Thursday, January 31, 2013


By Kim Askew and Amy Helmes
Merit Press  2012
181 pages     YA

Tempestuous is a delightful YA romp based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but the reader doesn’t have to know too much about The Tempest to enjoy Tempestuous. Miranda Prospero is a feisty take-charge type of teenager who through a series of misfortunes is stuck with an after school job at a mall food court in Minneapolis. She is feeling really sorry for herself when she arrives at work on a Saturday evening. The weather service has issued blizzard warnings, and Miranda knows that business will be slow. A student at an elite private high school, Miranda thinks that she is way better than all of the other public high school kids who work in the mall, including Ariel, a sweet girl sharing the shift with her. The other kids think she is as snooty as she thinks they are low lives.

The storm quickly causes the customers to empty out of the mall; the roads are closed, and some kids from Miranda's school as well as most of the workers are left stuck in the mall—shipwrecked as it were. But they are not alone; a masked robber is emptying the stores of their merchandise. Whoever he is poses a threat to the kids. Using all their resourcefulness, the mall kids entertain themselves, form new relationships, and thwart the robber. All’s well that ends well! (Oh, wait! That’s a different play!)

I had to go back and read a summary of The Tempest. It had been a lot of years since I had seen a production of the play.  The authors have used quotes to title the chapters, which is a nice touch. The characters in the book have similar names to the characters in the play. However, the father, who figures so prominently in the play, has no presence in the novel. Like most YA novels, parents and other adults play a small role in the action. There is a lot of humor, a bit of romance, a bit of mystery, and a lot of resourcefulness—all hallmarks of a good YA novel. Like all feisty heroines, Miranda is glib and a bit smart mouthed. She is also capable of change, which makes her a very appealing character to young readers. A teenage blogger wrote a delightful review of the book and gave it an A+--high praise indeed.

I especially appreciated that there was minimal bloodshed and minimal sex, making it appropriate for the younger end of the YA spectrum. A librarian or bookseller could feel confident putting it into the hands of a 12- or 13-year-old girl, yet it was clever enough that an older teenager (or even an old lady like me) could have a good time reading it. I plan to give it to my granddaughters. I think they will like it.

The blog of the writing team of Askew and Helmes: Their second book is Exposure, based on Macbeth. I think they’ve got a good thing going.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Intercept

By Dick Wolf
William Morrow, 2013
387 pages     Fiction

It is the days leading up to the dedication of the Ground Zero memorial on Independence Day weekend in 2011. The Intercept begins with a skirmish with a potential terrorist on a plane bound to New York from Stockholm, which sets the city on edge. Six passengers on the plane are involved in the take-down of the terrorist and quickly become the media darlings we are so prone to anoint in the United States.

Jeremy Fisk is a terrorism investigator for a special unit of the NYPD. He and his lover, Krina Gersten, are assigned duty—Jeremy to follow the terrorism trail and Gersten to follow the trail of “The Six,” the passengers, now celebrities. Fisk decides that the terrorist on the plane is part of a larger plot and the chase is on all through the city until the final clash at the World Trade Center site.
It must be mentioned at this point that Dick Wolf was the creator of the TV franchise, Law and Order. In many ways, The Intercept reads like the television show. All it is missing is the clanging at the end of the chapters. The chapters are short, there is a lot of dialogue, and the villains are somewhat obvious, much like the television show. Being like the Law and Order show is a good thing. It is very fun to read a book that moves so quickly. The reviewer on says that it has a “satisfying arc.” 

The city is the most believable aspect of The Intercept. As Fisk chases around the city, we can visualize the journey as well as the people he encounters. All the characters are interesting—even the very minor ones, like the hotel security guard and a flower-shop owner watching a take-down. Fisk is a good hero. We learn just enough about him to know that he is human, and we are confident that he will survive through several more iterations, since this is the first in a series of novels. It was especially fun to read about the characters that make up “The Six.” Each is a unique creation, and each reacts to their new-found celebrity differently. Much like a television show, their cameo appearances help keep it real.

The Washington Post reviewer affirmed my view about the terrorists. “Wolf’s terrorists are not monsters or madmen but real people whose religious beliefs make them eager to die a martyr’s death.” Since I work with so many Saudi Arabians, I was saddened to see that one of the terrorists was a Saudi; I hated to have another Saudi demonized. However, I was particularly interested in the American woman who became a Muslim and then a terrorist. I have known a couple of American women who became Muslim and I thought Wolf’s characterization was spot-on, especially because of the reasons in which the woman chose to become Muslim.

Thankfully, there is meaning beyond the action. A lot of questions emerge, particularly about the motivation of the terrorists. Wolf has done his research and put in a lot of thought about a complicated situation that we in the United States have been naive about. The Washington Post reviewer sums it up thus: “In our fiction, of course, the terrorists tend to lose, but Wolf raises disturbing questions about just how, in the real world, you win wars, at home or abroad, against people who aren’t afraid to die.”

The review in the Washington Post with a very good plot summary:
The review on speaks of a love affair with Law and Order. (By the way, Law and Order is my preferred TV choice when I am quilting in my sewing room.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ship It Holla Ballas

By Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback
New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2013
305 pages     Non-fiction
The Shortlist

The obscure title Ship It Holla Ballas turns out to be the name of a group of online poker players. The subtitle says it all: “How a bunch of 19-year-old college dropouts used the Internet to become poker’s loudest, craziest, and richest crew.” 

