Thursday, December 30, 2010

No Girls Allowed by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Willow Dawson

This nonfiction graphic novel details seven stories of women who disguised themselves as men. The crisp black and white illustrations are strong yet detailed, and the author has carefully chosen the subjects to represent a broad range of historical eras.

Each woman had a unique reason for subterfuge - to become a king, to become a doctor, to escape slavery, to escape persecution. Some tales end happily, some have no real end - their conclusions were lost to time.

I really enjoyed the book, and I wish there were more history books written this way - with a common theme that spans eras. It helped to accent the similarities between the stories, despite the fact that one was from ancient Egypt and one from Civil War America.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor

Fans of Taylor's "Irish Country" series have come to love all the charming small-town characters that make up Ireland's Ballybucklebo community. But the good doctor's housekeeper, Kinky Kincaid, was once a girl with big dreams and a close-knit family of her own.

Here, Kinky tells her story through flashbacks, reminiscence, and even a ghost story for the kiddies who come a-caroling this Christmas day. Readers find there's much more to Mrs. Kincaid than we may have suspected.

This book is very different from the others in the series because it deals little with either the doctors or the village we've come to know and love. It's really Kinky's story, set in Cork and filled with a kind of ancient folkloric mysticism that Kinky has only hinted at in prior books. It's a good yarn, but an unexpected departure from the series' storyline.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

In this latest (and last?) book in the Tiffany Aching teen series, a dark and evil presence has spread through the country, creating ill will for witches. It's not enough to just help the elderly and infirm as a witch; it'll be Tiffany's true test and coming of age to conquer the darkness.

While the Nac Mac Feegle still provide a bit of comic relief, this book is darker than the others in the series. Tiff's about at the end of her rope - worn out and weary from too many long nights and missed meals. Just when she's at her worst, this dark force begins stalking poor Tiff. She's already proven herself to be a powerful witch - can she take one more challenge?

There's not as much dramatic tension in this book - the final battle is great, but it lacks a big buildup throughout the book. More, this book provides a glimpse of the day-to-day, overlooked jobs (like clipping toenails) that really make up Tiff's job - it's not all kissing the Winter and saving kidnapped boys!

I liked the book, and it could be a fitting conclusion to the series. I wouldn't recommend it as your first Pratchett book to read, but it's a great story none the less.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last minute gift ideas

For new readers: We are in a book by Mo Willems

For the little fashionista: Too Purpley by Jean Reidy

For the little boy who loves gadgets: Robot Zot by Jon Scieszka

A picture book for anyone who loves a silly song: Pete the cat, I love my white shoes by Eric Litwin

For the preteen who has always wanted superpowers: Savvy by Ingrid Law

For the teenage girl: One Day by David Nicholls

For the teenage boy: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

For the scientist in us all: The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

For the man who likes history: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

For the woman who reads everything: The help by Kathryn Stockett

For the fan of alternate realities: The Passage by Justin Cronin

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Book two of the Mortal Instruments series - Clary's got a whole new set of challenges on her hands.

Her mom's still in a coma. Her dad is still the evil overlord trying to destroy the world. Her best friend still wants to be her boyfriend. And the boy she's in love with is still her brother.

But she's discovered she's got a special superpower. And Simon's had an unfortunate accident with a vampire. And Jace is under Clave arrest, suspected as a spy for Valentine.

This one's got a lot of action - those Shadowhunters really enjoy a good fight - and dramatic tension as Clary learns more and more about her legacy. It's also got great moments of humor ... since nothing cuts the tension like a bit of sarcasm!

Friday, December 17, 2010

In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger in the Age of Aquarious by Charles Wilkins

This nonfiction memoir isn't a gory tell-all about the cemetery industry: more so, it's a personal tale about one kid's crappy summer job, filled with crazy characters and trouble they find ... although you are certain to learn unsettling things about how cemeteries are run, too.

Gallows humor, half-assed slackers, and marijuana abound in this story. During summer break 1969, Charles lands a job at Willowlawn Cemetery. The boss is a drunk, it's really hot, and one of his co-workers - a philosopher/economist/gravedigger - has a hidden pot plot somewhere in the back section of the yard. It's amazing anybody gets planted properly.

It's a much lighter read than I'd expected, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Blood Song by Cat Adams

This one's a new book (2010), but also first in a new series of supernatural/vampire books. It's set in the now, but a slightly different "now" - one where the supernatural is commonplace and has become a very real threat. Everyone gets tested in grade school to determine their level of extra-sensory talents ... as much to determine their threat level as to help train their skills.

While the main character, Celia Graves, is a professional bodyguard, this book is really more squarely in the detective genre. When Celia is attacked and bitten by a vampire while on a big-dollar guard job, she becomes an "abomination:" not vampire, but not wholly human anymore either. She's determined to hunt down her sire and make him pay; that quest is complicated by both her physical changes and the fact that her attack seems to be part of a much larger evil.

I enjoyed the book immensely and pretty much read it in a sitting. Celia's tough but still feminine, and the supporting characters and their unusual skills kept me interested. While the book resolves its main plot, it also leaves an interesting cliff-hanger and a host of challenges and mysteries about Celia to carry us into the next book.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

I picked this one up because the movie looks good (Zach Galifianakisi as a mental patient? OK!), but I like to read the book first, if possible, before I see the movie.

Craig's not just a darkly mooded teenager - it's much worse than that inside his head. Taking the one good piece of advice he gets from the worst suicide hotline operator ever, Craig walks down the street to the hospital and checks himself in. The people he meets and the things he learns on the ward will force a true shift in Craig's head and in his life.

It's a good book; funny, and yet heartwarming. While the book's resolution is perhaps a bit too glossy and pat, much of the book rings true and many readers will find bits of themselves inside Craig's head, too.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Handling Sin by Michael Malone

Raleigh Hayes is a solid, conservative, thoughtful, civic-minded insurance agent. He's plotted and planned his life to be risk-reduced and bland - but he's about to realize you just can't count on everybody else playing by your rules.

His divorced, defrocked father just escaped from the hospital, bought a Cadillac, and took off for New Orleans with a young black woman. He's left in his wake a list of crazy, unexplained tasks for Raleigh to perform in order to preserve his inheritance.

The task list pushes Raleigh into a wild, scavenger-hunt-type road trip adventure that will shake up his whole life. Along the way he'll discover friends, family, and (gasp) *fun* that he hadn't planned on.

I found this book by way of a list of "best comic novel" recommendations. It's long (600 pages), but you'll be hooked by Raleigh's reluctant, inadvertent journey.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Things just got weird for 15-year-old Clary Fray - she tried to stop a gang from killing another teen only to find he wasn't really human (he shriveled and disappeared when stabbed) ... and the gang members seem to be invisible to everyone but her. Then, Clary's mom gets abducted and Clary is forced to fight for her life against some kind of demon-lizard.

It's all just the start of a long, eye-opening journey for Clary: turns out she's been missing big pieces of the puzzle that makes up her young life. Her heritage is supernatural, her gifts have been veiled inside her own mind, and the world is much more multi-dimensional than she'd ever suspected.

Add a cute boy or two, some tattoo magic, and mysteries around every corner, and you've got quite a page-turner (although, I listened to the audio). This is just the first in the "Mortal Instruments" series, and it came highly recommended to me by a teen library patron - I'm glad I listened to his advice. I'm hooked!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

by Barbara Kingsolver

Have you ever made a conscious effort to buy locally? Chances are, you have. Kingsolver and her family took that effort much farther and spent an entire year devoted to eating food produced only within a limited range of their home. Much of the food was grown/raised right in her own backyard. As I listened to the book, I couldn't help but think of a friend who really does live this way. She raises chickens and sheep, and grows nearly every plant her family will eat. She also trades with friends who do similar things. This is an admirable process, and many good ideas come from the book, but so many times I thought about how difficult it would really be to fit all those things into my life. All in all, this book was a fun and funny read.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin

Music-obsessed boy meets off-kilter science girl and they immediately hit it off. A friendship forms, but neither is sure how to discuss their interest in the other: she's closed off, he's got Aspergers. But somehow, they understand one another better than anyone else can.

These teens are instantly likeable, and they've got a funny, quirky friendship with just enough tension to keep you wondering how it will end. And the music references - let's just say I laughed out loud more than once: KISS/kiss wordplay, the importance of John Oates, and the impulse control it takes to not follow your instinct when a girl's t-shirt says "Squeeze."

I read it in a sitting. Chapters alternate between Liana's voice and Hank's, so you get a fair balance in viewpoint and a great look inside each character's head. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Scaredy-cat Splat

by Rob Scotton

Splat is back for another raucous adventure in his newest picture book. This time his goal is to be the scariest cat at school during the Halloween party. It looks as though his plan may be ruined though when he needs a last minute costume change. Tag along for this adventure to see if Splat can best his friends.

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

This phenomenal book was chosen for the University of Wisconsin's Big Read 2010. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who died in the early 1950's of cervical cancer. However, there is a part of her that is still alive today. Doctors at Johns Hopkins took a sample of her tumor. Within 24 hours, they discovered that her cells were regenerating. The cells have never stopped doing so. HeLa cells have been studied regarding many illnesses over the years, and without them, we would not have a cure for polio, or many other diseases that now seem like a thing of the past.
The story becomes more intriguing when you realize that the Lacks family had no idea of Henrietta's significance to the medical world for over twenty years.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

This is a great little book that suffers from a cumbersome, awkward title ... I'd love to recommend for people to read this book, but I can't ever remember the name of it!

It's a quaint little book about life inside the Tower of London. The yeomen (also called beefeaters) are required to live inside the walls, and some of their families adjust to the demands better than others. Like any little village, the Tower's got its share of eccentrics - and some are the ghosts of former prisoners. Essentially, it's a quirky, cozy story of community and relationships.

The main storyline follows Balthazar Jones and his wife, Hebe, who are still grieving the loss of their young son. Since his death, their picture-perfect marriage has started to show cracks. And the things carved into the walls of their tower home by former "residents" aren't helping anybody's sanity.

