Posts Tagged ‘realistic characters’


August 8, 2012

  Author:  Emma Donoghue

Title: Room

Genre:  Psychological Suspense, Bestseller

Publication Date:  2010

Number of Pages:  321

Geographical Setting:  Not specified- probably North America

Time Period:  Present

Series (If applicable):

Plot Summary:  Five-year-old Jack has lived in Room his entire life.  His Ma was abducted at age 19 and forced to live in a one-room shed for seven years.  She has done the best she could raising a small child, making sure he has been fed and healthy and keeping their captor from coming near Jack.  But, as Jack gets older she knows they must get out and away from “Old Nick”.  Escape is dangerous and the outside world will be scary but Jack and Ma are ready for a new life and a second chance.

Subject Headings: Boys-Fiction, Mother and Child- Fiction, Kidnapping-Fiction, Psycopaths- Fiction, Escapes- Fiction

Appeal:  compelling, engrossing, detailed characterization, intriguing, realistic characters, well- drawn characters, complex, issue oriented, thought-provoking, bittersweet, foreboding, candid, unusual style

3 terms that best describe this book:  compelling, well-drawn characters, thought-provoking

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Anatomy of a Kidnapping- Steven L Berk
In March 2005, Dr. Steven Berk was kidnapped in Amarillo, Texas, by a dangerous and enigmatic criminal who entered his home, armed with a shotgun, through an open garage door. Dr. Berk’s experiences and training as a physician, enabled him to keep his family safe, establish rapport with his kidnapper, and bring his captor to justice.  This nonfiction book would interest readers who want to hear a true story of abduction from an adult point of view.

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
When Jaycee Dugard was eleven years old; she was abducted from a school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe, California. She was missing for more than eighteen years, held captive by Phillip Craig and Nancy Garrido, and gave birth to two daughters during her imprisonment. On August 26, 2009, Garrido showed up for a meeting with his parole officer; he brought Jaycee, her daughters, and his wife Nancy with him. Their unusual behavior raised suspicions and an investigation revealed the tent behind the Garridos’ home where Jaycee had been living for nearly two decades.  A Stolen Life was written by Jaycee herself and covers the period from the time of her abduction in 1991, up until the present. This book is a very similar, true-life story of Jack’s Ma in Room.

Breaking Night:  A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray
Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. At age fifteen, Liz found herself on the streets when her family finally unraveled. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep. When Liz’s mother died of AIDS, she decided to take control of her own destiny and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. Liz squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a “New York Times” scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League.  This is a compelling story about a woman breaking free from extreme adversity that readers of Room will thoroughly enjoy.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
Che is an eight-year-old boy being raised by his grandmother in New York in the 1960’s.  His parents are radical student activists and Che has been yearning for them since he was very small, but his grandmother has kept him in relative isolation.  One day someone comes to take him back to his real parents and Che enters a wild journey that leads him to Queensland, Australia.  This book deals with the same themes of isolation and kidnapping that Room does.

The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell
A mother and a daughter live quietly in the rustic gatehouse of Shrove House, an isolated British estate. Their life seems perfectly ordinary except that daughter Liza has been kept isolated from the outside world for all of her sixteen years. And that she has seen her beautiful mother commit murder. Now, as the police come searching for a missing man, Liza’s sheltered, strange world begins to fall apart. Room and The Crocodile Bird are both haunting psychological suspense stories in which a child who grew up in isolation now faces the unexpected real world.

Trance by Christopher Sorrentino
When a newspaper heiress is kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, she ends up surprising everyone by taking a new name and staying with her captors.  This story is loosely based on the Patty Hearst case and chronicles the next 16 months of Tania’s life in hiding with them.  Like Room, this book deals with the psychological effects of living in isolation and captivity.

