BookClique

Here we will post our musings on a wide variety of titles. You can comment on our posts and find the titles in our catalog.

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird

goodspyA good biography is hard to find, and The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames is one such rare tome. In 1983, a bomb exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. It marked the beginning of Hezbollah as a political force, but even more importantly, it eliminated America’s most influential and effective intelligence officer in the Middle East — CIA operative Robert Ames. Kai Bird’s fascinating biography examines Ames’ extraordinary ability to form deep, meaningful connections with key Arab intelligence figures. Some operatives relied on threats and subterfuge, but Ames worked by building friendships and emphasizing shared values — never more notably than with Yasir Arafat’s charismatic intelligence chief and heir apparent Ali Hassan Salameh (aka “The Red Prince”). Ames’ deepening relationship with Salameh held the potential for a lasting peace. Readers also learn about Ames’ personal life and formation and gain insights into the turbulent world of the Middle East. The Good Spy is an excellent complement to gaining knowledge about today’s Middle East divisiveness and America’s role in the region. Bird is the Pulitzer-winning co-author of American Prometheus.

Amy P.


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Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman

ruinfallsIn Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman, Liz Daniels is living a happy life juggling a mini organic farm and business, two kids, and a husband, Paul, who is a professor at the local college. Liz is all for sustainable living and does her best to follow her beliefs 90% of the time, but her husband is very rigid about it. He subjects the entire family to his rules along with lectures about the evils of modern farming methods and food if he so much as sees anyone have a piece of gum. (Oddly enough, though, as concerned as the family is with Mother Earth, they still have computers and cell phones.) He decides to take the family on vacation to visit his estranged parents and on the way, the children are kidnapped.  The police become involved, and then Paul disappears.  The police write off the kidnapping and assume that Paul has taken the kids so therefore, there is no crime.  Is Paul involved in taking their kids, or is he a victim? Liz starts digging and discovers along the way that she didn’t know her husband as well as she thought she did and that she spent her whole marriage letting her husband make all the decisions. Above all, she is in a race against time to get her children back, but she also becomes a stronger, more assertive individual along the way. Good, fast read.

Stacy W.


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The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

transcriptionistAmy Rowland’s The Transcriptionist is a small and delightful novel about the power of language, changing technologies, media ethics, and human relationships. The protagonist, Lena, is one of the few remaining transcriptionists at the thinly veiled Record (aka the New York Times). As a refuge from the academy, Lena spouts quotations instead of repartee, forms stunted relationships with the reporters she serves and enters a surprising friendship with a quirky old man in the morgue (newspaper archives). When Lena becomes obsessed with the suicide of a blind woman she has met on the bus, her desire for truth contrasts with the daily journalism with which she interacts. Rowland makes Lena real, and it’s the reader’s identification with Lena that makes this novel so good. Amy Rowland has spent more than a decade at the New York Times, where she worked, notably, as a transcriptionist before moving to the Book Review. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, the Smart Set, and the Utne Reader. I will be waiting for Rowland’s next foray into fiction.

Amy P.


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Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

fortunespawnDeviana Morris has one goal: to become a Devastator, an armored guard and fighter under the direct command of the Sainted King of Paradox. But to become a Devastator, a girl has to get a serious reputation, so Devi sets out to do just that. With her own Lady Gray armor, Devi can kick ass better than just about anyone. She joins Captain Cardwell’s ship, The Glorious Fool, because he has a reputation for finding himself in the deepest of trouble, and overcoming trouble will help Devi achieve her goal. At first, Devi is sure she’s made a mistake, as her first days on the ship are boring, without a hint of trouble in sight. But then, trouble arrives, and in spades. Devi soon finds herself dealing with angry aliens, mysterious missions, invisible creatures, and muddled memories. And to top it all off, Devi finds the most confounding trouble of all: Devi finds love with the hunky ship’s cook, Rupert. Can Devi manage all of the drama and turmoil and stay alive to become a Devastator? Can she and Rupert be happy in spite of it all? Devi is sure going to give it her best effort, but even her best effort may not be good enough.

I loved this book! Fortune’s Pawn is a space opera with interesting aliens, love, and lots and lots of fighting. This was the type of story that made me fall in love with science fiction stories in the first place. As I read, I had that giddy, happy feeling that I felt while reading my favorite Andre Norton books when I was younger. I look forward to more titles from Ms. Bach. I’ve already read the second book in this series, titled Honor’s Knight. It’s just as good, and I’m ready to dive into the third book, Heaven’s Queen. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Annette G.


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Two Emily Dickinson Titles

emily1I enjoy fiction about literary persons so I was intrigued by the reviews of two juvenile titles involving Emily Dickinson. See those New York Times reviews here: http://nyti.ms/1guT188.

Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli is written for the 9-12 female audience, featuring the spunky Suzy, a tween who loves to read, is passionate about Phillies’ baseball, and just might be interested in her first boyfriend. Written in free verse, the novel captures the wonderful human relationships in the neighborhood, the frustrations of sibling rivalry and gently looks at race relations. When Suzy becomes Emily for several days, those relationships are challenged and Suzy learns more about Emily Dickinson…and herself. Illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff add to this book’s enjoyment.

emily2Miss Emily, written by Burleigh Mutén and illustrated by Matt Phelan, is also a verse novel. It takes as its premise that Miss Dickinson invites several Amherst children to sneak out at midnight and watch a circus train arrive. She assumes the name Prosperina, “Queen of the Night”; the children become Gypsies; adventures ensue. The plot line may be appealing to young boys as well as girls, providing an opportunity to introduce the K-3 set to Miss Dickinson’s naturalistic and minimalist verse.