I loved this book, and highly recommend it. It's the kind of small, goofy story that's heartwarming without being sappy, and you'll quickly become endeared to it's oddball characters.

Monday, October 11, 2010

You Suck: A Love Story by Chirstopher Moore

This, the second in Moore's vampire series, is completely stolen away from the vampire protagonists by a human. But not just any normal - their new minion, teenage goth girl Abby Normal.

Abby's got all the best lines and the biggest laughs. And I've got to give HUGE KUDOS to Susan Bennett for her narration of this audiobook. To switch from Abby's voice, to the 800-year-old vampire Elijah, to the former cheddar queen of Fond du Lac Wisconsin ... well, that's real talent.

This book is classic Moore dark comedy. Excellent.

"Much like the toaster, I control the darkness."

Monday, October 4, 2010

High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips

Surprisingly, this is a well-written, thoughtful and extremely interesting look at the ups, the downs, and all-around upside-down life of a famous family through the eyes of a actress/daughter/addict.

When this book was published, the media immediately latched on to Mackenzie's stories of incest with her famous father, Papa John Phillips. I was going to skip past that part, avoid the infamous drug stories ... and go directly to what I was searching for (I was interested in one particular ex-boyfriend). But I was surprised by how quickly I got wrapped up in the storytelling: I ended up going back to the start and reading the whole book, despite the fact I'd picked it up just to read a couple pages.

She's smarter than I thought - or had an excellent ghost writer. Either way, it's a great look at rock-and-roll excess and the trials of a junkie.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

As our narrator is entering a new stage in her life, she's feeling nostalgic. And so she begins her reminiscence: of her idyllic upbringing at Hailsham boarding school, of her friendships, and of her nearly-completed role as a "carer."

It's a quiet book, read with a genteel British lilt and literary diction. I found it easy to let my defenses down and allow my concentration to relax a bit ... to just pleasantly float along. Until I began to realize that many things don't add up in this story. Hey, does it seem like the book takes place in the 1950s, or today?

Hailsham students "know, and don't know" - and it turns out they aren't the only ones!

It's hard to characterize this story: It's literary and high-brow, with a somehow gentlemanly punch to the gut. "So sorry to have to dust you up this way, pip. But you'll be fine in a minute, old chap!"

The White Garden by Stephanie Barron

I've never been a Virginia Woolf fan, so I probably wouldn't have picked up this book myself - but it was the book club's choice this month. And actually, I quite enjoyed it!

An American landscape specialist visits England to view a famous garden in order to recreate it for a client. In researching the garden's history, she makes a shocking discovery - a diary that could be an unknown Virginia Woolf manuscript.

"The White Garden" then takes a cue from Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code" by turning into a literary quest for answers that spans England: through university libraries, rare book collections, and even a secret society. The expert and the novice find there's a sexual tension between them, but can't be distracted until the answers are found ...

OK, so it's not really deep cloak-and-dagger adventure. But it was more fun and twisty than I'd expected. And they spend enough time "explaining things" for the "dumb American" that you don't have to be a Anglophile or Woolf scholar to understand and enjoy the tale.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Maybe this time

by Jennifer Crusie

Do you like ghost stories? How about romance? This one has them both. Andie stops by to tell her ex-husband that she's getting remarried. The next thing she knows, she is in charge of two very disturbed children that live in a haunted house. Can she get the kids up to grade level, and moved out before the ghosts kill again? Normally, I am not a fan of ghost stories. However, I was absolutely riveted. Just like Andie, I began to see more to the children and the haunting than previous characters were given credit for seeing. The twist at the end was also a nice touch.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Sometimes an "epic journey" takes place over just a few miles and in only a couple days. Especially in 1942 St. Petersburg, Russia, when war rages around you.

Two young men are given a reprieve from prison to perform a special errand for the colonel; it's an impossible mission, but failure means death. The unlikely pair sets out to try, and a friendship grows as the duo experience all the worst that wartime Piter has to offer.

This book takes a grim look at a painful war, but a delicate hand with the relationships that form in a time of distress.

Monday, September 20, 2010


by Ingrid Law

This sequel to Newbery Honor Book Savvy, continues the adventures of a family with extraordinary powers. It is now cousin Ledger's thirteenth birthday when he receives a savvy of his own. In the beginning, it seems that his savvy is to make things fall apart. From toasters to motorcycles, nothing is safe when Ledge is around. Can he learn to scumble his savvy before all the family secrets are told to the world by one blabbermouth girl he meets? Law has written another fun story chronicling the effects of turning thirteen in such an extraordinary family.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Veil of night

by Linda Howard

Wedding planner Jaclyn Wilde's life has gone into a tailspin. Uncharacteristically, she had a one-night stand. Less than twenty-four hours later, the same man turns up again - as a police officer investigating her for the murder of one of her clients. Jaclyn did have a dispute with the hateful bride shortly before the murder, and apparently was the last person to see her alive.

Howard keeps the mystery moving throughout. Even when the killer's identity is known, the mystery revolves around how to prove guilt and keep Jaclyn alive. Adding a little humor into the investigation is the detective's penchant for thwarting robberies in unconventional ways. Tag along for the ride as heat rises in this Atlanta murder investigation.

Drink Play Fuck by Andrew Gottlieb

This book is a satirical male response to that other famous book about a woman finding herself after the breakup of her marriage. Except this one is subtitled: "One man's search for anything across Ireland, Vegas, and Thailand."

When Bob's wife blindsides him with a divorce, he decides to take a year off. First, he goes to Ireland. In the airport he meets a guy who becomes his buddy and drinking tour guide. After four months, he decides that Lady Luck is calling by way of Vegas - where he meets a new life coach and friend who helps him gamble and golf away another four months. When he decides his next four months should be more, ahem, physical in nature ... his guru directs him to a remote resort in Thailand.

This book is light, comical, and could be enlightening if you were open to that sort of thing - or at least, it's as "life-changing" as I found the other book (ie: not at all). There is a point to the whole adventure, and it turns out that it's not anywhere near as debauched as it sounds.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wicked Girls

by Stephanie Hemphill

The Salem Witch Trials are my favorite part of history. I was first captivated by them when I read The Witch of Blackbird pond for a class assignment in 5th grade. Ms. Hemphill has brought them back with a new fictional perspective. This novel is written entirely in verse (read on fans of Ellen Hopkins) from the viewpoint of the accusing girls. Best of all, Hemphill suggests that the girls faked all the afflictions. This book is a fascinating account of the girls lives and reasons for seeking so much attention.

Too good to be true

by Kristin Higgins

Dumped by her fiance, Grace has enough on her plate. Add to that the fact that he chose her sister as the "better" option, and Grace is not only getting sympathy from the whole family, but also pity. Her solution? Make up a wonderful boyfriend and flaunt the fictitious man at every opportunity. This, of course, snowballs into a series of lies to nearly everyone she knows, including her unbelievably good looking neighbor. Callahan O'Shea just happens to be showing an interest in her as well, when she isn't causing him accidental bodily harm. What will it take to bring out Grace's honesty?

This book kept my attention when the story stayed in the present. Grace flitted back in her memory an awful lot as she worked to show the world that the time spent with her ex felt as though it had happened to a different person. I have to admit, there were times when I skipped a page or two to get to the next scene. However, those up to date scenes were a lot of fun. I will definitely not be giving up on Ms. Higgins anytime soon. Grace and Cal did hold my attention very nicely.

Blood Groove by Alex Bledso

Know what was missing in all the vampire books I've read lately? Sex. But not anymore! According to this book, vampires act as porters of two major things: death and orgasms. The big death, and the little death?

Joking aside, this was a pretty good book. A museum autopsy brings a long-dormant vampire back to action - in 1975 Memphis TN. He's certainly a victim of culture shock. But it turns out that his reanimation may not have been an accident, and all vampires could be in danger.

This was a fast read, and the cultural references are great.

Plus, there's lots of S-E-X.

Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage

While I enjoyed this book, it suffers a bit from identity crisis: is it a literary story of a father who gave up a child to adoption? Is it a coming-of-age story from behind the scenes at a private school? Or is it a dark mystery thriller? It's hard to be all those things, and leads to a story that's a bit scattered.

I would have liked a story told from Nate's point of view. He was unfit to be a father and knew it. Eventually his life turned around, and his losses haunt him.

I would have liked a story about privileged Willa and barely-getting by Teddy, high school teens finding themselves.

But the rest? Eh.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Sorry I haven't posted any new books in a while ... I was reading this 800-page giant. I'd like to tell you I just sat down and read it in a sitting, but that would be a lie. :) Actually, I took it in about 100-page chunks at a time. And loved every one of them.

I've read reviews that say, essentially, if you dismiss this as a vampire book, you're missing the point. I'd agree. I actually thought the vampire element was diminished in importance by the "epic quest" element of the story (and decided that most vampire lovers would be disappointed if that's why they picked up this book). But in honesty, I also didn't realize this is the first book in a trilogy until I got to the end; maybe the other books will be all chock-full-o'-vampire-goodness.

The government is trying to build a super soldier. Sound familiar? This time, they're working with a virus that makes biological changes, including slowing the aging process (it also makes those infected kill to drink blood). Just as the military thinks they've got things perfected, the test-patients take over and the world's in trouble.

Jump ahead 100 years. Humans live a life of vigilance to stay alive. The community described could be the only humans left alive; they're so completely cut off they don't know if there's another un-infected person anywhere. Their life and armor are becoming harder to maintain as technology ages. Then one day, a "walker" appears at their gates: a mute, young human woman. And everything shifts.

The time shifts in this book were interesting. It begins just a few years ahead of today, and the action in this book happens within a hundred-year period. But the various diary entries, scholarly papers, and narratives touch the future as far as a thousand years out, giving historical perspective and some foreshadowing to the story.

