In A Dish will be moved to find other M.F.K. volumes to read more about this author’s entrancing love affair with food.