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The Bookworm Sez
RealVail Book Review
Book Review: Best of 2009
If you love mysteries with sass and a few cringe-worthy scenes, you’ll love the Jacqueline Daniels series, the latest being “Cherry Bomb” by J.A. Konrath.

Book Review: Best of 2009

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

December 29, 2009 —  Ahhh, the new year. A time for fresh beginnings and resolutions made with the best intentions (then broken). Out with the old, in with the new. A time to use up that bookstore gift certificate that’s burning a hole in your pocket.

But what to buy?

Lucky for you, the New Year is also a time for the annual Best Of list. So without further ado (and because that gift certificate is tingling), here are my best picks for 2009:


“Cherry Bomb” by J.A. Konrath
If you love mysteries with sass and a few cringe-worthy scenes, you’ll love the Jacqueline Daniels series, the latest being “Cherry Bomb” by J.A. Konrath. This book starts out with a boom and ends with a cliff-hanger that leaves fans howling for the next installment. One caveat: you’ll get more out of this novel if you read “Fuzzy Navel” (the book before this one) first.

B as in Beauty by Alberto Ferreras"B as in Beauty" by Alberto Ferreras
I was pleasantly surprised by "B as in Beauty" by Alberto Ferreras. This little novel is about a self-conscious, homely wallflower who gets a series of fairy godmothers, transforming her into someone who blossoms. A Cinderella tale with a few twists, this is one really cute book.

Eve by Elissa Elliott“Eve” by Elissa Elliott
I listened to “Eve” by Elissa Elliott on CD, and I was glad I did. This lush, beautiful story is about what happened to Adam and Eve after they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, as told from the viewpoint of Eve and her daughters. Performed by three readers and in several different voices, this is an audiobook not to miss.

Got til It’s Gone by Larry Duplechan“Got til It’s Gone” by Larry Duplechan
Getting older and saying goodbye are two of the themes in “Got til It’s Gone” by Larry Duplechan. When Johnnie Ray Rousseau loses his husband to AIDS, he believes he’ll never love again, but he does – and just as he enters a new relationship, he faces losing his beloved mother. Be aware that there is one graphic scene in this book, but get it for its casually presented dialogue and the realism within.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane“Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane
This one is probably cheating: “Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane. First printed a few years ago and re-released in audio this fall (to coincide with the movie’s release), this audiobook is positively stunning because of its narrator, Tom Stechschulte. Yes, the story is good – it’s got surprises all over the place – but listening to such a stellar performance makes it an audiobook you’ll want to listen to twice.


The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood“The Survivors Club” by Ben Sherwood
Like a fool, I read “The Survivors Club” by Ben Sherwood while on an airplane. I read about how passengers have 90 seconds to exit a burning plane and how women over a Certain Age most certainly die in a plane crash. Gulp. And still, I can’t recommend enough this book about fighting, surviving, overcoming adversity and turning life’s rottenest lemons into sweet lemonade.

Rich Like Them by Ryan D’Agostino“Rich Like Them” by Ryan D’Agostino
Particularly in this economy, it seems that speculation on How the Other Half Lives is an acceptable pastime. In “Rich Like Them” by Ryan D’Agostino you’ll see that things are only slightly different. Part business, part motivational for wallet and soul, this book is a nice antidote to those irritating spoiled-star headlines.

Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans“Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans” by Dan Baum
Reading like a novel in nine parts, “Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans” by Dan Baum is the 100% true story of nine people a few decades before Hurricane Katrina and the years afterward. I loved this book for the way the tales are told (in short-short chapters of mini-drama) and because Baum has a knack for wrapping you tight in the lives of such divergent people.

Coop by Michael Perry“Coop” by Michael Perry
If you live in the city and have never so much as touched a live pig, don’t discount “Coop” by Michael Perry. Much more than a farm memoir, this is a love story to a woman, daughters, the land, and yes, to pigs and chickens. Perry is a poet with a wicked sense of the absurd and this book is another can’t-miss.