I really enjoyed the book, and recommend it for sci-fi and military lovers. Although this is not my usual genre, I will look forward to the sequel to find out what's coming next. The book leaves you with more than one cliffhanger to ponder and some gut-wrenching hints.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Too pickley

by Jean Reidy

This is a pretty cute new picture book about a picky eater. As I read it, I could absolutely remember my picky sibling acting similarly toward food. This book is particularly good for a beginning reader because there are very few words on each page. It is filled with energetic art.

Friday, August 13, 2010

One Day by David Nicholls

Dex and Emma don't exactly "meet" on the first page of the book - more like "hook up" - because they'd seen one another around before, but never been friends. But college graduation day can make lots of things happen that weren't previously possible.

Fast forward ahead one year: Dex is traveling the world, and Em is doing community theatre. They're pen pals. Zip ahead another year: Em's a waitress in a bad Mexican restaurant, and Dex is missing her in India (or is he?).

Each chapter in this book takes place on June 15, and the book spans 20 years of the relationship between "Dex-and-Em, Em-and-Dex." It's a great premise - and it's amazing how much or how little can change in a single year.

This book is funny, heart-warming, heart-breaking and truly, truly excellent. Either you KNOW these characters, you WANT to know these characters, or you ARE these characters: they're the good, the bad, and the ugly all rolled into one. How will they grow up? Will they grow up? What will happen in the next year? I couldn't wait to find out.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

Since their college-era foray into creative destruction, Henry and Tess have settled into a regular, quiet, normal (boring) life. Things haven't been easy - though they're both artists, neither is living up to their early promise. Henry's paranoid, and worries about their daughter Emma's safety. Tess has asked Henry to move out to the barn as a trial separation.

But suddenly the couple's dark past returns in strange and chilling ways. Why now? And who is behind the curious events? Part mystery, part ghost story, and all suspense, this book will keep you guessing right up to the end.

Troublemaker by Janet & Alex Evanovich

This is the first book in the Barnaby & Hooker graphic novel series. You'll remember those characters from Evanovich's Metro Girl or Motor Mouth novels?

The art's great, the characters are classic Evanovich. So what's wrong?

Well ... nothing really happens. And while that's not necessarily unusual for a serialized graphic novel (you've got to build the drama!), I found it unsatisfactory. I felt gypped.

Barnaby & Hooker flounce around Florida without a clue, but with a strange wooden hand. There are a couple of chase scenes. This is not a story.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The short second life of Bree Tanner

by Stephenie Meyer

I have to admit, by the time I got to Eclipse in the original saga, my interest in Meyer's vampires was lagging a bit. By the end of that book, it had come roaring back. This one was much the same way. As I started, I wondered why I should be interested in Bree's life; I couldn't even remember her character's appearance in the scope of Bella's life. However, Bree quickly became real to me. Like the Cullen's, it was obvious that she had emotions and an interest in the world around her. To tell you more might spoil her story for you. Just know this, if you are a fan of the Twilight saga, you will enjoy this book.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Trucker by Barbara Samuels

I don't often blog about picture books, but I really love this one for its unexpected viewpoint.

While it at first seems to be a typical boy-book about loving all things truck, it's actually a story about a boy and his beloved kitty. Yup: I said BOY and CAT! How rare!

Leo has loved trucks from the time he was a tiny baby, so when Mom says she's brought him home a surprise, he just KNOWS it's the fire truck he wanted. Quickly, it appears that Lola the cat loves trucks as much as Leo. Eventually, she wears down Leo's resistance and they become best trucking buddies.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Celebrity's not always what it seems, but you've certainly never seen it like this: Talentless pop starlet Cherry Pye is such a wild, uncontrollable mess that her handlers have hired a body double to cover her absences. It works perfectly, mostly, until an obsessive paparazzo nabs the wrong girl in a misguided kidnapping. Throw in a matched pair of publicists without a whit of morality between them, parents only worried about their cash cow, and a bodyguard with a string-trimmer for a hand ... well, it's a classic, absurd Hiassen comedy/drama combo.

If you haven't read Hiaasen before, go ahead and start here. You won't be disappointed. It's dark comedy with a social conscience. You'll feel smarter, yet still thoroughly entertained.

For those of you who have read Hiaasen before, this one feels like coming home. Hiaasen's been writing kids books and nonfiction the last few years, and I have to say I've been missing his adult fiction something fierce.

In Star Island, I was rewarded with visits from several familiar characters: when Jim Dial first appears I thought, "Oh look! Jim retired. How nice!" ... like he's a distant uncle.

Each of Hiaasen's books take a jab at one or two (or more) of Florida's abundant evils: stupid tourists, greedy developers, addled retirees, faux environmentalists, clueless anglers or duffers, etc. The pickin's ripe in Florida. But he was overdue to give the bloated, star-studded world of South Miami it's due diligence.

To me, this book feels like a postcard from a long-lost friend.

Straight up

by Deirdre Martin

Liam O'Brien is hiding out in Ireland. Someone in New York's Irish mob wants him out of the picture. The city boy is looking for a little fun in the small town of Ballycraig when Aislinn McCafferty walks in. Her brusque manner has earned her the nickname "The McCafferty". Liam spends much of the book trying to convince her that he is not the kind of man who will treat her the way she has been treated in the past.

This is a light, fun romance novel. I have recently discovered that when I finish reading a book set in Ireland, I have a distinct urge to walk around saying "feck" all the time.

From camera to computer. How to make fine photographs through examples, tips and techniques

by George Barr

I consider myself to be an ok photographer with strong computer skills, and that's usually what makes me feel like a successful artist. One of my favorite parts of this book was the reminder that often the best images are part of daily life. Barr does a great job of showing how industrial areas can provide fantastic images with the right lighting. Even better than that, he then takes the pictures to the computer to manipulate details until a piece goes from a snapshot to a PHOTOGRAPH. There is a difference, and it often is just a matter of composition or light. Barr shows how both of those can sometimes be changed with a little editing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

After a riding tragedy nearly kills them both, a teenage girl and her horse are both broken and angry. Horse trainer Tom Booker has a way with damaged souls, and under his tutelage both Gracie and Pilgrim rebound. But it's Booker's relationship with Grace's mother, Annie, that's the core of this story: the driven Manhattan magazine editor and the gentle Montana cowboy. A match that was never meant to happen.

I'm not usually much for romance, but this is one of my favorite books. The land is so integral that Montana is practically a character in the book. The writing's beautiful. The characters are flawed and real.

But honestly, it's Peter Coyote's voice that makes this my favorite. I have an abridged audiobook on CD that's my fall-back listen in the sewing room (and I would pay big $$ for an unabridged version of his narration!).

The very best kind of "comfort food" for the mind.

Nothing but trouble

by Rachel Gibson

Gibson returns to her hockey theme with another star athlete in the Chinooks organization. This time it is former captain Mark Bressler. Now out of the hospital and facing a life off the ice Bressler's on ice persona has found its way into his daily life. No longer the cheerful man he once was, Mark must learn to accept that his independence is temporarily gone.
Along comes personal assistant Chelsea Ross. Chelsea has put up with some very challenging celebrities, so Mark should be no problem. Unfortunately, she needs the money. The two butt heads frequently until they discover a mutual attraction. Suddenly, the magnetic pull becomes very difficult to resist.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Last Child by John Hart

In the year since his twin sister was abducted, Johnny Merrimon's life has fallen apart: his mother's a mess, his father took off, the police haven't found Alyssa, and his mother's rich, predatory boyfriend is abusive in every sense of the word.

Johnny's taken matters into his own hands. He draws the boyfriend away from his mother by throwing rocks though the window back at his mansion. He stalks local pedophiles and records their habits in search of his sister. Since God has let him down, Johnny's turned to Native American and Celtic rituals for strength and protection.

This book was completely engrossing. I haven't even begun to touch on the storyline with this description; there are about five related stories going on. It wasn't gory and horrifying, more a psychological thriller with multiple twists and turns.

I will be a bit critical of the narrator, though: Scott Sowers over-enunceates to the point of distraction sometimes. I'm not sure if he just needs practice as a narrator, or if he's just not cut out for this kind of work. Sometimes he's flat, sorta like a kid reading aloud without comprehending what's in front of him.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Book of Awesome: Snow Days, Bakery Air, Finding Money in Your Pocket, and Other Simple, Brilliant Things

by Neil Pasricha

Think of a little thing in life that is awesome. It is probably listed in this book. OK, so he mentions snow days as being awesome; they can be if you are a kid or you rent your home. If that's the case, someone else will do the shoveling to get you on your way to sled or ski.

I'm sure this book was probably written by listening to all the things people say are awesome in daily conversation. In fact, many "awesome" things inspire very little awe in us. However, we simply enjoy them for what they are. This book reminds us that in every day we have the chance to find at least one thing enjoyable. Maybe it's a campfire, or absolute silence (yeah, good luck with that one - even the refrigerator makes noise.) If you need a little pick-me-up, this book might be awesome enough to get you back on the road to optimism.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Ro Grandee is the perfect Texas housewife: she has to be, to avoid the worst of the beatings from her husband. The beatings she still endures without a word? ...well, she figures she deserves them.

Dropping off a neighbor at the airport, she has a chance encounter with a gypsy who tells her that it's either Ro or her husband - somebody's going to die.

At bedtime I picked up this book, and then forced myself to put it down 100 pages later. The rest, I read in a single sitting as soon as I could.

Joshilyn Jackson is my favorite "unknown" writer - she's written 4 books (each equally awesome) but she's not a household name. She should be - few authors write realistic, damaged, funny, heart-breaking, eccentric, but still-likeable characters as well. And her blog, Faster than Kudzu, is always good for a laugh. Jackson should be much, much more famous than she is.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sizzling Sixteen

by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is back and as funny as ever. As usual, I am desperately craving more Ranger. He was there, but I always want just a little bit more. My advice for Stephanie...I've had tastykakes, they are not as addictive as Ranger would be.

