Another book review blog?!?

Yes because people ask "Have you read anything good lately?" And I have. From a class ...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Last Picture Show

Author: McMurtry, Larry 
Title: The Last Picture Show 
Publication Date: 1966 (1ST pub.) 1979 (Penguin Books)
Number of pages: 220 p. (trade pbk.)
Part of a Series: Last Picture Show series, book #1 (4 books in series)

Subject Heading(s):   
  • Adultery  
  • Coming of age  
  • Dating  
  • Death  
  • High school seniors  
  • Literary fiction  
  • Male friendship  
  • Man woman relationships  
  • Oil workers  
  • Psychological fiction  
  • Rich and poor
  • Small towns  
  • Teenagers – Sexuality  
  • Thalia, Texas
  • The Fifties (20th century)  
  • Western stories
Geographical Setting / Time period: Thalia, Texas (imaginary place) / late 1940s – early 1950s

Main Character(s):
Sonny – a handsome, introspective young man, given to bouts of depression and loneliness
Duane – Sonny’s friend, Duane is less reflective but hopelessly in love with the town’s prettiest girl
Ruth Popper – a small but pretty woman who seems withdrawn, tired, and nervous most of the time

Plot Summary: Sonny and his best friend, Duane, navigate the perils of late adolescence in the small town of Thalia, Texas. Although the boys think they are practically grown men, Sonny finds he has a lot to learn when he meets Ruth Popper, the football coach’s forty-year old wife. Sonny and Duane learn about life, death, betrayal, and love in this coming of age tale.

Appeal: Characterization is the main appeal factor for this book. The main characters are fully developed and there are a lot of interesting secondary characters. The frame of the small Texas town of Thalia is also very important, as is the bittersweet coming of age aspect of the story. McMurtry’s elegant, yet direct language makes for an engrossing story.

Brief quote: “She was silent a moment. ‘Do you know what it means to be heartbroken?’ she said. ‘It means your heart isn’t whole, so you can’t really do anything wholeheartedly.’” (Ruth talking to Sonny, p. 97)

Prizes or Awards: Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters in 1967 (has won this for two other titles as well)

Similar Works:
 Cormac McCarthy – Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses 1st book) – Texas author ; stories of the west ; adolescents and 1950s
John Irving – The World According to Garp – strong character development with good dialogue
Ken Kesey – Sometimes a Great Notion – vivid characters, strong dialogue

Notes: Made into a movie starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Cybill Shepherd in 1971

Reviewer’s Name: Jennifer Lehner


Monday, May 23, 2011

Cold Sassy Tree - Historical Fiction

Author: Olive Ann Burns
Publication Date: 1984
Number of Pages: 391  
Part of a Series: Yes, Cold Sassy series, 1

Subject Heading(s): 
  • Coming of age story
  • Country life
  • Family
  • Georgia
  • Historical Fiction
  • May-December romance
  • Small town life
  • Southern Fiction
  • Teenage boy
Geographical Setting/Time Period: Georgia, 1906.

Main Character(s):
Will Tweedy – fourteen-year-old free spirit who likes to break the rules.
E. Rucker Blakeslee – Will’s brash and domineering grandfather who likes to live by his own rules.
Mattie Lou Blakeslee – Will’s deceased grandmother who was an amazing gardener and caretaker of the sick.
Miss Love Simpson – the pretty strong-willed woman who becomes Rucker Blakeslee’s second wife.
Mary Willis Tweedy – Will’s nervous mother who is still mourning her mother’s death.
Hoyt Tweedy – Will’s stern but loving father who accepts and embraces change.

Plot Summary: Coming of age story of a young man set within a conservative southern town in the early 1900’s. This young man and his family deal with the death of the family matriarch as well as the scandalous elopement of their father/grandfather with a young Yankee woman half his age.

Appeal: Detailed and descriptive story of the life and times of a fictional Southern family set in the early 1900’s. Authentic dialects are used to give specific details to the lives and actions of the family as they adapt to the societal and technological changes within their family and town.

Brief quote: I went up to her house a week after her passing. I guess I hoped she would seem less dead there. (pg 54)

Prizes or Awards: ALA Best Books for Young Adults 1985

Similar Works:  
Leaving Cold Sassy: the unfinished sequel to Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns (story picks up in Will Tweedy’s 25th year in Cold Sassy, GA);  
Empire Falls by Richard Russo (small town fiction with detailed settings and quirky characters);  
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (coming of age story set in the south, family centered story, female author)

Reviewer's Name: Patricia Lowrey

Cold Sassy Tree 
Adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Readers= Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd. Chicago: ALA, 1997.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Omnitopia Dawn -Speculative fiction

Author: Diane Duane
Publication Date: 2010
Number of Pages: 360
Part of a Series: First in series, second book projected publication August 2011