Both of these titles along with Dickinson’s selected poems would be suitable for both the classroom and an adult book discussion. Highly recommended.

Amy P.


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Lock In by John Scalzi

lockinIn the near distant future, a new virus takes its place on the world stage; the majority of those who are infected suffer flu like symptoms, and a smaller percent suffer meningitis-like symptoms. While many of the smaller group die, a few survive and find that they are “locked in” to their own body, fully aware but unable to move or respond to their surroundings. While the numbers of those locked in are small comparative to the total population, about 1.7 million people in the U.S. alone must deal with this condition. Technology comes to the rescue, creating a new “virtual” environment called the Agora, where lock in’s can interact with each other and with those in the real world. This technology also allows lock ins to put themselves into robotic bodies called “threeps,” (after C3PO, natch!) so they can interact with the physical world. A few virus survivors, called integrators, have the new ability to allow lock ins to “borrow” their human body and use it as their own, for a price. Enter Chris Shane, an FBI agent and a lock in who works his job both via a threep and via the Agora. His partner, Louise Vann, is one of the rare individuals who can allow lock ins to borrow her body. When integrators start dying and a major medical research firm is blown up, the FBI fears a deeper conspiracy. Someone, it seems, is trying to use the lock ins and their special needs for their own profit or gain. It’s up to Shane and Vann to figure out whom, before the conflict escalates beyond repair. Lock In is an excellent sci-fi thriller, with great pacing, snappy dialogue, and a thought-provoking plot. I highly recommend it.

Annette G.


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Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman

drybonesvalleyOfficer Henry Ferrell works in Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania, a rural northern town whose economy and landscape is slowly being changed by encroaching gas drilling operations. When the body of a young man is revealed by the March snow melt, Henry and his deputy, George Ellis, start an investigation. When George Ellis winds up dead, Henry is pulled into a maelstrom of police politics, small town attitudes, family feuds, and drug-related crimes. Like a hound dog following a scent, Henry tenaciously follows lead after lead, hoping for a revelation into the cause of both murders. Yet  the truth remains elusive. Henry must become more cunning and daring in his attempts to solve both crimes, efforts that soon make him a target as well. Dry Bones in the Valley is the first of a series and a debut for Tom Bouman. The pacing was even and relentless, and Henry was a likeable man with hidden depths. The rugged Pennsylvania landscape provided an evocative setting for an excellent mystery. Highly recommended.

Annette G.


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Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman

rageagainstBrigid Quinn is 59 and happily enjoying her first marriage to a wonderful man named Carlo. They read together. They collect rocks. They have pugs. Life is good, and Brigid knows it; before marrying Carlo, Brigid led a completely different life. She was an FBI agent who specialized in catching violent criminals. Brigid loved her job, but over the years, the senseless violence perpetrated on innocent victims made her angry. She killed an unarmed criminal, tarnishing her stellar career. So she retired. Lo and behold, she found Carlo, found love, and is determined to be the perfect little wife. However, her old life seems determined to ruin her new one; a man has come forward, admitting to killing a string of women, including Jessica, a rookie agent Brigid once helped train. Now, Brigid is pulled into the investigation, and soon, the violence of the past threatens her in the present. Brigid must not only figure out what truly happened to the young FBI agent; she may have to save another, all while trying to save her marriage.

I very much enjoyed Rage Against the Dying. Brigid is a true career woman: she gave her all to her job and didn’t really give much of herself to living real life. She can’t cook, can’t do small talk, and is so practiced at keeping secrets that she doesn’t know how to share even tiny pieces of herself. She reminded me a bit of Helen Mirren’s character in the movie Red, who pretends domestic bliss but takes spy jobs on the sly. Even though she’s retired, Brigid is still good at her job. Criminals, beware!

Annette G.


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Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

halfbrokehorsesLily Casey, oldest of three children, was a tough young girl. Born in 1903 in West Texas, Lily had to be tough to help her family live daily life. By eleven, she was in charge of hiring help for her father, who raised carriage horses. At fifteen, she rode 500 miles alone on horseback to take a teaching job in Arizona. She learns to ride like a cowboy, to play poker like a card shark, and she isn’t afraid to draw her pistol when necessary. The American West has been romanticized by our movies, TV shows, and books. In Half Broke Horses, we see what life was really like, and honestly, I think that Lily Casey puts all those TV and movie cowboys—men or women—to shame. She is a strong woman, and she leaves an impression wherever she goes. Lily is the grandmother of the author, Jeannette Walls, of The Glass Castle fame. Jeannette wrote this book based upon family stories of Lily’s life, and in doing so, she gives us a wonderful glimpse of the true “Old West.” Her prose captures Lily’s voice, which Jeannette says she still clearly remembers. Lily Casey accepted life as it came to her and dealt her hand as best she could. I will remember her no-nonsense, direct attitude toward life for a long time to come.

Annette G.


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Invisible City by Julia Dahl

invisiblecityInvisible City is Julia Dahl’s debut novel. Dahl is a writer/reporter for CBS news based in New York City. Invisible City‘s protagonist is Rebekah Roberts, a young journalist trying to break into the business as a newspaper stringer. When a Hasidic woman is found brutally murdered, Rebakah’s backstory (born to and abandoned by her mother, a Hasidic Jew, and left to be raised by her Christian father), aligns in surprising ways with her ‘break-out’ news story. Dahl’s pacing is excellent and her in-depth knowledge of the media world adds verisimilitude to this tale. Rebekah Roberts is a compelling character…could a series be forthcoming? I hope so.

Amy P.

 


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