Monday, December 21, 2009

Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti

Oh my gosh - I couldn't put this book down: funny, touching, and all too true. I read it in practically one sitting.

Benny is a lonely, middle-aged dairyman working the family farm. Since his mother passed away he has spent way too much time with just the cows for company - and his house and social skills reflect that.

Desiree is an urban, educated woman who just unexpectedly lost her husband in an accident. During her lunch breaks, she sits at Orjan's grave and ponders why she doesn't really miss him.

The story is told in alternating chapters - Benny's voice, and then Desiree's thoughts. Each annoyed by the presence of the other on the bench at the cemetery, neither is ready for the effect a quick shared smile brings.

(In the author's interview at the end, Mazetti says she wrote a sequel - I'm off to see if that's been published, now!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

There are 3 main storylines in this book, each about a disconnected person rather adrift in their lives. None is sure just what they want to do or who they are: a guy approaching middle age has wasted his own chance at life trying to track down his missing, unstable brother; a small town 18-year old runs away with her history teacher at the promise of adventure; and a college student is sent into a tailspin when he discovers the truth about his parentage.

I picked up this audiobook because I needed to wash away the bad taste from the stupid Kinsella book I gave up on ... and it totally worked.

I really got drawn into this story, waiting and wondering how the different characters might be linked or could possibly meet up. There were several times I actually gasped out loud at some clue to how they may tie together.

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer

While working in a chain coffee store, 17-year old Jane noticed you could categorize people by their drink; taking that one step further, she wonders if she could hook people up based on their order. She dubs the idea "espressology" and it turns out, it works!

This is a cute book: great premise, and interesting characters. It was a quick, light read and I enjoyed it - and since I usually avoid "love" stories like the plague, that's got to be saying something.

My order: large vanilla cappuccino. So what does that say about me?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar & Grill by N.M. Kelby

A couple years back I read Whale Season, Kelby's first novel, because Carl Hiaasen recommended it. Since then, she has carved out a nice niche for herself in the "wacky Florida writers" genre.

Danni Keene, retired from a career as professional B-horror movie scream queen, is just trying to run a bar. Except dead bodies keep turning up in the dumpster, and somebody torched her yellow Hummer. Then things get really weird when the 3 pink buses pull in - filled with the Rose and Puppet Circus.

This book is entertaining and well written. The wacky characters kept me interested, and their intertwined storylines kept me guessing. Even once we know "whodunnit," the story doesn't collapse like many mysteries. This one had a few more twists and turns keep you wondering.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


by Linda Howard

I enjoy Linda Howard's writing. Years ago, I got caught up in her tales for the romance aspect. As she has progressed toward the mystery genre, I've followed happily along. This time, the story wrapped me up and I enjoyed finishing a book in a day. Since I was studying for class, I can't remember the last time I had the time to do that.

Howard will captivate you with a story about a woman who lives on a mountain, and must be rescued before the big ice storm rolls in. When her rescuer arrives, he finds her held captive by two homicidal drug addicts. The woman shows more gumption than expected as the two battle to survive against the elements and addicts. Although, Howard includes romance in this story, it really doesn't add to the plot. Luckily, the romance is limited enough that the rest of the plot overrides it and makes the book rounded enough to satisfy both mystery and romance fans. A savvy reader might even pick up some survival tips.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Threadwork Unraveled

by Sarah Ann Smith

What a wonderful resource! Everything you have ever wanted to know about thread (and more) is in this title. This is the kind of book that should sit just inches from the sewing machine. There are tips for every problem, and ways to avoid them before they happen.

The librarian's book of quotes

by Tatyana Eckstrand

OK, yes, I'm a librarian and I read books about librarians. It's a little like kids choosing to watch t.v. about school.

This book is great. I checked it out through interlibrary loan, and now I think it will have to become part of our library's professional collection. I can think of at least five ways to use these great quotes to fill in newsletters, facebook posts, and displays. The great thing about ideas, is that with a little nurturing, they only expand.

"Book lovers will understand me, and they will know too, that part of the pleasure of a library lies in its very existence." ~ Jan Moris

The Enthusiast by Charlie Haas

Starting with a rather accidental writing gig at Kite Buggy magazine, Henry Bay plows a path across the US, forming a career working for myriad miniscule magazines that each focus on one very specific hobby: magazines for spelunkers, crocheters, aquarium enthusiasts, or tea lovers.

I read this story with a bit of something like morbid curiosity: I kept thinking, "Whoa. If I'd chosen a different road, this could TOTALLY have been my life."

At least it all turns out pretty well. :)

The book is really about Henry's relationships - with his family, with his co-workers, and with the towns he encounters along the way. I really enjoyed the book; you're always slightly amazed at the next writing gig Henry stumbles into, and how its enthusiasts will ultimately affect him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

If you give a pig a party

by Laura Joffe Numeroff

I've read so much of Numeroff's work for story times, that I was really excited to go out and get the Kohls Cares for Kids animals (Numeroff's mouse, moose, pig and cat) this season. In fact, I made the theme for the first week of December's story times all about Laura Numeroff's books. We had a lot of fun.

Somehow, I'd missed this title in the past. It was fun to see characters from previous books come back as the friends invited to the party. As usual, Numeroff has a series of crazy requests that come from the title animal and the all cycle back to the first thing the child offered, in this case a party. I have to say, one child was scandalized, as only a giggling three-year-old can be, by the "naked" moose before the pajama party began.

I'm the biggest thing in the ocean

by Kevin Sherry

There are some books that I just have to read in performance mode. On my first pass with this one, I realized that I do an awesome squid voice (not as good as my moose voice, though). Have fun with this squid who thinks he's got it all, until someone bigger comes along.

The Very Cranky Bear

by Nick Bland

This new picture book was so much fun, that it is now in my personal collection. Several animal friends take refuge from a storm. Everything is great until they realize there's a bear trying to sleep in the same cave. While his friends think of reasons the bear is unhappy, the sheep finds a way to be selfless. His actions are the cure for what ails the bear.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs

Jacobs has made a career writing about his social experiments: his first book was about reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica from A-Z, and his second was about living for a year following all the rules in the Bible. Each chapter in this book is a smaller experiment - outsourcing your life, absolute truth-telling, impersonating a movie star, etc.

I didn't realize when I ordered this book that I'd actually read his first book too; I didn't know it was the same guy. Jacobs is funny and, as he's told all the time, his wife Julie must be a saint for putting up with him.

Because he limits his social experiments to a month each, you don't really get bored with the idea. You get a taste of the benefits and drawbacks, then A.J. moves on to the next project. Many of the experiments are really interesting, and would be worth implementing into your own life, albeit on a more limited, reasonable scale.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everything is fine

by Ann Dee Ellis

This could be a very depressing book and that is exactly why I think teens would like it. Every so often it is comforting to read about a fictional character whose life is sadder than your own. Precisely because it is fiction, the reader can see so clearly what can be done to resolve the central problem. If only real life were so easy.

Pick up this story of preteen Mazzy who lives alone with her severely depressed mother. Mazzy truly believes she is capable of running the household on her own. As the story moves along, see how Mazzy grows to trust a neighbor for guidance once in a while and find out what has caused her mother to retreat so far into herself.

Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton

I don't read a lot of parenting books (natch - I don't have kids!), but this is a funny, interesting, and educational book that applies to anyone who eats.

Amster-Burton decided before his daughter was born that he didn't want to give up his enjoyment of food and cooking just because there was a tot in the house. This book is about his journey with Iris - cooking, eating, and exploring food with a baby (and eventually a toddler).

Her whole life, Iris eats whatever everybody else is eating. Not that she isn't picky ... for a while, Iris loved spicy food. Then, no longer. And maybe someday she'll come around again. In the mean time, Iris eats around the peppers. Sauces go on the side. But she still eats the same thing that's served to everyone else. And she helps cook everything - sometimes most enjoying the preparation of foods she ultimately doesn't enjoy.

This isn't a stuffy, food-geek kind of book. It's a book about exploring food and learning more about cooking - with your kids, or with your friends. It's a practical cookbook full of things you can actually do (and not an english-muffin-pizza in sight!), with amusing stories and dwellings on eating. I'd recommend it for anyone who's trying to be more adventurous in the kitchen.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Couldn't do it. Sorry, but it just ain't happening.

I made it through two of the five discs before I was so disgusted that I had to put in some Springsteen to make my world balanced again.

Even for chick lit, this is dumb. Lara's life is already messed up, and now she's being haunted by a younger, bratty version of her dead 105 year old great-aunt. I didn't even reach the book's climactic scene, and I already know that Aunt Sadie will change Lara's life for the better by teaching her to loosen up. ACK.

Not. Going. To. Do. It.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

This month's book club choice - and a good one at that ... although I find we have less interesting conversations when we all enjoyed the book.

I actually listened to this one, and liked it so much I then went online and bought a paperback copy for my own collection. I think it'll be the kind of book to reference back to at a later date, as a refresher on the points you really wanted to implement in your own life.

I won't go into too much summary detail because everybody knows about this one: dying man gives lecture on how to live life. I'd read about it, and purposely avoided it because I was afraid it would be a piece of treacle fluff - but I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson

I wasn't sure what to expect out of Ferguson's memoir, but I knew it would be funny. And I was right - but it's also very poignant and serious at times too.

Ferguson's life story reads more like a rock 'n' roll memoir than comedian/talk show/actor's story. He's lived a life of extreme excess and adventure, and has come out on for the better anyway. He's not self-pitying or sentimental about his life - he takes an honest, even-handed look at the good and bad. And he doesn't blame anybody else. That ownership and cynical detachment is hard to achieve when dealing with your own life - his success in that endeavor makes it a much better memoir than most (cough*clapton*cough).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Apparently, I'm a sucker for a good roadtrip story - and this one is excellent!

