True Believers by humorist Joe Queenan is a great read for football season. If you are a rabid sports fan (you know who you are), you will appreciate this book. Queenan opens his book by recounting his visits to a therapist for his sports addiction problem. He and the therapist quickly reach an impasse when Queenan can’t understand how he can care more about the fate of the rain forest than that of the Philadelphia 76erers. This book had me laughing from the get go, because I could relate to many of Queenan’s sentiments. There is a particularly hilarious chapter on front-running fans, (whom I also find annoying). While Queenan states that these fans have the right to be front runners, he does not believe that “such individuals should ever be married, befriended, employed, feted, consulted, or fed . . . . .Attention, marriageable females: If you go through your Los Angelino boyfriend’s closet and find a Chicago Bulls jersey, call off the wedding. If he betrayed the Lakers, he will have no trouble betraying you.”
There is also a great chapter on parents bringing up their kids to be fans. Any parent who has tried to take their young kids to a sporting event will appreciate Queenan’s account. His theory is that concession lines are long at major league baseball games because nobody really wants to watch more than six innings or so of baseball anyway. And, if you take your kids to the concessions three times during the game to get snacks, you might actually make it to the end of the game! He decries those “mentally ill” parents who bring their own snacks thus ensuring they will only make it to the bottom of the fifth before having to leave. If you don’t mind laughing at yourself or fellow fans, give this one a try!
After reading Wool Omnibus by science fiction author Hugh Howey, he will be on my “must read” list. This particular book is actually a collection of the five Wool novellas, the first of which was self- published by Howey in July 2011. Wool takes place in an underground “silo” at some indeterminate time in the future. Life in the silo is strictly controlled and orderly. The strict rules and population control are necessary to prevent any more uprisings. Life outside the silo is uninhabitable; at least that’s what everyone is told. The only view from the top floor of the silo is of brown hills, dust storms, and crumbling skyscrapers in the distance. No one who has left the silo has ever come back. It is even forbidden to talk about going outside the silo. Discussing it will get you exactly what you wish. That is precisely what is happening to Sheriff Holston. He used to be the enforcer, and now he is the one being sent outside. He will join his wife who was sent outside three years before. Holston’s story sets off a chain reaction of events with different characters that begin to unravel some of the secrets surrounding the silo. How did everyone get in the silo? Who built the silo? What is in the outside world? Is it really unsafe to go outside? Do the silo’s leaders really have everyone’s best interests in mind? For everyone who enjoys the Wool series, Howey is working on a prequel series as well. You check out his progress on his website: http://www.hughhowey.com/.
In this true life adventure tale, Colin Angus and two of his friends decide that it would be a great idea to raft down the entire length of the Amazon River from its source to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon River is the second longest river in the world, and the largest by volume, so this was no easy task. Their journey started on the Peruvian coast where they began trekking across the desert to find the source of the Amazon in the Andes Mountains. Before even setting foot on the river, their lives were in danger of ending from dehydration as they realize their 50 year old maps are not entirely accurate. As they near the wild Apurimac River, the start of their rafting, countless locals warn them against embarking on this quest. The Apurimac drops from an elevation of 17,700 feet to 4,900 feet in only 37 miles, and other adventurers before them have perished in its violent waters. After finally beginning their trek down the Apurimac, they come close to drowning themselves on only their second day on the river. The river isn’t the only source of danger, however. Part of the river runs through areas which are known for harboring terrorists and at one point they even come under fire from bandits. At least two thirds of the book takes place in Peru, so there are bits and pieces about Peruvian history and culture that were fun to learn. If you like adventure or travel tales, give Amazon Extreme a try.
Ashes, by Ilsa J. Bick is an American Library Association 2012 Teen Top Ten Nomination. I had heard good things about the book, but hesitated to pick it up because I’m not really into zombies. However, zombies or no zombies, it gripped my interest from the first few pages. Seventeen year old Alex has had a rough life. Her parents died in an accident and shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After multiple treatments that have not worked, her case is terminal. While her body and mind are still functioning she takes one last trip into the Waucamaw Wilderness where she has camped many times with her dad. Just a few days into her trip electromagnetic pulses are set off, wiping out power and electronic devices everywhere. To make matters worse, the pulse kills off a large portion of the population and turns most young adults into crazed zombies. Alex along with fellow survivors Ellie, a young girl, and Tom, a soldier who is on leave, band together to survive. The plot continually twists and turns and kept me on the edge of my seat. I always felt like some new horror was lurking around every corner (and more often than not it was). Although some of the action sequences are quite gruesome, this part horror/part post- apocalyptic novel kept me riveted until the end. If you like books wrapped up all neat and tidy at the end this is not for you! Virtually nothing is resolved by the end, and there is a cliffhanger worthy of the Hunger Games. Luckily, book number two of this planned trilogy, Shadows, comes out September 25th!
