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October 2008 Staff Book Reviews

Autumn leavesAutumn is officially here, and soon the leaves will change colors and the air will become crisp.

As your activities move indoors, the Pioneer Library System staff would like to share some books with you that they have recently enjoyed. The list below includes comedy, historical fiction, drama, and even some vampires that will hopefully interest all readers.

Find a comfortable chair, couch or window seat to curl up on and enjoy a good book as the Oklahoma trees get ready to display their beautiful Autumn colors and the breeze sends a little chill.

book jacket for Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Genre: Biography
Staff Reviewer: Steven Streetman, Norman Public Library
5 stars

Born Standing Up is a short but very rich and thoughtful autobiography by Steve Martin chronicling his career as a standup comic, from stints in Bay-area coffeehouses in the swinging '60's up until he called it quits in 1981 - at only 35 years of age, and still the hottest comic draw in the business. Martin's path as a performer is a fascinating one. His childhood ambition was to be a magician, a dream he cultivated performing rudimentary rind-and-handkerchief stunts for parents and Cub Scouts, and later as a cashier at a Disneyland gift shop, where he began to develop stage patter and an appreciation for a well-timed joke. He moved on to join the acting troupe at Knott's Berry Farm (where he met his first lover - now a prominent Christian author) and began to morph his magic show into a comedic act - replete with his infamous banjo playing. the book is packed with television comedy zeitgeist - Martin's turn as a writer/sometime performer on the seminal Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, numerous Tonight Show, Dinal Shore and Merv Griffin appearances, and historic spots on a burgeoning Saturday Night Live. Along the way, he became the most successful standup comic the world had ever known - a role he walked away from at the height of his fame. Why? Read the book and see. Better yet, listen to the author tell it; Pioneer Library system owns copies of Born Standing Up on compact disc read by Steve Martin himself - again, replete with his infamous banjo.

book jacket for Day of Tears by Julius Lester
Genre: Teen Fiction
Staff Reviewer: Jenny Stenis, Center for Readers Services
five stars

Emma is the property of Pierce Butler and takes care of his two daughters, Sarah and Frances. Fanny Demble-Butler, Pierce's wife and an abolitionist, has left her like minded daughter Sarah and Frances behind. Pierce has been raising Frances Butler to take over the plantation when he is gone. But now Pierce Butler must pay off mounting gambling debts and to do so he must cash in his "assets" and host the biggest slave auction in American History. Although promising not to sell Emma, money, desperation and greed causes him to lose sight of his humanity and she is sold. In first person accounts, Lester tells this dramatic and haunting story. Day of Tears is based on an historical event and is a story you won't soon forget.

book jacket for Full Service by Will Weaver
Genre: Teen Fiction
Staff Reviewer: Alice Fielding, Pioneer Service Center
four stars

Full Service takes place in 1965, but it was published forty years later and feels like it. The dialogue and characterizations seem recent compared with books that were written in 1965. The book tells the story of Paul, a teenage farm boy from a nondenominational Christian sect in rural Minnesota. His mother, hearing stories about the changing world on the radio, sends him to get a summer job in town so that he can be exposed to more than farm life. The book chronicles the change in Paul's personality from a shy, polite boy with intricate knowledge of corn planting by not much else to an aggressive, rebellious young man. Finally, Paul comes to a place where he can balance the different experiences he has had with different people he has met. At times the storytelling and dialogue seem stiff and forced, although the detailed descriptive passages bring a clear picture of Paul's community into the reader's mind. Paul's descent into secular vices is predictable, but the ending is uplifting. The one part that really does ring true to life is the conflict most of us experience in our mid-to-late teens between our parents' values and our culture's values and how to reconcile the two. Paul goes back and forth, just as many adolescents do in real life. This is quite believable. as are the anecdotes about Paul's religious life and his knowledge of farming. A decent read if you're looking to pass the time; however, this is no Outsiders.

book jacket for Into the Fire by Suzanne Brockmann
Genre: Adult Fiction
Staff Reviewer: Katie Tally, Public Information intern
five stars

Into the Fire is Suzanne Brockmann's latest installment in her Troubleshooters series. The book picks up the story of Hinh Murphy - former Marine and operative of the elite Troubleshooters Incorporated security team - who has been MIA since his wife was killed in a conflict with the neo-Nazi Freedom Network. When Freedom Network's leader Tim Ebersole is murdered, Murphy becomes the chief suspect. With the help of longtime friend, Hannah Whitfield, Murphy must fight to prove his innocence and keep those he loves alive. But no Troubleshooter novel would be complete without the long list of secondary characters and subplots that Brockmann weaves together so masterfully. Readers familiar with the Troubleshooters series will recognize almost all the characters of Into the Fire from previous books. Brockmann adds drama and suspense to the main plot by giving insight into the always complicated lives of the secondary characters. But for those unacquainted with the series, Brockmann gives enough information to familiarize readers with the characters' various back stories. Into the Fire simultaneously left me satisfied and wanting more. The secondary characters are just as compelling as the main characters, and almost steal the show. At the end of the book I was pleased with the conclusion of Murphy and Hannah's mystery romance, but left wondering what was going to happen in the lives of all the other characters. I know Brockmann will not leave me wondering for too long though, and I eagerly await her next Troubleshooters novel in February 2009. Brockmann is a refreshing voice in romantic suspense. Her books are always packed with page-turning action and passion, and each character is distinct with a unique story. Her characters never get to the end simply; each story is full of twists and turns to keep the reader hooked. She successfully keeps the reader interested in recurring characters by injecting new conflicts and problems in their lives. This book is a must-read for anyone who is familiar with Brockmann's characters or for someone who just enjoys an entertaining, action-packed book.