Normally I would say that a night spent at home reading is quiet. However, my laughter is not. Plum fans, get ready for more of Lula's antics, a bit (on Stephanie's level) more destruction, and Grandma Mazur with an injury.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where Trouble Sleeps by Clyde Edgerton

Sleepy Listre NC (circa 1950) is a town ripe for the pickin' - at least as far as the gypsy in the yellow shirt is concerned. All he sees is a couple stores, a Baptist church, a blinker light and a bunch of maroons. Sure, easy pickin's.

But several of the small town residents are quietly suspicious of the man as he wanders about town, asking questions and absorbing info. Not Cheryl at the diner - she's too busy making eyes at the handsome movie-star guy and dreaming about their wedding. And not church secretary Mrs. Dorothea Clark, who's holed herself up in the church office until her twisted ankle heals and has been blessed with nightly visits from Jesus himself. But certainly a few others suspect something's not right.

Someplace I recently read that author Clyde Edgerton's an American treasure, so I thought I should look him up; funny, subtle character examinations and some unexpected plot turns made this quick read an enjoyable diversion.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Wonder My Parents Drank by Jay Mohr

One crazy Friday at the library, we happened across a hilarious excerpt from this book about potty training in a popular magazine; immediately, we put the book on the purchase list.

It's a very funny look at parenthood by a professional comedian. Overall, not great for a straight read-through, but ideal for pick-it-up and put-it-down kind of reading.

My only beef with the book: Mohr never directly explains the situation with Jackson's mother, and some of the illusions to their situation made me say, "Huh?" (I even resorted to wikipedia for bio info mid-way through the book.) I understand his trying to avoid discussing his past relationships - but didn't he bring it on himself by writing a book about it?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I can't convey how it pains me that I didn't love this book. It took me six months to read this book (a relative LIFETIME), and I refused to give up - I even re-started it once, trying soooo hard to understand and love this book. To no avail.

Future humans aren't really our kind of human - they're created, live, get sick, are healed and even destroyed based on the colors they can see. Marriage among complimentary colors are forbidden, and most people have arranged marriages based on bettering themselves and their offspring on the color scale. Society is based on a set of rules, merits, and feedbacks (like ebay escaped into real life), the past is being systematically erased, and trees can eat you.

It seems like Fforde has great aspirations of current social criticism with this story, but either I'm too obtuse or too American to get it (Fforde is British).

I have loved, loved, loved his other books - laughed out loud while reading them and hand-sold them to tons of our library patrons. But this one passed me by. Unfortunately, Fforde says this is the first in a series; he's got titles for the next two books at the end of this one.

I wish he'd put his efforts elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Going Bovine

by Libba Bray

Cameron Smith is an average teen. As the narrator of this book, though, he wants the reader to believe he is below average. Cameron is willing to do whatever will get him through school, and life, with a minimum of effort. Then one day he sees fire giants while sitting in class. Soon he starts seeing other strange things and even reacting to what he sees. Parents, classmates and teachers accuse him of using drugs. Until the day someone witnesses how quickly an episode can change Cameron. It is then that he learns he is dying. Cameron has the human equivalent to mad cow disease, Crudzefelt-Jakob's disease. Join Cameron as he manages to find one last great adventure in his short life.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

When young Tommy Flood moved to San Francisco looking for a muse and the kind of adventure that would kick-start his writing career, he wasn't expecting to meet Jody. But barely off the bus from Indiana, this gorgeous, newly-created vampire draws him in as her roommate, daytime errand-boy, and lover. Let the adventure begin!

Moore's known for quick-witted black comedy, and this one's no exception. There's a great cast of characters in this book - especially Tommy's co-workers, The Animals. I wanna hang with this gang of misfits ... or, maybe not.

And for the record, this book was vampire-cool way before Twilight: released in 1995, this is actually the first in a series (I'm just now catching up). Moore also has written a bunch of non-vampire books that are just as twisted and funny.

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

In December 1996, the author was a 37-year-old neuroanatomist when she suffered a major left-brain bleed. While her medical background allowed her to observe the situation with special understanding, it didn't lessen the severity of her crisis. Ultimately she says it took eight years to overcome her brain's damage, and this book is part of her campaign toward better understanding.

Our library book club chose this one, and many readers had their own stories to share of loved ones and stroke. Parts of the book are incredibly detailed (and honestly, boring), but Taylor's personal observations and recollections are very interesting.

I'm glad I read it - there are several things I especially drew from the book, and she does give a list of tips at the end - but this book could certainly be a tough slog at times. I'll recommend it, but with the advice to feel free to skim; you'll be glad you did.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

I can't help it - they're like popcorn. You don't want it, but because it's there you indulge and then you just can't stop!

If you haven't read the other Stephanie Plum books, this isn't the place to start. If you have (... and you know you have), you're in for another sleepless night giggling along with the antics.

Vinnie's been kidnapped, and nobody wants him back - except Stephanie, Lula, and Connie, who simply can't afford to lose their jobs. The girls set off on a rescue mission like the Keystone Kops version of Charlie's Angels.

My only complaint: I want more Ranger! Man, I love me some Ranger. I don't know what Stephanie's waiting for with that one ...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This Is Just Exactly Like You by Drew Perry

Jack Lang's a guy who reacts to life. He just puts his head down and plows through the million little things that come at him each day. He's not the kind of guy to plan ahead or even give a thought to the causes or outcome of each drama in his day.

But there's a major seismic shift going on: Jack's midlife crisis has manifest itself in impulsive and monumental behavior; his wife got fed up and has moved across town (and into his best friend's house); and their autistic six-year-old son suddenly communicates ... in Spanish.

I loved Jack, and I loved this book. Laugh-out-loud funny dialog and extremely relate-able characters made this book a quick read and very hard to put down. There's a certain innocence and purity in Jack's actions; he really, honestly thinks he's doing his best in every situation (if he's thinking about it at all), and you gotta love a guy like that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What Would Rob Do? by Rob Sachs

Going one step further than just advice for the hapless, Rob Sachs does his homework - researching with experts that range from top scientists to pop celebrities. WWRD? is filled with answers to help avoid embarrassment in your daily life.

I've never listened to his podcasts (from which this book is drawn), but I was completely captivated and entertained by Sachs' casual, friendly manner of delivering sage advice with self-depreciating charm.

He admits to being star-struck by celebrities, so he calls up Erik Estrada to find out how he should act around famous people. He talked to cops to find out how to act when pulled over for speeding. He calls the dry cleaners association about spills on his shirt.

I'm often accused of being a know-it-all (or conversely, the person who MUST FIND OUT, once asked ... call it the librarian's curse), but Sachs puts me to shame. Except now that I've read his book, I'm that much smarter!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Miss O'Dell by Chris O'Dell with Katherine Ketcham

Subtitled: My Hard Days and Long Nights with the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved

While she's not famous, Chris O'Dell was always "near" fame. She hung out with famous people, became friends with famous people, was employed by famous people and sometimes slept with famous people. Essentially, she made a career out of making herself the "go-to-gal," being helpful to all the right people - first at Apple in London, next as a personal assistant to various music celebrities, and later as a tour manager for any number of 70's mega-bands.

Her story is interesting as a look at fame from the fringes. It's about how rock stars live their real lives, about their romances and friends, and about how one woman skated along the edges of so many of their lives. It's a pretty good book - and now I know why Clapton's autobiography seemed so emotionally disconnected (he really is that much of a jerk).

Funny side note: could she have made that subtitle longer? Only if she'd actually mentioned the famous people she slept with. Oh, wait, she did sleep with Dylan.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella by Stephenie Meyer

You don't have to read the other "Twilight" series books to understand this one. That said, if you haven't read them ... you will once you finish this: It ends in a major cliff-hanger.

I really enjoyed this different look at a familiar world. Bree was a minor character in "Eclipse" and this short book gives us a different perspective on her presence: How was she created? Where did she come from? What does she know? And more importantly, what doesn't she know?

I really came to like Bree. I empathized with her situation, and wished there was a way for her to have a better life. Funny, because in the original novel I easily dismissed her as evil with no redeeming qualities.

A nice lesson suitable in many situations: the more you know of a person's story, the better you understand their actions and behavior.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

When psychotherapist Zee Finch loses a patient, she retreats to her father's home in Salem, Massachusetts for some reflection and recuperation. But once there, Zee finds her father's Parkinson's has progressed farther than she'd known, and her short visit becomes a live-in caregiving situation.

Since I'd loved "The Lace Reader," I was excited to dive into this brand-new novel from the same author. And while they're not the same kind of book - "Map" is not a sequel or even a companion story, either - those who have read Barry's first book will find a few unexpected cameos here ... Salem's not a very big town, you know.

Several times while reading this book, I found myself gasp at some surprising element of the story. Barry's certainly a good one for giving you what you don't expect - a rare prize in a world of "saw-it-coming-a-mile-away" plot devices.

This one doesn't have the big twist at the end - rather, it's got a series of smaller events that gradually build to a new understanding. I really enjoyed it, and I think many readers will too.

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

For those who enjoy a good plot twist - DO NOT HESITATE to find this book! Our library book club enjoyed it, and everyone agreed they were surprised at the turn the action takes - and that's a jaded group of readers who were caught unaware!

After years away, Towner Whitney is drawn back to her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts when her beloved aunt goes missing. There were good reasons Towner left and good reasons she's never returned; gradually, we gain insight to the back story.

The first time I read this book, I went from the last page directly back to the first one. I re-read the entire first chapter immediately.

Its been almost 2 years since I read this book, so I chose to re-read it for book club. This time, I chose audiobook format. Since I was combing the book for clues that I may have missed the first time around, maybe audio wasn't the best choice; I would have like to read some paragraphs twice or linger a bit further on particular passages. But that's not the narrator's failing - just mine.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This is the kind of book you don't want to end; the kind of book you hope-with-your-fingers-crossed she's writing a sequel because you want to know what happens next to these people. The kind of book you're so emotionally invested in each of the characters that you cheer, you cry, and you want to jump right into the story and strangle somebody for treating them wrong.

Let's just say I enjoyed the book, OK?

This historical novel is set in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi. The main characters are all either privileged white women or their black housekeepers. The story's a nice mix of good and bad situations (like real life) that show the multi-faceted relationships between women of all colors.