Delirium is the first book of a trilogy published in January 2011 by Lauren Oliver. If you like dystopian fiction, then try this series. Lena lives in a new America, where love has become a disease that nobody wants to catch. Luckily, scientists have figured out a surgical procedure that cures this deadly illness. Unfortunately, it is too dangerous to undergo this operation until you turn eighteen. To avoid catching the “delirium” Lena’s life, and everyone else’s, is strictly controlled. Everyone must follow the Book of Shhh (The Safety, Health, and Happiness handbook) and carefully avoid everyone of the opposite sex. Lena’s life has always been complicated. Her mother committed suicide when she was six because of the Delirium. Since then she has been living with her aunt, uncle and cousins, spending time with her best friend Hana, and being careful to watch out for signs of the disease. Then, with only 95 days to go until her cure, Lena meets Alex, and begins to question everything that society has taught her. Will she continue her controlled, safe life or choose to search out the “Invalids” who have rebelled against society and are constantly in danger of losing their lives. Pandemonium is book number two in the series and equally as good as the first. Book number 3, Requiem, is due to be released in March. And for those who enjoy the books, the movie rights have been acquired by Fox 2000.
Ready Player One, the debut novel by Ernest Cline is a great read! The story takes place in the not too distant future of 2044 and the world is a pretty bleak place to live for most people. The main character, Wade Watts lives in the “Stacks” a trailer park where the trailers are stacked on top of one another. Like many others, Wade prefers to spend most of his time in the virtual reality world of OASIS which is much more pleasant than the real world. Wade, along with fellow gunters (Easter egg hunters) spend all of their spare time searching for an “Easter egg” hidden in the virtual reality world of OASIS by multi billionaire James Halliday, the recently deceased creator of OASIS. The person that finds the egg first, will inherit Halliday’s vast fortune. The Sixers are a particular group of gunters that work for IOI, a large corporation that is determined to inherit Halliday’s billions and take control of OASIS. They will stop at nothing to find the egg, including murder. To find clues to where the egg is hidden, gunters must immerse themselves in the life of James Halliday and the things that he loved. Chief among those is 80’s pop culture and video games. If you grew up in the 80’s (like myself) you will particularly enjoy this book. It was fun to reminisce about old episodes of Family Ties, playing Atari, and watching movies like Back to the Future. Didn’t grow up in the 80’s? This is a great way to educate yourself about the 80’s while having a great time! Fans of the book will also have the movie to look forward to, as the movie rights have already been sold to Warner Bros.
If you’re looking for a new fantasy series, check out Dragon Keeper by prolific fantasy fiction writer Robin Hobb. It is the first book in her latest series, the Rain Wilds Chronicles and gets a starred review from BookList. There is great excitement surrounding the hatching of the new dragons from their cocoons. However, all does not turn out smoothly. The dragons are weak and deformed and unable to take care of themselves. The nearby inhabitants do their best to care for the dragons, but after years of providing food for the dragons, the task is burdensome and many fear the dragons could turn on them. Eventually, an agreement is made with the dragons to provide keepers to accompany them as they seek out their ancient home of Kelsingra. There’s only one problem, nobody, including the dragons, knows exactly where Kelsingra is or if it still exists. Dragon keepers are recruited from among those that society would like to forget existed. This volatile group of mostly teenagers and the dragons are accompanied by Captain Leftrin (who is hiding some secrets) on board his liveship and dragon expert Alise, a wealthy trader’s wife who is extremely unhappy in her marriage. Although there are quite a few characters to keep track of, the main characters are complex and realistic, and the fantasy world Hobb creates is richly detailed. Beware, though, there is not much of a resolution at the end of the book, so you will want to keep reading the rest of the series once you get started!