Birth Day by Mark Sloan, M.D.“Birth Day” by Mark Sloan, M.D.
Since we all came into the world in the same basic way, “Birth Day” by Mark Sloan, M.D. is a particular delight. This is a book about what happens in the hours leading up to and the hours after birth, to both the mother and the baby. Not just for new moms, this book is a science-geek’s dream as well as a gee-whiz read for anybody who is awed at the miracle of birth.

Children’s Books

Let’s Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile“Let’s Do Nothing!” by Tony Fucile
Okay, so let’s just say it. When you read a book aloud to your child, having something for you is bonus. So make yourself happy with “Let’s Do Nothing!” by Tony Fucile, a cute story of two bored boys who try the impossible. The good-naturedly silly tale is great for kids ages 4 to 8. The illustrations – very Bugs-Bunny-like - will keep you laughing.

Flawed Dogs by Berkeley BreathedFlawed Dogs” by Berkeley Breathed
Your middle-school dog lover will adore “Flawed Dogs” by Berkeley Breathed. This is the story of a fancy showdog who becomes the victim of jealousy and is separated from his beloved Human. Filled with Breathed illustrations and with a tale that brings tears (silly, I know), this is a good book for an adult, too.

We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson“We Are the Ship” by Kadir Nelson
I was very impressed by “We Are the Ship” by Kadir Nelson in audio. Yes, this is a picture book about Negro League baseball and the struggle of the players to gain recognition and to bust through racial lines. It’s a beautiful book, but you won’t miss a thing by getting it in audio; in fact, you’ll gain. Not only is it presented with various voices (which enhances the story), but there’s a bonus DVD with the books’ artwork included.

School’s Out: Rachel Yoder – Always Trouble Somewhere by Wanda Brunstetter“School’s Out: Rachel Yoder – Always Trouble Somewhere” by Wanda Brunstetter
For upper gradeschoolers who’ve read the Little House books a couple dozen times, “School’s Out: Rachel Yoder – Always Trouble Somewhere” by Wanda Brunstetter in audio is a nice alternative. This is the story of an Amish girl and her wild summer vacation. Kids will love the authentic Pennsylvania Dutch language in the audiobook and parents will love that this book is great for all ages.

Coraline by Neal Gaiman“Coraline” by Neal Gaiman
What kid doesn’t like a few shivers? “Coraline” by Neal Gaiman has them and more. This is the story of a little Coraline who steps into an alternative universe where things are close to life, but not quite. The creature who is her Other Mother wants to keep Coraline forever, but, of course, she must return. I truly enjoyed this darkly-told story in audio, but beware that it might really frighten very little children.

And there you are. A gift certificate-friendly Best of The Year list you can really use, with some books that your family will enjoy until it’s time for the next Best of The Year list.

Fortunately, time flies fastest with a book in your lap.

Happy Reading!

commnet icon  1 Comment on "Book Review: Best of 2009"


Camron Barth — December 29, 2009

I love Coraline! The book and the movie.


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Book Review: The Tattooed Lady
“The Tattooed Lady” by Amelia Klem Osterud c.2009, Speck Press - $27.00 / $34.95 - Canada - 154 pages, includes index

Book Review: The Tattooed Lady

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

December 13, 2009 —  You like to think of yourself as a pretty even-keel kind of person, but this had you doing one of those head-shaking double-takes.

The swagger caught your eye first, followed by black leather but it was the tattoos that kept you looking, slack-jawed. The art covered arms, shoulders, peeking stomach, and probably other assorted body parts, too. Somebody put a lot of work into that ink, and it took more than just a few minutes.

That had to hurt. You thought about asking her, but she walked away before you could say anything.

Though it’s common now, there was a time when that ink would’ve gotten her branded as a hussy, or worse. Read more in the new book “The Tattooed Lady: A History” by Amelia Klem Osterud(c.2009, Speck Press – $27.00 / $34.95 Canada – 154 pages, includes index).

