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December 2008 Staff Book Reviews

Wow, the year has flown by already.  But we have one more chance to share with you some book reviews from the Pioneer Library System staff in 2008.  We have a few children, teen and adult titles this month to grab your attention during the holiday hustle and bustle.

We also have a request of you.  We are compiling a list of the Top 10 Literary Picks for 2008 and need your nominations! So, what did you read, or listen to, this year that left a lasting impression on you? Was it poignant, hilarious, ground breaking, romantic or perhaps just too darn good to miss? Well, now is your chance to share with your fellow hometown library users your 2008 Top Literary Picks. Even if it's a title we don't have at a hometown library yet - write it in and we'll see if it has a place at PLS.


book jacket for What is the What: the autobiography of Valentino Achek Deng: a novel by Dave Eggers
Reviewed by Tiffany Criswell, Norman Public Library
five stars
Genre: Adult Fiction

What is the What is the true life story of Valentino Achek Deng, a young man whose life was ripped apart when the Second Sudanese Civil War began in the early 1980s. As a child caught in a deadly Arab attack on his small Dinka village, Deng is forced to flee his friends and family, not knowing if he will ever see them again. For months, he walks across Sudan with thousands of other refugees (the "Lost Boys") to camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He will spend the rest of his life trying to forget the terrible things he saw along the way, dealing with the lasting effects of a transient and poverty-stricken childhood, and striving to be a high-functioning African man in the American Sudanese diaspora.

The book is written by Dave Eggers (author of A Heartbreaking work of Staggering Genius) and labeled as a novel because of the compression of dates, names, conversations, and events that Eggers fest was essential to maintain the narrative, but the story components are all absolutely true. Because of this hybrid structure, What is the What is a work that has appeal for both fiction - and nonfiction - lovers. This book is alternately life-affirming and disheartening at the same time. It is a realistic representation of what redemption and survival really are. The story is a fascinating account of Deng's struggles with his faith, his belief in humanity, and his sense of self in a life that is both frustrating and miraculous in its perseverance.

book jacket for Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Daniel Amen
Reviewed by Theresa Jaye Dickson, Pioneer Library System
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
four stars
Change Your Brain, Change Your Life is one of our mp-3 downloadable choices and it's a great entry into the self-help/communication genre. Amen approaches conflict and communication from a neurological and chemical basis, looking at the areas of the brain that govern information processing and negotiation. In addition to that catchy, notto-based phycho-analytical mumbo-jumbo (ANTs are Automatic Negative Thoughts and they infest your life's picnic), he studies the brain to find where ADHD and other behavior-affected complexes are located.

Be warned, he believes strongly in pharmacological solutions for many of those behaviours, so you can draw your own conclusions as to whether he's right or not. In the meantime, those ANTs are one insight that everyone will want to hear about and try to change their scripting when they invade your life (changing your mental scripts works to re-program the brain, the author believes.)

The Softwire 1 by PJ Haarsma
Reviewed by Jenny Stenis, Center for Reader's Services
four stars
Genre: Teen Fiction

book jacket for The Softwire 1 is a new science fiction series about Johnny "JT" Turnbull, a boy who can directly interface with any and all computers. The first book in the series is Virus on Orbis 1. In Virus, JT is traveling on the seed ship, Renaissance, with his sister to Orbis 1. Sometime during the journey all the adults die and the children are left to fend for themselves. It has been a struggle for JT to survive and look after his little sister. When they arrive at Orbis 1 they find that thier parents were planning to work in Orbis for a chance at a new life. Since the parents are gone, the Trading Council expects the children to fulfill the work obligations. JT can directly interface with the main computer that runs Orbis. When things begin to go wrong, the citizens and the Trading Council blame JT. Does JT figure out wo is sabatoging the computer? Can the children fulfill the work obligations of the parents?

book jacket for The second book is called Betrayal on Orbis 2. JT has a new job and it is not pleasant. JT must learn to communicate with the large auatic Samirans who have cooled the crystals of Orbis for two thousand years. Their work time is up and they want to be released. While working with Toll, JT has learned that the wealth and prosperity of Orbis is built on the brutal system of enforced labor. Can JT appease not only Toll, but also the Trading Council while making sure that his sister and friends are safe?