Stockett's book was 2009's sleeper hit-of-the-year, and it's been enjoying a second surge in popularity now that they're casting for the movie version. I listened to the audiobook, a multi-cast recording with four narrators, which I give a double-thumbs-up.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I can't believe it's not fattening

by Devin Alexander

There are a lot of cookbooks for healthy eaters available. I made it through this in a lunch hour. I do intend to try the microwaved potato chip recipe. It's so easy that I know I won't need the cookbook to remember it. The author includes many tips for making healthy foods in minimal time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup

Spies, a family on the run, and extreme silliness abound in this story for the chapter-book set. The whole thing's kind of a set up: the author's pen name is ridiculous, and he sticks himself into the story as an all-seeing narrator of sorts. Characters have goofy, crazy names and even the dog's got problems.

The setup sounds more serious than it is: a pair of married, brilliant scientists create a time machine. Mom gets killed by agents trying to get the technology. Dad doesn't know the computer code she used to make it work, so he and the kids are on the run while they try to sort out the solution.

But it's a mostly light-hearted story, and even the suspenseful part at the end isn't too dark or scary. One kid's got a major thing about bubble gum. There's a sassy, squeaky sock puppet. And I definitely see a series in the making ...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

As a writer, there are really at least three distinct sides to Stephen King: abject horror, bittersweet stories, and baseball.

This one's baseball, mostly.

King does a great job from the start in building suspense with Billy - you know something bad's going to happen from the start, but what? (remember, this is Stephen King: zombies? ghosts? aliens? or just a baseball thing?)

I won't tell. One reason this book is good is because you don't know ... until you do.

Another reason it's good? Stephen King.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Undateable by Ellen Rakeiten & Anne Coyle

An illustrated guide to "311 things guys do that guarantee they won't be dating or having sex" - things like overly groomed facial hair, socks with sandals, using slang for female body parts, and whipping out the coupons while on a date.

I especially enjoyed the grading system: red flag, storm clouds on the horizon, not getting any, and the kiss of death. Some things are just a little bad - others go beyond the point of no return.

Funny, and fun to flip through - although I'm not sure I'd recommend buying this one. Check it out from the library (like I did) ... or maybe give a copy to someone clueless who needs it!

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

It's just your typical, heartwarming holiday tale ... as only Moore can do. Because you've got to know that his kind of Christmas story is going to be filled with scream queens, pot-smokin' lawmen, murder, zombies, fruit bats, and other unexplained phenomena.

If you've got a dark sense of humor and a love of macabre, you'll enjoy this one.

In the end, it's the classic story of crisis bringing the whole community together - and it's all the fault of an angel who's just too literal, with no sense for human emotional nuance.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

I'm not a tennis fan - but much of my family is. And so, through osmosis, I've absorbed a bit about tennis: at least the big names and tournaments ring a bell for me. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have bothered with this book, except it made such headlines when it came out: drugs! toupees! rebellion! Brooke Shields!

I'm glad I picked it up. It's a very good story, and told honestly - that's the highest compliment I can make about an autobiography (and surprisingly, rare to find).

Actually, Agassi was so completely honest about his thoughts and internal dialog that I'm curious what his family, friends, and former competitors think now (especially Boris Becker, aka B.B. Socrates for his know-it-all manner) - it's one thing to think that a competitor doesn't like you, but it's another to know. For the record: Brooke's on record as "furious" ... and I wonder how many other people have X'ed him off their holiday card lists?

The tennis talk isn't too boring for the non-fan, but should still be satisfying for those who enjoy it. Agassi's always been a fascinating person, and that certainly helps him here. It's quickly clear that his early-career rebellion was simply a textbook example of common-place immaturity combined with the stress of an aggressive "stage-dad." Funny that we didn't recognize and view it that way, at the time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Heist Society

by Ally Carter

I first read one of Carter's books when she wrote about teens who went to a special school to become spies. Now she has moved on to teenage art thieves. Cat is the daughter of one of the greatest thieves of our time. She is quite skilled as well. Her most recent accomplishment is conning her way into one of the most prestigious schools in the world. The plan is to leave the life she has always known behind. However, the book begins with a conduct hearing which gets her expelled for placing the headmaster's Porsche in a fountain. Soon, she and her friends are plotting to return stolen paintings to their most recent owner. Notice I did not say rightful owner. Go along for the ride as six teenagers attempt a theft in one of the most prestigious museums in the world.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dear Enemy

by Jean Webster

Webster was Samuel Clemens' great-niece. I had not known that until I picked up this book, which is the sequel to one of my favorites from childhood: Daddy-long-legs. Believe it or not, these are as close to teen books as you will find from the era in which they were written. Both books revolve around women who spent part of their lives in the fictional John Grier Home for orphans.

Sallie McBride, a recent college graduate, finds herself the superintendent of an orphan asylum as a favor to a friend. Throughout much of this epistolary novel, she contends that her role is temporary. As the book was written in 1915, it makes sense that Sallie believes she is meant for marriage and a life that does not involve paid work outside the home. Modern girls will cheer for Sallie as she triumphs over many adverse conditions left by her predecessor. Owing to that pre-suffrage era, Sallie does manage to fall in love and plot her married life. Far too often for my modern feminist taste, she is rescued by men. I repeatedly reminded myself that men would have been the benefactors who could provide all that the orphanage needed.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Horns by Joe Hill

Could you get past the "horror" genre to read a really good coming-of-age story? Because this book is SO WORTH IT ... even if you're not a fan of the supernatural.

Ig did something terrible last night, but he can't remember what. Now, in addition to a killer hangover, he seems to have sprouted devil's horns from his forehead. And they seem to make everyone he comes into contact with confess their darkest thoughts.

Much of the story is told in flashbacks to Ig's high school days: hangin' with his friends, meeting Merrin and falling in love, etc. And while Ig was a good kid with high morals and solid faith, since Merrin's murder a year ago, he's struggled to find footing.

I would love to read and discuss this story with a book club. There's lots of meat here to dig into concerning belief, humanity, evil, revenge, love ... but I'd have to convince them that a horror story is worth their time. Any ideas on how to do that?

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Evan always promised he'd write a song about Audrey. But she'd never dreamed That Song would be his breakthrough to fame - or that the song would be about their breakup.

Audrey didn't ask for this kind of notoriety, and she certainly doesn't want it. Even though she hasn't seen Evan since the night of their breakup, he's ruining her life every day: school is unbearable, her job sucks (worse than usual), and she can't even go out to see a band anymore without it becoming front-page news.

I enjoyed this book - Audrey's a very likeable character, and her reactions are realistic; she's not happy being an accidental muse, and she doesn't deal with it especially well.

Music fans will enjoy the song quotes and music references throughout the book, and it's fun to wonder what you would do if you suddenly became famous.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Will Grayson is a morose teen with one friend: big, gay Tiny. He's trying to survive by two rules: shut up, and don't care. Tiny, on the other hand, never shuts up and cares way too much about everything.

will grayson is a clinically depressed loner teen with a secret online boyfriend, isaac, and one i.r.l. frenemy, maura. he's trying to keep his head above the dark water, and isaac's the only one helping.

Two teen boys - one name: two awesome writers - one book.

I love, love, love both of these writers - and their resulting partnership is all good. I've joked that this book is really "An Abundance of Nick & Noras" - and if you get that joke, you probably don't need me to tell you how good this book is.

If you don't get that joke ... I've got a killer reading list for you to start on. Call me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fool by Christopher Moore

Raunchy, hilarious, and extremely quick witted: If you're afraid of swear words, steer clear - otherwise, great buggering bloody bastards is this a good book!

This is a twisted retelling of Shakespeare's "King Lear" as told by Lear's fool, Pocket. The basic storyline's all there - two-faced flattery, family mutiny, rage rage at the storm, etc. Except also add in a bit of ghost shagging, appearances by the witches three from "MacBeth," and quite a number of laundress' with smashing knockers.

I listened to this one on audiobook, and many times I found myself backtracking to hear again the complex, multi-faceted epithets that Pocket tosses about like juggling balls. Moore is truly a master of wordplay.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Once a week, a group of vampires meet in the church basement to discuss their problems, issues, and coping mechanisms. Sounds like AA, doesn't it? If you're going to live forever, you're going to have to come to terms with some pretty heavy stuff ...

Everybody at the library knows I have a long-standing love of vampire books. So although I'd never heard of this one, it showed up on my desk because another staff member thought it looked like something I should read.

It's a funny book - very different from other vampire tomes in that these vampires are sickly because they avoid human blood. They look at it as having a blood-borne infection: they were infected, not "turned" or "changed" into vampires. They are weak, have horrible headaches, and throw up. When the sun's out, they're completely unconscious - no dreams, they can't hear what's going on, and they look dead. The rest of the time, they're miserable.

So when something strange starts going on and their cover may be blown, the question is: will any of these sickly, whining 90-pound weaklings be able to step up and assert themselves? Pretend for a minute to be a butt-kickin' warrior vampire like the vampire books all say?

Friday, April 16, 2010


by Amy Efaw

So often these days we hear about the ways that sex is romanticized for teens. It seems that every media outlet makes creates a form of entertainment that shows sex as something that every teen is doing, and there are rarely consequences. Here comes a book that shows an image of a teen and her reflection on the cover. In the reflection, her belly is a small bump. The book opens with a police officer banging on the door to Devon's apartment because a baby was found in a trash can minutes earlier. In this story, the main character is forced to face what has occurred in her life, not just on that one day, but in the months, and even years, leading up to it.

When I finished the book I wanted a sequel. I would really like Efaw to write about the baby when she becomes a teen. How did being a "trashcan baby" affect the rest of her life? Does she want to meet her biological mother? What has happened in Devon's life since that day?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker

I have a new favorite picture book - these peas are soooo darn cute!

This is - quite obviously - an alphabet book. For each letter, the peas tells you who they are: "We're listeners, miners, and neighbors right next door. We're nurses, officers, and outlaws taking more."