Basically, a teen with terminal degenerative "mad cow disease" takes off to save the world (and himself) on a road trip with the kid from the next hospital bed - a hypochondriac teen dwarf. Along the way, there's a punk angel, a cursed Norse god stuck in yard gnome form, Disneyworld, fire demons, and a not-so-dead jazz legend. Among others.

Throughout, you're never sure if the book's a fantasy, if the trip is really happening, or if the whole thing is just part of Cameron's brain deteriorating. Maybe all three.

Funny, touching, and thoroughly entertaining.

Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin

This is absolutely one of the best books I've read (listened to, actually). Jaw-dropping descriptions, strange situations, and I never knew what was going to happen next. WOW.

The book's a mix of mysticism, sensuality, and botany. It's fiction - really the story of a newly divorced woman trying to find herself - but much, much different than other books with that starting point. It's not a sex book (oh, Juan Carlo! You must take me now!) but it is truly one of the most sensual, sexual books I've read in recent history ... I never knew plants could be so sexy (especially the exquisitely sexually frustrated and tortured Sensimilla! Yikes!).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Design Explorations for the Creative Quilter

by Katie Pasquini Masopust

As a quilter, I can do the usual patterns that you see with straight lines and beautiful techniques, but sometimes I get bored. My two favorite parts of quilting are color and creativity. Ms. Masopust has a great technique when it comes to fused applique. This book showed me a new way to take my ideas and translate them into a quilt more easily and still with a lot of impact.

9 x 13 the pan that can

Yum. You know you can do a lot with your 9 x 13 baking pan. This book gives you many delicious recipes for meals at home or, my favorite, pot luck. Who wouldn't want a slice of root beer float cake p. 317?

The adventures of chatterer the red squirrel by Thornton W. Burgess

I spent many years trying to remember the name of a series of books I'd loved as a child. Thanks to the help of another librarian, I once again found Thornton Burgess' Mother West Wind books.
These are nice chapter books featuring animals as the characters. They make a great stepping stone between picture books and the Redwall series.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein

While many grade-schoolers would argue with me, I'd venture that geography is fascinating: I mean, you've got your world politics, scientific land forms, cultural influences, petty gripes and grudges, and religion - all mixed up in one big pot!

This book is IDEAL for a trivia or history geek. We experience the geography of US states every day, yet hardly anybody thinks about it. Why doesn't Wisconsin own Michigan's Upper Peninsula? Why does Oklahoma have a panhandle? Why is Rhode Island even a state?

I thought this might be a pick-up and put-down book (and you maybe could try that) but I think it would be better if you just started at the beginning and worked straight through. So many of the stories are intertwined, and the author lets them build upon one another as you work through the book.

This book would be a great gift to give the history and culture lovers in your life. It's not a brief, quick read, but it is truly interesting (and written well). I only made it through about half before I had to give up and return it to the library, but I'll check it out again some time to finish. It's that good!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

Cassandra Fallows has made a career of mining her own life for nonfiction book subjects. Unfortunately, she's run out of stories - and her first attempt at fiction was a bomb. So when she discovers that a childhood acquaintance was at the center of a major crime drama in her hometown, she decides that her own tangental relationship to this woman would make a GREAT BOOK!

Calliope plead the fifth, and went to jail for it - she's never spoken a word about what happened to her baby. But Cassandra is sure that she'll be able to root out the truth for her next bestseller. But in researching, interviewing, and attempting to rekindle old relationships, Cassandra finds much more than Calliope's story; she may actually find her own.

I thought this book was interesting, but a little weak at times. Earlier this year I read another mystery about an writer (The Truth Hurts), and sometimes these books had too much in common for me. There wasn't much suspense - the revelation was a bit anticlimactic - but overall it was a decent read.

We Are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson

As if she didn't have enough to deal with, now Julia's pregnant, too.

Her son's become a teenager and doesn't want to be her best friend anymore. Her husband is boring, and well ... so is her job. Julia's idea of fun? Trying to get a response (any response) from her therapist.

She's still more-than-a-little obsessed with her college boyfriend, Ray, and the baby may be his: they had a quickie at a friend's wedding). Or it ironically may actually be her husband's baby: he dragged her to a "romantic" weekend, because he was trying to make Patricia, his workplace crush, jealous.

It's a short, quick book, but I found myself thinking about it for days afterward. Julia really grows as a person by the end, and I'm not sure I thought that would be possible. I enjoyed the twisting and unfolding of Julia's emotions as this story goes along. It's a very, very funny book, and the characters are great - I know women just like Julia, and I recognize that I could have become her, myself.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sleeping Freshman Never Lie by David Lubar

I've been listening to this audiobook, and I'm giving up: It's probably a great book, but I think the full-cast audio with special effects has totally ruined it. I can't stand the reverb, hate the tinkly nursery music, and after 3 discs the jazz-lite transitions now set my teeth on edge.

The book switches between first-person narrative and lists/letters/diaries written by high school freshman Scott Hudson. There are a lot of great setups for Scott's freshman foibles - he leaps into situations for the attention of a girl, and ends up in several extra-curricular activities he had no plans on joining.

The letter/lists/etc. mostly take the form of advice for his unborn sibling. Scott is a great voice, and the book is probably great. But I'd take a wide berth around this audiobook.

The Skinny by Louis J. Aronne, MD

This book was recommended by online friends - I can't say I'll follow his diet plan, but the theory behind it is interesting. And something that you could actually put in everyday practice.

Aronne's weight loss system is all about feeling full - being satisfied, and not feeling like you're missing out. Generally, the guidelines require you to eat a quantity of the good-for-you, filling foods, then a quantity of the the better-for-you, slightly-less-filling foods, then finally you can eat the not-so-great stuff. Theory: you'll be less hungry by the time you get to the carbs and junk, so you'll eat less of them.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Dan Brown totally plays into my "readers OCD" - I swear he writes these books with people like me in mind. I *cannot* put a book down until I'm at a "stopping point" (ie: section break, chapter end, etc.). But Brown ends every chapter in a cliffhanger, thereby preventing me from EVER putting the book down. Until the end.

I thought this book started a little slow. I found myself thinking, "hmm. Apparently the speech he was supposed to give - he's going to stand around and give it to the police." But once they actually left the rotunda and got walking, the action picked up for me.

And again, I finished a Dan Brown book in the wee hours of the AM.

I really liked the theology of this book - the melding of the science vs. religion arguments into a habitable belief system was satisfying to me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson

I'm a huge fan of the Late, Late Show (when I "forget" to go to bed), and since Ferguson's autobiography is coming out soon, I wanted to see what else he'd written. Hey! He wrote a novel!

It's funny - and pretty good. I didn't know what to expect, and it was certainly not what I might have expected. But I really enjoyed it, and I was anxious to see where it would all lead.

If you watch much of Ferguson's show, you know he's smart and quick. His writing is the same: keep up, or you'll miss something. You're rewarded for your knowledge - I love that.

I'm not sure I can sum this book up in a few sentences - there are a lot of characters and storylines, all leading to one big gathering. I read Tom Robbins' "Still Life with Woodpecker" a couple times in high school and college, and I was reminded of that book a few times while I was reading this. This book's about religion, or more correctly, it's about belief. There are a lot of believers, non-believers, and hucksters here. And it's got some strange (but great) trippy kind of supernatural sequences that may be heaven/hell, drugs, or dreams/nightmares.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda is an outcast at her school. A summer party got busted (thanks to her) and now everybody hates her. But nobody has bothered to ask Melinda why she did what she did.

This book unfolds gently, and the reader gradually pieces together Melinda's situation as the book progresses. I started to think I knew what happened a long time before it was finally revealed - and I have to say that I changed my mind a couple times as the story progressed.

It's painful to see Melinda so hurt. You want to shake her, or yell, or something. SPEAK UP! SAY SOMETHING! But instead, Melinda stays silent.

Another great book, and another great book we'll be talking about in teen/parent book discussions.

The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

Of all the teen books I've read lately (I have been on a kick, haven't I?) this may be my favorite.

I loved this book because it's "true" in the sense that many real kids will - and do - find themselves in these situations. While there's drama, it's not *DRAMA*! Things are uncomfortable, or confusing, or crappy - but they're just part of learning to be yourself and live life.

This is a book about a girl figuring out who she is and who she wants to be. From the title, you can figure out that Virginia's weight is an issue. But it seems to be a bigger issue for those around her - for example, her mother.

We're hosting a teen/parent book discussion on this title, and I hope we get some good participation; I can't wait to hear what others thought!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The fixer upper by Mary Kay Andrews

This is truly the last piece of brain candy for a while. Normally, I enjoy MKA's writing, but this one dragged on for me. I know that we've all been far too naive for our own good at various times but the character of Dempsey completely misses the fact that she's assisting her corrupt lobbyist of a boss in bribing a U.S. senator. She's an attorney for goodness sake! Her father's an attorney; surely she's seen someone corrupt in her 27 years on the planet. The home renovation comes across as far less complex than a real one would be.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl

I've read all of Ruth Reichl's books on her life as a restaurant critic and food editor. But this book is a little different: It's a tiny little tome that honors her mother.

Reichl explains that her mother Miriam gave the best examples in opposition - what NOT to do, rather than what TO do. While Reichl spent most of her life telling entertaining "Mim Tales" of her mother's outrageous behaviors, it was after her mother's death and the retrospect found in reading her mother's letters that Reichl finds the woman behind the characture.

It's a touching, sensitive book. Reichl probes and re-discovers her relationship with her mother through her writing, and it's the kind of book that will make you re-analyze some of your own relationships.

How honestly do we see the people we're closest to?

Flamingos on the Roof by Calef Brown

There's a great "mouth feel" to the rhymes here - I kept finding myself reading them out loud: first to Kristine, then to myself as I mouthed them silently.