Name:  Becky Ozinga

Sing You Home

December 2, 2011

Author: Jodi Picoult

Title: Sing You Home

Genre: GLBTQ

Publication Date: 2011

Number of Pages: 480

Geographical Setting: Rhode Island

Time Period: Present day

Series (If applicable): N/A

Plot Summary: Zoe and Max Baxter have been plagued by infertility and the birth of a still-born. Zoe desperately wants to continue trying to conceiving while Max has reached his limits. IVF treatments have caused a strain in their marriage that ultimately leads to divorce. Post-divorce, Zoe, a music therapist, finds friendship in the arms of an unexpected friend, Vanessa. Max reverts to alcoholism, and a near-death car accident leads him to become a born-again Christian. Zoe and Vanessa’s relationship blossoms into love, and eventually the couple wants to use Max and Zoe’s frozen embryos for a child. Max does not approve of the relationship, or using the embryos which causes a court battle over the rights of the embryos. Picoult brings a controversial and current issue to the forefront in this thought-provoking novel.

Subject Headings: infertility issues, IVF, divorce, Christianity-homosexuality, lesbian relationships, embryo freezing, music therapy, gay- lesbian rights

Appeal: Current events, character-driven, plot-driven, moving, compelling, lyrical, thought-provoking, compassionate, realistic characters, domestic, issue-oriented, contemporary

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: issue oriented, compassionate, thought-provoking

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

An Introduction to Music Therapy Theory and Practices (3rd Edition) by William B. Davis, Gfeeller and Thaut. A comprehensive overview of the practice of music therapy for the 21st century. It covers the origins, present, and future of music therapy. This book is a good introduction for those interested in music therapy as a career or just wanting to learn more about Zoe’s job in Sing You Home.

Every Drunken Cheerleader: Why Not Me? By Kristine Ireland Waits. Women and with infertility difficulties will enjoy the wisdom, humor and warmth of this book filled with information. It provide inspiration for those most challenging times—baby shows, husbands, insurance—and how to cope. Women will laugh, cry and nod their heads in understanding while they read through this book.

Gay and Lesbian Rights in United States: A Documentary History by Walter L. Williams. The history of America’s gay and lesbian community’s struggle for civil and equal rights. This collection of primary documents examines counter-arguments, provides different viewpoints and look at the complexity of gay and lesbian rights. A nice companion to Sing You Home for a reader looking to learn more about gay and lesbian rights in America.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

A Blessed Event by Jean Reynolds Page. Childhood friend Joanne agrees to be surrogate mother for Darla. However, a freak accident that leaves Joanne brain damaged and in a coma but the baby alive.  Darla and Joanne’s family now are fighting over the rights of Joanne’s body. With a controversial and current issue this book draws similarities between Sing you Home over moral issues.

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner. Four women quickly become closely involved when the pregnant one’s husband suddenly dies. The four women include an ivy-league egg-donor, working-class surrogate housewife, and the wealthy pregnant woman and her stepdaughter. This book weaves women’s lives and relationships with present day issues.

A Seahorse Year by Stacey D’Erasmo. A San Franciscan teen goes missing and his parents are frantic trying to find him. Christopher was raised by a gay mother and father and suffers from schizophrenia. The novel delves into the complexity of growing up as a child in a gay parenthood.

Name: Noelle Swanson

Free Food for Millionaires

August 17, 2011

Author:  Min Jin Lee

Title:  Free Food for Millionaires

Genre:  Literary Fiction, Asian-American Fiction

Publication Date:  2007

Number of Pages:  560

Geographical Setting:  New York City

Time Period:  1990’s

Plot Summary:  Recent Princeton economics graduate Casey Han finds herself caught between two worlds.  During her years at Princeton, she became accustomed to the lifestyle of the well-to-do upper middle class – fine dining, expensive clothing, golf outings – but upon leaving college, she is back in her working-class Korean immigrant parents’ two-bedroom apartment in Queens.  During a particularly explosive argument, Casey’s father kicks her out; she suddenly finds herself living off credit cards in Manhattan.  Casey flees to her boyfriend’s apartment, only to find him in bed with not one, but two other women.  Just when she is feeling the most vulnerable, Casey has a chance encounter with Ella Shim, an Upper-East-Side-dwelling childhood acquaintance.  Ella invites Casey to stay with her and her fiancé, Ted, and Ted finds Casey an entry-level job at his investment firm.  In this new chapter in her life, Casey encounters many issues and themes that will be familiar to twenty-something’s: unemployment or underemployment (though well-educated), feeble attempts to find financial stability, and discovering your adult self.  Underlying all this is Casey’s struggle to balance her Korean-American background and her Ivy-League self.  Lee takes the reader through the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of Casey, Ella, Ted and others as they transition through the world of haves and have-nots.

