Friday, September 28, 2007


Otto Malpense is not your average thirteen year old. He's lived his whole life in a run down orphanage in England, although he's been making sly improvements lately. When the Prime Minister threatens to close the orphanage, Otto takes matters into his own hands and takes down one of the most powerful world leaders all by himself. That's the last thing Otto remembers before he is transported by strangers to a volcanic idland, inside of which is a huge maze of tunnels leading to classrooms, laboratories and living quarters. Otto quickly befriends several other new "students" from around the world, but they are all surprised to be told they must stay at H.I.V.E. - the Higher Institute of Villainous Learning - for the next 6 years. Otto, Wing, Laura and Shelby band together to form a secret plan to escape the island, but it on'y be easy. And if they do escape alive, where will they go?

If Harry Potter was very smart and evil instead of magic, and Hogwarts kidnapped its students at age 13 instead of inviting them at age 10, and the battle between good and bad magicians was instead fought by world governments versus evil supervillains, then you would have a good idea of what H.I.V.E. is all about. This is a delightful adventure of teenagers agains grown-ups, sortof-evil against truly-evil, and several extremely smart, gifted, skilled, talented teens who will set themselves apart from the other students and have to work together to stay alive. Even though these kids are training to be villains, they all seem to be quite likable. The story is setup like the first book in a series, but I didn't see a mention of a second book. I can only hope that Mark Walden is already writing another novel!
I checked it out.309 pages.

I love you, beth cooper

(I actually read this is August, but never finished writing my review until today...)

I Love You, Beth Cooper By Larry Doyle

During his commencement speech, Denis Cooverman speaks of regrets, and illustrates his point by announcing, “I love you, Beth Cooper.” Five short words will change Denis’s life, most notably because Beth’s army boyfriend, Kevin, is home on leave and hears the proclamation. Kevin spends the story trying to beat Denis to death in increasingly bizarre scenarios that are oddly believable.
Skip ahead to later in the evening. A rich senior is throwing a huge party while her parents are out of town. Two unpopular boys, Denis and Rich, are sitting at home at the kitchen table, not eating the several bowls of snack food arrayed before them. Denis has his iPod loaded with every classic (and some more obscure) graduation song, The doorbell rings and the adventure begins.

“All my memories of high school are from tonight.” -- Denis Cooverman

The characters in high school movies, the stereotypes, the unlikely plots, the heartbreak, the humor – all of this is celebrated in Doyle’s novel. His main character, Denis Cooverman, and his best friend Rich are freakishly awkward and completely realistic seventeen year old guys. Rich compulsively spouts movies lines (complete with title, year and director citations after each) and Denis has a brain so jam-packed with facts that they tend to spill out of his mouth at inappropriate moments.

Larry Doyle might have wanted to create the ultimate high school movie for a generation, but he’s not a filmmaker. The jacket photo puts him in the Buffalo Grove High School class of 1976 so I’m guessing he’s a Gen-X forty-something. Since he is a writer, he gives us a wild ride through Denis Cooverman’s graduation night in the form of a first novel. Rather than rehashing tired plots from old teen movies, Doyle instead makes just enough mentions and references that I found myself wanted to go re-watch the films I recognized and track down the ones I didn’t.
Enjoy this 250 page shout-out to the highs and lows of high school, to friends, to bands, to favorite make-out spots and memorable moments, the promise of the future and the spectacular snapshot of graduation night, the metaphorical and literal transition from childhood to adulthood, from captivity to freedom.

The only thing missing from “I Love You, Beth Cooper” is a recommend list of movies to watch now that you are in the mood! So, I made a list of the movies that provide the quotes that begin each chapter, in the order they are mentioned (and linked when possible our library catalog for your convenience!)
Romeo and Juliet (1968/I)
Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Ghost World (2001)
Porky's (1982)
Rushmore (1998)
Say Anything... (1989)
Saved! (2004)
Weird Science (1985)
Rumble Fish (1983)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
American Graffiti (1973)
Back to the Future (1985)
American Pie (1999)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Footloose (1984)
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Risky Business (1983)
Clueless (1995)
Gidget (1959)
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Heathers (1989) -
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Grease (1978)

I checked it out. 250 pages.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Makes you wish you never left the small town you grew up in....
this is what one of the reviewers said about Empire Falls.
I'm just not sure they finished the book. Either way, I'm not regretting leaving C-ville anytime soon based on the small town life in this book.

The first two thirds of the book build characters and background and town history and multiple stories slowly and deliberately. I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing and depth. Suddenly in the last third of the book, a gentle meandering story becomes a page-turner, with new facts uncovered about characters and actions and reactions building toward an unexpected climax.

In book group, someone characterized this as small towns are slow and boring except when they aren't. When something happens in a small town, and everyone's lives are intertwined, things can get exciting quickly.

The HBO minsiseries sticks to the book directly, but a 500 page book can't get squishde into a movie, even one in several parts. The character introspection and development of the book is missing, their worries and musings and dreams and reflections. My advice - treat yourself to the miniseries AFTER you read the book. And don't read the book alone - you will want to talk about it after, and I, for one, know that my spouse did not appreciate being shaken awake late at night so that I could share my thoughts on the ending....
I read it. 525 pages.

way better than high fidelity if you are into reliving your 1990's romances

Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a TIme by Rob Sheffield

this is a true story
this is a story about love
this is a story about loss
this is a story about music

"I realize that I will never fully understand the bizarre ways that music brings people together."

Once upon a time a man named Rob
loved a girl named Renee
and they both loved music
they got five years together
before Renee was gone
and Rob is left alone
with mix tapes and memories.
Overwhelmed with grief and sleepless nights and music.