Every one of the poems in this book will make you giggle. Or laugh out loud. And I don't even like poetry (usually).

But Calef Brown is a genius - and the goofy folk art style illustrations make the silliness even better.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dress Your Best by Clinton Kelly and Stacy London

This book came highly regarded from a group of online friends during a discussion on the dearth of reasonable, attractive clothing for real women.

(Although the book does also include information for men and women.)

The book is broken down into body types: bigger on top, bigger on bottom, curvy, not curvy, etc. Once you determine your shape there are several illustrations on what works for day, night, work, etc. and general tips and guidelines.

I found the book interesting, but not necessarily earth-shattering. Maybe I knew myself better than I'd thought?

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford

Written by a guy with a PhD in political philosophy who now owns a motorcycle repair shop, this book is a deep, analytical look at the value of getting your hands dirty. The author discusses the loss of blue-collar job training in our schools, and ponders the general unhappiness of much of our country's white-collar workers.

It's an interesting topic and there are a lot of chewy bits that I find myself pondering and working over. It's extremely thought-provoking, especially for those who do enjoy working with their hands and their heads.

But I found the book heavy - it is written much like a doctoral thesis and I found the point was sometimes lost and bogged down by the scholarly analysis.

How your house works

How your house works : a visual guide to understanding & maintaining your home by Charles Wing

This was interesting, but not really what I was looking for. I think I'm too much of a novice to really be able to use these in depth descriptions of plumbing, electrical and other structures within a house.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Land of a Hundred Wonders by Lesley Kagen

Twenty year old Gibby McGraw survived the car accident that killed both of her parents. The extensive head injuries she sustained have affected her memory and reasoning, but she's quite happy now living with Grandpa in small town Cray Ridge, Kentucky. Although she is NQR (their term for her condition: Not Quite Right), Gibby doesn't let the challenges stop her from publishing her own newspaper, working at Grandpa's diner, and trying to reclaim her independence.

Gibby's also determined to set her momma's heavenly soul at rest by proving she is Quite Right by writing an awfully good story. When she finds a dead body she knows that she's got the perfect awfully good story - if she can remember what it is long enough to solve the mystery.

Our bookclub read (and loved) Kagen's first book, Whistling in the Dark. This book is equally satisfying.

While Gibby's actually a young adult, her disability gives her a child-like view of the world: which creates tension, entertainment, and frustration - sometimes all at once.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

I was such a fan of the first book in this series, The Mysterious Benedict Society, that I squealed like a girl when I found the second and third books were to be released this year. (The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma will be released in October.)

This book opens on the 1-year anniversary of the group's first adventure. We learn the gang's all settled into their new & improved lives, but each is also excited about a reunion with their friends and mentors.

Unfortunately, before that can happen, someone kidnaps Mr. Benedict and Number 2 - so the vacation that was meant to celebrate their reunion instead becomes a "scavenger hunt" type rescue mission to follow the clues.

Again, the kids are much, much smarter than nearly everyone they meet.

Again, they set off on their own with little or no adult supervision.

And again, their outcome could affect the safety of the entire world.

Again, I loved every minute of it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Brush mona lisa's hair

Brush Mona Lisa's Hair by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo

This is part of the "touch the art" series of board books from Sterling Publishing Company. I saw the series at a trade show and decided they'd be a nice addition to the library's collection. When this one arrived, I read through it, and then had a good laugh at Vermeer's "Girl with a pearl earring." I believe the earring is supposed to be a drop style, but in the book, it looks as though there's a floating plastic pearl on the girl's neck. Immediately I showed it to a co-worker and she said, "Hmm. Girl with a pearl...", at that point, I jumped in with, "goiter." Of course, I can no longer look at the painting, book or movie by that title without giggling.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ballyhoo bay

Ballyhoo bay by Judy Sierra

A fun new picture book with an ecological twist. See how children and sea animals work together to save the beach from greedy developers. An interesting introduction to the concept of town meetings. I have to say, parliamentary procedure doesn't work quite this way.

For the love of pete

For the love of Pete by Julia Harper

So you remember the character of Dante Torelli from Harper's book Hot, right?" He's back and this time, he's teamed up with a woman who seems to be his polar opposite. Dante's neat, precise, and a little obsessive. Crazy Zoey, leaps in front of his moving Beamer to stop him from taking her parking space. During a shootout, she hops in and insists on helping with his current FBI case.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Connie Goodwin's Harvard advisor has just demanded she find some truly unique (and of course here-to-fore unseen) primary source to build her doctoral thesis around. Before she even gets to chance to consider how this impossible feat will be made possible, her mother calls and demands that Connie spend the summer repairing and cleaning her late grandmother's house so it can be sold. A historic treasure-trove of a house that Connie did not even know existed until that moment.

Barring a few too many quaint coincidences, I really enjoyed this book. It easily moves between plotlines in 1692 and 1991, and there were enough surprises and bends in the tale to keep me interested.

The novel's premise boils down to this: what if they weren't all religious zealots and wack-jobs, and witchcraft DID really exist in Salem in 1692?

Girl in a fix.

Girl in a fix. Quick beauty solutions and why they work by Somer Flaherty and Jen Kollmer

I saw it at a trade show and wondered if it would be a good addition to the library's collection. It might. It's kind of like Heloise for the teen scene.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Late, Lamented Molly Marx by Sally Koslow

I'm always fascinated with perceptions of the afterlife - I don't always like them, but I do like to see what authors think it might be like. And that's what drew me to this book.

Molly Marx died in a bicycle accident on the shores of the Hudson River. No one's quite sure what happened, but many of her nearest and dearest (and the police) are a bit suspicious. Even Molly doesn't quite remember what happened, despite the fact she's currently inhabiting "The Duration," observing her friends and family left behind, and enjoying the new special observation powers she has acquired.

Molly gains new perspective on her life by observing those she left behind. While she wasn't perfect, she had a normal up-and-down kind of life where she did the best she could with what she had at the moment.

This book is kind of hard to pigeon hole: It's got a mystery, and it's sorta chick lit, but it's not really either of those things completely. I will recommend it - I really enjoyed it, with its unique perspective and gradual story development.

You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero by Bob Powers

Remember those "choose-your-own-adventure" books from the early 1980's? This is an adult version, intended for thirty-somethings with a dark sense of humor and a broad swath of nostalgia.

At the story's start, you're an unsuccessful actor woken up by the telephone. A voice tells you the girl you went on a first date with last night has been kidnapped, and since you're the only person she knows in town ... it's up to you to save her.

At every turn you are given the chance to do the right thing or to be a loser. It's your choice: Do you roll over and go back to bed? Or do you get up and try to help? Do you ask your parents for money, or visit an old college friend with money? Or do you get sidetracked by your ex, and end up in bed with her?

It's a cheesy, kinda lame book. Exactly like the ones from childhood. I'd forgotten just how unsatisfying the storyline always was with these books once you'd make your choice. There's never a plan C option - damn it! I want another option!

It's a fun book, and perfect for pick-up-and-put-down reading. The storylines are dark and hilarious. Just the kind of grown-up nostalgia trip you need sometimes.

My Booky Wook by Russell Brand

I tried. Really, I did. But I couldn't do it ... I made it about 75 pages into this, and decided it just wasn't worth my time and energy.

And I even read People magazine and care about stupid star stuff. But there is nothing of value in this book that I can discern. I waded through pages and pages of his bad childhood, filled with vague British references that require at least one footnote on every page, just so you can sort of understand what Brand is saying.

Nope. Couldn't do it. And that's saying a lot.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Lunch by Denise Fleming

An all time favorite for story time. The little white mouse is very hungry; by the end of the book, he's also very messy. This is a fun picture book that shows kids many familiar foods, and introduces a turnip which in Wisconsin is a little less popular. I enjoy doing this with a mouse puppet and various fruits and vegetables cut out of felt. My puppet is just large enough for me to hide the felt pieces in its paws so that it looks as though the mouse is really eating all those things.

If you see a kitten

If you see a kitten by John Butler

This was a feature book during the "cat and mouse" theme this week in story time. The toddlers loved being able to play along and make the various sounds on each page. If you see a spider...say "eek." If you see an elephant...say "wow."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sliding into home

Sliding into home by Joanne Rock

I read so-called "trashy romance" on a regular basis and normally have no problem admitting to that. However, this particular book has a very buff and shirtless baseball player on the cover. It happened to be in my purse during a rain delay at a baseball game when I was sitting behind the dugout. I enjoyed the four short stories very much, but felt the need to read with the cover flat against my knees for a good twenty pages.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Recently we interviewed high school students for part-time jobs at the library, and nearly half of the applicants told us their favorite author was Jodi Picoult. This is the second book of hers I've read, and I think I'm starting to see why they're so popular with teens: she writes extremely well from a teen point of view, and her themes are always ripped immediately from today's headlines.
This book deals with teen lovers and a suicide pact: she's dead, he's not, and now he's being tried for murder.

The angle that makes this story unusual is the relationship between the two families involved. They have been neighbors and best friends for 18 years. The kids grew up together as best friends and confidants. Both sets of parents had always hoped their children would grow into a couple and marry.

Picoult enjoys allowing her story's details to bloom and unfurl slowly as the book progresses. This technique keeps you reading, and keeps you guessing. You're always waiting for the twist or the reveal. And somehow, you're never let down.

Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

Throwing aside Oprah's whole fiasco - fiction or nonfiction, I don't care. Frey knows how to write an engrossing story. This is the story of Los Angeles - its past, it people, its flavor.

This book is supposedly fiction. But you'll recognize many of the characters as not-so-made-up. Each chapter stands alone. Some of the people we meet in the story chapters reappear in later, other characters appear once then disappear forever. Between the story chapters are "fact" chapters: some are brief factoids of just a sentence or a paragraph, others are tourism propaganda, yet others are reminiscent of John Stewart's smarmy "fake news" stories.