Subject Headings:  Young Women – Identity; Korean American Women; Children of Immigrants; Women College Graduates; Generation Gap

Appeal:  character driven, authentic, detailed, descriptive, unpretentious, reflective, multiple points of view, flawed characters, realistic characters, steady pacing, introspective, open-ended

3 terms that best describe this book: character driven, descriptive, reflective

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Balancing Two Worlds: Asian American College Students Tell Their Life Stories edited by Andrew Garrod and Robert Kilkenny:  14 Asian-American students from Dartmouth University share their insights on identity and their struggles with race, family (especially between generations), religion, the workplace, class, and economics.  Casey’s internal struggles are echoed in Balancing Two Worlds, a poignant look at young adults in the process of uniting their backgrounds with their current point of views.

Green with Envy: Why Keeping Up with the Joneses is Keeping Us in Debt by Shira Boss:  Boss, a business journalist, uses case studies to examine the gap between our financial realities and the public image we try to project, resulting in us living beyond our means.  If you found yourself frustrated with Casey every time she made a poor financial choice, you will find yourself engrossed in Boss’s timely look at America’s spending problem.

Hats!: Make Classic Hats and Headpieces in Fabric, Felt, and Straw by Sarah Cant:  To make ends meet, Casey takes a job selling hats at a department store.  She becomes so enamored by the structure and construction of hats that she begins to take millinery classes.  In Hats! milliner Sarah Cant takes the reader through a step-by-step introduction (with photographs) to creating hats, then expands on the basics to show how to alter designs and add trimmings for hats that are both beautiful and unique.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld:  American Wife is the fictional memoir (based on the life of former First Lady Laura Bush) of Alice Blackwell, from her tumultuous Wisconsin beginnings to her husband’s ascent to the White House.  With the ascension of her family’s political and social status, Alice struggles with her newfound privileges and expectations as a public figure.  Alice’s narration is unpretentious and authentic, and Sittenfeld gives readers a reflective, character-driven novel to become lost in.

Indignation by Philip Roth: It is 1951 and college student Marcus Messner transfers from a local college in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey to the pastoral Winesburg College in Ohio to get away from his overprotective Jewish parents.  He finds himself struggling with culture clashes, the first taste of independence on a college campus, and his academics – if he flunks out or is expelled, he will likely be enlisted to fight in the Korean War.  Like Casey, Marcus’s background adds another layer to his coming-of-age experiences in this character-driven, reflective, and descriptive novel.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: Bengali newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli move to Cambridge in the 1960’s and gives birth to a son named, by mistake, Gogol.  As Gogol grows up, he shuns his name and his Indian background and becomes enveloped in Ivy League WASP culture.  Reflective and descriptive, readers of Free Food for Millionaires will enjoy this character-driven novel of a young man caught between these two cultures.

Name:  Mieko Fujiura

Annie on My Mind

June 24, 2010

Author: Nancy Garden

Title: Annie on my Mind

Genre: GBLT Romance

Publication Date: 1982

Plot Summary: Artistic Annie Kenyon is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art singing to herself one day when Liza Winthrop followers her tune and they meet for the first time. The story includes the intimate and passionate hyper-awareness of new love and weaves the confussion of new realizations intricately into the prosaic dialogue. This is a romantic and poignant story of two girls who find themselves and each other. This is a bittersweet story because they feel the need to keep their relationship a secret and thought-provoking events evolve from this issue-oriented book. Will Liza accept her newly discovered orientation? When will she decide to live her life in the open? And what will her family, friends, and the town say? When Liza agrees to house sit her teacher’s pets one week and invites Annie, we find out. With surprising plot twists, this one big flashback to a secret love will keep you reading all night.

Subject Headings: Lesbian — fiction


bittersweet, character centered, compassionate, descriptive w/o overdoing it, engaging characters, episodic, familiar characters, hidden/secretive, intimate (setting), issue-oriented, poignant, prosaic, realistic characters, romantic, sensual, thought provoking, thoughtful, unembellished, well-crafted

3 words to describe book: secret, poignant, engaging

Read a likes:


Girl Walking Backwards – Bett Williams

Just like Liza, Skye is lonely and confused until she meets another girl she falls in love with.