How to tell if you might like this book...
Did you ever (publicly or secretly) love pop music?
How clearly do you remember the day that Kurt Cobain died?
Have you ever made or received a mix tape?
Do you sometimes miss the nineties?

I made a video book review on youtube also.

I loved this book because it is heartbreaking and funny and true.
I have a shoebox full of mix tapes from old boyfriends squirreled away under the guest bed, and I love to get them out and relive those days through their music. The first time I saw High Fidelity in the theatres, my friend Ross and I stayed up half the night listening to those same old tapes. Music just isn't the same since CDs and mp3s. Of all of my Scott memories, those tapes recall some of my fondest.

The singers ask "What is love?"
Love is a mix tape.

I checked it out and also listened to part on audio. Each chapter begins with the play list from a mix tape.
219 pgs.

Monday, September 10, 2007

sophie's choice

My book group discussed Sophie's Choice this afternoon. What a book. William Styron tackles huge issues -- the Holocaust, slavery and reconstruction, personal relationships, family relationships, mental illness, depression, addiction, memory and loss....I couldn't even delight in the myriad of four letter words used throughout because of the large amount of anger and violence mixed in.
That said, I can't imagine now having NOT read this book, and I will be thinking about it for a long long time. For my introduction at book group, I found three instances of "Sophie's Choice" being used in current conversation -- in reference to the EPA choosing whether to prevent deaths from air pollution or water polution, in an advertising agency choosing whether to try something new and potentially fail or use previously successful strategies that might potentially fail, or in choosing which Hilton sister is more useless. We had an interesting discussion of when it was appropriate to refer to something as "Sophie's Choice."
I also watched the movie last night, and I think that the Holocaust-focused film does a disservice to the book, which asks the reader to think about US slavery and race issues in both the South and the North in relation and comparison to the Holocaust's slavery and race issues in work and concentration camps. By cutting out most of the references to the US's racially charged past (and present), the movie lets the viewer feel like Sophie's choice is part of the European and historical other and not relevant to them here and now. I read a great quote in some literary criticism (Southern Literary Journal, Fall 2001) where a fan told Styron "The absence of any historical memory in this country is simply bizarre." and I agree -- That is what I believe Sophie's Choice is about -- recognizing how the domination of one people over another leads to the destruction of both -- and that on the small, large, local, foreign, historical or futuristic scale this pattern will always be destructive to those involved. I'm not sure that Styron offers us a solution to inhumanity, but he closes the book with hope. "This was not judgement day - only morning. Morning: excellent and fair."
I checked it out. 515 pages.

Friday, September 07, 2007

the off season

The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock is the sequel to the book Dairy Queen, which I read last year. This book takes place in the fall after D.J. Schwenk has decided to play football on the varsity team as a linebacker, even though she is sort of secretly dating the quarterback of the opposing team. Her best friend Amber has a girl friend, her father's farm is losing money, her mother's back went out, her younger brother is being even quieter than usual, and that is BEFORE her older brother gets hurt playing in a nationally televised college football game. It's sophmore year, and D.J. is going to have a lot to deal with this year. The Off Season takes us from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, which is actually prime footbal season, but in D.J.'s life everything is a little bit off... The Wisconsin accent in the narration of the audiobook make this book even more fun to enjoy.
This is not the normal escapist teen romance I usually pick up - this is a fabulous story about family, friends and football. If you are looking for a teenage heroine who is six feet tall and great at sports, but overwhelmed by the rest of life, check this out!

I listened to it. 6 hours.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

arsonist's guide....

I just finished "The Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England" by Brock Clarke
Sam Pulsifer is a bumbler. He bumbles his way through life, never quite getting it right. For instance, Sam burned down the Emily Dickinson House when he was a teenager, and served 10 years in prison for the accidental deaths of the two people who were trysting on Emily's bed inside. After Sam was released, his parents sent him to college, where he met a nice girl, got married and started a family. Sam moved away from the scene of his crime to a nearby suburb, where he never got around to telling Anne Marie the truth about his past, although he did tell her some lies, including that his own parents had been killed in a house fire. In constrast, Thomas Coleman, who shows up one day at Sam's front door, really did lose his parents in a house fire, the same fire that Sam Pulsifer accidentally started many years ago. Thomas swears revenge on Sam's apathetic apology for accideintally starting the blaze, and suddenly Sam's life is turned upside down. As more fires are started around New England -- the Edward Bellamy House, Mark Twain's place, the Robert Frost Home - Sam is kept busy trying to track down the arsonists and clear his name. A bumbler through and through, Sam seeks the culprit while avoiding the questions of the official detective on the case, and discovers more truths than he wanted to find.

Brock Clarke gives us Ironic self-referential fiction with elitist literary references, slow pacing, and painfully awkward characters each bumbling through their own depressingly realistic and unfulfilled lives- and I mean that in the best possible way. His writing is scattered with humor and humility across a large expanse of musing and self-doubt, reaction and drunkeness. The novel toucheso n themes like the effect of literature and stories on our lives, truth and fiction, love, loss and the meaning of life. The ultimate question, implicit in the book's title, is "why would anyone want to burn down writers' houses in New England?", or anywhere else for that matter, and what I discovered was that it is a very personal question.
Highly recommended, but only if anything in my description sounded interesting to you.
I read an ARC, but the book should have been published yesterday. 320 pages.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

agnes and the hitman

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
sexy adventure by a dynamic and hilarious writing duo - lots of mafia, lots of sexual tension, lots of page turning good times.
368 pgs. I checked it out from bestseller express!