While tattoos have been present on bodies throughout history, during the late 1800s even scientists thought that tattoo-wearing was linked to criminal and immoral behavior. By the time Irene Woodward and Nora Hildebrandt (the first “tattooed ladies”) decided that having a body full of ink would be an ideal situation, society had relaxed.

But not by much.

This was the Victorian age when women covered ankles, legs, and arms as a matter of modesty. It was, therefore, pretty racy stuff when Woodward, Hildebrandt, and other inked ingénues sat displayed in a circus sideshow, wearing bloomers, camisoles, and not much else. In many cases, only men were allowed to pay money to gaze upon such a scandalous sight.

Still, many women decided to undergo the sometimes weeks-long transformation from unmarked to totally tatted, a process that couldn’t be reversed. Once a woman got a tattoo or two, there was no turning back.

So why did they do it? Mostly, perhaps, for the money; a tattooed lady could make $100 a week at the sideshow, while the “average working-class family made between $300 and $500 a year…” She might have gotten needled to take control of her own future. Or, as many women claimed, they may have just been fascinated by tattoos.

At any rate, Osterud says, those tattooed ladies were “gutsy”, and their boldness gave turn-of-the-century women the nerve to “start questioning the social codes that kept them confined…”

People who’ve gotten tattoos say that once you get one, you’ll want another because sporting tattoos is addicting. So is this book.

Author Amelia Klum Osterud’s fascination with tattooed ladies (and circus people, by extension) is infectious, and it’s hard not to be caught up by her excitement in this unique dual-take on women’s history via circus theme.

But solid research is only half the appeal.

The other half comes with the rare and unusual photographs that grace nearly every page of “The Tattooed Lady”, including pictures of the Ladies, as well as sideshow troupes and a few tattooed men. Parents beware, though – there is some slight, almost chaste, 1920s-era nudity inside.

If you’re a carny at heart, if you enjoy reading about women’s history, or if you’re thinkin’ about inkin’, grab “The Tattooed Lady”. This book is plenty sharp.

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Book Review: Barack and Michelle — Portrait of an American Marriage
“Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage” by Christopher Anderson c.2009, Wm. Morrow $25.99 / $33.99 Canada 326 pages, includes notes

Book Review: Barack and Michelle — Portrait of an American Marriage

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

November 15, 2009 —  You were definitely ill-prepared.

There you were, ready to “take the plunge” and get married, when you suddenly realized you didn’t know a thing about where you were diving.

You were in deep already, that’s for sure. Deep pockets (weddings can get out of hand), deep confusion (who are all these people, anyhow?), and deep dismay (do you really know your fiancé?). But then it was over and you started life together, sink or swim. You’ve been floating along side-by-side ever since.

Now imagine living your married lives with an interested audience of several billion people. Read more in “Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage” by Christopher Anderson. (c.2009, Wm. Morrow - $25.99 / $33.99 Canada - 326 pages, includes notes)

The childhood and early years of Barack and Michelle Obama has been visited and re-visited by many biographers and journalists: she was working for a law firm, he was a law student. She was assigned to be his in-office mentor, he insistently wooed her. That, of course, is how a strong-willed leader-type born in Hawaii ended up married to a strong-willed leader-type born on Chicago’s South Side.

But what most people don’t know are the behind-the-scenes scenes in the marriage of our current President and his wife.

From the time he started college at Columbia University in New York, Barack (Anderson refers to both Obamas by first name) was an easy-going idealist who, perhaps due to his grandparents’ blue-collar background, wanted to “give back” and “change the world”. Michelle shared his views, but was easily irritated by what she saw as irresponsibility. Because Barack eschewed the private sector and doggedly pursued lower-paying employment with higher social returns, the couple struggled with money problems. His absences while pursuing public office made her feel like a single mother. She hated his smoking habit and his messiness. He hated being apart from his family.

They fought.