I love the Olympics. In fact, some might call me slightly obsessed! So, I was looking for a good running book to get ready for all those track and field events. I came across The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb, and it is the perfect book to get you geared up for the Olympics. Although not about the Olympics per say, it is a great glimpse into the training and competitive drive it takes to be a world class runner. The Perfect Mile is about the race to become the first person in history to break the four minute mile barrier. In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, three runners from three different continents had disappointing performances. After returning home, each, for different reasons, decided he was going to be the first to run the mile in under four minutes. All three faced their own personal obstacles. John Landy of Australia had no coach and extremely poor track conditions to race on. Englishman Roger Bannister was in medical school and had extremely limited time for training. The American, Wes Santee, had to put his KU teammates above himself which left little time to focus on perfecting the mile. Not to mention, the three men were true amateurs, receiving no rich sponsorship deals or any kind of money for their races, even though their races attracted huge amounts of fans and generated lots of money for others. Each man was aware the others were all gunning to be the first one to break the barrier, so the pressure was on. Even though I knew the eventual outcome, it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book one bit, and I would definitely recommend this book to all athletes or sports fans out there.
To the Last Breath is a memoir by Georgetown physics professor Francis Slakey that recounts his exploits of climbing the highest peak on each continent and surfing every ocean. On the surface this is an adventure tale, and Slakey does a great job of recounting some of his experiences. You can feel the tension as he is climbing Mount Everest in a blizzard and encounters several climbers whose lives hang in the balance. In Morocco, while being driven over treacherous mountain passes by a crazy driver, Hassan, (who insists that he is the best driver in Morocco) his car nearly plunges off of a cliff. In Indonesia, after climbing Pucak Jaya in the jungles of New Guinea, he is ambushed at gunpoint while driving through a large gold mine, but the soldiers eventually let him through. He discovers he has dodged a bullet, when he finds out that a few hundred yards from this very spot a group of American school teachers was ambushed with several of them killed and wounded. This memoir, however, is more than just an adventure tale. Slakey’s exploits are told with the purpose of showing how these experiences changed his life. At a fairly young age he determined he would never buy a house, get married, or have children. He then became a rather cold, guarded individual with few if any close, personal relationships or ties to anything. By the end of the memoir, he has experienced many extreme adventures, but even more remarkable are the changes within himself and his outlook on life.
Are you tired of all of the hype surrounding exercise? It seems like we are constantly bombarded with information regarding the best ways to exercise and how much time we really need to spend working out. Finally, a book that the average person can understand that explores actual research behind current trends in exercise. The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds is great for everyone from couch potatoes to athletes. For instance, it answers many questions that runners have. Is it necessary to purchase those high dollar running shoes to avoid injuries or are those new “barefoot” running shoes the way to go? And, if I do go for a run or work out, are sports drinks the best way to stay hydrated and recover? If I am entering a race should I carbo load for optimal performance? For everyone from the occasional to the regular exerciser, a number of questions are answered as well. For example, just how much time do you need to spend exercising per week to start reaping health benefits? Do I really need to do all that stretching before and after I exercise to avoid injuries? Is weight training valuable or should most of my time be spent on cardio? If I’m exercising why don’t I ever lose any weight? For those who are not currently motivated to work out, this book is for you also. It discusses many of the benefits of exercise not only for your body but also for your brain!
Defending Jacob is the third legal thriller by Dagger Award winner William Landay and it is well worth the read. In the picturesque town of Newton, Massachusetts, a well-to-do suburb of Boston, a murder has just been committed. Fourteen year old Ben Rifkin’s body is found in a popular park with three stab wounds to his chest. Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber takes the case in spite of a potential conflict of interest. His son Jacob attended the same school as Ben and is in the same grade. At first, the investigation points to a pedophile who lives near the park. Soon, however, based on physical evidence and comments on Facebook, Jacob becomes the primary suspect. Andy is taken off the case, and instead of prosecutor he is now helping to defend his own son. To do that he must face up to his own secrets that he has kept from his wife Laurie and his son, that he is descended from a line of murderers. He worries that the prosecutor may argue that Jacob has the “murder gene” because of his family history. Andy is convinced that his son is not possibly capable of committing such a horrific crime, although his actions at times speak differently. Laurie, on the other hand, seems to waver back and forth on Jacob’s guilt or innocence. Each character is well developed and the family drama is just as compelling as the legal drama. Combine this with a couple of twists at the end, and it makes for a great read!