Just how much character development can you wring out of a green circle (the basic shape of a pea)? The answer is, TONS! I really want every illustration from this book as art on the office walls. That's just how cute, comical, and innovative these goofy little guys are.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


by Scott M. Fischer

So you think kids cannot sit still long enough to read a story? Here's a book based on a song that will encourage them to move as you read. Check out the video:

This is a silly story with fun illustrations. I watched the video before I had the book in hand, so when I did get to read it, there were already voices for all the characters floating through my mind. Grab some wiggly kids and tell them they can act out this book.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb

This is the book upon which the Oscar-winning movie was based. I have not yet seen the movie - because I believe the book is always better, so I wanted to read that first.

Now, having finished the book, I CANNOT WAIT to see the movie. This book rocks, and I can see how it will have translated to screen; I also can see how they will probably have changed the story to accommodate a movie audience. Hopefully, this means I will be OK with differences when I see the movie.

Bad Blake is a run-down, past-his-prime country singer. He had a few hits back in the day, but now he's playing juke joints with a different local backing band every night. Unexpectedly, Bad falls for a New Mexico reporter, and begins a relationship that's as much about her 4-year-old son as it is about her.

The story doesn't end tied in a big bow, and things don't always work out for the best. That's what makes this story so real: now I'll see if the movie keeps it real

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

War Dances by Sherman Alexie

I was surprised: this time, Alexie is writing for adults, and in short story format. The book actually consists of poetry, Q&A, and stories in several forms - which was truthfully a bit discombobulating for me as an audiobook listener. Although it is ALWAYS a treat to hear Alexie narrate his own work.

As always, Sherman Alexie's writing in this volume is both funny and heartbreaking. I was especially captivated with "The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless." It's the tale of two people who meet in an airport. They'd never met before ... and actually didn't meet here either; it's a brief encounter without the pressure of conventionality. The scene moves quickly from sweet to a little scary, and then back to safety again. Later, it's heartrending as our narrator crumbles right before us.

I do love Alexie, and I will recommend this one. Just maybe on paper rather than audio.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Out of my mind

by Sharon Draper

Melody Brooks is eleven years old and she has never spoken a single word. She has cerebral palsy is confined to a wheelchair and cannot use her arms or legs. She also has a photographic memory. She laughs at jokes at exactly the right time. Her doctors, school mates and some teachers might believe she is incapable of coherent thought, but you will cheer right along as Melody proves them wrong. Join Melody and her loved ones in the quest to show the world just how smart she is.

I absolutely enjoyed this story. It can be challenging to find good books written for kids about diversity. This one is a home run. Melody's character is portrayed in a very realistic way.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor

Third in the series, this quaint lighthearted set of books is a real winner. And if you're an audiobook listener, you'll be doubly delighted by the various brogue and accents that top-notch reader John Keating presents.

Young general practice Dr. Barry Laverty has spent 5 months now in Ballybucklebo getting to know the patients and the personalities in the small 1950s Irish town. And love is in the air this Christmas: Barry's desperate to see his Patricia on holiday, and even his mentor, the slightly crusty Dr. O'Reilly, is seeing stars now that his old college sweetheart, Kitty, is back in his life.

Add a dash of small town humor and generous portions of housekeeper Kinky's meals and wisdom - and you've got a great, heartwarming Christmas tale for all time. I cannot recommend these books highly enough. Excellent!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Swim the Fly by Don Calame

If you are a boy, have boys, know boys, or enjoy boys ... this book is for you!

While the main premise (teen boy trying to impress girl) isn't breaking any new ground, the fact that it's set around summer swim team is a little different. But the true jewel in this book is the snappy, witty dialog and well-drawn out characters.

In a lame effort to impress the new girl, perpetual fifth-place finisher Matt Gratton volunteers to swim the toughest position this summer: 100 yard butterfly. His attempts to avoid humiliation make up the rest of the book - and would probably make a popular movie, too. Let's see, you've got breaking into the country club, explosive diarrhea, bikini modeling, a nude beach, and a horny cagey grandpa ... just for starters. Sounds like blockbuster success.

And the book is truly funny too. I really enjoyed it from start to finish, and especially relished the dialog between the 3 teen boys. Plus, grandpa steals any scene he's in. :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Meanwhile by Jason Shiga

Remember the old "choose your own adventure" books? This is a whole new spin on that idea. The book is a graphic novel, but organized with a set of tubes to lead you from one frame into the next. Pages may read right to left, bottom to top, over around and up, skip frames, and shoot off onto new pages - all depending on your choices.

You can't put this book down. I swear. It takes a minute or two to adjust to the setup, but once you've got it ... well, you'll be hooked.

I *suppose* this book is written for kids :) but I haven't shown it to a kid yet. The adult librarians in the building are totally hooked, though! I believe anyone able to read independently will enjoy this book. So, age 7 to anywhere?

The cover says 3,856 story possibilities: block out a good slice of time, and enjoy.

Miss Brooks Loves Books...and I don't

by Barbara Bottner

Teachers and librarians look at reluctant readers with all the joy golfers experience when on the links. We know that over and over again, books we find exciting will be met with utter disdain. But oh, the joy we feel when there is finally that hole in one. It makes all the failures look like stepping stones to success.

Miss Brooks dresses up as the main character from her favorite books every week. She is a librarian with flair. Most children would be absolutely captivated by her attempts to bring books to life. However, there is one bespectacled youngster who is wholly unimpressed. I have to say, even this young reader is getting something from the books, her vocabulary is superb. You'll get a chuckle out of the winning topic.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts

In a small town, a big scandal never really dies, and that's certainly the case with the 1972 murder of Gaylene Harjo and the disappearance of her 10-month-old baby boy. Thirty years later, it's still a point of speculation and conversation in the small town of DeClare, Oklahoma.

So when a young California man shows up in town looking for his birth mother - Gaylene - and with a birth certificate and adoption records that say he's the missing Nicky Jack ... let's just say he's not the only one curious about what really happened way-back-when.

I read this book in a sitting: I was having a bad day, it's our library's book club selection this month, and it's a pretty captivating story. But it's pretty light and fluffy: I'm not sure exactly what the book club will find to dissect and discuss ... but we'll see!

Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham

After the loss of several previous pregnancies, everyone is understandably nervous when Mama starts coughing. When her terrible cough brings the baby early, 10-year-old Ludelphia must step up to help.

Ludelphia's courage and determination drive the story along - everything Lu does is driven by her desire to help. That drive gets her into (and out of) some major scrapes throughout the book.

While this book is being marketed to young readers, I would also recommend it to quilters; Gee's Bend has become legendary amongst quilters, and the quilts are a major element in this story.

Friday, March 12, 2010

We're having a Tuesday

by DK Simoneau

Many children have two with Mom and one with Dad. This nicely done picture book addresses the issues from a kid's perspective. Each home has something wonderful, but each is also missing something wonderful. This book gives parents and caregivers an opportunity to start a conversation about why it is difficult to leave one home for the other. Simoneau nicely shows how each home can be a special place filled with love. The last few pages are a small journal so that children can think of things they miss about each parent when they are not around, ways to remember them, and things each parent remembers about the child.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's So Amazing! by Robie H. Harris

Confused and scared about telling your kids about sex, babies, and puberty? This book may be your new best friend ... I picked up this book after reading a blog post by a mom who explained this has been a godsend for them. They've housed it in a prominent place where their kids can look it over, review, and re-evaluate as they wish. I think it would be a great book for that.

There are a lot of words, but also a lot of cute illustrations in this book: your kid will not sit down and read it all at once. But hopefully they'll pick it up to read the part they're curious about, then come back for more as they have further questions.

Way back when ... my parents used the famous Peter Mayle books "What's Happening To Me?" and "Where Did I Come From." This book is very similar in both tone and style - but also addresses modern concerns such as AIDS/HIV and all the forms a family can take (traditional, single-parent, same-sex, grandparents as primary caregivers, etc.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A&R by Bill Flanagan

The recording industry is a world unto itself, and this novel was written by an insider. It shows - the book is funny and interesting as the main players stab everyone in the back and wheel-and-deal themselves into amazing situations.

Up-and-comer Jim Cantone is offered a new, fancy-shmancy job as the head of A&R at WorldWide Records. He's living the dream: making real money from loving rock and roll - proving everybody wrong. But is good-hearted Jim savvy enough to survive the train wreck that is music making?

I liked this book for what it wasn't: it's not a murder mystery, and isn't an allegorical tale. Many books about music tend to lean towards fantastic over-performance or apocalyptic prophecy, and this one doesn't do either. I loved that.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed? a comic by Liz Prince

This is a cute, raunchy little book about couple-dom. It's not for those people for whom love is roses and romance - it's more about love like farting under the covers and folding laundry.

I laughed out loud at things like the cat watching during foreplay, and the dumb everyday conversations of a couple. I shared several pages with a long-married friend and she related immediately.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pete the Cat - I love my white shoes

by Eric Litwin and James Dean

A completely fun new picture book. My first encounter with this was through YouTube. Check out two charming young ladies singing the text of this book here:

Kids will truly enjoy learning color concepts with silly Pete who just can't seem to keep his shoes clean. This is truly one cool cat. He strolls along completely cool with everything that happens to his stylin' high tops. Simple illustrations with lots of negative space.

The shortest distance between two women

by Kris Radish

The very first line of this book drew me in. To paraphrase, "Is there any way in hell you would ever speak to me again?" Who doesn't want to know more about Miss Emma Gilford now?

