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.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

Ex-punk and current waste-case Cassandra Neary had her time in the spotlight as an art-photographer: That time has passed. Cass may have been really talented, and she may have pissed it all away - but an unusual job request is bringing her closer to real inspiration than she's been in a long time.

This one's dark, moody and gritty. There's an element of mystery, but this is certainly NOT a mystery book. It's a bit disjointed in style, but that plays well with the way Cass thinks and views the world.

How close can an artist come to the edge - looking over the side, studying the shadows - before the darkness sucks them in? Cass is about to find out.

House of Cards by David Ellis Dickerson

This hilarious, true story deals with a guy who just hasn't found himself yet.

When David gets his first "grown-up job," he's shaggy, unkempt, awkward, and more than a little socially unaware - partially because he was raised both evangelical Christian and poor. Let's just say there's a lot he's missed out on about life.

It's his dream job: writing for Hallmark greeting cards. But what happens when your life's dream turns out to be not-so-dreamy? Then what what do you do?

During the course of the book, you'll learn a lot about how greeting cards are created (who knew?!) and David will learn a lot about himself, the world, and eventually ... women.

It's a quick, entertaining read. You'll find it especially relate-able if you've ever been sure that you just don't fit in.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

And Another Thing ... by Eoin Colfer

So either you love the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, or you're stupid.

And I won't be able to convince you to read this book if you haven't already read the other five books in the trilogy ... so I guess this is for the fans. I'm not even going to bother with a plot summary; does it matter?

Going in, I was a skeptic: No one will ever replace Douglas Adams. I was devastated by his death. And when I heard that kid's author Colfer was going to take a run at the series, I thought it was pretty ballsy. And stupid. ... but I was also first in line to read the new book.

WOW! It works for me. Really! Colfer got the tone right, and the characters right. The obtuse references and the absurd humor are all clicking. I could actually forget it wasn't Adams.

Go ahead - argue with me. I don't mind.

But I'm right.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon

I was looking for a quick read over the long holiday weekend, and this nonfiction, hard-times, food-as-life memoir fit the bill.

The author's family has a long history of "making do" when times are tough. During the current economic downturn Colon has turned to her ancestry - specifically, from her Nana's recipe folder - for tips and encouragement on perseverance.

The book is filled with quaint, relate-able tales of everyday survival. It's also filled with recipes: some will make you want to get into the kitchen and others (*ahem* liver and onions) will make you glad you don't have to.

The book's subtitle is "My family's recipe for hope in hard times," and it really is a book of optimism and encouragement. You may not find a pot of gold to get you through these tough times, but you can, at least, eat well.