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

A famous author that has a similar writing style to Garden, discusses being a teenage lesbian whose mother tries to train her.

The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks

A bestselling author writes about a man reading a diary to a woman he doesn’t know. The story turns out to be his story of when he was young and in love and their parents kept them apart. Similar because it’s a love story.


Covering: the hidden assault on our civil rights – Kenji Yoshino

This is a memoir that brings into legal aspects of homosexual civil rights.

Love, Ellen: a mother/daughter journey – Betty DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres’s mother writes a memoir about her reaction when her daughter told her she was homosexual, and how their relationship changed and evolved over time.

Jocks: True stories of America’s gay male athletes – Dan Woog

A collection of true stories about athletes that come out to their athletic community, their reactions and relationships, and how coaches did and should respond.

The Namesake

June 21, 2010

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Title: The Namesake
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 2003
Number of Pages: 291
Geographical Setting: United States
Time Period: 20th Century
Series: No
Plot Summary: Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli arrive in Cambridge, Mass, from India, soon after their arranged marriage, and just as soon are expecting their first child. Upon his arrival, he is given the name Nikhil, but by family he is called Gogol, after the Russian writer whose stories Ashoke believes saved his life many years earlier. When Gogol starts school, his parents try to enforce that he be called Nikhil, but little Gogol refuses. This one early scene becomes emblematic of the struggle Gogol will face his whole life, as he tries to balance his Indian identity with an American boyhood and adolescence. Falling in love, attending school, managing adulthood and career and maintaining his relationship with his parents and sister are all dealt with in this vivid, intelligent book. Brilliant flashes into Indian culture are balanced with the introspection of Gogol’s very personal narrative. A brilliant read for anyone who appreciates stories focusing on details of other cultures, as well as anyone who appreciates the magical combination of vivid storytelling and moving, literary prose.
Subject Headings: India, Families, Parents, Immigrants, Coming of Age
Appeal: Densely written, bittersweet, realistic characters, strong secondary characters, character centered, details of Indian culture, literary, elegant, sophisticated, well-researched, literary references, introspective
Three Terms that Best Describe this Book: Bittersweet, Literary, Details of Indian Culture
Similar Works:

Brick Lane, Monica Ali (Indian Culture, focuses on the effect of arranged marriage and the woman’s role in the Indian family)
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy (prize winner, literary, Indian culture)
The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (focuses on family relations in an immigrant family in America, reflective on other traditions)
The Girl from Foreign, Sadia Shepard (child searching for identity from how she was raised in America, dealing with Indian-American tensions)
Dreams from my Father, Barack Obama (dealing with a multicultural heritage, exploration of a family history)
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (pushing against parental expectation, coming of age)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

June 14, 2010

Author: Jamie Ford

Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Genre: Romance/Gentle Read

Publication Date: 2009

Number of Pages: 285

Geographical Setting: Northwestern United States

Time Period: 1940s and 1986

Series (if applicable): N/A

Plot Summary:

In 1986 the sight of an old Japanese parasol transports Henry Lee back to the 1940s when he was a young Chinese-American boy living in Seattle.  His father, concerned about the war in China, wants his son to grow up American.  His father demands he speak only English, not Cantonese, and even gives him a button with the words “I’m an American” in red, white and blue letters.  Going to an all-white school, Henry is ignored by his peers until a Japanese-American girl named Keiko arrives and befriends Henry while they both work in the cafeteria to help pay tuition.  Henry’s father would never approve of their friendship, and went to great lengths to keep them apart.  When the United States government “evacuates” all people of Japanese descent into internment camps, Keiko and her family are given very little time to deal with their possessions and settle accounts before being carted off to Camp Harmony in Idaho.  Many Japanese families were forced to leave their possessions behind, some of which ended up in the basement of the Panama Hotel in Japantown, Seattle.  Henry tries to stay in touch, sending Keiko letters, and sneaking to Idaho with his older sax-playing friend Sheldon to see for himself the abhorrent conditions in which Keiko was now living.  Told in flashbacks while Henry and his son sift through the boxes filling the basement, Henry’s son learns of the difficult relationship his father and grandfather had, which happens to be similar to his own relationship with his father.  A gripping, beautifully written piece, this story will have you hoping love can be rekindled and bygones can be bygones.

