Have You Heard
…an incredible story that brings together two people from such totally different ways of life, that they form a bond that will touch you in ways that will tug at your heart? A friend of mine recommended that I read An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski. This is a non-fiction book that, while it sounded intriguing, I wasn’t really sure that I liked the subject it dealt with. Once I got started reading though, it only took me about six total hours to read, as I just couldn’t put it down.
Laura is a sales executive, single and white. Maurice is a very young, streetwise African American boy panhandling to stay alive. A chance meeting keeps these two people coming back together, and they form a bond that is hard to understand. Laura’s past deals with an alcoholic father. A lot of the story is about her. Maurice is from the lowest, meanest projects of Manhattan, New York. The glimpse into this life style is at times harrowing and confusing for those who have never experienced it. Laura finds it unbelievable that Maurice doesn’t know how to set a table and has never baked cookies. He doesn’t know how to use a knife to cut his meat. Somewhere in his past though, he has learned to be polite and enthusiastic about life.
Maurice tries to shield Laura from the harsh world of his drug-addicted mom and dysfunctional family. Laura persists in helping him, and through the ups and downs of weekly meetings, these two gradually learn to trust each other. As Laura and Maurice age, they lose contact with each other for a while, but when they finally get back together, you’ll be amazed at the changes in Maurice’s life. There is nothing sentimental or even earth shattering about this book, but as you read it and even cry through it, you’ll get a glad feeling in your heart.
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
… the Green River Killer, America’s most prolific serial murderer? In her book Green River, Running Red, renowned true crime author Ann Rule chronicles the murder of over fifty women in the Seattle area, as well as the police department’s agonizing search for their killer – a search that began in 1981 and ended 20 years later in 2001, with the arrest of Gary Ridgway.
Green River, Running Red is both a fascinating insight into a high-profile murder investigation, as well as a horrifying portrait of a real-life serial killer that goes beyond anything I’ve ever seen in the movies. In the last part of the book, Ann Rule also includes transcribed portions from Ridgway’s confession, when he explains why he killed all those women. It’s guaranteed to send chills down your spine.
I might even go so far as to say this was one of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read. The book contains photographs of many of the victims, as well as photos and mug shots of Ridgway himself, which made the story that much more realistic for me. As a true crime novel, this is one of the best, and I guarantee that if you read Green River, Running Red, you will never look at your friends and neighbors the same way again.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… sacrifice, struggle and yet being lifted by the end of a movie? In the DVD Lifted, you will meet Henry, a really talented kid with a singing voice so powerful it will have you crying by the end of the film. Henry’s dad is a military reservist and is recalled to Afghanistan. This movie starts out really slowly, and you might feel that it is not worth your time, but hang in there to the end, because it just could change how you look at life.
Most families in tough economic times struggle with daily life, but for the military family, it’s even harder. If you are a single civilian parent, yes it’s really hard to keep things together, but in the military, it’s doubly hard. One or both parents could be called to serve at any time or even the same time. If you are a reservist, never knowing when you might be called to active duty can be frustrating for any type of plans you might make. Civilians don’t seem to understand the attitude or need to be consistently organized, the “do it now” feeling, and the constant fear a military family goes through. You never lose this feeling. You try to prepare for the worst and hope it doesn’t happen.
Can or could you cope? Back in the early 70s, military pay was about $1.25 per hour. You were “on call” 24/7. Do the math for a one-month period and then look at your life now. Military pay is still less than the minimum wage. While Henry’s Dad is in Afghanistan, his mom struggles to pay the mortgage, no easy feat on a military salary. Henry’s mom is a drug addict who goes to meetings, but when things start to fall apart, Henry and his mom go to live with his redneck grandfather who doesn’t approve of Henry’s singing or the way he dresses. A phone call from Henry’s dad is joyous, but a loud noise in the background disrupts the call. It’s not until much later in the film that you realize what actually happened, when a flashback shows the scene in Afghanistan during the phone call. When Henry is bullied by kids in his school, he takes refuge in a church. Henry meets the local preacher, played by Ruben Studdard, who takes an interest in his singing and encourages him to enter a singing competition. Henry expects his dad to be there.