Frey is the prince of the king of maybe the tzar of run-on stream-of-consciousness sentences that would have made your uptight wound-too-tight tight-assed high school English teacher weep into her Strunk & White.

I really enjoyed this book and its unconventional structure. But I also really enjoyed Frey's other books. But by all means ... form your own opinion. Don't let me (or Oprah) tell you what to think.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Urchin of the Riding Stars by M.I. McAllister

I'm not sure where I found this book - I'm pretty sure it must have been a pre-release notice about the 4th book in the series, to be released in August. It must have sounded good, because I went back and placed a hold on the first in the Mistmantle Chronicles series: "Urchin of the Riding Stars."

This is a renaissance-style story, full of kings and ladies, castles and the court. The twist is that Mistmantle is an island of animals: hedgehogs, otters, moles and squirrels. Animals act and relate in a human way, with quirks and characteristics influenced by their animal species. For the most part, they interact and get along despite their differences.

I loved this book, and no small part of that should be attributed to the excellent audio reader, Andrew Sachs. From the whispered elegance of Lady Aspen to the snarls of evil Captain Husk or the desolate growls of King Brushen, Sachs' performance was flawless. Unfortunately, I've discovered this is the only book in the series currently available on audio. I will read the rest, but I would have been happier to listen.

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

The bookclub chose this one for July - a murder mystery set in the trapper-trader days. It was an unusually "guy" choice for our bookclub ladies, and we all really enjoyed it.

I'm not sure I'd pitch it to prospective readers as a murder story. Rather, it's a great historical fiction set in upper Minnesota right on the Canadian border. There's a conflict between the Company and the trappers, as always erupts when big corporations try to "own" independent, strong men like these solitary wilderness adventurers. Oh, and there is a murder.

Bookclub decided it was a well-written book, with lyrical descriptions of place and conditions. We all enjoyed it, and I have recommended it several times already.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I'd been telling people I was reading a great middle-school book about a boy who's family was murdered and so he was raised by the ghosts in the graveyard. Never fails: adults give you the cynical, distrusting head-tilt and say acerbically, "For kids?"

Yes. For kids. But as is true with all great books, really ... for anyone.

I really enjoyed Bod's story. It was dark and full of suspense without being too frightening or depressing. I listened to the audiobook (read by the author!) and found myself wishing for more necessary travel.

It's really a tale of growing up and finding oneself. And even if you have the best parents in the world - or the graveyard - eventually you've got to set out on your own and find out what the real world is like.

Monday, July 27, 2009

From aspargus to zucchini

From asparagus to zucchini by Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition

I checked this book out of the library about three times before I just bought it. It is a cookbook, but so much more. I have fun reading about the various vegetables and how to store them and prepare them. If you've ever looked at a vegetable at the farmer's market and wondered what in the world to do with it, this book can tell you. Just joined a CSA and seeing a remarkable number of vegetables you've never heard of? Read this book.

Start me up

Start me up by Victoria Dahl

As a librarian, I rarely buy books for myself, but Borders had a sale. I blogged the first book in this series earlier this year (Talk me down). Dahl takes readers back to Tumble Creek, Colorado for Lori Love's shot at happily ever after. The female mechanic is set on living with the status quo, but a little sex would be an acceptable change of pace. Along comes her best friend's brother, the severely focused architect every girl wanted in high school. He's even more buff now.

Too bad she's also got to contend with the sheriff reopening the case into her father's untimely death and someone seems to want to run her out of town.

Lucky Lori finds herself a man willing steal the steamy books she's currently reading to get insight into what she wants. She wants her books, dammit; what she gets is so much better.
Another sassy, sexy read.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How to ditch your fairy

How to ditch your fairy by Justine Larbalestier

What a fun book! The main character wants to get rid of the fairy that allows any car she is riding in to find the perfect parking spot. She finds a way, but has to admit that some things are worse than the known evils in our lives. The synopsis on the cover of this book promises that readers will be able to recognize what kind of fairy they have by the time the book is finished. I'd have to say that I have a "running into stationary objects" fairy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sleepy little alphabet

The sleepy little alphabet by Judy Sierra

An absolutely fun new picture book. It has been compared to the now classic "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom." There's great attention to rhyme and alliteration. Earlier this week, Trisha and I had the opportunity to meet the illustrator, Melissa Sweet, at the American Library Association's national conference in Chicago. It's really fun to find a lesser recognized author or illustrator and say, "Hey, I already know your work, and love it." Some of the illustrations include images of fabrics to give the letters some depth. Ms. Sweet was very excited when we recognized one of the prints because the designer is very distinctive.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

This would be a pretty typical private investigator story - girl goes missing, family hires Little Detective Agency to find her, car chases ensue, several plot twists and eventually a happy ending.

But the book is instead made extraordinary by its narrator: Chet, a dog who is half of the Little Detective Agency (his human, Bernie, is the other half). While the story is related as if Chet is telling you the tale, at the same time the reader recognizes we're the only ones who can hear Chet: he's just a regular dog. OK maybe not "regular" - he's K9 trained - but certainly not super-powered or talking or anything.

Chet is a great character, and a great dog. He's as likely as any dog to get distracted by treats or cats or other animal invaders (his downfall, as the K9 final exam demonstrated). He understands some things about the human world, and other things leave him absolutely bewildered.

This is the first book in a new series of "Chet and Bernie Mysteries." I just received an uncorrected reader's proof of the second, "Thereby Hangs a Tail" (release set for January 2010).

I can't wait for more Chet!

Hot by Julia Harper

An armed robbery throws everything into an uproar at the small town First Wisconsin Bank of Winosha. In the post-robbery melee Turner Hastings suddenly realizes this is her big chance: while everyone else is distracted, she palms a key from the desk, walks to the vault, and dumps the contents of the bank president's personal lock box into her purse. Once she walks away, she's on the run.

FBI special agent John MacKinnon can't believe Turner's gall - they wouldn't have even noticed her theft on the tape if they hadn't gotten distracted and forgot to shut off the TV. Was Turner the mastermind behind the whole robbery? Why?

This book reads like Janet Evanovich - except with better sex! It was entertaining and light, but kept me interested.

I can't remember the last time I read a book like this, but I've already placed a hold for the only other Harper book in the library catalog.

Friday, July 3, 2009

My cat, the silliest cat in the world

My cat, the silliest cat in the world by Gilles Bachelet

Very funny. Older preschoolers and young school age kids will love the pictures of this cat doing all the daily routines any cat encounters. Eat, sleep, climb, ect. Toddlers will not really laugh at the fact that the "cat" in question is actually an elephant. This book is an absolute stitch with a room full of five year olds.

Diary of a wimpy kid

Diary of a Wimpy kid by Jeff Kinney

I'm not a kid, but I get it. I picked this up on the recommendation of an entire fourth grade class. I just couldn't finish it. I can completely understand the connection to the kid who tries to do what he should, and still gets himself into trouble. I think the fact that this is a middle child in the family is particularly appealing. He has some of the troubles of older siblings, some of the problems of younger siblings, and no matter what a child's birth order, they can relate to the main character. I just wasn't into it. Popped the first disc out of the CD player and put in Sugarland. Maybe someday I'll go back to the story to find out what happens.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Truth Hurts by Nancy Pickard

A non-fiction crime writer becomes the victim of her fame when anonymous threats demand she investigate her own lost family history and write her own story - right up until the inevitable bloody end.

Our bookclub read this book, and I have to say it was slow going for me: not a thrilling thriller, and not a mysterious murder-mystery. Although many of the other club members really enjoyed the book, I found it weak and a bit dull.

Although I do have to give kudos because I did not predict the ending - which is always a bonus in my book! I hate it when I can see the ending coming from a mile away.

The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar

It all starts with rockin' fairies thrown out of their clan for playing punk riffs rather than reels. As they travel their gang of fairy outcasts grows, until they eventually reach New York City.

A fairy fight results in the main characters splitting, and adopting a pair of humans: Dinnie, a bitterly angry, horrible violinist illegally subletting above a theater, and his neighbor Kerry, a sick, sweet girl with a pure heart who just wants to learn the guitar riffs to New York Dolls solos.

I've become a great fan of Terry Pratchett's "Wee Free Men" and other assorted fairy characters, and I hoped this book would be a good comparison. My overall assessment: a valid comparison, but not as strong. Funny, but more than slightly confusing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Mmm... Ranger. OK, if I were Stephanie Plum, I'd be just as torn between the dangerous but surprisingly sweet, Ranger and the by-the-book (mostly) Joe Morelli. They've both got good points and bad. It's just too much fun that she gets to have it both ways.

This is one of the funniest books in the series. Good ole Janet kinda started to lose me for a little while, but I'm back as a big fan of these hilarious stories. Lula and Grandma have a little project going in this book and it's a doozy. Settle in with your own stash of tastycakes and enjoy a quick read.


Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

She's done it again. Anderson tackles not one, but two taboo subjects within the pages of her newest teen title. A gripping account of a teen who handles the world around her the only way she knows how.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon & Dean Hale

I've got a soft spot for good graphic novels, and this one is interesting for the pre-teen set: it's got action, a new twist on a familiar theme, and just a tiny bit of romance.

Expanding on the familiar story of Rapunzel and her famous hair, this story has the girl banished for impudence to a remote treehouse by her sinister, witchy adoptive mother. Since ol' mom's big trick is grow-fast magic, it explains the long, long hair.

Once Rapunzel busts out of the treehouse using her hair as a lasso, she meets up with another lonely soul and together they fight their way across the barren, rough western landscape back to the villa to get revenge. It's a great action story with little violence and lots of unique storybook situations. The banter between Jack and "Punzie" adds a bit of comic relief.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

This book flips all we know on its head and poses a what-if question: What if the Africans had enslaved the Europeans, rather than the other way?

