Tuesday, December 4, 2018

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

The ones you'd least suspect are the worst.

In this series of short stories, an elderly spinster moves about eliminating annoyances in her life by way of brutal murders. Of course, no one suspects the infirm, confused little old lady with the walker!

Packed into 170 pages, we learn about Maud's family pre- and post-war and how she ended up alone in the expansive, luxurious apartment. We learn about her career and her travels, and how over time she squirreled away the money to live freely through her 90s.

It's a very funny, tiny little book (about the size of my iPhone) and the perfect escapism - what could be happier than scot-free, sweeping revenge? Maud is my new literary hero.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Sixth grade was supposed to be different. But AJ's still short, still boring, and still invisible to the girl of his dreams. When he's paired with the lovely Nia for a class project, he begins adopting various characteristics of pop culture vampires to draw her attention.

I really enjoyed this middle-grade graphic novel with its mish-mash of vampire lore and all the angst 11-year-olds can inhabit. It wasn't as predictable as I'd feared, and I quite enjoyed the twists.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

While watching The Magnificent Seven at the local cinema, a young woman is struck by an idea. Nayeli and three friends set off on a quest (like all epic stories) to America to find seven men to return to their village and begin life there anew.

It's a fun, entertaining "road story" as the group encounters big cities, bus travel, new experiences, love and lust, illegal border crossing, American tourists, and much more.

While written in 2009, the story has some very timely elements. The Mexicans in the book have many, many opinions about migration from the south (and control of their southern border) along with simultaneous, opposing opinions about migration to the north and control of the northern border.

I'd highly recommend listening to this one: The book is an interesting blend of English and Mexican-Spanish - some translated, some left to inference - which made it a fantastic audiobook full of language and nuance and local flavor.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery by Mary Amato

An illegal ash-burying brings a new, modern soul into a closed, historic cemetery - the famous Baltimore Hall and Burying Ground where Edgar Allan Poe's remains reside. Once Lacy adjusts to what's happened, she's determined to make the most of her afterlife.

This is a fun book intended for teens, but it has cross-over appeal. Lacy's a modern poetry-loving dramatic teen and her adjustment to the mostly Victorian-era spirit society adds to the fish-out-of-water story. There's an unusual "mean girl" twist to the story, and the main drama is in winning over and conquering the clique that is the ruling class of the cemetery.

The book is structured like a play, and I think it could actually almost be performed as such, with a few dramatic special effects. If you don't know much about Poe you'll learn it, but the more you know the more laughs you'll find. The Raven is a great silent narrator - the only character that can cross over to communicate with both the living to the dead.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

The Disc's first female wizard was created nine years ago, accidentally, and now Granny Weatherwax is fighting to get Esk the instruction necessary to control her magic. With untrained magic, anything can (and does) happen.

This one's prime Pratchett, as he knocks tradition sideways with a new world order built around a strong, determined girl wizard and her tenacious witch mentor. Esk also befriends Simon, another wizard-to-be who's also got special talents.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

On his way to visit his father in the Canadian oil fields, the small plane carrying 13-year-old Brian veers off course and crashes. Up until that point, his parents' divorce was the biggest problem the "city slicker" boy had endured. Now, he must figure out how to survive.

I chose this one off The Great American Read list for the library's book discussion group. I'd never read it, and I had to do the audiobook because HELLO PETER COYOTE!

It's short - it's a juvenile book that checks in at about 200 pages and 3 hours of audio - but I was surprised by how quickly the ending snuck up on me. I got so used to survival mode that, like Brian, I maybe forgot that rescue was an option.

South of the Big Four by Don Kurtz

Arthur was an Indiana farm kid turned Great Lakes sailor, now grounded by a shipping slump. There's a deafening indifference to his hometown return, but he finds a job - then a mentor and friend - when he's hired by grain farmer Gerry Maars.

This novel reminded me of Kent Haruf's books - small stories under a big sky, where tough men work the earth. The continuity of fieldwork keeps Arthur in perpetual motion: picking, planting, plowing. But he's going nowhere, working the same spots over and over. The rest of his life is just as small.

Gerry's a gentleman farmer, councilman, community do-er and general man about town. But he's maybe not as important as he thinks he is (a big fish in a very small pond), and he's maybe not as smart as he believes, either. In Arthur, he finds solid help and an easy listener. Somebody to nod along and let him rant.

It's a story about the contrast between the two men, neither exactly what you expect at first glance. I enjoyed the gentle rhythm of the story and the beautiful writing. The bit of drama at the end surprised me, in a good way.