Subject Headings: World War Two, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Love, Racism, Injustice, Relationships

Appeal: deliberate, poignant, realistic characters, layered, timeless, dramatic, nostalgic, romantic, thoughtful, cadenced

3 terms that best describe this book: authentic, poetic, well-crafted

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?)

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps.  Gruenewald, Mary.  2005.

Autobiographical work of what it was like to be a teenage girl in the Internment camps. (Authentic, deliberate)

Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Camp Experience.  Inada, Lawson Fusao, ed.  2000.

Using a scrap-book style, Inada has brought together first-hand accounts of real Japanese-Americans’ experiences in the internment camps of the early-mid 1940s. (Well-crafted, dramatic)

Saying Goodbye: A Memoir for Two Fathers.  Montgomery, M.R.  1989.

Montgomery faced racism when he married a Japanese woman.  Barely knowing his own father, Montgomery tries to learn everything about him; he also learns of his wife’s father and along the way, he sees his own story.  (Thoughtful, timeless)

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

The Moon Looked Down.  Garlock, Dorothy.  2009.

The racism of WWII America was not restricted to those with Japanese ancestry.  This tells the tale of a German whose family moved to Illinois to escape Hitler’s regime.  Later, the town suspects the family of being Nazis and do whatever they can to keep the 20 year old daughter from marrying the man she loves. (Realistic, poignant)

Pictures at an Exhibition.  Houghteling, Sara.  2009.

Recovering art was common in post-WWII Europe, Max Berenzon returns to Paris after surviving the Nazi occupation to find his father’s art gallery empty.  He sets out to find all of them, and reveals his family’s tragic secret along the way. (layered)

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.  Tsukiyama, Gail.  2007.

Set in Japan before, during and after World War Two, two orphaned brothers are raised by their grandparents and hope to pursue excellent careers.  One wants to be a sumo wrestler, the other a master maker of traditional Noh masks, once they have apprenticed themselves, war breaks out and changes everything. (authentic, layered, dramatic)

Name: Kali Buseth

The Man in My Basement: A Novel

November 18, 2009

Author: Walter Mosley

Title: The Man in My Basement: A Novel

Genre: African-American/Literary Fiction

Publication Date: 2004

Number of Pages: 256

Geographical Setting: The village of Sag Harbor, NY

Time Period: Present day (2004)

Series: No

Plot Summary: Charles Blakey’s life is falling apart at the age of thirty-three.  Unemployed, drinking far too much, and estranged from his only friends, he spends his days reading science fiction novels alone in his family’s three-story Sag Harbor home.  The Blakey family has a long history in Sag Harbor dating back to the 17th century when they arrived in New York as free blacks.  Now, however, Charles is in danger of losing the home his family has owned for seven generations.  Nearly penniless, Charles is far behind on his loans, and the bank is threatening to take his house.  Then one day Charles hears a knock at his door.  A mysterious, 57-year-old white man named Anniston Bennet has an unusual propostion.  If Charles is willing to rent him his basement for 65 days, Bennet will pay him nearly $50,000.  Though the money would solve his financial problems, Charles is wary.  Who is this mysterious white man, and why did he chose Charles for this strange request?  Why is Bennet insisting on complete secrecy, and what is contained in the large packages he wants delivered to Charles’ basement?  Though suspicious, Charles begins the monumental task of preparing his basement for Bennet’s arrival.  In the process, he discovers a family heirloom – a trio of ancient African masks – that rekindles in him a sense of belonging, family, and identity.  Charles begins to rethink his decision to rent to Bennet, and his anxiety is multiplied when he learns Bennet plans to construct a prison cell for himself inside Charles’ basement so that he can pay for “crimes against humanity.”  Ultimately, Charles’ need for money and cautious curiosity prevail, and he allows Bennet to lock himself in the basement.  As the 65 days pass, the voluntary “prisoner” and his “warden” engage in several heated conversations that explore themes of guilt, punishment, responsibility, and redemption which all lead to an unpredictable ending that will challenge and haunt readers.