As a child, Doris is stolen away while at play in the fields of England. She survives the horror of the slave ship, sale, and a new life where her pale skin and scrawny frame are mocked by her Aphrikan captors.

There are lots of interesting details sprinkled throughout the narrative: a house slave's hair is wired and coiffed into elaborate sculpture to make her less ugly, field workers toil while singing primitive chants like "Auld Lang Syne," and the common slur for Europanes is "wigger."

I actually think I would have gained greater insight if I had discussed this book while I was reading it - and a truly epic booktalk could result if you discussed this book in companion with my last entry, Chains!

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Isabel was promised freedom when her madam passed away, but the devilish, greedy nephew has other ideas - and really, what can a slave do about it anyway? Reluctantly, and then with more enthusiasm, Isabel gets wrapped up in an underground revolution. She spies, listens, and reports what she hears back to the Patriots, who have promised freedom when they come into power. It is with historical foresight that we know cringe and wish her to disobey, knowing that their promises will also prove hollow.

I guess it's not a stretch that Laurie Halse Anderson hits one out of the park with this book - she's hardly hit a clinker yet. But I was really amazed at the subtle, yet effective way she renders the subject of slavery. Touching, emotional & horrific - although perfectly acceptable (and even recommended) reading for middle schoolers.

(I'm not sure why I didn't blog on this title when I read it a couple months ago, but I've rectified that now I guess)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Do you ever really forget your first love? And what if it was taken from you?

Henry is 12 years old, and the only child of Chinese immigrants living in Seattle, when the US enters the war against Japan. Henry's father is delighted - he's always hated the Japanese for what they've done in China. But Henry's not so sure that hating all Japanese is that simple - especially since he's become friends with the only other "scholarshipping" student at his all-white school, a second-generation American girl of Japanese descent named Keiko.

The book's narrative flashes back and forth between 1986 and the war years. We see the elderly Henry and his difficulty communicating with his college-age son, contrasted with the young Henry and the impossibility of communicating with his father - despite the fact his parents have extremely limited English, Henry is allowed only to "speak his American."

I loved, loved, loved this book! I listened to the audiobook, read by Feodor Chin, and found myself wishing for more time in the car. It will be a great book for discussion in your bookclub, or just an excellent diversion yourself.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

This is an inspiring book that goes to show that one person really *CAN* make a change in the world, if only they persevere.

Mortenson's story begins with a failed mountain climb. After getting lost on the descent, he bumbles into the remote Pakistani village of Korphe, where he is warmly welcomed and nursed back to health. The whole experience is so life-changing for Mortenson that he makes a vow to return and build a much-need school for the village; which is all fine and dandy, except once he's back in America, Mortenson realizes he has no money and no idea where to begin.

This book details his progress. Obviously, he's successful at his mission (or why would we have a book), and this project eventually becomes much more than just the fullfillment of Mortenson's original promise.

I'll predict that this book will change the way you look at world politics, especially in our post-9/11 biases. I know that I'll be more interested now when the news covers these Central Asian world hot-spots.

Toy Dance Party by Emily Jenkins

This the second book starring Jenkin's adorable toy characters Lumphy the stuffed buffalo, StingRay, and Plastic the ball. It also introduces several new characters, notably Spark the plastic Shark.

This time around, the toys experience tragedy, travel, jealousy, injuries, fun, and adventure. They hold not one, but two! dance parties in the basement with the do-wop washer and his backup singers, the towels.

These books have been highly lauded as the perfect bed-time stories for read-aloud - and I can see why. They're funny and heart-warming, with great insights (and oversights) provided by the toys' limited vision of the world. There's a fantastic innocence to these stories, and I'd highly recommend them.

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Several times, I laughed out loud while reading this book. Long and loud laughs, enough I had to put the book down ... how's that for a recommendation?

Our lady Lula's really the star of this latest Stephanie Plum book. If you can believe her testimony, Lula has witnessed the beheading of a famous TV barbeque chef, and now she's being stalked by the giggling, cleaver-wielding killer.

Of course, she figures the only real plan is to enter the upcoming barbeque contest and find the killer herself. Lula deputizes Grandma as her assistant chef, and they begin looking for their own "secret recipe." Keeping in mind that the only Evanovich character that can actually cook is Mom Plum (who can only look on in horror), the cooking chaos in this book is terrific.

I loved this book because it's more Ranger and less Morelli. And yet, there's still NOT ENOUGH RANGER!

Things I Learned About My Dad (In Therapy) edited by Heather B. Armstrong

Since I was about 7millionth on the hold list for Armstrong's new book, I thought I'd give this old one a chance. Armstrong wrote 2 essays here, and her husband Jon wrote one also. For fans of her, it's just a bit more about her life.

Each contributor is a well-known blogger, and the theme of the book is fatherhood - be it as a father, having a father, or having a husband who's a father - any and all facets of fatherhood. Some essays are funny (actually, a lot of them are at least funny in part), and many are heart-warming. It was a perfect pre-Father's Day read.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Fans of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" will love this book too.

Ted, our narrator, is a high-functioning autistic boy who lives in London. He explains that he isn't sick or anything ... it's just that his brain runs on a different operating system. He works hard to navigate and understand a world that he sees slightly differently than others.

But that difference comes in handy when Ted's cousin Salim goes missing. While everyone else spends time crying, yelling, and worrying, Ted has been thinking through all the pieces of Salim's disappearance. And for once, Ted and his sister Kat seem to be on the same team.

Can they find Salim? Will anyone listen, even if they do figure it out? And what does a duck look like when it forgets how to quack?

I think kids will enjoy discovering the answers.

Gay America by Linas Alsenas

This juvenile nonfiction book came to our library highly recommended as not just niche "Gay History" but as simply American History. I agree, and the book is well done.

But the first half of the book - the "history" history section - is much, much stronger than the "current" history section. I understand that it's always a challenge to look at your own times and determine what will become important to history. But it seems to me that at a certain point the author decided to just throw in references to a bunch of people, just to make sure everybody was covered in case something becomes critical.

The sections dealing with the Victorian era, the Depression, and the early days of AIDS were certainly the strongest and most interesting. It really does help to frame current news items when you understand the origins of the struggle.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Dark Side of the Morgue by Raymond Benson

OK - so I got hooked after the first Spike Berenger book. This is the second in the series.

This time, Spike gets a call to help some old "prog rock" buddies in Chicago who are being one by one murdered - by a ghost! While this gives Spike the chance to fully immerse himself in his favorite kind of music, the musicians don't give him much to go: despite the fact they've identified the woman as 70's groupie Sylvia Favero, they won't tell him why she might be systematically picking them off.

Benson's a solid mystery writer, and the ending was a surprise to me (always a bonus). I really enjoy all the music references, and each chapter heading is a song title with some link to the action. The "prog rock" got to be a bit much in this book - while Spike enjoys it, I'm more in line with his employee Remix, who thinks this music's all way too pretentious.

Still, I'm anxious to see what Spike's up to next - but this was a March 2009 release, so I may have to wait a bit.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No Angel by Jay Dobyns

Over the course of Operation Black Biscuit, ATF undercover agent Jay Dobyns nearly lost himself into his role of "Bird" Davis, bad-ass biker. Dobyns became so focused on his work attempting to infiltrate Arizona's outlaw motorcycle gang scene that eventually he resented time away - to visit his kids - and he quit returning wife Gwen's phone calls.

This is a good book, and a very engrossing read. It's gives an interesting look at police investigations and also the Hells Angels from the inside. I was especially intrigued by the history, organization, and culture within the HA.

I won't hesitate to recommend this book to either bikers or police-supporters: It's a fair book that clearly shows the appeal these communities have for those who live "outside the law," but it's also clear on why fewer gangs with less power would be a good thing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne

Like Phoebe's life doesn't suck enough, then Leonard moves in.

Phoebe Hertle is pretty wrapped up in the drama of her own life - he parents' divorce, her sister's strange behavior, her mom's beauty shop customers, and even her own dramatic haircolor(s). And then one day this weird loser cousin she's never met shows up at the door to live with them. Leonard marches to the beat of his own conga line, and while he's an outcast at school, he's mister popularity at the beauty shop where he wins hearts and gradually improves the lives of all the regulars. And while Phoebe thinks he's a pest - and worse - she also wonders why he's never tried to "fix" her.

And then one day, Leonard disappears. And that's where this book really gets interesting.

I really enjoyed the personal discoveries and growth that Phoebe experiences during this book. They're real, and not always pretty - just like in real life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood

One day, five-year old Grace Adrain was fine: bubby, funny, goofy, lovable and loved. Forty-eight agonizing hours later, she was dead from a virulent form of strep. And her mother was shattered.

This tiny, beautiful book is Ann Hood's story of losing her daughter and re-inventing life anew.

After Grace's death, Hood can't write, can't read, can't cook, and finds she can hardly breathe. Everywhere she goes, Grace is not. And that will never change.

But eventually, Hood begins to find tiny, elegant ways to live. Shells with butter and cheese for dinner with cucumber slices. Knitting. Writing. And gradually, Grace is still gone, but Ann has returned.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Talk me down

Talk me down by Victoria Dahl

More brain candy. In one week without class, I've cruised through four novels. Two were for teens, and two are total fluff. Sometimes we all just need to take a break and find a mountain town to hole up in. The main character in this book does exactly that. Of course, she has a detour into the arms of her childhood crush, who just happens to be the chief of police.

True love and other disasters

True love and other disasters by Rachel Gibson

OK, you noticed that my last post was a textbook. Even librarians are allowed brain candy once in a while.