Subject Heading(s):
  • Computer games - fiction
  • Computer programmers - fiction
  • Science fiction  
  • Artificial intelligence
Geographical Setting/Time Period: Near future United States

Main Characters:
  • Dev Logan - world's seventh or eighth richest man and genius programmer. He is the creator of Omnitopia, a Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game which has become an obsession for millions of people around the word.
  • Rik Maliani - a player and a good guy, recently knighted in the game universe and given the tools to create his own world withing the game universe of Omnitopia.
  • Phill Sorenson - partner in the early days of building Omnitopia, and filled with a revengeful outlook on life. He is determined to take Dev down.
Plot Summary:
On the eve of an exciting new game functionality roll-out, while the software is at its most vulnerable, the system is attacked. Dev and his loyal employees in the guise of their virtual personae battle to save the game manager from extinction and the players universe from crashing. Some players are logged in with special total immersion equipment; no one knows what will happen to those Beta testers if they are logged in when the game goes down. Millions of dollars are at stake as well; that loss could mean the end of the game.

Near prescient, the book will appeal to MMPORPG gamers who will fantasize about being involved. The story is intricately plotted and character driven. It has a fairly-relaxed pace given the sense of urgency that the author is trying to create. The tone of the book is suspenseful and the writing style is descriptive but not overly so.

Brief quote: 
"Dev's fury at those who wanted to destory this game that he had created and watched grow and who wanted to destroy it just make money and hurt him was growing by the moment. Distantly in the background he was now starting to hear the shouted communications of the system security teams and their allies in the Palace of the Princes of Hell as they fought to keep the attackers out of the core, away from the main logic bundles, the great stacks of ARGOT modules that made the game run. They were losing." (p. 319)

Prizes or Awards: Publishers' Weekly makes it a starred review in September 2010

Similar Works:
The Flood by William C. Dietz is the offical novel of the Xbox game
The Fall of Reach by Eric S. Nylund 

Reviewer’s Name: Nancy Rimassa

Omnitopia Dawn: Omnitopia #1 

Adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Reader’ Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd.  Chicago: ALA, 1997.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shanghai Girls: a Novel - Historical fiction

Author: Lisa See
Publication Date: 2009 
Number of pages: 314 (hdbk.)
Part of a Series: No series
Subject Heading(s):
  • Arranged marriage
  • China
  • Chinese-American women
  • Domestic fiction
  • Family secrets
  • Historical fiction
  • Illegal immigrants
  • Immigrants – United States
  • Los Angeles
  • Loyalty
  • Poverty
  • Prejudice
  • Race relations
  • Shanghai
  • Sisters  
  • Women’s lives and relationships
  • World War II  
Geographical Setting / Time period: Shanghai, China and Los Angeles, CA / 1937-1957

Main Character(s):
Pearl Chin – the older Chin daughter, bookish, tall, and stubbornly modern, but bound to her sister by a sense of duty
May Chin – the younger Chin daughter, May is beautiful, charming and spoiled as well as modern
Sam Louie – Pearl’s husband by arranged marriage, Sam is resilient, strong, and usually silent
Joy Louie – born in America to May but raised by Pearl and Sam, Joy is an optimistic, idealistic go-getter who seeks the truth

Plot Summary: Peal and May Chin are two young adult sisters living the life of the privileged in Shanghai at the start of the novel.  However, that life soon comes to a crashing halt when they discover their family is destitute and that they have been sold into arranged marriages to men in California to help pay off their father’s gambling debts.  The novel covers the next twenty years of their lives as they survive invasion, warfare, immigration, and prejudice through their unique bond as sisters. 
Appeal: This measured novel focused on well-developed, introspective characterization and detailed descriptions of historical events in China and Los Angeles.  The storyline is character-driven, domestic, and totally open-ended.  The novel features accurate and authentic details of the Battle of Shanghai (1937), the bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941), the development of Chinatown in Los Angeles, the Communist takeover of Shanghai (1949), and the Confession Program in the US.  There are also many details about traditional Chinese culture and life as an immigrant in America.  The style of the novel is very candid and personal as it is in first-person point of view. 

Brief quote: “I thought I was modern.  I thought I had choice.  I thought I was nothing like my mother.  But my father’s gambling has swept all that away.  I’m to be sold – traded like so many other girls before me – to help my family.  I feel so trapped and so helpless that I can hardly breathe.” (p.25-26 : spoken by Pearl)

Awards: Honorable mention from the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature

Similar Works:
Inheritance – Lan Samantha Chang – features daughter forced into arranged marriage as a result of her father’s gambling debts, sets in 1930s in China and US.  Relationship between sisters.  
Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan – discusses women’s relationships and stories of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco  
Midnight at the Dragon CafĂ© – Judy Fong Bates – the story of a young Chinese immigrant girl as she and her family struggle to assimilate in Ontario in the 1950s.