Subject Headings: African-American men;  Unemployed workers;  European-American men;  Rich men;  African-American families — History;  African-Americans — Material culture;  Landlord and tenant;  Race relations;  Power (Social sciences);  Identity (Psychology);  Atonement;  Home ownership;  Debt;  Alcohol use;  Los Angles, California;  Psychological fiction.

Appeal: gripping, steady, realistic characters, vivid, strong secondary characters, mythic, character-centered, complex, literary references, inventive, thought-provoking, sexually explicit, small-town setting, contemporary, haunting, philosophical, psychological, suspenseful, frank, some strong language, realistic dialogue

Three terms that best describe the book: Haunting, Philosophical, Realistic

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Dirty Bird Blues: A Novel by Clarence Major – Manfred Banks is an aspiring blues musician in Chicago who’s life is falling apart thanks to his taste for Old Crow whiskey (aka the “Dirty Bird”).  His wife Cleo has taken their daughter and left him for a preacher, and he can’t find work.  Will he be able to quit the bottle and regain his family or will he spiral into drunken oblivian?  (realistic characters, psychological, realistic dialogue, alcohol abuse, unemployment, search for identity, race relations, inventive)

The Book of Illusions: A Novel by Paul Auster – Since losing his wife and young sons in a plane crash, Vermont English professor David Zimmer has been lost in an alcoholic haze.  When a chance T.V. viewing of old silent film star Hector Mann makes him laugh for the first time in months, Zimmer sets out to track down the actor.  This is a difficult task, however, because Mann had disappeared years before at the height of his fame.  Zimmer’s quest to find Mann leads him to confront death, chaos, and his own guilt and leads to haunting encounter with the old film star.  (gripping, steady pace, realistic characters, complex, haunting, psychological, frank language, alcohol abuse, inventive)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – This classic work traces a young African-American man’s life journey from the South to New York City during which he concludes he is an “invisible man.”  After growing up trusting, the narrator encounters shocking injustices at college, at a paint factory job, and as a member of Harlem’s Communist Party.  These experiences convince him that to whites he has no identity.  He’s an invisible man on to whom they project their own preconcieved ideas.  (gripping, haunting, realistic characters, psychological, thought-provoking, race relations, philosophical, vivid, search for identity)

Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860 by James Oliver Horton – Co-written by professors of sociology at George Washington and George Mason Universities, this book traces the lives of the first free blacks in America from the American Revolution through the Civil War.  It examines this black communities struggles with racial injustice while striving to maintain a unique identity.  This book is about Charles Blakey’s own ancestors.  The Blakey family decended back to these same free black families in Sag Harbor, and it is with this family past that Charles longs to reconnect.

African Masks from the Barbier-Mueller Collection by Iris Hahner-Herzog – Written by a noted ethnologist, this book presents nearly 250 of the finest African masks from the renowned Barbier-Mueller collection.  With 100 color photographs and in-depth essays explaining the origins and uses of the masks, this book offers a fascinating look at fascinating African art form.  As Charles Blakey cleans family heirlooms from his basement, he discovers a trio of “passport” masks from his African ancestors.  These masks help him reconnect with his roots and start to reform his identity.

The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan – Written by a law professor at the University of British Columbia, this book traces the rise of the corporation over the past 150 years and contends that today it is a pathological institution.  As a system “programmed to exploit others for profit,” the modern corporation is a dangerous possessor of great power over society.  When Anniston Bennet wishes to imprison himself in Charles’ basement, it is to atone for the great evils he has committed in service to corporate interests.  He’s exploited the African people and literally killed children to provide profit and power to the corporate elite.

Name: Russ

Arab in America

March 21, 2009

Author: Toufic El Rassi

Title: Arab in America

Genre: Graphic Novel, auto-biography

Publication date: 2007

Number of Pages: 117

Geographical Setting: Urban America

Time period: From 1980’s to 2007

Plot Summary: Toufic El Rassi moved to the United States when he was only one and has been battling with his identity as an Arab-American since. During high school and college he distanced himself away from his Arab heritage and hung with the cool kids, drank, smoked weed and even got arrested, yet never really seemed to fit in with them because of his past. He felt that his only purpose was to serve as the “token” Arab kid. After September 11th things really changed and he began to deny his heritage and say he was of another race completely. Yet as time passed he began to feel that he had nothing to be ashamed of and started to embrace his Arab past and search out what made him deny this heritage for so many years.

