Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review : The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Picador (2008).

The Uncommon Reader is a clever, witty and insightful look at one person's, namely the Queen of England's, entry into the world of books and reading. Bennett masterfully crafts a tale of what it is like to become immersed, and indeed obsessed, by reading. Through books, the Queen comes to be a more thoughtful observer of the world and the people around her.

One of my favorite passages reminded me of the current interest in what President-Elect Barack Obama is reading. While I've wondered why people care, the following made me realize why it is so important.

"But ma'am must have been briefed, surely?"

"Of course," said the Queen, "but briefing is not reading. In fact it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up."

This is why it is so important that our President-Elect reads. In fact, it is why it is so important we all read. Reading helps us grow as people. It allows us to see the wider world around us. The Uncommon Reader is a love letter to reading and its ability to mold a life. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, November 17, 2008

giveaway time!

Now's your chance to win a copy of David Baldacci's Divine Justice! Hachette Book Group has generally offered up to 3 copies for me to give away. For every 15 entries, I'll give away one copy (up to 3, of course) so encourage others to enter!

Here are the rules:
1. Leave a comment on this post for 1 entry. If you don't leave one here, any other "entries" will not count.
2. Leave a comment on my review for 1 additional entry.
3. Blog about this contest for 1 additional entry. Be sure to leave me a link so I know.
4. Twitter about this contest for 1 additional entry. Be sure to include @iubookgirl somewhere in your tweet so I know.
5. Four (4) possible entries per person.

That's a total of 4 possible entries per person. Residents of the U.S. and Canada are eligible. Deadline to enter is Wednesday, November 26, 2008 @ 5pm Eastern.

Review : Divine Justice

Divine Justice by David Baldacci. Grand Central Publishing (2008).
[release date: November 4, 2008]

I have to admit, I'm a bit of a snob about what I call "mass market authors"--those that churn out one or two books a year, typically in a series. Baldacci, however, defied my stereotype. Divine Justice, the newest entry in the Camel Club series, is well-written with solid characters and an interesting plot. Oliver Stone is a former government assassin on the run. Trouble always seems to follow him even as he retreats into rural America. You can tell he is a good man at heart and that makes you root for him. His ragtag group of friends are all equally likable and also mysterious. How did this group come together? Unlike the James Patterson book I just read, I think I would have benefited from reading the previous Camel Club books first. I definitely plan to go back them now. I was up late into the night trying to finish this gripping tale. If you are a David Baldacci fan, you will not be disappointed by Divine Justice. If you are a mystery fan who has yet to discover David Baldacci, you should pick up one of his books right now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Review : We Interrupt This Broadcast

We Interrupt This Broadcast: The Events That Stopped Our Lives...from the Hindenberg Explosion to the Virginia Tech Shootings by Joe Garner. Sourcebooks (2008).

First, a confession: I love Sourcebooks. I think the idea of combining text with related audio is brilliant. I already own two: The Spoken Word Revolution and My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America's Presidents. When the opportunity to review We Interrupt This Broadcast came my way, I jumped at it. Many of the included events happened before I was born or very young, but the author, Joe Garner, provides historical context for the broadcasts. Hearing the actual broadcasts takes you back in time--even if you were never there. As far as I'm concerned, Sourcebooks has hit another homerun when it comes to bringing history to life. If you have an interest in history, journalism, or remember these events firsthand, I highly recommend We Interrupt This Broadcast.

A sampling of events:
- Pearl Harbor Under Attack
- V-E Day: War in Europe Ends
- Sputnik Launced by Soviets
- Marilyn Monroe Dies
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassinated
- Kent State Massacre
- Elvis Dies
- The Challenger Explodes
- Rodney King Verdict Incites Riots
- Oklahoma City Bombing
- Princess Diana Dies
- Tragedy at Columbine High School
- Hurricane Katrina Floods New Orleans

Review: Cross Country

Cross Country by James Patterson. Little, Brown (2008).
[release date: November 17, 2008]

I've never read a James Patterson book before, but Cross Country can stand on its own. You don't need to be familiar with previous entries in the Alex Cross series to dive into this one. Aside from an irritating overuse of exclamation points, I enjoyed Patterson's novel despite my aversion to what I consider mass market authors. Alex Cross, Washington DC detective, is on the trail of the Tiger, a Nigerian killer for hire. The trail leads him to Africa and horrors Americans can only imagine. The plot and characters are well developed. I especially appreciated his politically-conscious injection of some of the awful things that are happening on the African continent right now. Cross is a likable character who has become accustomed to seeing violence and murder. Africa has a major impact on him and cracks the wall required of any detective. He witnesses police brutality, the horrors of genocide, and the lawlessness that has taken over some areas as his search takes him from Nigeria, to Sierra Leone, to Darfur, and back to Nigeria. Patterson clearly depicts the vastly different world Cross encounters while he hunts the Tiger and the emotional and physical toll it takes on him. If you are in the mood for a mystery with social relevance, pick up James Patterson's Cross Country.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Review : What You Should Know About Politics...But Don't

What You Should Know About Politics...But Don't by Jessamyn Conrad. Arcade Publishing (2008).

I wish I'd gotten this book sooner. Jessamyn Conrad has written the first ever non-partisan guide to American politics. While I haven't had the chance to read the entire book yet, Conrad's writing is easy to understand and lends an historical perspective to the issues we care about. As complicated and biased as coverage of political issues is, the need for a non-partisan guide is very real.

If you are slightly puzzled by the workings of the Electoral College or want to know more about any of the issues below, I highly recommend you read this invaluable resource.

Issues covered:
Foreign Policy
Health Care
Civil Liberties
Culture Wars
Socioeconomic Policy
Homeland Security

Sunday, November 2, 2008

October summary

Time to summarize another month's reading...

Wife in the North

Veil of Lies (fave of the month)
The Wordy Shipmates
The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters
Chasing Elvis (worst of the month)

Chasing Elvis really slowed me down this month. I hope to bring you more reviews in the month of November. I'm working on Cross Country by James Patterson now.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Review : Chasing Elvis

Chasing Elvis by Glenn P. Marcel. Invisible College Press (2004).

The premise of Chasing Elvis sounded interesting to me...a bank robbed by a man dressed as Elvis, another man obsessed with finding Elvis, the daughter who picks up the robber's trail 20 years later, and the possibility the robber really was Elvis. However, in all honesty, I was tempted to stop reading by page 8. The writing seemed awful and the plot in danger of becoming too slapstick. I managed to keep reading and felt it improved over the course of the book, especially once you get to Chapter 9 and the present day. Marcel develops several story lines throughout the book, but with too few clues along the way to indicate them coming together in the end. I finally decided to read each as if it were unrelated to the others. Chasing Elvis became much more interesting to me after making that decision.

Some of Marcel's characters are interesting and have realistic problems. On the other hand, his writing sometimes turns into a public service announcement about issues like plastic surgery and drug use. The various plot lines do eventually come together though a bit late and a bit loosely for my tastes. While Marcel manages to create a few good moments, I wouldn't recommend you read this book. Save your time for a better written and more well constructed novel.

Thanks to Mini Book Expo for sending me this book.