Monday, April 8, 2013

What's New in 2013?

2013 brings a nice assortment of fresh literature to the discerning reader. Here's my opinion of eight of these newbies. There's a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction as well as old and new authors. Some are already best-sellers, others are taking longer to catch on. Take a look. I bet I've read one that interests you!

Title: Contagious
Author: Jonah Berger
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
What is it about?

Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Using six "STEPPS" from a class he teaches at the Wharton School of Business  (University of Pennsylvania), Jonah Berger details how things catch on with the public. I found the book easy-to-read, interesting and well-researched. Think Malcolm Gladwell, but with Gladwell receiving the journalistic edge.

Berger's 6 "STEPPS" ( an acronym for Berger's 6 principles of viral-ability) come from research of hugely-successful You Tube videos, businesses that used quirky ideas to break into competitive markets, etc. The examples are entertaining, motivating and well-documented. The book is well-organized.  

I recommend this book to those interested in social science, business and Gladwell fans, but it shouldn't be dismissed by others because the topic smacks of marketing techniques and gimmicks, its actually fun to read!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Title: The Girls of Atomic City
Author:Denise Kiernan
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Notes: A quality pick, already a New York Times & Indiebound Bestseller. Possible GoodReads Members Non-fiction Choice Award Winner here??

What is it about?

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
What an excellent book! I haven't anticipated reading a new book so much since I read The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo last year. Both are excellent books, but I would give the edge to this one.

Kiernan introduces the reader to nine unique ladies who worked at Clinton Engineering Works (CEW) under the cloak of secrecy. One lady, Celia,a government worker, was transported to the plant from New York City by train at night. She had no idea where the train was taking her! Others were given limited information. So, why did they consent to work at CEW? A few reasons were a better paycheck, independence or career opportunities not available elsewhere.

The book impressed me with its superb organization. It begins with an opening cast of characters, places and things,then a map of the facility, then inserted between the ladies' stories, the author includes shorter chapters explaining the science that took place at CEW, followed by 30 pages of notes for further enlightenment, and concluded with an index of terms. These components made the book geared to educate with little effort on the reader's part. I appreciated this along with the author's easy-to-read writing style. The biggest problem I had was keeping from confusing a couple of the ladies, but of course, a quick peek at the cast of characters remedied that! As mentioned, the writing style was excellent because of its novel-like quality, it did not bog down the reader with the small details and scientific facts. The change of pace provided by the "science chapters" between the ladies' stories made for a nice and educational break.

I highly recommend this book to a wide group of readers such as history and WWII buffs, memoir readers, women who like to read about strong women (women scientists played a significant role in fission research), science aficionados, avid readers of non-fiction and anyone who is interested in the topic.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

oak ridge tennessee photo: Oak Ridge Tennessee Plutonium Plant k25aerial.jpg


Title: The End of the Point
Author: Elizabeth Graver
Publisher:  Harper Collins
What is it about?

The End of the Point
Ashaunt Point on Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts was the location. The year? 1942. That was when it began with Scottish nursemaid, Bea, her charge, young Janie Porter, Janie's older sisters, Helen and Dossy, and brother, Charlie. Each summer at Ashaunt Point brought changes, both good and bad. Love, heartbreak, illness and sometimes brand new lives. There were storms, both physical and emotional. This was the Porter-family chronicle through the year 1999.

My feeling were mixed about this book. The writing was good enough. Last night I wished we had not come, for it was bleak, but the morning changed everything. Such a wind, and such clearness and colors, I have never seen before, everything scrubbed clean. The yellow and red chrysanthemums are in full bloom now, and the dahlias. The roses have turned to red berries and the huckleberry bushes and bay bushes to purple russet. However, my disappointment came from this quote taken from the inside  front jacket, ...Bea falls in love. And the youngest daughter, Janie,is entangled in an incident that cuts the season short and haunts the family for years to come... Upon reading that, I concluded there would be a mysterious element or a shocking discovery to be revealed. But no, in fact, the incident ....well, no spoilers here. Truthfully, the book rode a bumpy ride without any particularly high or low places in the drama. It reminded me much of Jean Thompson's The Year We Left Home. It felt like sitting on the neighbor's porch gossiping about the people across the street. Some juicy tidbits, but nothing worth writing home about.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Name: Bringing Mulligan Home
Coach: Dale Maharidge
Team: Simon & Schuster
What is it about?

Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side of the Good War This memoir by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Dale Maharidge, offers a non-Hollywood-esque portrayal of the "Good War". Maharidge grew up seeing the photo of his dad and an army buddy (displayed on the cover of the book) in his dad's basement workshop. Due to his dad's PTSD rages, the author never felt comfortable asking him about the other man. All he knew was his name, Herman Mulligan, and that for some reason his father felt responsible for his death.

Upon his father's death, Maharidge felt an urge to discover more about Mulligan, perhaps discover where his body was and bring it home to the U.S., this way, belatedly giving his dad some "peace". Just so readers know, don't pick up the book looking for this feel-good story - it doesn't happen. (Maharidge explains this in the prologue, so I have not spoiled the story.) But in essence, the author does "bring Mulligan home" by speaking with many survivors from his father's Marines Love Company and giving them the chance to tell their stories,  in some cases, freeing themselves and family members from the bottled-up emotions that had plagued them since the war ended. Many stated they had never spoken with anyone about what happened to them and expressed their relief to finally talk to someone who understood. Through talking to these survivors, Maharidge is able to piece together the pain and brutality (for American soldiers, civilians and the Japanese) of Okinawa,one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. The stories in this book dispel some of the misconceptions and myths about the "Good War".

While I experienced disappointment over the misleading title, overall, this memoir was well worth the read. I find myself more knowledgeable about the battles at Okinawa and Guam, what war was like for civilians and even about post traumatic stress disorder. This is not a fun read by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an important one.

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars


Title: The Last Runaway
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Team: E.P. Dutton
What is it about? 

The Last RunawayThis is the story of Englishwoman, Honor Bright, who joins her to-be-wed sister, Grace, to voyage across the ocean and settle in Ohio. Grace dies from yellow fever on the journey from New York to Ohio leaving Honor, unexpectedly arriving at the door of Grace's fiancee and his newly-widowed sister-in-law. The town of Faithwell, Ohio is a peaceful, but unwelcoming Quaker town. The Quaker leaders are uncomfortable with Adam Cox (Grace's fiancee) living with two single women so encourage him to marry Abigail, his sister-in-law. Meanwhile, Honor is strongly encouraged to marry Jack Haymaker, a young farmer who is smitten with her. The story then progresses to Honor's discovery of the Underground Railroad that crosses the Haymaker farm and the resulting conflict with her new family.

My disappointment with this book resulted from the lack of information about the Underground Railroad, Quaker quilting of the era and the subdued feeling of the entire story. Being that almost all the characters in the book are Quaker, I can allow for the quietness of the book, but it was not a page-turner. I hoped to close the book more knowledgeable about the Underground Railroad and its operation in Ohio, but alas, not to be. In regards to the quilts (comforts), they were a big part of this story, but alas again, there was little information given about their history or quilting methods other than frequent complaining by Honor about the inferiority of applique quilts to her own pieced quilts.

What I did respect about this story was the Author's refusal to make Honor a cliche strong female. Honor fights her battle with Quaker methods, at one point with silence. I felt this made the story more authentic as few Quaker women would have had the brashness to totally buck the system and find a way to survive.

My rating: 2.5 stars


Title: The Romanov Cross
Author: Robert Masello
Publisher: Bantam
What is it about? 

The Romanov CrossThe Romanov Cross is the latest thriller by Robert Masello. I will say right off, I am not much of a fan of this genre. I picked it up because I hoped to learn about life on the Bering Sea islands.

What I liked:

The settings and culture. Although St. Peter's Island is fictional, it gives a peek at Alaskan Indian folklore, tradition and Russian influence on life bordering the Bering Strait. The story begins for Major Frank Slater (the good guy) in Afghanistan. (Personally, I thought this was the best part of the book, plot-wise, I almost wished it had stayed there.)

