Packing For Mars: The curious science of life in the void

From Ellen Druda
author: Roach, Mary
Packing For Mars: The curious science of life in the void
This book was funny. Each chapter took a look at the different ways NASA prepared the astronauts to handle certain personal functions in space: sleeping, going to the bathroom, eating, air sickness, claustrophobia, etc., and how successful they were.  Along the way we learn about the history of the space program both here and in the Soviet Union, some interesting trivia, and the author’s personal experiences researching the book.  Roach focuses on the absurd and the comic in the very serious world of space travel, and the results are enlightening and entertaining.

The Patron Saint of Butterflies

From Joanna, Teen Book Reviewer
author: Galante, Cecelia
The Patron Saint of Butterflies
This month, I read The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante. It is about two girls named Agnes and Honey. Despite their differences, they are best friends. The live at Mount Blessing, a religious commune run by Emmanuel and Veronica. Abandoned there as a baby, Honey is rebellious, resentful towards Emmanuel and Veronica, and longs for a normal life, finding her own comfort at Winky’s butterfly garden. Agnes is the opposite. Firm in her faith, her dream is to become a saint.
When Agnes’s grandmother visits the commune as a surprise, she finds out about the Regulation Room, a hidden room used to beat the “Believers” when they “commit a sin”. She immediately takes them away from Mount Blessing for their own good. Honey is ready to leave without a second glance, but Agnes’s beliefs are firm, and she refuses to leave without a fight. Leaving Mount Blessing was supposed to be a good thing, but it’s the final blow that might rip the  two apart.
On a scale from one to ten, I would give this book a solid 9.5. It’s a nice break from the romance and vampires. Reading the book from two points of view (Agnes’s and Honey’s) really helped me understand the characters. I was a little resentful towards Agnes throughout the book, wanting to just knock a brick over her head and be done with it, but she redeems herself. It’s not too hard of a book to read, but it’s not easy either. To read this, you also have to be able to accept some things, such as Agnes’s annoying belief that can kill them all.
Overall, this was a very good read. I would mostly recommend this to girls though, since it’s told from their point of view and deals with those types of things. Don’t let the outlandish storyline stop you, The Patron Saint of Butterflies is a book worth reading.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

From Monica Salo
author: Larsson, Stieg
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest   
The final book of Larsson’s trilogy is fast-paced and thrilling.  The book continues where the Girl Who Played with Fire left off.  We find Lisbeth in a hospital, shot in the head and accused of multiple murders.  Our favorite hacker is without devices to help prove her innocence.  Mikael Blomkvist sets out to aid her and help clear the charges against Lisbeth.  Many of the characters, who were an ally of Lisabeth’s during the first two books, play a part in helping unravel the mystery.  The mystery involves many components including a secret agency, top ranking officials in the government, and Lisbeth’s father who was a Soviet defector.  The ending is bitter-sweet, knowing that we will never see Larsson’s memorable characters again.

Walk Softly, Rachel

From Chelsea, Teen Book Reviewer
author: Banks, Kate
Walk Softly, Rachel
Walk Softly, Rachel by Kate Banks is a great summer pick! Reading this book you will fall into 14-year-old Rachel’s world. It all started when Rachel was 7 and her brother, Jake, died in a tragic car accident. Her parents have put the past behind them and can barely mention Jake’s name. After that tragic happening her family becomes distant with each other and their ways of coping have torn them apart silently. However, they have left Jake’s room untouched after his death to relive his finest moments and memories. Rachel soon figures out this might be her one and only chance to connect with Jake, by entering his room and searching through his items. As she travels through the items she finds out they each have a story behind them and they each speak to her through Jake’s voice. Through Rachel’s own shortcomings and experiences she finds out who she really is and the power her mind has to heal. Walk Softly, Rachel by Kate Banks is a warm hearting book about love, loss, and letting go through Rachel’s eyes. This is a must read book and I highly recommend it!

The Chosen

From Margie Hartough
author: Potak, Chaim
The Chosen
This book explores the friendship that develops between two Jewish boys in New York City during the Second World War. It weaves together their very different lives, Danny is a Hassidic Jew and Reuven is merely Orthodox.  An accident on the baseball field brings them together and eventually they begin a friendship. It grows deeper when both their fathers are drawn into each other’s worlds.  Potok includes numerous descriptions of Jewish tradition and customs, which is vital to the story as well as fascinating information.

Orange Is The New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

From Andrea Payne
author: Kerman, Piper 
Orange Is The New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison
This is unlike any ‘prison’ story you’ve ever come across. Piper Kerman writes about and accepts responsibility for a drug trafficking crime she committed in her youth. Ten years later, the feds come knocking and the Smith College graduate is placed in the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Danbury, CT. This book chronicles some of the experiences that led to Piper’s incarceration; the life she began to build with her fiance before being indicted and sent to prison; and the relationships she builds in prison, while still somehow maintaining her relationship with her fiance, family and friends on the ‘outside.’ Some moments are very funny, others are deeply moving and thought provoking. This was an enjoyable and very unique read.