Emma has always been the good daughter. She takes care of her family to the point where she is now 43, single, and childless. I know this sounds like another romance novel. It's really more of a good story about family interactions. As you are drawn in, you'll come to meet the entire crazy Gilford family. I promise, at some point they will make you grateful for the family you have. At other times, you'll wish you were a Gilford, too. I'd love to tell you about the most outrageous white elephant items auctioned off at the family reunion, (especially the one that goes for top dollar year after year) but that would ruin the surprise. If you are looking for some light family humor that has a few doses of reality, this could be a good choice for you. There are sassy characters and at least one person who discovers that generations of women in her family were right all along.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


by Julia Hoban

Willow killed her parents. Everyone else says it was just a terrible accident. Now she has a new school, lives with her much older brother, his wife and their new baby, and she's found a way to deal with her grief. She is a cutter. I have to admit, I did not finish this book. As I listened to it, my interest just flat-lined on disc 4. I made it all the way to the second to last disc, but still have no desire to know how it ends. Willow is beginning to make new friends. The boy who keeps making her feel her emotions rather than hiding them is the only person who has caught on to her secret. He wants her to get help, but knowing she won't he is willing to be her support system. I understand Guy and Willow's desire to believe they can handle everything alone, but I kept waiting for just one other person to catch on. She's not exactly the best at keeping the signs hidden.

Mad, Bad and Blonde

by Cathie Linz

Being left at the altar is no one's idea of a happy day. What's funny is that librarian Faith West is more upset at being called boring. The uber-stupid ex-fiance never knew that his reject is also an award winning markswoman. Taking off on her Italian honeymoon alone, she's furious to find a PI keeping tabs on her. What's worse is that she's been falling hard for the man since the first moment. Her father owns one of the top investigative firms in Chicago; would send someone to spy on her? Back in Chicago, the two of them must uncover the truth about why Caine despises Faith's father.

Ms. Linz continues to create entertaining works. A quick, fun read filled with passion and excitement.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I cried - I'm not ashamed to admit it. And it was worth every minute! I consumed this book in a sitting; it's just that good.

In an instant, Mia's life changes. She was napping in the car, and never saw the accident - only the aftermath. She knows her parents are dead. Where is her brother? She sees a hand - then realizes it's her own. Wait: how is that possible?

Mia's not in pain, and she's not dead. Nobody can see her, and she can move around pretty freely, but she's not a ghost. What is she? And why?

This is absolutely one of the best books I've read: funny, personal, and thought-provoking.

I don't want to give too much away ... just read it! Trust me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Chisellers by Brendan O'Carroll

Take note, as you'd be well to remember: when you take on one member of the Brown family, you take on them all.

I just love this series about the 1960's & 1970-era struggling Irish family. The first book ("The Mammy," which I must have read just before we started this blog) started with Agnes, newly widowed. This second book in a trilogy deals with the growth of her seven children, affectionately referred to as "the chisellers."

The tales are heart breaking and heart-warming all at the same time. And you could not do better than to try the audiobook, read by Donada Peters: she's excellent, and brings additional life and dimension to these many varied characters (and characters they are!).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne with Chris Ayres

This book ROCKS! And I mean that - rock 'n' roll books are either good or terrible. This one is very, very good.

Telling his story, Ozzy's honest - unflinchingly, unapologetically honest - about his exploits and career. I wondered two things: how is he still alive, and how does his family put up with him? "Amazing dumb luck" might just be the answer to both of those questions.

He talks about his regrets: occasional abuse towards women, and general neglect of his duties as a father. He talks about his heartbreaks, and he discusses his personal struggles with dyslexia, ADD, illness, and an *obviously* addictive personality.

But he also talks about the rock: the guys he's played with, the albums they made, and the tours they took. Lollapalooza told him he was too washed up to play their gig - so Sharon started Ozzfest instead, to prove them wrong.

The really sweet part of this story is how clearly Ozzy loves his family; he shows a soft spot when discussing his children and grandchildren. But his real love is Sharon - they are truly a perfect pair.

I gained a lot of insight with this book, and highly recommend it for any metal fan.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Who ran my underwear up the flagpole?

by Jerry Spinelli

Spinelli's books are perennial favorites in upper elementary classrooms. This morning I read a couple selections from this title to a group of third and fourth graders. I don't know anyone whose attention isn't grabbed the instant the word underwear is uttered. These kids were no exception. If you have a reluctant reader, find the section where the main character gets out of detention because he forgot his pants.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

"Boppo" and "Mimi" gave up their easy retirement life in a minute - the very minute their daughter Amy suddenly dropped dead. Immediately, the couple pares their life down to a spare bedroom in Amy's home, and raising her family.

Even though it's a book about grief and survivorship, this is actually very positive, funny tale. The family gets through their grief with warmth, love and companionship. I wished I had known Amy, and readers will long to be a part of her family.

Long Past Stopping by Oran Canfield

I picked up this book because I'm always interested in a good memoir - especially if there's a hook: here, the author offers a demented childhood and drug-addled youth. Oh, and his dad wrote all those "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books.

But it's a pretty common kind of drug tale, and honestly it's been told better in other places. The whole thing is so outrageous that it reads like bad fiction - you'd like to tell the author to edit out some of the stuff, or nobody will believe him ... Abandoned in a commune? Circus-trained children? Drug-addict noise musicians? Rehab? Too, too much.

Except he lived it.

The Empty Mirror by J. Sydney Jones

Vienna is in the midst of a terror - one the newspapers are calling a local Jack the Ripper, who has left a body in the park approximately every two weeks for months. The latest victim: a model, which implicates her employer in the string of murders - none other than the legendary artist Gustav Klimt.

This murder mystery set in 1898 has an unmistakable Sherlock Holmes vibe. It follows a fictional lawyer/detective as he partners with the real-life father of criminology, Hans Gross, to try to clear the painter. Once their client is released, the tenacious investigators decide to continue working the case, mostly out of morbid curiosity and grim boredom.

If you enjoy period dramas and historical mystery, this one will be right up your alley. The descriptions of Vienna put you right on the streets - if you've ever visited Austria, I'm sure you'll recognize the landmarks and scenes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage

Have you ever read a book and thought maybe you weren't smart enough to "get" the subtext? That's how I felt about this one.

At face value, it's a story of a rat who's too smart for his own good. Born in a bookstore basement, Firmin begins chewing on the edges of books. Soon, he's reading the books - consuming them in a different manner.

On a deeper level, I'm sure this book is really an ode to the desperation of our own lives and the denegration of popular culture. But it makes my head hurt to consider it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall

Do you ever look at really clever artwork and think, "Wow, how do people come up with stuff like this?" This is one of those times.

Every animal in the book is made of hearts: the one, single shape overlapped, stacked, and spun into a yak, a fox, a beaver, a clam, and much much more. Each animal is beautiful, and easily recognizable despite the simplicity. The bright, rhyming text is just the right amount of goofy.

(I think there's a quilt lurking in this book for me ... I just can't stop thinking about the basic shape and it's amazing results.)

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School by Laurie Halse Anderson

Three cheers for a girl with outta-control hair! Hair that's so wild it actually has a mind of its own! Tame it? HA! Not a chance.

In kindergarten, Zoe's teacher let her wild red hair help out around the classroom, erasing the board and preparing snacks. Now, in first grade, Ms. Trisk is an enforcer - and Zoe's hair MUST BE TAMED. But no hat, scrunchie or braid can contain this amazing mane.

Know a kid with uncontrollable hair? They'll love this book (I know this rambunctiously curly-haired adult did!). Some people just don't understand that you can't always make your hair behave - but Zoe does.

Birds by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

I'm always interested to see authors, illustrators, artists and other creators discuss their process and inspiration, so about a month ago I went to see this pair discuss their collaboration at a local library. Henkes is famous and celebrated for his self-illustrated works, but it was interesting to see how he partnered with his wife, a painter, for this book.

The text is spare - a dozen or fewer words per page - and the artwork is comparably restrained, with bright blocks of color and many white backgrounds. It's a book to talk about, to savor and to create your own spaces between the lines. Different, and poetic.

Robot Zot by Jon Scieszka and David Shannon

What a power couple! We bought this book sight-unseen, based solely on the the authors, and we weren't disappointed in the least.

Zot is an alien, who comes to conquer the Earth Army. But he's a little confused. And small.

After battling a whole kitchen's worth of inanimate appliances, he conquers the TV ... then falls madly in love with the Queen of all Earth (a toy cell phone).

Zot's awkward dialog is hilarious, and his alien misconceptions about how earth households run will be giggle-worthy for everyone.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Reclaiming wasted spaces is big on my mind these days, and that's the real heart of this incredibly illustrated new picture book.

One day Liam finds stairs leading up to the abandoned railroad tracks and just can't help himself - he has to explore. His imagination is captured by the weeds and plants growing wild there, and he decides to give them a boost. His project grows and grows (literally!) until the whole city is blooming.

Brown's illustration style has a sci-fi surrealistic 1960s look to me, and the pictures are so detailed that kids and adults will find things to look at on each re-read.

A Soup Opera

by Jim Gill

I actually read this in December, and thought it had already been blogged. This wonderful new picture book comes with a CD, so that readers can potentially enjoy the story in operatic form. I came across this book by accident and spontaneously added it to a story time. This is a very silly story that older readers will really love. Young children in story time thought the opera music was silly, and so were the pictures, but the adults and older siblings were really giggling over all the people trying to solve the drama centered around a bowl of soup. If you read this aloud, I suggest really hamming it up when you sing (yes, sing) the line, "I can't eat the soup!" over and over again. Enjoy the repetition, and remember that it helps to build a child's skills with prediction.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cat the cat who is that?

by Mo Willems

Meet the newest character in Willems' repetoire of great children's books. For kids who have begun reading on their own, this is a great way to keep going with a fun author/illustrator who is probably already a family favorite. This book has simple repetitive text. It's also a nice story about friendship. Cat the cat already has many friends, but what should she do when she meets someone new?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Dr. Peter Brown is getting mugged in the first sentence of the book. Within seconds, he has neutralized the threat, hilariously taught us about human anatomy, and nearly killed the mugger. "The oath says FIRST do no harm," he explains. "I think we're past that now." Then, he heads off to work, where his day just gets worse. But that's very good news for us.

This book is furiously fast-paced, f*'n foul, and absolutely fantastic! I laughed, I cringed, and I enjoyed every single minute of this audiobook: the action happens so fast, I didn't have time to figure out what would happen next - twice, I was left with my mouth actually hanging open as the story revealed a new twist. WOW!