Henry’s mom knows what happened with the phone call. She can’t cope and goes back on drugs, leaving Henry to his own devices and his grandfather’s mean streak. With determination, Henry makes it to the singing competition, and he does well with the help of his father. However, his father really isn’t there. (This is where you will need a tissue – possibly several.) Henry is eliminated from the competition, but when one of his fellow contestants drops out gracefully with an explanation that leaves you in tears, you will understand why Henry is back in the competition. As a tribute to his dad, Henry belts out Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan with such raw emotion it will leave you breathless. The ending is about everyday life and military “angels.”
Male or female, you will enjoy this movie despite the slow start, even with the tears at the end. It is well worth your time to watch this film and not fast forward through it.
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
… the future of Earth, when children are trained as vicious soldiers? In Ender’s Game*, by Orson Scott Card, children from all over the world are trained at Battle School to fight as soldiers in an upcoming battle with Earth’s mortal alien enemies, the buggers. And Ender Wiggin is hailed as the answer to the military’s prayers – a ten-year-old prodigy trained as a brilliant, creative, and ruthless general. During his time at Battle School, Ender trains using mock battles and computer-simulated games designed to push him to his physical and mental limits. But the longer he’s at Battle School, the more Ender suspects that his training is more than just a game.
Ender Wiggin is a really complex and interesting hero. In training, he is wise beyond his years and a brilliant strategist, but in his everyday life, he struggles with issues of friendship, humanity, love, and isolation. He is revered, mocked, and hated for his brilliance, and so he must learn to cope and take care of himself– a lot to ask of someone who begins his training as a soldier at age six.
This is an interesting and compelling book for adults and teenagers alike, and even for people like me who haven’t read much science fiction. And make sure to read the book before the movie comes out at the end of the year!
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
…the latest mystery and murder in Washington D.C? Cherry Blossom Capers* by Gina Conroy, Frances Devine, Cara C. Putman and Lynette Sowell has something for everyone in this four-in-one collection of short stories. Each novella is a standalone, but the characters are Tara, an assistant chef at the White House, Susan, who owns a sweetshop, Ciara, an attorney, and Samantha, a budding archeologist. They each show up in other stories and are neighbors.
While mystery and murder are the theme of each novella, romance also plays a big part. The murder of a judge runs through each storyline, making these stories loosely connected. When each story ends, it’s not really the end of the mystery as it’s continued into the next story line, making for some really puzzling red herrings that will keep you reading in large blocks of time to the last page.
*Cherry Blossom Capers is part of the Romancing America series of unconnected inspirational romance novels.
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
… the house in California that drives people to torment and madness? In the first season of American Horror Story, the Harmon family move into a beautifully-renovated Victorian house in California, hoping for a fresh start after husband Ben Harmon’s affair.
But the house (known to tourists as the “Murder House”) has an unspeakably-violent history. A middle-aged man had an affair with a next-door neighbor and burned his wife and children alive. A surgeon from the 1920’s developed a Frankenstein complex and stitched pig heads to dead bodies. A homosexual couple was brutally murdered by a man in a black rubber suit and then buried in the basement. And now, the house is waiting to claim the Harmon family next.
American Horror Story does not shy away from showing us the worst that human beings can inflict on each other. There’s torture, murder, sex, blackmail, mutilation, adultery, and insanity– enough to make you sit up and say, “Oh, no– They did NOT just do that!” And that’s just in the first three episodes!
Horror fans, this is a show too outrageous and creepy to miss. Prepare to become hopelessly, hopelessly addicted.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… flat tops, DAs and “a little dab will do ya”? Rock & Roll Generation: Teen Life in the 50s by Time Life Books is a look at the teen fads of the 1950s.The book starts out with a general look at the 1950s – the end of WWII, the political scene – and then goes on to describe all of the fabulous things that happened to teens in the 50s.
We were the first teens to hold down great-paying jobs, and we had money to burn. We were no longer were content to “follow the rules” of the previous generations. Everything seemed to change – how we dressed, how we ate and what we listened to. Each generation since then has always thought they were the first to rebel or be different. If you remember the 50s, you were there when rock and roll started. You’re an original! Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley & the Comets, Frankie & Fabian. Remember rushing home from school to watch American Bandstand with Dick Clark? Ok, so just about every generation had Bandstand in their life, but we were the first.