The history. A portion of the book also reflected the Romanov history from which the book title derives. The reader learns a smidgen about Rasputin and his influence on Alexandra. There is some information to be gleaned about the Spanish flu epidemic.

What I didn't care for:

The characters. They felt only slightly better than stock characters. The personalities weren't well-developed at all.

Point of view. The story was told from three points of view: Frank Slater, "the bad guys" and Princess Anastasia of the Romanovs. I think two POVs would have been adequate. I don't feel the "bad guy" perspective lends much to the story especially since there is little to delineate between them personality-wise.

Actually, this book had potential with the uniqueness of the setting, history and culture. The problem occurred with the overall blandness. It would be like making mashed potatoes without using a mixer to get the lumps out.. It has the potential to be good  but only if you get the lumps out and add some milk, butter and salt. 

My rating: 2 of 5 stars 

Title: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia?
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Riverhead
What is it about?

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising AsiaThis book is a self-help book. Its objective, as it says on the cover, is to show you how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. And to do that it has to find you, huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother's cot one cold, dewy morning...

So begins How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. I wasn't sure I would like reading this conversational-type writing, but it proved to be no problem. Even in the beginning before I found myself integrated into the story the promise of the title kept me reading until I became absorbed in the entire story.

The story begins with a young boy living in a poor neighborhood, in love with a beautiful girl and dreaming of becoming filthy rich in rising Asia. Each chapter advances his life by several years and outlines his progress.

I am impressed with the uniqueness of Mohsin Hamid's writing. I won't pretend that the story itself totally captivated me (although good), but that wasn't necessary because the author's satire of self-help writing as well as the author's ability to write an entire book without giving any character a name and still produce a quality story captured my interest. The crazy thing is when I finished the book, I had to re-check to see if the "boy's" name had  been mentioned because it seemed like I knew him so well!

I don't think this is a book everyone is going to want to read. However, I hope there will be many readers who give it chance. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Title: Benediction
Author: Kent Haruf
Publisher: Knopf
What is it about?

I just finished listening to this book and am feeling sad that it is finished. Haruf does a wonderful job of mixing hope into the story of an elderly man dying of cancer. It is no secret that Dad Lewis does die of cancer at the end, but this is the story of relationships, some broken, some mended, Dad Lewis's benediction offered over his life.

The book contains other sub-stories: the local minister and his family, the neighbor lady, Berta and her grandchild, Alice, a mother and daughter. Each contributes to the benediction theme. Lost lovers, spouses, children...brokeness and hope.

As always, Kent Haruf's writing is superb. Each paragraph crafted to perfection, painting scenes, molding characters that are comfortably real, people that could live next door and be found at the mom-and-pop store downtown. As with The Tie That Binds, I am more determined to read whatever I can get my hands on that is written by this author.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Book TitleAuthorGenrePub. Date# PagesSettingEra POV
BenedictionHaruf, KentFiction2/26/2013272Holt, CO
Bringing Mulligan HomeMaharidge, DaleNF/History3/12/2013336Okinawa, JapanWWIIN/A
ContagiousBerger, JonahNF/Soc Sci3/1/2013256USAN/AN/A
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising AsiaHamid, MohsinFiction1/1/2013240Asia1900-2000ssingle
The End of the PointGraver, ElizabethFiction3/5/2013352Massachusetts1900smulti
The Girls of Atomic CityKiernan, DeniseNF/History3/5/2013400Oak Ridge, TNWWIIN/A
The Last RunawayChevalier, TracyFiction1/1/2013320Ohio19th centurysingle
The Romanov CrossMasello, RobertFiction3/5/2013512Alaskan Island1900smulti

Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think? Post a comment below and let everyone know what you thought of the book(s).


  1. As always, Kent Haruf is a Must Read. Can't wait to read The Girls of Atomic City. I am so glad you reviewed The Last Runaway; it was on my TBR because of my interest in the Underground Railroad, but now deleted. Thanks for saving me valuable time!

  2. Thank-you for your kind remarks. :-)

    You are so right about Haruf, Chelsea. I don't think he ever wrote a dud and I can't wait to hear what you think about Atomic Girls.