Subject Headings: Arab Americans life; Racism; Tales of Citizenship; Bigotry; War protesting; Arab Americans –September 11th; Muslim Americans; Arab Americana– stereo types; autobiography.

Appeal: Unhurried pace, engaging , realistic characters, flashbacks, issue oriented, strong language, thought provoking, accurate, historic details, political, urban, details of growing up Arab in America, detail of racism, details of stereotypes, details of being out of place in society, details of battling identity, candid, edgy, humorous, chatty , frank , simple, thoughtful, witty.

Red Flags: Offensive language, drug use, alcohol abuse

Fiction read-a-likes:

American born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Details of stereotypes, realistic characters, humorous.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Thought provoking, candid, realistic characters, details of growing up Native American in America.

La perdida “The lost only” by Jessica Abel. Engaging, details of battling with identity, lifelike characters, urban setting.

Non Fiction read-a-likes:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi- This graphic novel is a portrait of the author’s daily life growing up in Iran before moving to America. Reading this book will give you a better understanding of some of the beliefs and customs of Middle Eastern people.

Pitch Black by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton. This is the true story of Anthony Horotn, a homeless man who lives in the subway tunnels of New York City. In this graphic novel he tries to show that he doesn’t fit into society and creates beautiful pieces of art with thing most people regard as trash.

Our cancer year by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner ; art by Frank Stack. This award winning book is the true account of a year of a cancer patient and his wife’s life. This novel uses art to show how the fear of cancer can make a person act and at times feel isolated in a community, but also shows how the love of the community and friends can ease these fears.

John B

Hondo by Louie L’Amour

March 11, 2009

Author: Louis L’Amour

Title: Hondo

Genre: Western

Publication Date: 1983

Number of Pages: 191

Geographical setting: South East Arizona, Desert

Time Period: 19 century, During U.S. Westward expansion

Plot Summary: Army scout, part Apache, and very deadly with a gun, Hondo Lane, along with is dog Sam, are tactfully making their way across the desert on their way back to the fort after a run in with the Apache’s left Hondo horseless and the Apaches’ dead. He comes upon a ranch where he hopes to borrow a horse and finds the ranch is home to a woman and her son, whose husband is out with cattle, at least that’s the story she is telling. They are in a very dangerous situation, being all alone in Apache country without a man around, and Hondo tries to take them with him, for reasons other than their safety. The woman refuses to go, but later will regret that decision. After arriving back at the Army fort Hondo hears of the Apaches continued attacks on the “white man” and decides he is going back out to the dangerous desert to rescue the woman and her boy. Hondo is anticipating trouble from the Apaches as he makes his way across the desert, but unbeknownst to him, there is also trouble following him from the fort that has a particular interest in making sure he never makes it back to the ranch. Hondo must use his knowledge of the desert, his knowledge of the Apaches, as well as his colt rifle, if he wants to ever see the woman and her son again.

Subject Headings: Western; Arizona; Desert; Desert living; Indians–Apaches; Indian–wars; Tracking; Horses; Man–dog relationships; Man — boy relationships; Man–woman relationship; U.S Army–Apache wars; Gunmen.

Appeal: Steady pace, engaging characters, lifelike characters, realistic characters, action oriented, semi-violent, straight forward plotline, detailed setting, desert setting, accurate setting, details of life in the desert setting, details of Apache life setting, menacing atmosphere, foreboding, candid language, natural language, western dialect language.

Red Flags: Scalping, descriptions of death by guns, stabbed dog, horses shot.

Suggested Fiction

The Searchers by Alan Lemay. Man–Child relationship; Desert setting; Indians

A Town Called Fury by William Johnston. Indian aggression; Details of Western life; Man–Woman relationship.

Gunmen of the Desert Sands by Ralph Cotton. Details of Western Life; Gunmen; Man–Women relationship.

Suggested non-Fiction

Frontier by Louie L’Amour. A history of the people, the places and the ideas that shaped the West. This book will help the reader understand where one of the greatest writers of Western novels, L’Amour, gets his motivation and characters.