Though infidelity wasn’t an issue, she was angered when his star started rising and women aggressively flirted with him. He, too, was taken aback by it, but he was focused: he thought he had a shot at the Presidency. She told him that if he didn’t win in 2008, there wouldn’t be a second go at the job...

Being familiar with author Christopher Anderson’s past works, I was surprised that I really didn’t like this book at first. Much of what’s in the first hundred pages of “Barack and Michelle” is a re-hashing of what we already know, including info from Barack Obama’s own books. I didn’t need to read that old news again.

Despite that, though, I began to enjoy Anderson’s take on the lives of the Obamas, as well as their children and surrounding family. In the end, yes, this book reiterates what we already know, but, perhaps because of some teasing “Wow!” tidbits and a few little-known stories, Anderson seems to make it all fresh.

Supporter or detractor, if you long to make sense of the man (and wife) behind the office, pick up this biography. “Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage” is a book you’ll enjoy diving into.

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Book Review: Three feet from Gold
“Three Feet from Gold” by Sharon L. Lechter & Greg S. Reid with the Napoleon Hill Foundation, performed by Dan John Miller c.2009, Brilliance Audio - $24.99 / $30.99 Canada 5 CDs / 5-1/2 hours

Book Review: Three feet from Gold

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

November 9, 2009 —  You’re sick to death of this economy.

You’re sick of beating your head against closed doors. Sick of hearing “no” everywhere you try to sell. Tired of making goals and falling short of them. You’re sick to absolute death of working harder than you’ve ever worked before and getting nowhere faster than usual.

And you’re about to quit. Plain and simple.

But in the new audiobook “Three Feet from Gold” by Sharon L. Lechter and Greg S. Reid (with the Napoleon Hill Foundation)( Sharon L. Lechter & Greg S. Reid with the Napoleon Hill Foundation, performed by Dan John Miller – c.2009, Brilliance Audio – $24.99 / $30.99 Canada – 5 CDs / 5-1/2 hours), you’ll see that it might not be time to quit. It might, in fact, be the best time ever to fearlessly move forward.

Nobody would have ever accused Greg of being a nice young man. Unhappy, brash, brusque, and impatient, Greg only thought of himself and it showed: he was irritated by every little thing and was rude to everyone in his path.

And he was not always honest: when Greg was accidentally given the wrong jacket at a coat-check – which turned out to be a better jacket than his own – he thought briefly of keeping it.

Then he read the card that was in the pocket. The jacket belonged to business tycoon Jonathan Buckland, whom Greg longed to meet. Under the guise of returning the jacket, Greg called Buckland’s office and made an appointment.

Though Greg was typically rude from the start, Buckland saw something in the young man, a “diamond in the rough” in business, and he decided to take Greg under his wing. With a few phone calls, Buckland sent Greg on a journey of self-discovery and business learning that went around the world.

From banker Don Greene, Greg learned that before success comes, one will meet with great defeat. From businessman Ron Glosser, he learned that never to make a major decision in a valley. Motivational speaker John St. Augustine said that to garner success, people should replace wishbone with backbone. Athlete Ruben Gonzalez told Greg that great people have two courageous moments: the courage to get started and courage to persevere. And throughout his journey, many reminded Greg of the story of a miner who quit digging in his claim, just three feet from gold.

I hate fables.

So let’s cut to the chase, because you’re a busy person: “Three Feet from Gold” seems to be a thinly-veiled, very long commercial for the Napoleon Hill Foundation and Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”. Based on a “real life experience” in which “some license has been taken”, it’s a tale of a young man’s Forrest-Gump-like adventures with (mostly male, mostly white) movers and shakers of business around the world. Yes, there are some motivational nuggets buried within, but you have to wallow through a silly “fable” to get them.

I think story-time is for kids, not businesspeople and entrepreneurs who have mortgage-as-motivation. Give me facts, not fable.

If you can possibly keep your eyes from rolling and you’re desperate for motivation, give “Three Feet from Gold” a listen. But if you’re serious about business, dig up another book instead.

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