This was a sweet story of love between a hockey player and the trophy bride who inherits the team he plays for. Like many paperback romance novels, it was pretty predictable. However, I'd previously read others by the same author and it was nice to see a reappearance of some familiar characters, like Jane, Vlad and Darby.

Early childhood language arts

Early childhood language arts by Mary Renck Jalongo

This book kept me away from all the fun stuff for months. It was the text for a course in Interactive Literacy, but we read it all. It had some great suggestions and I've put many of them to use in library programs already.


Savvy by Ingrid Law

I had a lot of fun reading this book. The Beaumont kids are so extraordinary and yet, they're not. It was fun to see Mibs struggle with the more normal issues of a thirteen year old without losing sight of her savvy (or extraordinary gift). She handled Will's interest in a very mature manner, which would be impressive from a real thirteen year old.

Paper Towns

Paper Towns by John Green

This book was OK. I listened to it on playaway, and just kept wondering when it was going to end. I thought to myself, "If I were reading this, I'd know how many pages were left. If I were listening to it on CD, I'd know how many discs were left." I felt like I was waiting for something to happen. It finally started to get really good when they figured out where Margo was; then it ended.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Coop by Michael Perry

I love, love, love Michael Perry. And I can't stop talking about this book.

This, the latest episode of Mike's autobiographical book series, takes the reader into the imminent birth of the Perry daughter, the imminent arrival of pigs and chickens to the farm, and Mike's attempts to build and maintain suitable structures for animal, family, and vegetable.

It's hilarious, heartwarming, and thought-provoking. You gotta love a guy who writes so elegantly about faith. Or snot. Well, at least I gotta love him. And again, we meet colorful characters and mad-cap situations, all accompanied by an alt-rock/country-blues soundtrack.

Have I mentioned how much I enjoyed this book?

Have I mentioned how much I love Mike Perry?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Punk Rock Etiquette by Travis Nichols

While the book is written for teens starting their own band - and it is a fun, lively how-to book on getting started in music - it's equally entertaining to a non-musician.

I've heard this book described as a graphic novel, and I'd say that's reaching a bit. It does have lots of little illustrations and one section is in comic format, but really the book is mainly text. And I did enjoy the book's tone - it's written very casually, like you're just sitting down chatting with a big brother or mentor who wants to help you through this band junk.

There's a lot to learn here, both as a musician or as a fan. When think some of these things over, it sure makes you reappraise the bands you see performing. What did they give up to get there? And what part do I play in the whole thing?

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Extraordinary kids with special talents - I've read a bunch of these books lately, but I'm still not tired of them. There seems to be a great many of these being written, but also a lot of really QUALITY writing. Yay!

Each member of the Beaumont family has a "savvy" or special super power that reveals itself on their 13th birthday. Mibs' birthday is coming up, and she's dying to see what cool thing she'll be able to do. She's sure it'll be something great. But then her daddy's in a car accident, and Mibs' talent seems less important - or is it?

The book turns into a crazy, madcap roadtrip on a pink bus with a full cast of true characters. Sometimes, the book kind of reminded me of the first Muppet movie - where they're on a mission, but keep getting derailed by crazy circumstances.

Savvy is a quick read - but still funny and heartwarming and full of suspense. I'd recommend it for 6-8th grade readers. Lighter in tone that Percy Jackson, but in a similar genre.

A Hard Day's Death by Raymond Benson

I've been looking for a good "brain candy" series, and I think I've finally found it! You know - nice easy reading, a captivating storyline, but nothing too serious or gory. Just something to consume quickly and then move on, with little nutritional value ... brain candy.

Rockin' Security is known for high-profile guard duty at concerts and for celebrity rock stars. On the down-low, Spike Berenger also branches out into rock-n-roll private eye work. Spike's been all over the music business as a guitarist, manager, and friend to all kinds of big names. Now he's using those connections to figure out who really murdered aging rocker Flame.

I love rock music, and this series really is an insider's geek nirvana. Old grudges won't die, Berenger's slept with every woman in the storyline, and nobody really lives too far from their wild and woolie past glory days. There were twists I hadn't seen coming (but maybe should have), and I enjoyed the fact that each chapter has a track listing - recommended listening, and a foreshadowing of the action to come.

Well-written and fun. This was the first in the series, released in 2008, and the second in the series, "Dark Side of the Morgue," was released in February. I'm going to move on to that one - I hope it's as good!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

Our bookclub chose this one - and I can't wait for discussion tonight. This is a truly beautiful, lyrical book that will make you laugh one minute and rip your heart out the next.

The true story of the Warsaw Zoo and its part in the Polish underground during WWII, it's a fantastic story about a couple who gladly include both people and animals alike into their family and home.

The perspective ebbs and flows, back and forth from the general scene across the European theater to Poland's unique position, to Warsaw's part in the action and then to the smaller picture of the zoo and the everyday lives of the villa's inhabitants. This nicely allows a world perspective of the bigger picture, then humanizes it into something the reader can imagine and absorb.

I listened to part of this book on audio, then went back and read the whole thing in hardcover. I think because I listened to part of it, I really got a better picture of the poetic language used in the descriptions of the trees, landscape and animals. It's really well done - not overlong and distracting as I sometimes find this type of "scene setting."

I think the animal stories, and the perspective they add to the tale, make this a truly unique and approachable look at the Nazi invasion.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rolling Along by Nancy J. Martin

I'm always looking for new ideas and inspirations on quilting with pre-cut fabrics (those charms and strips that are so popular right now). This book contains all patterns that are "jelly roll friendly."

I was slightly disappointed with the massive "quilt 101" in the front of the book - it takes up nearly 1/3 of the pages. I thought it was too much - if a new quilter needs that much help, they can look to other quilting basics books for that info.

In all, I thought there were some cute ideas here. But there's only one pattern I'm tempted to make. Overall, I think there are better jelly roll books available.

Fuse It and Be Done! by Barbara Campbell & Yolanda Fundora

I'm always looking for fun, fast ways to get great results without hand stitching - so I'm already familiar with fusible products. And this book has some great, inspired ideas on projects to fuse, including a couple that I hadn't even considered before. Even if I don't make any of the projects exactly like they're listed, the book has opened a few doors and windows in my mind that may take me a new direction.

The best part of the book though is the dozen-or-so pages at the beginning that explains different types of fusible and different techniques for using it. Wonderful!

I also enjoyed the fact that all templates from the book are available on an enclosed CD. For those of you who do pursue projects as they're detailed, you'll enjoy the convenience of printing out your templates rather than photocopying or tracing.

Ant Farm by Simon Rich

"Short story" doesn't begin to explain these vignettes - some are less than a page. They're like ironic, sour, incredibly funny comedy sketches.

Rich is a former Harvard Lampoon president, and that type of humor certainly shines through. If you love skewed looks at the everyday world, you'll love this.

But don't read it all at once. The book is only 139 pages long, but it's best consumed in smaller morsels - three or four stories at a time. That way you get the biggest impact, without the comedy numb that happens when you overindulge.

A Book by Mordicai Gerstein

This would be a great picture book for slightly older kids - perhaps those just about to read themselves. There's not much "storyline" but lots of little bits of text and engaging details on each page. Perfect for exploration, but maybe not great for younger kids.

We see the action in this book from above - like we're looking down on a tiny land contained within the book. We learn that when we close a book, it's night and bedtime inside the book: the action only happens when we have the book open.

The girl in our story doesn't think she has a story. Everyone else has a story, but she's trying to find hers. Her search leads us through several different literary genres and introduces the reader to the "stock characters" in each genre.

It's cute, and done well. It'll make you think, "hmmm, what do my favorite characters do when I'm not reading them?"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Addition by Toni Jordan

Grace Lisa Vandenburg (19) counts everything. Compulsively. Her whole world gets turned on its ear one day when she discovers only nine (9?) bananas in her shopping cart at the checkout. To makes it right (it must be 10!) by snagging one banana from the unsuspecting shopper behind her - only to get busted later by the very same (handsome!) shopper, who would like to know if she wants one of his apples too, while she's at it.

Strangely, the only time Grace isn't counting is when she's wrapped up with banana-man: Seamus Joseph O'Reilly(19 also - it must be fate). Eventually, he figures out what it is that drives Grace - and offers to help her make it right.

But "normal" and Grace don't get along so well. She gets stuck in therapy with the hand-washers, and the drugs split her brain into two separate brains - who fight about what to say during conversations, must rally the troops just to move a leg, and can't seem to coordinate enough to enjoy sex.

I really enjoyed this book - at times, it's laugh-out-loud funny. And I especially enjoyed Larry, Grace's niece, who seems to be the only one who really loves Grace just as she is.

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

A great read for fans of what I call "non-mysteries:" I'm talking about books like Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series ... no big who-dunnit or lurking evil butler, rather just everyday questions and unusual problems that need answers.

Much to the dismay of her family, Mei Wang left an honorable ministry job and started her own business. Since it's illegal in Beijing to be a private investigator, she's listed herself as an information consultant. When she's called on by an old family friend to research the existence of a relic believed to have been destroyed in the cultural revolution, she also begins to learn there's more to her mother that she'd ever suspected.

The tale unfolds slowly, with beautiful pacing. Gradually, we get Mei's personal story in pieces: a lost love, her missing father, her curious resignation from the ministry. Additionally, the reader gains insight about Beijing in the late 1990's and how the past still influences modern life.

I listened to this book on CD, and I thoroughly enjoyed the narration by Cindy Cheung. Hearing the unfamiliar sounds of Chinese pronunciation really added an extra flair to the story.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

While this is the kind of not-too-distant future, sci-fi novel that overflows the teen genre, Jenna Fox's humanity gives this an edge over other books in the pool of "scientific ethics" books.