These are a great space opera adventure series. If you like these books you would enjoy Enders Game by Scott Card, Billion Dollar Boy and Higher Education by Charles Sheffield.


 book jacket for Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Reviewed by Amanda Theaker, Pioneer Library System intern
five stars
Genre: Adult Fiction

My mother has been bugging me to read Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club for years now, and I recently broke down and read it. I'm glad that I did. This book celebrates the bond between mothers and daughters, and discusses some of the difficulties and differences between being Chinese and being Chinese-American.

The novel follows the lives of four Chinese mothers and their American born daughters in San Francisco. It opens with the death of Jin-Mei "June" Woo's mother, and June's subsequent responsibility to take her mother's place at the Joy Luck Club and its traditional mah jong table. Around this table sit the four mothers of the Joy Luck Club, each with their own duties, joys, sorrow, and difficulties when it comes to understanding their American daughters.

Tan's lyrical prose ties each story together into a carefully crafted narrative that gives readers just enough of the picture to fill in the blanks. Each scene is filled with carefully chosen details that allow the reader to see the action unfold like a film in their minds. I could experience Chinatown in San Francisco through Tan's writing, even though I have never been there. Tan is able to create relatable characters with issues unique to Chinese culture, as well as issues shared by every mother and daughter in every time and every culture. She speaks to every mother and daughter, and tries to help them reconcile, or at least understand, their differences.

book jacket for The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Reviewed by Cindy Stevens, Center for Reader's Services
five stars
Genre: Adult Fiction

This astounding novel is Diane Setterfield's debut and worked it's way up the Best Seller's chart like a rocket. I loved this book for many reasons, not least the fact that I was surprised by the ending. One of my reading quirks is that I read the end of the book first. So my being surprised was a REAL surprise! Instead of telling about the book, I will share a bit of Setterfield's impressive style -

There followed one of the most glorious times of my adult life. For the first time ever I had on my bedside table a pile of brand-new, glossy paperbacks, purchased from a regular bookshop. Betwixt and Between by Vida Winter, Twice is Forever by Vida Winter; Hauntings by Vida Winter; Out of the Arc by Vida Winder; Rules of Affliction by Vida Winder; The Birthday Girls by Vida Winter; The Puppet Show by Vida Winter. The covers, all by the same artist, glowed with heat and power; amber and scarlet, gold and deep purple. I even bought a copy of Tales of Change and Desperation; it's title looked bare without the Thirteen that makes my father's copy so valuable. His own copy I had returned to the cabinet.
Of course one always hopes for something special when one reads an author one hasn't read before, and Miss Winter's books gave me the same thrill I had when I discovered the Landier diaries, for instance. But it was more than that. I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled. And during this time, these days when I read all day and half the night, when I slept under a counterpane strewn with books, when my sleep was black and dreamless and passed in a flash and I woke to read again - the lost joys of reading returned to me. Miss Winter restored to me the virginal qualities of the novice reader, and then with her stories she ravished me.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, 2006 page 32

I could rave on about this book, but then you wouldn't be able to get to the catalog and put it on hold. Hurry!! It's a book, a story, and author you won't soon forget!!

book jacket for The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket
Staff Reviewer: Adri Edwards-Johnson, Virtual Library
five stars
Genre: Children's Holiday Fiction

Almost everything comes to life screaming - as if to announce its arrival to the universe. Latkes are no exception. Latkes are "potato pancakes" and are a traditional part of the celebration of Hanukah. In Lemony Snicket's first Christmas Story he tells the tale of a Latke born of delicious potatoes, chopped onion, beaten eggs and a little salt. The Latke encounters your usual Christmas fair of hanging lights, a candy cane and a pine tree. During each interaction the Latke shares a little something new about the meaning of Hanukah - be it Antiochus and the Maccabees or the origins of a dreidel. It's a wonderful tale for young and old on how everything and everyone is welcome somewhere during this holiday season.

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