This political thriller by Adam Johnson deservedly gets starred reviews from BookList, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. The Orphan Master’s Son takes place in modern-day North Korea. The book follows the life of Pak Jun Do, from an orphanage, to a tunnel soldier, kidnapper, hero, starving prisoner, and impersonator. I had difficulty putting this book down even though I knew there were most likely horrors waiting around the corner. It was like watching a train wreck about to happen but being unable to take your eyes off of it. Reading about some of the physical and mental torture, starving people, and other brutalities inflicted on individuals was hard to stomach. To give a further sense of living under a dictatorship, the book is interspersed with narration by the national radio station that spouts propaganda all day long. As people are starving and living in constant fear, the national broadcasts paint a rosy picture of North Korea while portraying western nations as villainous. Some of the propaganda is so darkly funny that I would almost catch myself laughing at its absurdity. And of course the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il is ever present, if not physically then always in thought. The reader gets a real sense of the fear that the North Korean constantly lives under, where one misspoken word from yourself, lie from another, or bad luck can spell doom for yourself and your family. Amidst all the tragedy, there are some very touching moments and the love story is truly heartwarming. Obviously, don’t pick up this book if you’re looking for a light, feel-good read, but if you want a book that is intense and thought provoking, that will keep you thinking long after you have finished reading it, put this on your to-read list for 2012.
If you enjoyed the documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, then you’ll like his latest DVD, POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Since fewer people are watching commercials these days, advertisers have had to get more creative in advertising their products. One of common techniques used is product placement in movies and television. In this entertaining DVD Spurlock attempts to make a movie about product placement funded solely by companies using product placement in his movie!. It is a humorous, yet informative look at how advertising affects movies and TV without us even being aware of it much of the time. Spurlock takes the viewer through the entire process of making his movie: the initial steps of trying to get companies as sponsors, consulting lawyers, meeting with corporate executives, creating promotional materials for his movie, etc. Along the way, he interviews a number of different people in the business to get their opinions on how/if movie makers are selling themselves out to advertisers. I found myself chuckling at many different blatant and often ridiculous product placements in the movie .Plus, Spurlock gives a great picture of the contractual obligations movie makers enter into when they sign on for product placement. For instance, Spurlock must now agree to stay in a certain hotel chain, drink only his sponsor’s drink on camera, do an interview on a specific airline, wear sponsors’ clothing, and even take a bath with a pony. Although the viewer gets the feeling Spurlock does not agree with this type of advertising, he remains fairly objective throughout and respectful to those he interviews and with whom he meets.
Jewish American Michael Levy recounts his time spent in Guiyang, China teaching ESL as a Peace Corp volunteer in Kosher Chinese. This is a humorous, yet often touching memoir of the many cultural differences between America and the “other billion” Chinese (those that live far from Beijing or Shanghai that are not usually portrayed in the media). Surprisingly, Levy’s Jewish status is advantageous in forming relationships with the students he teaches at Guizhou University, like when faculty members inform him that he will be leading the Guizhou University Jewish Friday Night English and Cooking Corner Club. There were many scenes in the book where I was laughing out loud, such as Michael’s first experience using a squat “toilet,” spontaneously joining in with strangers singing John Denver tunes, a neighbor who sings Chinese opera at 6:30 every single morning, and the highly inappropriate English names some Chinese students adopted in his classes. In between these humorous anecdotes, Levy is able to convey the culture of western China where many feel they are caught in between the socialism of Mao and capitalism, and between traditional Chinese culture and Western society. No where is this portrayed more fittingly in the book than a description of a park in Guiyang with a gigantic statue of Mao just steps away from a Wal Mart. This is a quick, fun read particularly for those interested in other cultures and what those cultures think of Americans.
Mega-chain store, PyeMart is coming to small town Butternut Falls, Minnesota. Apparently not everyone is happy about this development. Bombs start going off, the first one in PyeMart headquarters in Michigan and the second at the local PyeMart construction site in Butternut Falls, killing and injuring several people. Virgil, who works for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is sent to Butternut to help the local law enforcement and the ATF with the investigation. The plot is suspenseful and moves along at a rapid pace as Virgil attempts to solve the crime before more people are killed. Unfortunately for him, it seems that half the town is unhappy with PyeMart, including many local merchants, as well as trout fishermen who don’t want the Butternut River polluted. Finding out the exact motives of the bomber proves difficult until Virgil decides to use some unorthodox methods to attempt to narrow down the search for the bomber quickly. Not only is the plot compelling, but Virgil himself is an extremely likeable and believable character with a string of ex- wives, long hair, a fishing boat, and a wardrobe consisting of classic rock band tee shirts. Shock Wave is the 5th novel by John Sandford starring detective Virgil Flowers. Although it is helpful as far as some of the character development, it is not necessary to have read the previous books in the series.