Jenna's told she was in an accident, but she doesn't remember it. She's healing, but she's not sure where. And she feels funny, but she doesn't know what that means. As Jenna's memories return and as she slowly unravels her curious situation, we readers also slowly discover that there's something different about Jenna.

I enjoyed the fact that Jenna's is the only voice we hear: what she doesn't know, we don't know. For both of us there are a million small surprises - and a couple of really big ones. I'll be recommending this book to teen readers, especially during out summer library program, and it would be a great title for discussion.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The School of Esential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

A beautifully written, delicate book on human nature.

Lillian doesn't teach your typical cooking lessons. Instead, she offers an experiential safe place for these varied students to grow, learn, and bloom under the warm rays of Lillian's attentions.

Each member of the cooking class is there for a different reason - and each has his or her own chapter. The food and the lessons carry the students' thoughts through memories and mental tangents, weaving from the past to the task at hand and then on again. Their stories unfold for the reader gradually throughout the book, much like the characters' confidence unfolds through their Monday nights in the kitchen.

I really loved this book, and will be recommending it to many readers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eat this

Eat this, Not That: supermarket survival guide by David Zinczenko

This entire series is interesting, but not the kind of book you'll sit down and read in one sitting. I've heard it described as bathroom reading. Actually, maybe it should be waiting room reading. Doctors are always trying to push healthy living. More of them should provide this series in their waiting rooms. You know you can never finish the one article you found interesting in the plethora of magazines before they take you to the exam room. If you had this available, it wouldn't matter where you stop, and you might learn something.

Really, this is the kind of book you want to examine before your next trip to the store. I learned that I've been buying the wrong tortilla chips for years. The ones I like have way too much vegetable oil.


Dewey. The small-town library cat who touched the world by Vicki Myron

Unlike my colleague, I enjoyed this book. Dewey enchanted me, yes, but so did the community of Spencer, Iowa. This book is about more than a sweet, beautiful cat. It's about all the people who knew that cat, and how they interacted with him.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog by Nancy Elis-Bell

If you love animals stories ...

What I enjoyed most about this book was its unique subject: a blue-and-gold macaw. Not a dog, or a cat, but a big opinionated bird with a personality. And I don't have anything against good dog or cat stories - but there are truly a million of them out there. How many bird books have you read?

When Ellis-Bell adopts Sarah, a rescue bird that had been wild-caught, injured, and mistreated throughout her life, she wasn't really prepared for the magnitude of their life changes. Thank heavens her husband is so laid-back and agreeable, because Sarah upends their whole lives. There were definitely times where I thought, "Have you lost your mind, woman?" Eventually, even Ellis-Bell ponders what kind of adoptive mother she has become to all her other critters, once Sarah has established her reign of terror.

It's an interesting book, and especially informative about the quirks of bird personality. Many chapters were just a couple pages, and Ellis-Bell doesn't get bogged down in chronology - sometimes an uneventful year just flits by between chapters, summed up in a sentence or two, which helped to keep the narrative moving along briskly.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Our library's bookclub chose this book, and I'm sorry I had to miss the discussion.

Ehrenreich decided the best way to research a "living wage" was to try it. So temporarily, she left her husband and home to moved across the country, get a job, and find a place to live. Could it be done? She made a point to live on only what she could earn, and to use only life skills not earned by way of higher education or wealth. When she could no longer afford to live on her earnings, the experiment was over.

She repeats this scenario three times: as a waitress and hotel maid in Florida, working as a nursing home aid and cleaning houses in Maine, and a final stint (and her ultimate breaking point) in the Wal-mart women's clothing department in Minnesota.

The lengths to which she must stretch and conform to find housing is eye-opening. Each job will teach you a bit about things we each take for granted in the world around us. But the Wal-mart job ... well that's the one you'll remember.

Fuck You: Rock and Roll Portraits by Neil Zlozower

Were you an 80's or 90's metal rock maniac? Then this book will be a trip down memory lane.

Zloz has been one of rock's premiere photographers for almost 40 years. He took many of the photos you ripped out of fan magazines and plastered all over your bedroom walls. When he considered publishing a retrospective of his work, well, this is what happened. Every picture shows some rocker giving the finger. There's almost no text - only photo subject IDs and the year.

After the first 25 pictures or so, you really don't even notice the bird anymore: too much shock value leads to no shock at all. Instead, you start remembering bands you'd forgotten, comparing now-and-then pictures of fallen rock gods, and laughing at wardrobe and hair choices from the early days.

I wouldn't recommend buying the book, but I did truly enjoy looking through it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

Your bookclub is going to love discussing this one!

Truly Plaice has carved out a tiny little life, despite her giant size. Ostracized since birth, nobody seems to want her - her mother died in childbirth, her father never forgave her, her sister's adoptive family rejects her, and the townspeople ridicule her at every opportunity. She finally finds a true home with the poor, outcast Dyerson clan on their broken-down out-of-the-way farm.

Secrets large and small weigh heavily in this book, and it's only upon their release that anyone finds peace ... but some at a much higher cost than others.

As a quilter, I loved the fact that a quilt plays a major part in the story without it being a "quilter's story." This book will hook you early and won't let you go, even after you've turned the final page.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

After I finished reading this "tween" book, I flipped to the endpaper to see what else Forester had written. I wanted to reserve more ... YIKES! Her first book? Wow.

You know going in that something will have to make Piper McCloud very special, because life in the McCloud family is so ... so ... so normal. And regular. When her amazing talent is discovered, she is briskly approached and swept away to a special school for those with extraordinary talents. It's heavenly, it's wonderful, everything's great - except that one boy who's mean. Then everything gets turned upside down, and the mean boy may be the only good person Piper knows.

I really enjoyed this book. It wasn't predictable, and it was fun to discover the kids' unique abilities and how they can be utilized.

Late last year I read and loved "The Mysterious Benedict Society" by Trenton Lee Stewart. The two books are quite different, but also somewhat similar in tone and enthusiasm. I can see encouraging the same kids to try them both.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

If you've been dying to see Carrie Fisher's stage performances, read this book.

Otherwise, go back and read "Postcards from the Edge" or "Delusions of Grandma." They were just as autobiographical, and much more coherent. And funny. They were really funny and quick.

Although Star Wars fiends will relish her new tidbits on "character development" and behind-the-scenes peeks. (It was Harrison's weed that finally did her in!)

I think Carrie Fisher is one of the funniest women on the planet, and this book does her humor no justice. If you don't already know everything about her, it won't make sense. If you do know everything about her, you've already read better work.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I've commonly expressed some hesitation toward all works of non-vampire science fiction/fantasy, and this new-er "Dresden Files" series (this first book is from 2000) was recommended to change my mind.

It worked! Almost like magic ...

Harry Dresden is a modern day wizard. He's got a steady side gig working with the police department's unexplained cases department and an unsteady regular gig as a yellow pages listed wizard-for-hire. He can barely keep the rent paid, but at least he doesn't have to worry about the lights - electronics and Harry don't play nice, so mostly he just conjures by candlelight and avoids all types of machinery and technology.

The book's vibe is one part classic pot-boiler private investigator story, one part modern butt-kickin' slayer of evil sh*t from places we don't want to think about. It had a token vampire for me, a demon, some fairies, a talking skull ... and seemed like it could really happen?

I can't wait to try the next book, "Fool Moon."

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows

I listened to this outstanding audiobook, which uses 4 narrators to help aurally break down the multiple letter writers' voices for your convenience, and would highly recommend giving it a try.

The whole tale is told in letters - betweeen Londoner Juliet Ashton, her friends and swains, and a new group of friends she develops on the Channel Island of Guernsey. While the book is set just after the defeat of the Germans in WWII, through the correspondences we learn the World War II tales and fates of many of these common Europeans: bombings, occupations, emprisonments, separations and shortages.

The book made me think, made me laugh, and stayed with me throughout my day. I was slightly disappointed with the ending, but not enough to stop me from recommending that you give this tale a try.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hungry Girl

Hungry Girl. Recipes and survival strategies for Guilt-free eating in the real world by Lisa Lillen

I love cookbooks. Unfortunately, I usually only find one or two recipes in each one that I actually use. This is why I get them from the public library. For a matter of pennies, I can photocopy that one great recipe and return the book for someone else to read.

I've found a couple of ideas in here that I'd like to try. Tonight it's going to be the onion rings. Their baked and dredged in ground bran cereal. Onions are cheap, it's worth trying. One of these days I'll probably make the time to create the oatmeal pizza crust, too.

Ms. Lillen includes a few great tips for eating out as well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dewey by Vicki Myron

I work in a library, and I love a cat. "The small-town library cat who touched the world" should be my new favorite! But it's not.

I began reading in earnest, and enjoyed a few chuckles at the scene about opening the library before the start of the day. They discover the kitten. It changes their staff. Dewey rekindles a community's faith in one another. And then I started skipping pages and skimming for good parts. I wanted less Spencer, Iowa and more Dewey the cat.

Myron does an admirable job of using the book to teach people about libraries - how they run, what happens "behind the desk." I wish I could say glowing things about her prose. But honestly, library operation is not that interesting - even to those of us who do it.

I hope this book becomes a juvenile book, or a picture book. I can see either of those scenarios working out incredibly well. But I thought this book was slow. Even the dramatic events seemed to lack drama.

So I'll admit I skimmed it, then let it go for the next patron on the hold list. Who may just learn a thing or two about the way a library operates and its importance in a community.

Two Dudes One Pan by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo

For all the hype, I wanted a book on fun regular food with no fuss. "One pan" - and "dudes" - it can't get too complicated with a name like that, can it? Oh, yes it can.

The title is a misnomer. The contents page breaks the book down into these sections: the big bowl, nonstick skillet, classic skillet/frying pan, dutch oven, roasting pan, and baking dish. And the dudes? Trained chefs with a catering company.