Shadow’s at Dawn: a Borderland Massacre and the Violence of History by Karl Jacoby. The True account the massacre of Apaches Indians performed by Americans, Mexicans and other Indian tribes early one morning in the desert. The book looks at the attack form all four viewpoints of the groups involved. The reader will gain a better understanding of the thoughts of the inhabits of the west in regards to each other and why they acted the way they did.

Elite 91: U.S Army Frontier Scouts 1840-1921 by Ron Field. The true stories of U.S. Army scouts who were used to guide soldiers, advise the Army about Indian war tactics and knew how to live off the land. Western readers will recognize the survival tactics described in this book as ones that characters in westerns often employ.

John B.

Blueberry Muffin Murder

February 25, 2009

Author: Joanne Fluke


Title: Blueberry Muffin Murder


Genre: Mystery


Publication Date: 2002


Number of Pages: 319


Geographical Setting: Lake Eden, Minnesota


Time Period: Present


Series: Hannah Swenson Series #3


Plot Summary: Hannah Swenson is looking forward to this year’s Winter Carnival.  Lake Eden’s annual event means more business for Hannah’s bakery, she’ll get to visit with some old friends, and she’ll be able to meet cooking celebrity, Connie Mac, who will be visiting as well!  However, when Connie Mac turns out to be a terror and not the “Cookie Sweetheart” everyone thinks she is, the whole town cannot wait to get rid of her.  But, when Connie Mac is found murdered in Hannah’s bakery, the mystery becomes, who wanted to get rid of her the most?  Hannah decides to solve the mystery herself when she finds out her bakery is a crime scene and must remain closed during the busiest time of the year.  Now Hannah must track down the suspects and find Connie Mac’s killer!  Was it Connie Mac’s husband, her publicist, or her chauffeur?  Or, was it Hannah’s high school friend or even her love interest?  Only Hannah Swenson can solve the case!



Subject Headings: Women private investigators–Minnesota—Fiction, Swensen, Hannah (Fictitious character)–Fiction.


Appeal:  slow paced, light hearted, quirky, character centered, details of recipes, details of baking, serial characters, recognizable characters, strong secondary characters, realistic characters, smalltown, mystery series, romantic situations, mother-daughter relationship, sister relationship, fun


Similar Authors and Works:


Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:


Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook, by Kathy Borich.  Enjoy some fine cooking with this cookbook, which is full of recipes that relate to English murder mysteries.


Murder in Hollywood: Solving a Silent Screen Mystery, by Charles Higham.  Since the Roaring Twenties, the murder of legendary film director William Desmond Taylor has gone unsolved due to a major cover-up.  Now, as the clues are revealed, the reader will be shocked to discover that a famous actor was the murderer!  


The Vampire Cookbook: Ghoulish Recipes for Monster Appetites, by Kilmore Daily.  Humorously titled recipes that make cooking items fun.  The author provides tongue-in-cheek commentary to each recipe such as, “…for producing pleasant but unusual death.” 



Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:


A Peach of a Murder: A Fresh Baked Mystery, by Livia J. Washburn.  When Phyllis Newsom enters her peach pie in her town’s Peach Festival her only hope is to finally win first prize.  But she gets more than her slice of the action when one of the judges is found dead and Phyllis is a prime suspect.  Now she must prove her innocence and find the real murderer. 


Chocolate Dipped Death, by Sammi Carter.  When one of the townspeople is murdered and the murder weapon was sweets, Abby Shaw, the local candy shop owner is viewed as a suspect.  There is no way to sugarcoat it, Abby needs to solve this crime! 


The Chocolate Snowman Murders, by JoAnna Carl.  Specialty chocolate maker Lee McKinney Woodyard is serving as the treasurer for this year’s WinterFest, which isn’t as easy as it seems.  Between the egos and arguments, it is enough to drive someone to drink, literally.  Then when one of the guest judges shows up drunk, Lee must drive him to a hotel so he can sleep it off.  The next day, when the guest judge is found dead, Lee finds that she is a suspect.  Now she must hope that there is some magic in her detective skills so that she can solve the case!      



Name: Mike