book jacket for The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
Genre: Adult Fiction
Staff Reviewer: Amanda Theaker, Public Information intern
five stars

The infamous rulers of the Tudor dynasty have recently become minor celebrities in American pop culture. With the popularity of Showtime's The Tudors and Phillipa Gegory's The Other Boleyn Girl, Tudor mania has taken over. The Lady Elizabeth appears to be just another historical fiction novel, created to capitalize on the Tudor fad. Even though this probably helped prompt the novel's publication, Weir is able to play off a fad, while still creating a wonderfully engrossing and informative narrative. The novel opens when Elizabeth is only three years old, shortly after her mother the infamous Anne Boleyn, is beheaded. Not long after, Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII, marries Jane Seymour and Elizabeth is declared illegitimate so that Jane's children can succeed Henry. Elizabeth is launched into a difficult and confusing world filled with treason, betrayal, and power where the smallest mistake could mean losing your head. At the end of this treacherous road lies Elizabeth's destiny: the throne of England. Weir's writing is fast-paced and filled with just enough detail to easily move the reader from scene to scene. I found it hard to believe that this is only Weir's second fictional novel, after Innocent Traitor: a novel of Lady Jane Grey, because it feels like it from a master. She weaves together history with fiction just enough that the novel is informative, but not a history lesson. Fans of Phillipa Gregory's Tudor court will find The Lady Elizabeth to be a fresh read. I'll even dare to say that Alison Weir is a better writer and storyteller. While Gregory tends to get rather tedious with her stories and focuses on sex, Weir is more interested in building a plot that moves along with every sentence. Is it possible that Gregory, the current queen of historical fiction, could be toppled by Weir?

book jacket for Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Genre: Adult fiction
Staff Reviewer: Katie Parker, Public Information intern
five stars

Sundays at Tiffany's is like a perfect afternoon trying on diamonds. The characters entice you with their sparkle and the story sweeps you off your feet, like every man buying a woman jewelry should, with its daring imagination. Jane Margaux is the daughter of famous Broadway producer Vivienne Margaux. She's kind, intelligent, and adorable, but at eight, she finds herself already displeasing her mother. Michael is Jane's only friend, make that best friend - but he's imaginary. Jane thinks that Michael is perfect until he leaves her. When every child turns nine their imaginary friend must leave and so Michael does. Years later, Jane is all grown up, but still lonely and a disappointment to her mother despite her own Broadway success. Stuck in a life that's no where near happy, she meets a man. He's perfect and surprisingly just like Michael. But is this new love only there to help Jane out of a slump or there to stay? Can Jane stand to lose her best friend again? Author James Patterson is known for his thriller books, some of which have been made into movies such as Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. With Sundays at Tiffany's, Patterson still gives readers a thrill of romantic sorts. Author Gabrielle Charbonnet, who has written various children's books, helped to fill out the book as a co-writer. stretches loves' limits but in a good way that leaves readers delightfully excited and breathless. Full of complications, this book gives readers characters that are relatable and unforgettable. Fans of The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks will find themselves captured just the same with Sundays at Tiffany's. Other who enjoy romantic stories with a twist won't be able to put this book down.

book jacket for Undead and Unworthy by Mary Janice Davidson
Genre: Adult Fiction
Staff Reviewer: Crystal Inman, Shawnee Public Library
four stars

I'll admit it, I read the Undead series for pure entertainment. Any book with a heroine who will risk her life and her sanity for shoes is something I have to read. Betsy, Snarky Queen of the Undead, seems to attract trouble like an unsuspecting vampire magnet. And this book is no different. Recently married to Sinclair Betsy finds herself tied up with more troubles. Fiends that want to kill her and a horrific deceased stepmother who haunts her. Then there's her best friend's boyfriend who would like nothing better than to stake her. (Read the rest of the series for the back story.) Ms. Davidson offers up this book as a beginning of a trilogy within a series. She takes a few risks within the pages but basically sticks to what works, Queen of the Undead battling internal and external forces while effortlessly doling out sarcasm. Betsy, Queen of the Undead, worked in this series for a reason - she's simple, yes, but it's her undead heart that consistently wins the reader over. And here, also, this book is no different.

book jacket for The Unlikely Lavendar Queen: a memoir of unexpected blossoming by Jeannie Ralston
Genre:Adult Non-Fiction
Staff Reviewer: Theresa Tittle, Norman Public Library
four stars

For fans of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, The Unlikely Lavender Queen treads similar grounds: the feminine midlife crisis. Where Gilbert's crisis arose from her desire not to have children, Ralston's introspection takes the more traditional routes; hers is the result of her ticking maternal clock. In her book, Ralston must reconcile her love of the big city, her liberal, feminist beliefs with her desire to have a family and her new life in a very small, very conservative Texas town. Through the first half of the book she glories in the memory of her New York City lifestyle and finds her new, rural environment wanting. But then the birth of her son and a trip to Provence change her outlook. Instead of distancing herself from her small town world she embraces it by being more socially active and open minded. Initially she helps open a Montessori school, sits on its board and commits to fund raising for the school. She also creates a monthly independent film night for the town, bringing a taste of New York culture to small town Texas. Then lavender enters her life. Initially it was her husband who planted thousands of the herb plants on their farm, but it was Ralston who took charge of the lavender experiment and turned a small town into the lavender heart of Texas.

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