Admittedly, the recipes are much simpler than, say, Martha. And the "dudes" really do seem to have fun in the kitchen. But the cover photo with a tattooed arm plucking chicken pieces from a skillet? Just slick marketing from another set of Food Network starts.

At Work by Annie Leibovitz

I have been a huge fan of Leibovitz since college. Her 90's portraits for Rolling Stone made the magazine worth the price of subscription. She's published several books of photography over the years, but this volume combines her own words about how she works with choice photos from across her career's trajectory.

It was interesting to hear her own nostalgia, or regret, concerning some of the most famous images she's captured. I've always loved her portrait of Keith Haring, and her reminiscence here makes it all worth while.

But the small scale bothered me. I wanted bigger pictures. I want to re-appreciate them in glorious color and grand scale. Instead, the book is easier to handle at a scant 7.5" x 9.75" and pictures are reproduced in snapshot size.

I'm afraid that if you're not already a fan, this book won't make you one. Which seems a shame.

American Thighs by Jill Conner Browne

Browne returns with style in this, her eighth "Sweet Potato Queens" book.

I discovered the SPQ's back in 1995 or so - early on in their development. Back then, they were advertised as the trashy younger sisters to the Red Hat Society. Sassy, sexy, drunken, and debauched: they were the girls I wanted to hang out with. The gang I wanted to be in.

Today, the originals SPQ's could qualify as Red Hatters themselves - but none would lower themselves to that level. Over the years, Boss Queen Jill wrote a couple of laugh-out-loud books, a couple clunkers that were still fun, and compliled a recipe book that every kitchen should posess. This one's good again - give "American Thighs" a chance. Or go back to the original "The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love."

And make sure you say hey to your mama!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Bears in the Bed and The Great Big Storm

The Bears in the Bed and the Great Big Storm by Paul Bright

My eye was first drawn to this book because Jane Chapman's bears on the cover made me think the author was Karma Wilson. Even with a different author, this book lends itself well to expressive reading. The "monster" at the end of the book happens to be the voice I do best with a puppet in hand. My inspiration for that voice comes from a CD by Brent Holmes whose music sends little library visitors into gales of giggles.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

Cute, kicky and fun to read. That's "How to Ditch Your Fairy" in a nutshell.

Charlotte Adele Donna Seto Steele is a 14-year old all-star athlete training at a special sports-only high school in New Avalon (a made up place kinda like the US, but also sorta Australian - just go with it). In her world, it's normal to have a PR class in high school (you're going to need it). Statistics class ... oh, we're all about the numbers in sports, aren't we? And many people have some kind of personal fairy working magic in their lives. That's just the way it is.

Except Charlie's got a parking fairy - every car she's in finds a primo parking spot instantly. Other people have never-getting-into-trouble fairies, or finding-loose-change fairies, or grip fairies, or ... well, anything's better than a 14-year old with doos parking skills. (You'll walk away from this book with a pulchy new vocabulary, too!)

It's a fun book. The kids act like kids (not necessarily responsibly) and their troubles seem monumental to them at the moment. But it's fun, funny, and the fantasy elements aren't unbelievable.

Monday, February 9, 2009

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

I listened to this in the car. As fascinating as it was, I know I'd never have finished it in print form. I've been reading the ingredients list on everything lately, and can't believe how many things are barely natural. Everything has been processed for shelf-life, and then processed again to reintroduce the nutrients that were stripped the first time.
I always thought I ate pretty healthfully, but now I feel like my whole diet needs to be revamped. I love vegetables, but never thought about the fact that farmers now produce for yield over nutrition, so we now get far fewer benefits from fresh fruit/veggies than we did in the past. Suddenly, I can't wait for farmer's market season.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Sword of Maiden's Tears by Rosemary Edghill

This book was recommended to me because 5 of the 6 main characters are librarians. Fantasy! Elves! and butt-kickin' librarians? Sign me up!

And it was a nice diversion. It was nice to see a depiction of librarians where we aren't stodgy bun-wearing spinsters (there are even MALE librarians in this book!).

But 15 years have not been kind to this story, which was first published in 1994. As the characters struggle to locate one another, struggle to find accurate maps, and delve deep for elven lore - you want to shout: Get a cell phone! Go on Mapquest! Just Google it! One of the characters is a "hacker in training" - a setup to ensure all other characters mistrust him ... because he uses a computer.

This is just the first book in Edghill's "Twelve Treasures" series. I'd be curious to see if the others have fared better.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

When Santa Turned Green

When Santa Turned Green by Victoria Perla

It seems Santa has poor access to news up in the north pole. Until the snow on his roof melted, he was unaware of the concept of global warming. Now that he knows, he's out to reverse the whole process. This is a relatively cute picture book that gives kids an simplified version of the problem and makes the solution seem like it can happen overnight. At the least, it can put a few good ideas into kids' heads.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Do you love gory stories? Supernatural spirituality? This will be your new favorite book.

We find out from page one that our narrator survived a horrible burn accident. His descriptions of burn treatment and his accident's details are graphic and terrible - and just when you think you can't take it anymore, he starts to tell you about his pre-burn life ... as a pornographer. Nice!

But the book's really a series of stories: love stories, religious stories, morality stories. These tales are what really hooked me - I wanted to know how they were going to come together, and what we and the narrator were learning through their telling.

In the end, I loved this book. But I'm not sure how to recommend it - it's gross, it's despicable, it's beautiful, and it's literary. Give it a try, and stick with it. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

OK - full disclosure: I'm a long-time gone from worrying about my first kiss. And I am not now and never was Catholic. But usually, being a supposed "grown up" doesn't prevent my enjoyment of youth books and youthful endeavors. Except this book.

Antonia Lucia Labella is not a boring, suburban teen - rather, she's an American girl living in an old-world Italian family and neighborhood. Her family owns a grocery, and they work to make it successful nearly every minute of the day. She attends Catholic girls school. She's obsessed with saints and becoming the first living saint, but not overly engrossed in religion on the whole. Mostly, she just wants to finally find the right boy to kiss her - NOW!

I'm pretty "meh" on this one. It had moments of cute. And I did read all the way to the end. But I can't say I was fully engaged, or rooting for Antonia to figure things out. But then again, maybe I'm just old ...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Scrambled States of America Talent Show by Laurie Keller

The next in the series of Scrambled States books - and another winner!

These books actually remind me of the old Richard Scarry books I loved as a kid. There are so many little side conversations, things to look at, and things to investigate that you can spend several minutes on each page spread, even after you've read the storyline text. Plus, it's all educational! Each state character's comments and actions are reflective of the state's history and demographics. It's amazing what you can learn "by accident" just investigating the book.

I think this book's extras would be too much for really young kids, but the main story is pretty entertaining by itself. Older kids will enjoy investigating the variety on each page, either independently or to read with a grown-up's assistance.

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill

A beautifully rendered graphic novel with equal parts horror, gore, mystery and the supernatural. It's the first book in a new series, and I'll definitely look for the next - while it's gorier than I'd usually prefer (even cartoon murder is maybe more than I need to see), the classic scary supernatural storyline hooked me, big time. I want to know what's up with the scary chick in the wellhouse, and I want to know what's behind the rest of the doors in the Locke house.

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

This is Klosterman's first fiction. I was curious, because his nonfiction has been a little hit-or-miss. "Fargo Rock City" is genius; "Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs" - not so much.

Have you ever lived in a really small town, where everybody knows everybody, and your history is a living, breathing part of your everyday modern life? Welcome to Owl ND.

The story alternates between points of view: a high school football player, an Owl old-timer, a new teacher in town. Their stories don't really converge, but they can't really stay separate in a town this small.

I was shocked by the end. I can't say I saw it coming. Which is always a good thing - but unsettling, none the less, during this cold, blowing, snowy January in WI.

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich

Finally, the "between-the-numbers" series gets a real book with fully fleshed out storyline, and some truly great new characters!

I think Diesel is worth reconsidering the classic "Morelli vs. Ranger" debate, and you won't soon forget Elmer the Fire Farter: I think he & Grandma Mazar have a definite future together.

I refer to all Evanovich books as "brain candy" - sweet and light, but not real nutrition. And I don't care. You've got to have dessert once in a while too!

A Penguin Story by Anoinette Portis

This is my new favorite children's book - Portis has such a great imagination, and creates such rich, funny, interesting worlds with such simple drawings and limited colors.

When the penguin finds "something different," the expression on the expressionless explorer's face is so funny, I giggle now just thinking about it!

A true winner!

The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

This was a great new find for story time. The oh so sad looking pout-pout fish brought on gales of giggles from children and parents alike. This book makes reading with expression very easy.

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

This is the book I'm pitching to the bookclub this year.

Corrigan defines the middle place as the spot where the titles "Someone's Kid" and "Someone's Parent" collide. This is her happiest place - she's still the daughter of the renown George Corrigan, but also the mom of 2 beautiful girls. Then her sense of definition is called into question as she and her dad deal with cancer simultaneously.

It's not a sad cancer book. Really, it's a great, funny book about families and the way we relate to one another.

I usually avoid cancer books like a CA-125 test, but this one hardly stung at all.

The Customer is Always Wrong

"The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles," edited by Jeff Martin

This collection of essays covers all elements of retail service, and was pitched by book media as tragicomic and absurd ... I found it basically interesting, but not side-splitting.

If you've ever worked a crappy job behind the cash register, you'll find some kindred spirits and even a few chuckles here. Overall it's a nice selection of essays on a theme, just not as funny as it had been pitched.

American Thighs by Jill Conner Browne

The funniest in the series since The Field Guide to Men. I was giggling by page four and laughing to much to read the words by page 20. It only got better from there.

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich

This is the best between the numbers book yet. The story seemed much more complete than the previous novellas.