Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Falling Behind...

I am behind on several book reviews:

Mistress Shakespeare
The King's Rose
Land of Marvels
and a few others that are scattered on my shelves and not in the little pile next to my computer right now

I had wanted to end the year all caught up, but somehow the last couple of weeks just got away from me. Given that my husband is visiting, it is unlikely I'll be writing several book reviews in the next several hours!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Last Stand of Fox Company by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

This remarkable book tells the unbelievable story of a small company of Marines fighting to hold open a mountain pass in Korea. Out-numbered and out-gunned, these 246 Marines hold off 10,000 Chinese soldiers determined to overtake the Toktong Pass near the Choisin Resevoir. The story of their eight day battle is a moving account of bravery and of sacrifice.

Drury and Clavin have given the reader a riveting day-by-day picture of the efforts of this extraordinary group of soliders. The narrative is enriched by what are obviously first-hand accounts from the soldiers themselves. The horrors of the days, where the Marines must battle both the elements and the enemy, are meticulously detailed, as are the ever-mounting casualties.

This book is not an easy read by any means, but even knowing the staggering losses that would be presented, I found it hard to put down. Both the writing and the story itself draw the reader in, and make finishing this book an imperative. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in U.S. military history.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan

If you are looking for a fairly comprehensive look at the contributions of the Irish to American politics and public life, then this is the book for you. A detailed study of the history of prominant Irish Americans, this book is a must-read for any Irish American.

The book does read a lot like a college textbook, and I can easily see it being used as such. Despite my high level of interest in the topic, the book was hard to sink into, and certainly required breaks to cleanse the palette. There is a certain amount of repetition which detracted from the reading experience, and I would have appreciated a less dry tone throughout much of the text. Regardless, the book was an excellent effort to record the historical contributions of a powerful minority population in the US, and I would recommend this book to others interested in this history.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Santa Responds by Santa Claus

I knew I would love this book from the subtitle alone: "He's had enough and he's writing back!" Basically, this book is a set letters from kids and the snarky reponses from a grouchy, overworked Santa tired of dealing with striking elves, ungrateful children, and oatmeal raisin cookies. If you are looking for something to cut the sweetness of the holiday hype, then this is the book for you. It is certainly a must-read for anyone who has ever been one of Santa's helpers- if I was convulsed with laughter, I can only imagine how those who have dealt with such requests would respond.

This book would make a great stocking stuffer; though you are unlikely to read the whole thing in one sitting, you can certainly count on a laugh anytime you open it up to read a letter or two. I'm giving it four stars because there are a few places where the humor of the kids' letters felt a bit forced, but if these letters are actual letters written by real children, then the rating goes up to a definite five stars!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

From the very moment I picked up this book, I knew I was in for a treat; the cover art so perfectly captures the mood of the book that I was pulled in instantly. Young Evie is delighted when her stepfather returns home from WWII, but it becomes clear that the Joe who returned has changed in some fundamental ways. When he unexpected takes the family on vacation to Florida, Evie meets Peter (an old war buddy of Joe's) and falls in love. When a sudden storm leads to an unexpected death, Evie has to grow up fast as she learns more and more about her family and the lies that have been told in the past. In the end, Evie herself must decide whether to lie for the sake of her family or to tell the truth despite the consequences.

The book is a wonderful example of young adult noir, and the author does an excellent job of capturing Evie's naiveté, and that awkward time of transition into adulthood. As Evie explores her feeling for Peter, she tests the boundaries of her family and begins to see some of the cracks in its foundation. When tragedy strikes, Evie finally loses her blinders and sees her family and her life for what they are before making a choice with everlasting effects.

The period language is accurate and helps set the mood of the book. It is certainly possible to see how this story would play out on the silver screen of the 1940s, and I believe young adult readers especially will relate to Evie’s plight throughout the book. This would have been a five star book had it not been for my ambivalence about the ending (no further discussion of that point is possible without risking a spoiler). All in all, an excellent YA book that many adult readers will also enjoy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain by Kirsten Menger-Anderson

I just finished this book and have to say I'm charmed. Essentially a series of vignettes that center around several generations of one family, each story is perfectly capable of standing alone. Each generation of the Steenwycks family contains at least one doctor- always on the cutting edge of medicine, often a little bit insane. I liked that some of the stories didn't actually focus on the doctors as much as on the people they treated, and loved that the city of New York itself was such an important character throughout the book.

I can understand how the structure could be off-putting to some readers, but I found that it worked well, and allowed for a more nuanced presentation of the Steenwycks family than I think would have been possible using the more typical novel construction.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Moon Shines Down by Margaret Wise Brown

Developed from a manuscript lost for decades, the story behind the story of this book is almost better than the book itself. Margaret Wise Brown, author of such beloved children's classics as Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, left behind this manuscript (and others) in a cedar trunk. Now 56 years after her death, The Moon Shines Down was finished by children's book publisher Laura Minchew.

Though there are rough patches in some of the verses, children are unlikely to notice the problems with the rhythm. The illustrations are sure to please children and adults alike, and helped me overlook the issues with the text. One note- the illustrations bear no resemblance to those of Wise Brown’s classic books, so readers hoping to recapture that era may be disappointed.

Because of the frequent mention of God, this book would not be appropriate for many settings; teachers looking for classroom books may want to check this book out of the library for review before making a final decision on purchase.

All in all, this is a wonderful addition to the Wise Brown canon. The charming rhymes and glimpses of children around the world make for a lovely global message of a bedtime story.