The Information Officer

From Eileen Effrat
author: Mills, Mark
The Information Officer
It is the summer of 1942 and the island of Malta is under intense German
bombardment. For the Germans, the island is vital as a strategic and
military supply port. As the British and Maltese courageously defend
the island, a British officer might be killing local dance hostesses.
Major Max Chadwick, the information officer in charge of controlling the
island’s news, secretly begins to investigate the murders. As the
investigation proceeds, Chadwick faces a dilemma. Should he conceal the
news of these killings that have the potential of undermining Maltese
support in the Allied war effort or let this sadistic serial killer
continue? This is a thoroughly researched account of Malta under siege
and a suspenseful spy thriller.

Driving over lemons: an optimist in Andalucia

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Stewart, Chris
Driving over lemons: an optimist in Andalucia
This is book one of the Driving over lemons trilogy.  Chris Stewart is now one of my favorite authors.  He was the original drummer for the band Genesis and has been a sheep shearer and circus musician.  He and his wife Ana decided to ditch England and buy a peasant farm called El Valero in rural southern Spain, about twenty years ago.  The seller of the farm, Pedro Romero, won’t leave and Chris has other problems:  clogged water channels, a leaky roof, a river in need of a bridge, hillsides that need terracing, outbuildings that need to be repaired, recalcitrant sheep, etc.  When Chris’ mother sees a photo of his newly purchased home, she is appalled.  “I had hoped that you might end up living in a Queen Anne house”, she lamented.  “I’ve always liked Queen Anne.  But here you are, living in what I can only describe as a stable”. They attempt to raise poultry but fail; it is thusly described: “The quails, the smallest of the menagerie, were frightened of the chickens; the chickens didn’t like the guinea-fowl or the pigeons, though they could live with the quails; the guinea-fowl were indifferent to the pigeons but were terrified of the quails and hated the chickens; the pigeons were affected by the guinea-fowls’ terror of the quails, nervous of the possibility of a chicken-quail alliance, piqued by the indifference of the guinea-fowl, and shared everybody else’s dislike of the chickens”.
Mr. Stewart is an amiable, humorous and humble host.  Chris’ descriptions of the mountains, rivers, valleys, flora and fauna are so vivid that you feel as though you are there.  I could almost smell the rosemary and lavender and taste the lemons.  Chris Stewart does for Andalucia what James Herriot did for Yorkshire.

The fiddler in the subway : the true story of what happened when a world-class violinist played for handouts– and other virtuoso performances by America’s foremost feature writer

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Weingarten, Gene
The fiddler in the subway : the true story of what happened when a world-class violinist played for handouts– and other virtuoso performances by America’s foremost feature writer 
Mr. Weingarten is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for Feature Writing. This is a compilation of 20 essays (some funny, some sad, some thoughtful, all powerful) that have appeared in The Washington Post over the years.  “The Great Zucchini” is an essay, and the stage name for the Washington area’s most successful children’s entertainer.  Washington’s wealthy parents take their children’s birthday parties very seriously. The author succeeds in eliciting how the entertainer is so gifted with preschoolers.  “The armpit of America” could describe many towns, but Battle Mountain, Nevada was chosen for this article.  In Battle Mountain, there’s nothing to do but gamble and drink.  Even the representatives from the Chamber of commerce and the local newspaper can’t find anything good to say about the town.  The more somber essays are “Fear itself”, where the author rides a bus in Jerusalem to try to understand “the psychology of the terrorized”; “The first father” about President Clinton’s biological father; and “Fatal distraction”, about parents who accidentally leave their babies in a hot car.  “The fiddler in the subway” is the account of the day they arranged to have world-class violinist, Joshua Bell, play a Stradivarius violin in the Metro station for spare change. Would anyone notice the virtuoso in their midst?

Let’s take the long way home: a memoir of friendship

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Caldwell, Gail
Let’s take the long way home: a memoir of friendship
This is an account of the author’s friendship with Caroline Knapp, the
author of Pack of two and Drinking: a love story (among others), who died
of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 42.  I liked Ms. Knapp’s articles in
Glamour magazine.  Theirs  was a very close friendship.  They were both
single writers with dogs living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both women
were recovering alcoholics.  Gail was a swimmer and Caroline was an avid
rower on the Charles River.  They taught each other their favorite sports,
went on vacations together, trained their dogs together and spoke every
day.  Does anyone even have friendships like this anymore?  I imagine that
Ms. Caldwell agrees with Socrates’ statement that “the unexamined life is
not worth living”.  She deftly delineates the meaning of their friendship
and how important Caroline was to her.  The grief she endures brings to
mind that of Joan Didion in The year of magical thinking.  Ms. Caldwell is
a masterful writer. This is a heartrending tale, a four-hankie memoir. 
Read it if you’re strong enough.