(Not for the squeamish or those of sensitive disposition :) The rest of you will enjoy, though!)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just one of the guys

by Kristan Higgins

It is a well known fact that whatever I might say to trash a certain holiday surrounded by hearts and flowers, I am an avid reader of romance novels. My latest guilty pleasure is Just one of the Guys by Kristan Higgins.

Chastity is the youngest child, and only girl, in a family of firefighters. To top it off, she's just a little squeamish around blood. In her quest to be a "true O'Neill" she decides it is high time to take the training course to be an EMT. That, along with her life as a talented journalist on the receiving end of a stalker's attention creates some balance to the concept of finding one's true love.

She has spent the majority of her life in love with Trevor, family friend, and another of the multitude of firefighters in her life. To start the book, she gets dumped, and hit on by a woman in the same night. Lucky for her the only person to witness both is Trevor, and later in the book, you'll find out just how good he is at keeping secrets. On the heels of her embarrassment, Chastity decides it is high time to get over the man who'll always love her family more than he cares for her. Quickly, she finds herself in a serious relationship with a man who fits all the criteria little girls and parents dream about. Ryan is a surgeon. Chastity is content, but which one will she choose?

"It All Changed In An Instant" - More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure

The premise is simple: six words. Tell a story, summarize your life, or make a statement - in no more than six words.

Word geeks and those with lively imaginations will enjoy any of the books in this series (this is the third collection). Some of the pieces are heartbreaking, some funny, a few are cryptic. All in just six words.

I guarantee, it will get you thinking. Teachers have begun to use the form to instruct on storytelling and brevity. What will yours say?

Monday, February 8, 2010

The lion and the mouse

by Jerry Pinkney

I picked this one up after it won the Caldecott award. For those readers who are not librarians or teachers, this is the American Library Association's annual award for the best illustrations in a children's book. When our copy arrived in the library, I immediately decided this retelling of Aesop's fable fit mildly into the story time theme "teeth".

Pinkney uses very few words to describe the story. He allows the images he has created do most of the work. The ferocious lion and timid mouse have faces filled with expression. When Pinkney does use words, he tailors the font to fit the emotion. At one point when the lion roars the letters start out strong and sharp then taper down to softened edges as his emotions move from angry to frightened. Even children that have never heard the story are easily able to interpret the drawings and build their narrative skills.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Local News by Miriam Gershow

I place holds on so many books that I don't always remember why I requested a specific book by the time it shows up. This was one of those books.

At first, I thought maybe it was a mystery - the story begins with sophomore Lydia Pasternak, whose senior brother has disappeared. Quickly though, I realized this was a much more interesting story about a family - and a girl - unraveling under stress.

Lydia's doing the best she can, given the situation. Her parents (who never worried about her because she was the smart, responsible one) have all but abandoned Lydia in the depths of their own grief and bewilderment. Sophomore year is made even more awkward by all the unwanted attention cast her direction by the tragedy.

So Lydia throws herself into projects: researching leads to "help" the private investigator, experimenting with alcohol to numb the pain, and making friends to mask her loneliness.

I kept wanting someone to really SEE Lydia and understand what she was going through. But much like real life, everybody's dealing with their own drama and doesn't notice hers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

You could say this book is about the tragedy at Columbine High School and it would be accurate. But it's about so, so much more. Actually, it took me nearly 6 weeks to get through this audiobook - so you can see that it's not "simply" about anything.

Both Caelum and his wife work at Columbine, but only Maureen was at school that day. The events of that single day reverberates through their lives in ways both big and small, forever. This book deals with something like four generations of Caelum's family history, Maureen's trauma, the couple's starting over, their network of friends and family ... I'm just not sure I can summarize it.

The characters and the meadering storylines are well drawn and very interesting - would I stick with them for 6 weeks if I hadn't bought into it? Worth it, but WOW! What a behemoth.

Who Shot Rock & Roll by Gail Buckland

When you think about John Lennon, what image do you see in your mind: The New York t-shirt? Or lying in bed with Yoko? The black leather coat, just before they got famous?

Do you know who took any of those photo? Probably not - most of the best images of rock have been hijacked over the years and used without credit to their creator. But how many of us look for the photographer's name, even if it IS present?

This new book contains some of the most iconic photos taken of rock stars from 1955 to the present day, and info about the photographers. The collection of images is amazing. I spent probably an hour and a half just looking and admiring the compilation.

But I didn't think the bio information on the photographers was great: it's inconsistent, and hard to follow. Some people are scattered in multiple places, while others have barely one paragraph. And when there's too much text for the page, it jumps to the back of the book instead of the next page. Yuk.

Chicken Cheeks (the beginning of the ends)

by Michael Ian Black

If you like borderline inappropriate picture books, you'll love Chicken Cheeks. In short, rhyming text, the author roles through a list of animals by naming their rear ends. You and the children you read this with will laugh hysterically at the variety of creatures stacked one upon the other as they try to reach a sweet treat. One of my favorites is the image of a guinea pig holding up a deer. Pick up this book and just try to read about "turkey tushy" and "flamingo fanny" with a straight face.

Into the wild nerd yonder

by Julie Halpern

As I started this book I kept thinking, "I don't know if I can stand this teen life story." However, I kept with it and things progressed beyond crummy ex-friends and into a view of high school that is about as comfortable as anyone feels during that part of life. The main character, Jessie, doesn't realize how cool and comfortable she appears in others' eyes. She's an admirable young woman to be sure. An absolute pro at pre-calculus, she impresses a new friend by helping him study. Jessie also happens to be a phenomenal seamstress (she sews her own quirky skirts), a self-taught punk drummer and throughout the book manages to learn to play Dungeons and Dragons very successfully. This is a book for anyone who has ever downplayed their own talents in order to fit in.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin

Set in 1972 in quaint Bright's Pond, PA - where the world revolves around pie at the Full Moon Cafe - this is the story of the Sparrow sisters: 700-pound home-bound prayer maven Agnes and her sister/caretaker/town librarian Griselda.

This book felt like "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe" by Fannie Flagg, with an equal part of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" by Peter Hedges.

It's a folksy, small-town gossipy kind of story. Everybody knows everyone else's business - or do they really? It's funny and touching, with many characters you'll recognize from your own life.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

For those kids who loved the Wimpy Kid books and are ready for the next level - I present to you Oliver Watson!

Oliver had a genius-adult level mind even in the womb. He remembers being born, and he started scheming at just a few days old. Everybody, including his parents, thinks he's stupid (maybe even mentally retarded). But that's all a cover for the elaborate underground empire Oliver has really created. He's the third richest person in the world, and almost no one knows.

Oliver's mean, and he's sneaky. He's gotten where he is in business by being ruthless. But now he's set his sites on becoming class president. Why something so simple? You'll have to read to find out!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

m.i.a. by Michael Allen Dymmoch

This was promoted as a mystery, but I think I disagree. More, it's a family drama about a grieving young widow, her teenage son, and the intriguing man who just moved in next door.

Much of the story is influenced by Rhiann's past - her friendships and relationships growing up, and their losses now and during the Vietnam War. Chapters rotate between the three characters' voices, and we see how current events become entangled with the unspoken past.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters are well developed and act naturally, and even though I thought I knew where the plot was going, there were surprises along the way.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

Tan is an incredible artist with a strong sense of the absurd. His 2007 book, The Arrival, was a wordless story about immigration. This one is highly illustrated short stories about everyday life.

Each tale stands alone, but together they give a bigger picture of the world. All are a little strange, kind of dream-like, and many of the characters don't seem to be human (more monsters and aliens, from the pictures) although they're extremely human in nature. Tan's illustrations are low-contrast in color, and extremely detailed in illustration: the book's endpapers can be a 20-minute exploration in themselves.

This is the kind of book that makes me feel like maybe I'm not smart enough. There's a lot going on here, and maybe I'm not getting it all. But that's not a bad thing - it's actually an excellent book I'd recommend highly. And definitely worth a read-along so you can discuss what's really happening and how you see it.

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Nonfiction can be tough - how to express what really happened without getting bogged down, and still be interesting? Well, authors take note: 1) find interesting subject matter.

This tale of Bob & Joe Switzer's invention of glow-in-the-dark and then glow-in-the-LIGHT colors is a catchy idea with a fantastic implementation. It's a story told pretty simply - the brothers aren't really alike, they fall on hardships, they work together (even though it's usually apart) and eventually they have success they could hardly have expected.

The book's artwork is retro - it looks kind of like the funky, old Disney educational videos - and is rendered in predominantly black and white. Color is only introduced to the tale as the brothers develop it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Let's do nothing

by Tony Fucile

Who could resist a picture book created by one of the animators for many well loved Disney movies? So often parents are faced with kids who say they are bored. Before you even get to the title page in this engaging book, it is obvious that the two boys have run out of ideas for fun things to do. Suddenly, one decides to do "nothing". Follow along as the pair tries valiantly to accomplish this new task. As any one who has ever tried knows, doing nothing is a daunting challenge. Laugh along with the engaging illustrations as one thing after another distracts the boys from the task at hand.


by Lois Ehlert

This is a fun, interactive story time book. Ehlert is well known for her collage art in picture books. This makes story time a lot of fun. Kids enjoy hunting through a picture of a snowman for the location of a pencil or even a strawberry.


by Julie Garwood

I've read every one of Ms. Garwood's books. At first, I did not expect to be a fan of the contemporary shift into the world of FBI agents. Then I caught on to her connections to characters from her Scottish highlands novels.

In Sizzle, Sam Kincaid has dual citizenship which allows him to technically be Scottish, but still perform duties as a top notch FBI agent. After rescuing the life of a character from previous Garwood novels, Sam performs the favor of protecting the roomate of Alec Buchanan's sister while a ruthless killer tries to hunt her down.

If you like novels with interconnecting characters that don't have to be read in order, Julie Garwood can provide you with much entertainment. Be prepared for a love story to be intertwined with the adventure.