The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
A beautiful story, both funny and sad, about two teens who just happen to be living with cancer. I know, who wants to read a book about teens with cancer? The book sat in my drawer at work for at least a week before I finally picked it up, and then I had a hard time putting it down. Hazel, 16, hates going to cancer support group, but has made friends with Isaac. When Isaac’s friend Augustus enters the picture, he quickly makes friends with Hazel. They talk about books, play video games, and visit the park. Gus drives badly. Pretty normal teens here. But Hazel doesn’t want to be Gus’s girlfriend, because he already had a girlfriend who died from cancer. They have loving parents, talk about the big questions of life and death, and even take a trip to Amsterdam to meet Hazel’s favorite author. Hazel really wants to know what happens to the people (and pet hamster) after the book ends. The visit doesn’t go as expected, but is quite memorable, just like Hazel and Gus. Readers of The Fault in Our Stars will laugh, maybe cry, and will definitely think about this book after it ends. Recommended for teens and former teens. For more about the book, visit John Green’s website.
This summer, the library’s book discussion groups will meet to talk about modern China and the Salem witch trials. On Tuesday, June 26 at 10:00a.m., the morning book discussion group will discuss Country Driving, by Peter Hessler.
Country Driving begins with Hessler’s 7,000-mile trip across northern China, following the Great Wall, from the East China Sea to the Tibetan plateau. He investigates a historically important rural region being abandoned, as young people migrate to jobs in the southeast. Next he spends six years in Sancha, a small farming village in the mountains north of Beijing, which changes dramatically after the local road is paved and Beijing’s auto boom brings tourism. Finally, he turns his attention to urban China, researching development over a period of more than two years in Lishui, a small southeastern city where officials hope that a new government-built expressway will transform a farm region into a major industrial center.
Copies of the book are now available at the Reference Desk.
On Tuesday, July 24 at 7:00p.m., the evening book discussion group will discuss The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe. Copies of the book will be available in June.
Harvard grad student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But she can’t refuse when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s old house near Salem. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a 17th century Bible, containing a fragment of parchment with Deliverance Dane written on it. This discovery launches Connie on a quest; to find out who Deliverance was and to find a rare artifact of power: a physick book, a repository for lost knowledge. As the pieces of Deliverance’s harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem’s dark past than she could have ever imagined.
Come and join us this summer. Brenda
Triggers, by Robert J. Sawyer
In near future Washington, D.C., president Seth Jerrison is giving an anti-terror speech at the Lincoln memorial on the eve of a secret military operation. At a nearby hospital, researcher Ranjip Singh is conducting a memory modification experiment with a young Iraq War veteran. When a bomb goes off, no one dies, but a group of people, including the president and Secret Service agent Susan Dawson, are linked in a chain, each able to access the memories of another person. Dawson and Singh rush to find out who has access to the president’s highly classified memories. Parts of the books are thrilling; Sawyer is quite a storyteller. The reactions and interactions of the memory linked people are fascinating, but to me the ending was not quite as good.
While this is science fiction, I think thriller fans would enjoy this book. Find out more about Canadian writer Robert Sawyer here.
The Swerve: how the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
A fascinating look at the birth of the Renaissance, particularly the rediscovery of a poem written around 50 B.C. In 1415, papal secretary and scribe Poggio Bracciolini is out of a job when Baldassare Cossa, Pope John XXIII, is deposed. Cossa was one of three men at the time claiming to be pope. Poggio was a humanist and bibliophile, as well as a scribe praised for his elegant and legible handwriting. Friends and patrons interested in items of antiquity such as sculpture and Latin manuscripts funded Poggio’s search for lost Latin texts. Monastic libraries were a likely source, as monks were required to read every day. In 1417, probably in the remote Abbey of Fulda in central Germany, Poggio discovered several lost works, including De Rerum Natura, or The Nature of Things, by Lucretius. Lucretius wrote about Epicureanism, the often misunderstood philosophy about avoiding pain and seeking tranquility and pleasure without overindulging. One central them was about atoms, the smallest particles of matter, which clash in an infinite void. I though atoms were discovered in modern times, not theorized over 2000 years ago. I was also surprised to learn how much is known today about one man’s life in the early 15th century, even that Poggio had 14 children with his mistress, and later married and had 6 more children. Poggio also became chancellor of Florence.
Poggio had the manuscript copied, and eventually copies began to circulate in and around Florence. When Lucretius published De Rarum Natura, Virgil and Cicero both admired it, but it had been lost for several centuries before Poggio found it. Its rediscovery influenced many people, including the painter Botticelli, the Jesuits, Machiavelli, Galileo, Isaac Newton, and the 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne. Sarah Bakewell’s recent book, How to Live–or–A Life of Montaigne, has led to renewed interest in Montaigne’s Essays, and the publication of Swerve has led to a reprinting of Lucretius’ work. By a strange coincidence, Lucy Hutchinson, a Puritan woman in 1675, translated Lucretius into English, all the while abhorring its non-Christian worldview. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, who is fluent in English and Italian, and found it very absorbing.
