36. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (400 pages) When Charlie's beloved wife dies giving birth to their daughter, he suddenly finds himself with a new job in addition to running a thrift store; he is Death. Charlie has to collect the souls of the dead so they may pass on to their next lives. Meanwhile, he also has to deal with nosey employees and his baby daughter's giant hellhounds. Brilliant, hilarious, original, poignant, even moving tale of the bizarre, done in typical Moore fashion: with vivid, varied, and human characters in a twisted, magical, and thoroughly believable bizarre world. Moore tackles life and death and all that is in-between perfectly, with humor and pathos, with depth and lightness. One of his best novels, right up there with Fool and Lamb. Grade: A+
37. Shadow by Jenny Moss (377 pages) Shadow is forced to always be at the Queen's side due to a dire prophecy. She is neither servant nor royal, and lives a sad, invisible life. When tragedy strikes the palace, Shadow and the handsome knight Sir Kenway must flee in the wake of mystery and conflicting alliances. Eventually, the selfish and emotionally-scarred Shadow must learn her role in the kingdom. An interesting idea and a deeply flawed narrator give this young adult fantasy potential, but slow pacing, flat characters, predictable and clichéd plot ruin all potential for something extraordinary. A decent young adult novel, but not destined to be a classic. Grade: C+
38. Jayhawker by Patricia Beatty (214 pages) When Lije's father is killed on an John Brown-inspired anti-slavery raid in Bleeding Kansas, he wants revenge, joins the Jayhawkers, and becomes a spy amongst the Bushwackers. A decent young adult novel, but, like so many of them, is really just trying to string history into a historical narrative, and really lacking any skill in delivery, engaging characters, and even well-crafted plotting. Young readers will be bored. Grade: C+
39. What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War by Chandra Manning (350 pages)
What were the causes of the Civil War? Some say slavery. Others that is was state's rights vs. preserving the union. But what about the soldiers, the enlisted men who fought the war, what did they think? Were they as racist as we now perceive? Were they fighting for their homes? For their country? Why did our country fight it's most horrific, most bloody war for four long years, amongst itself? What possibly could start and sustain such a conflict? Historians, history books, modern thinking have all created certain perceptions of the war, and, for the most part, tried to rewrite history to make it more comfortable to us.
This brilliant, magnificently thorough book is an examination of the thoughts and attitudes of the enlisted soldiers of the Civil War, Union and Confederate, black and white, as represented in their letters, diaries, essays, newsletters, and other writings. Manning investigates their opinions on the causes and purposes of the war and slavery, which are one in the same. She brilliantly delves into how those opinions, thoughts, and attitudes were formed by the differing societies of the North and the South (particularly their religious beliefs, their societal demands, and class and gender roles), how this civil war would form a new definition of the United States.
The Civil War, in four horrific years, absolutely revolutionized thought and society in the United States. Our country fought it's most bloody, most horrific war, not only amongst itself, but due to racism. It is a shocking horror that racism can not only be that entrenched, but that motivating of a force. A force that can cause a Civil War between the ideals of equality and freedom and the personal desires for safety, success, and preservation of loved ones. This is a Civil War that rages in every person, in every society.
I have never read any Civil War (and, perhaps any historical nonfiction) book this engaging and fascinating. Every page is underlined and starred; the back cover is filled with notes. Everyone I know has gotten an ear-full of this book. Not only is this book everything that anyone interested in the Civil War could desire, with its brilliant and fascinating information and exploration of the psychology and sociology of the time (with its wonderful focus on the enlisted soldier), but it is something every American should read to understand how our society should work and how it once horrifically failed. Furthermore, it is a book that every human should read. Our country went through a Civil War that stands for the Civil War within every human being: that between the desires for the personal freedoms to provide for the self and family, and the desire to fight for greater ideals for a better society, the civil war between the personal and the societal. Grade: A++
40. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen (350 pages) After the sudden death of his parents, veterinary student Jacob joins the circus, where he falls in love with the elephant Rosie and her rider Marlena. Both of his loves, though, are horrifically abused by August, the animal trainer. The setting of a circus during the Great Depression, and Gruen's obvious affection and knowledge of the period and setting, create an engaging book, but the plot and main characters leave much to be desired in terms of originality or interest. Though gritty and unflinching, particularly in its look at animal cruelty, the book's potential is wasted, sadly. Turns out to be pretty meh. Grade: C+