Notes: Interesting FAQ page about the book on author’s website:

Reviewer’s Name: Jennifer Lehner
Shanghai Girls: A Novel 

Love and other drugs - Alternative Format

Director: Edward Zwick
Release Date: November 2010
Part of a Series: No. Based on the non-fiction book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy

Subject Heading(s):
  • Beautiful Women
  • Prescription Drug Abuse
  • Comedy  
  • Pharmaceutical Sales
  • Doctors 
  • Selflessness
  • Family Relationships  
  • Unconditional Love
  • Parkinson’s Disease  
  • Viagra
Geographical Setting/
Time Period: Late 1990s- Ohio 

Main Character(s):
  • Jamie Randall: played by Jake Gyllenhall is a charming womanizer with a soft side.
  • Maggie Murdock: played by Anne Hathaway is a beautifully strong and independent woman battling Parkinson’s Disease.

Plot Summary: Jamie Randall lands his dream job as a pharmaceutical sales rep for Viagra. He is surrounded by beautiful women and luxury. After having a one night stand with Maggie who is battling Parkinson’s disease; he realizes that he is more caring and selfless than he thought possible.

Appeal: This movie combines drama with a lot of comedy, making light of serious  situations and life struggles. This uplifting love story will give hope to  viewers and appeal to those looking for something a little deeper than the  typical romantic comedy. This movie gives viewers a look back at  technology just ten years prior with the use of flip phones and beepers.

Brief quote: “You meet a thousand people, then you meet that one person and your life is changed”.

Prizes or Awards: Nominated for the Satellite Award given by the International Press Academy. -IMDB

Similar Works:  
  • Sweet November (Similar themes of love and sickness)  
  • A lot like love (similar themes of true love starting off with a one night stand)

Reviewer’s Name: Lenore St. John 

Love & Other Drugs 
Form adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Readers= Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd. Chicago: ALA, 1997.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise: A Novel - Literary fiction

Author: Julia Stuart 
Publication Date: 2010  
Number of Pages: 304 (hardcover)   
Part of a Series: No
Subject Heading(s): 
  • Bereavement in families 
  • British humor 
  • Child’s death 
  • Conflict in Marriage 
  • Healing 
  • British history 
  • Humorous stories 
  • Literary Fiction 
  • London, England 
  • Love story 
  • Loss 
  • Zoo Keepers     

Geographical Setting: London, England   
Time Period: present day
Main Character(s): 
  • Balthazar Jones- a history buff who enjoys giving tours as Beefeater of the London Tower, a grieving father, and a husband who tends to hold his emotions inside rather than share them with his wife
  • Hebe Jones- an independent, hard working, grieving woman who is  the wife of Bathalzar Jones and works at the London Underground’s Lost Property Office
  • Milo- the Jones’ son who passes away at the age of 11, but plays a big part in the novel through flashbacks and references to his life
  • Mrs. Cook- the oldest tortoise in existence, family pet of the Jones’
Plot Summary:  Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe live in the Tower of London. Balthazar is a Beefeater who provides tours of the historical tower. When the Queen decides to reintroduce the zoo on the Tower grounds, Balthazar is asked to become the zoo keeper. At first he is hesitant but soon he falls in love with the animals and the zoo becomes a hit among the tourists and the other residents of the Tower. However, not  all is perfect in Balthazar’s life as the grief from his young son’s death has slowly torn apart his marriage. In order to restore their relationship the Jones’ must work through their grief by learning to communicate more effectively and move on.
  • Tone: humorous but mixed with hints of seriousness in its themes 
  • Characterization: told in 3rd person but readers come to understand and get to know the original cast of characters through their thoughts and actions, secondary characters are important to the plot;  
  • Story line: unique story plot but filled with themes of loss, love, and healing to which all readers will relate;  
  • Style/Language: charming;  
  • Frame/Setting: The Tower of London and the history surrounding this historical site is an important part of this novel and is weaved in throughout, history buffs will enjoy this aspect
Brief quote: “Balthazar Jones had been collecting rain for almost three years, a compulsion that had started shortly after the death of his only child. At first he thought that rain was simply an infuriating part of the job, which, along with the damp from their abominable lodgings, produced in all the Beefeaters a ruthless specimen of fungus that flourished on the backs of their knees.” (7)

Prizes or Awards: 
NY Times Bestseller (August 2010), 
highly recommended in Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, 
Entertainment Weekly grade A review, 
People Magazine 4 out of 4 stars review

Similar Works:   
The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner by Giles Waterfield – humorous stories, takes place in London in a historical museum which is similar to the historical London Tower 
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer- takes place in England, original story plot, unique characters, charming style and language (LibraryThing)
Reviewer’s Name: Taryn Kingery
The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel
Adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Readers= Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd.  Chicago: ALA, 1997.