Ashfall, by Mike Mullin
Alex Halprin, 15, is alone for the weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while his parents and sister are visiting his uncle’s farm in Illinois. Suddenly, his world changes when a huge rock falls through the roof. Taking refuge with his neighbors, Alex learns that Yellowstone’s supervolcano is erupting, 900 miles away, showering them with ash, and days of sonic booms and darkness. Alex finds skis and travels east to find his family, scrounging for food and water along the way. Darla Edmunds and her mother take him in when Alex collapses after a fight. Darla has rigged up a bicycle to grind corn, so their farm is self-sufficient.
Later Darla and Alex search for a way across the Mississippi River while conditions (ash, snow, and anarchy) worsen. There is plenty of violence, so this gritty post-apocalyptic read is not for everyone. Alex and Darla are convincingly flawed, and we root for them as they fall in love and struggle to survive. For more about the author and a sequel, Ashen Winter, visit his website. This would be a good readalike for Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. For more dystopian or post-apocalyptic books like Ashfall, check out Denise’s book display of readalikes for The Hunger Games. Another readalike is Shipbreaker, reviewed earlier.
When We Were Strangers, by Pamela Schoenewaldt
Irma Vitale is a plain young woman in Opi, a small mountain village in Italy. She has no good marriage prospects, and life is difficult at home since her mother died. Her aunt and priest encourage her to follow her brother Carlos to Cleveland, even though Carlos has never written to tell them he arrived safely. Irma sews and embroiders well, and hopes to be a dressmaker. With the help of friends made along the way, she gets to Cleveland. While she finds work and makes friends in Cleveland, she makes very little money and works long hours sewing collars. With great difficulty, she travels to Chicago and eventually finds work for a dressmaker, although few employers want to hire immigrants. After a tragedy, she is asked to assist Sophia in a free clinic, and eventually moves to San Francisco with her friend Molly, where Irma can see hills and ocean again. Set in the 1880s, Irma’s story makes for excellent reading. This is the first novel by Pamela Schoenewaldt, who lived for ten years in Italy.
Alien in the Family (Alien Series #5), by Gini Koch
It’s easy to find vampires, werewolves, and immortals fighting bad guys and winning the hearts of women but aliens have so far been underrepresented in Urban Fantasy. I love Urban Fantasy and aliens would be a hard sell to me. Luckily, some amazing covers got me to pick up the first Katherine “Kitty” Katt book Touched by an Alien and I quickly had a new favorite supernatural.
Kitty was a regular—albeit geeky—marketing manager finishing up jury duty when she walked right into what she thought was a domestic dispute. Rather quickly things start getting weird and she ends up killing an alien with her pen. She’s swept away by gorgeous men in Armani suits and finds herself in a world her conspiracy-loving best friend has been insisting exists for years. Kitty finds out there are aliens, they are on Earth, and while some of them are good guys, some of them are horrible monsters.
This is a really fun series. Kitty speaks her mind and has a great sense of humor. She adapts to the weirdness she finds herself in really well thanks to years spent reading superhero comics and realizing her best guy friend was right on the money with his conspiracy theories. Despite being surrounded by aliens with super speed, strength, and powers she holds her own in a fight and her quick-thinking often saves the day.
If you’re in the mood for something fun with romance (it gets steamy) and a good dose of geekiness (and Aerosmith), try Touched by an Alien. This is one of those rare series where character relationships develop and there aren’t any love triangle hang-ups. Through the five books a large blended family starts and gets stronger. The series reminds me a lot of J. D. Robb’s In Death books because of the strength of the relationships and the stable couple at the center. I’m hoping the Alien series is around for just as long as Robb’s.
Alien Diplomacy puts the main characters in a new setting with new challenges. This time they don’t have to save the world and instead of being relieved, everyone is having trouble fitting in and dealing with feeling useless. But they’re ready for it when the action starts up. Kitty prefers getting kidnapped and fighting to sitting through classes on diplomacy but she makes some new friends and allies that help ease her transition. You’d think action hero main characters being taken off active duty would make a book boring and you’d be totally wrong. This crew doesn’t do boring. The changes in setting and career work out in the end because of the adaptability of Kitty and her family. By now, everyone knows that Kitty will never be far from trouble. But unlike other heroines she can handle it and learn from it. The enemies may be ruthless and the aliens and company don’t know how large the influence the not-so-lovable aliens have but they’re prepared to stop them and save the day and the world.
The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
The sheer variety of topics covered in this books is astounding. We learn about how riots can be avoided, how Starbucks gives its employees the tools to succeed, how the Montgomery bus boycott was sustained, why Alcoholics Anonymous works for many people, and how market researchers can predict our future shopping and buying habits. I listened to the audiobook, narrated skillfully by Mike Chamberlain, and really enjoyed most of the book. There are two sections toward the end that were very disturbing to listen to: how a woman became a compulsive gambler and the steps the casino took to entice her, and how a man committed a terrible crime while asleep. The story about how a brain-damaged man gets through his day by habit was very interesting.
Charles Duhigg gives readers the tools to create new habits, and to attempt the more difficult task of changing an existing habit. If you have a habit you want to break, it’s best to substitute a new habit. Identify what cues trigger your habit, such as location, time of day, or mood, and try to figure out what your true reward is. For the author a mid-afternoon craving for a cookie actually turned out to be a desire to chat with his coworkers. Then substitute a new routine for the current one, which will result in a similar reward. Find out more at charlesduhigg.com