Guys wore their hair either as a crew cut (flat tops) or ducktail (DAs), and Brylcreem was the dab that was just greasy enough to keep everything in place. Chinos and penny loafers for guys were in. Girls wore scuffed saddle shoes with white bobby socks and poodle skirts, charm bracelets and pullover sweaters with an initial pin. Flips and high ponytails were the hairstyles. In the 1950s, a vinyl record album cost $1.98. A good record player cost about $40.00. James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel without a Cause, and Gidget with Sandra Dee and James Darren were at the movies. Mad magazine was brand new, and no matter where you lived you “scooped the loop” on a Friday night.
This book will bring back a lot of memories if you were a teen in the fabulous 50s. If you aren’t quite that old, you will see how things have changed over the years.
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
…Brenna Yovanoff’s fantastic new spine-tingler? First of all, I love Brenna Yovanoff’s writing. Her first two books, The Replacement and The Space Between, are wonderfully creepy and beautifully sad. Yovanoff writes about teens, but not the way we adults think about teenagers. We think of adolescence as a time of irresponsibility and freedom, but from the perspective of a teen, it’s a time of insecurity, a loss of innocence, and a deep fear of the unknown. Yovanoff captures that sadness like no other writer.
Paper Valentine is Yovanoff’s most poignant work to date. It follows Hannah and her best friend Lillian during a brutally hot summer when a serial killer is striking at the heart of their sleepy town. The complication? Lillian has been dead for six months.
The beauty of Yovanoff’s writing is that as a reader, you hardly notice that Lillian is a ghost. The dialogue is so strikingly honest, I became absorbed in the unique relationship that Hannah and Lillian share. Her characters use the language we really use, and feel emotions that we really feel. Most writers avoid feelings of ambivalence and confusion, but Yovanoff embraces them.
I highly recommend Paper Valentine to teens and adults who are interested in breaking into young adult fiction.
Reviewed by Sara (staff)
… the people who are Old Order Amish and Mennonite? Leah Yoder longs to get married and raise a large family. Her Amish roots stress family and community helping each other, something Leah has rarely questioned. Leah’s Choice*, by Emma Miller, finds Leah attending a community lecture given by Mennonite Daniel Brown. Daniel is a missionary and also a nurse. He spreads the word of God while he administers to people in faraway places. Daniel is taken by Leah’s loveliness and wants to get to know her better. Leah is immediately smitten with the way he talks and looks. She knows it is forbidden to mingle with someone who isn’t Amish, but she has not yet been baptized and brought into the church. What she thinks is secretive on her part - seeing Daniel unchaperoned - really isn’t. Her sisters see love in her eyes. It’s against each of their faiths to marry each other. Will these two ever find a common ground? It is a surprise as to how Daniel and Leah conquer all.
This is a quick and very satisfying read. This is book four in the “Hannah’s Daughter’s” series*. While it is not necessary to read the previous books, you might want to give them a try to find out about some of Leah’s other sisters.
* Earlier books in the series include Courting Ruth, Miriam’s Heart and Anna’s Gift.
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
… the information hidden within your cells? In The Violinist’s Thumb and Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, Sam Kean takes us through the history of mankind’s understanding of genetics and heredity, from early beliefs through Mendel’s pea plants to the Human Genome Project. Along the way, he touches on a wide variety of subjects, including the effects of the nuclear bombs on people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, differences (and similarities) between Neanderthals and humans, and the extent to which genes determine our destiny.
Mr. Kean is an engaging writer, introducing the reader to the personalities and quirks of the many scientists involved in the study of genes, chromosomes, and DNA. He also takes a difficult subject and makes it interesting and understandable to the average person, much as he did with The Disappearing Spoon and elements (previously reviewed). Mr. Kean adds a very personal note to the narrative by talking about the results of his own genetic test and his fears about the chance that he could be at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease.
This well-written book provides an interesting account of the history of genetics, our current understanding of the field, and what scientists are looking at next. The author also looks at how our understanding of DNA affects everything from history and archaeology, to sociology and, of course, medicine.
Reviewed by Fran (staff)