I have to admit at the outset I know nothing about poker, so I was a bit amused when I was sent this book from the publisher. However, I do know something about 19-year-olds, and their party-hard ways, having survived the young adulthood of 3 children and 4 step-children and their significant others. It was always comforting to remind myself that the concept of consequence is that last thing to develop in the human brain, and it develops in the male brain by about age 25.

This quick read is the story of online poker in its heyday and the online poker forum that drew together some young men with too much time and money on their hands. One of the students is from Michigan State (no surprise to me since that is the place where 4 of our children went). The book also discusses The World Series of Poker as it appears on ESPN and how these young adults got drawn into the something for nothing culture. The authors note that at the height of the Internet poker boom (2005-2008) one out of every five college students was playing poker on the Internet.

My favorite line in the book is a description of two of the founders of the online poker forum Two Plus Two: “Both men were enamored of their own intelligence and dismissive of most social graces.” I know some guys like that. The rest of the book is as breezy and cynical in tone.

Two movies came to mind as I was reading this book. One was a documentary about a MIT professor who taught probability and took crews of students to play blackjack in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. It was called Breaking Vegas and was based on the book Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich. The other is the movie based on the documentary—21 starring Kevin Spacey.

If you are at all interested in Las Vegas, poker, the rise of the Internet and other aspects of young adult stupidity, I can recommend this book. It is quick and fun. It showed up on Amazon’s list of best new books in January, but I wouldn’t go that far. 

The website of the Ship it Holla Ballas poker players. The website says “The Ballas travel the world in search of sweet parties, hot girls and play in some poker tournaments on the side.”

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hard back or ebook? That is the Question

I have been reading books in both hard back and ebook formats for a year now—ever since I got a Kindle for Christmas a year ago. I still struggle to decide if I like books on my Kindle or if I prefer to read them in hardback.

One discovery I have made is that I like to travel with my Kindle. I have a lot of stored books sent to me by publishers, books for my book club, and other books that I just couldn’t resist on Amazon. They are all there at my bidding and all I have to carry is just one light device. Additionally, when I  buy a book for book club, it is cheaper to buy it for my Kindle than to buy a hardcover book.

On the other hand, I have discovered that when I am at home, I like to read from hard copy. I like to underline and mark pages. I also like to know how many pages in the chapter or section of the book. Harder to do on an ebook. Additionally, when it is time to write about the book for my blog, it is difficult to find the section of the ebook that you want to mention, or the quote you want to share.

I reread Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple for my book club. Because I had given away my hard copy, I bought an ebook to read for Wednesday night’s meeting. (By the way, I loved this book as much the second time as I did the first time.) If I had the hard copy, I would have been able to just turn to the funny sections that I wanted to share, but instead, I had to borrow someone else’s hard copy book to find the section. 

An article in Shelf Awareness today precipitated my rambling thoughts. It said that a survey by Codex confirms that ebook purchases are outpacing hard copy purchases. “Codex's surveys show that 53% of people who shop at a physical store go to find new books and new authors. Physical stores sell a more balanced mix of fiction and nonfiction, while e-book bestsellers skew toward general fiction and genre fiction.” For instance, 35% of all ebooks bought were romance novels. That I can believe. Certainly some of the popularity of the “50 Shades of Grey” books was because they could be bought as ebooks. People tend to know what book they are going to purchase when they buy an ebook. They aren’t browsing like they would be in a bookstore.

Interestingly enough, children’s books are still most popular in hard copy. Thank goodness. I write a second blog for an online K-12 school for which I am the librarian. I recently suggested in a posting that there are several important things children learn from reading a picture book that they can’t get from an ebook. Of primary importance is the blending of pictures and text. That is crucial for picking up cues and learning to read. 

Anyway, I will now be mentioning that I read the book in ebook format in future blog postings. And I am posing a question for future discussion: What is your preferred book format?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Treasury of Joy and Inspiration

Compiled by the Reader's Digest
Reader's Digest Association, 2013
318 p.    Essays
The Shortlist
When I was growing up, the Reader’s Digest was ubiquitous in my home, along with the other popular magazines of the time, Ladies’ Home Journal, Life, The Saturday Evening Post and Time. The value of the Reader’s Digest for me was that I was an early reader and the Reader’s Digest was at a reading level that allowed me to read it cover-to-cover each month by about third grade. The formula of the Reader’s Digest was (and still is) to distill the essence of book, magazine, and newspaper articles in a way that eliminates the fluff but allows the essence to shine through. Interspersed throughout the Digest are inspirational articles and cute narrative jokes that were the main attraction for a young reader—or any  reader, for that matter.

The little book, Treasury of Joy and Inspiration is a compilation of some of the moving stories and insightful articles that have filled the pages of the Reader’s Digest through the years. The book is divided into several sections with five or six stories in each section: Joy, Miracles, Gratitude, Giving, Holidays, Healing, and Heroes. At the end of each story is a cute narrative joke. 

Gleaned from the magazine throughout the years, some of the stories make you smile and some move you to tears. Here was what surprised me looking at these stories from the vantage point of an older adult (did I actually write that!). The stories, while inspirational in nature are surprisingly liberal in tone. As I looked abstractly at the articles, I saw the values that shaped me—family, religion, equality and acceptance. I was especially struck by an entry by Senator Bill Bradley about how playing on mixed-race sports teams shaped his ideas of racial equality and the inspirational essay by President Eisenhower about the American spirit.
Treasury of Joy and Inspiration is a lovely little book to take to a friend in the hospital, an elderly person in a nursing home, or a new mother who has no time to read anything long. I received my copy from the publicist and I am going to send it to the 98-year-old mother of my dear friend. I know that she will enjoy it.