Thursday, December 22, 2011

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

How is it possible she can crank these out so quick? Oh yah, they're all the same. (And yet, still so damn entertaining!)

This time out, Stephanie's back from vacation. But what happened in Hawaii? With whom? And why did Ranger and Morelli fist fight?

Incidentally, the guy on the plane next to Stephanie ended up dead. And she's being chased by a deranged hired gun, some fake cops, and a loony hairstylist. Lula's decided to WHAM everybody like Ranger, and the office is in temporary housing full of rats.

But you know that's all secondary. I mean - what REALLY happened in Hawaii???

Friday, December 16, 2011

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

A boring, forced prom date with the foreign exchange student turns into a night of action and adventure the likes of which high school senior Perry Stormaire could never have imagined.

This book is a movie waiting to happen (and apparently, Hollywood agrees) with gun battles, frumpy-to-fierce wardrobe change, and a tuxedo that becomes more and more tattered throughout the evening. Edge-of-the-seat exciting, with super-fast chapter breaks and a truly riveting storyline, this book is a major keeper; it's easily one of my new favorite teen books.

It's Hard Not to Hate You: A Memoir by Valerie Frankel

After a doctor recommends she reduce the stress in her life, Frankel begins searching for ways to be more honestly in-touch with her emotions ... beginning with the rage and anger she feels towards nearly everyone in the world.

The book's funny, but not hilarious. Frankel's willing to say and do things other people only dream of (or maybe, don't even think about). Her exercises in emotional honesty may help you find ways to be more true with yourself - or just give you a few minutes escape.

Monday, December 5, 2011

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Due to the failure of our penal system, this near-future novel presents a day where non-violent criminals are re-released into society with genetically altered, rainbow-tinted skin to match their crime: Blues rarely live long upon release (child molesters), but Yellows (misdemeanors, like petty theft) can sometimes find work in minimum-wage, after-hours jobs until their sentence runs out. 

With a million winks, nods and nudges toward Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," our main character Hannah Payne is a convicted Red. Her crime: the murder of her unborn child (she's caught after having an illegal abortion). How sweet, innocent and ultra-religious Hannah became a Red is the compelling tale. 

We find lots of clues about how society got to this strange point -  a plague, political upheaval, technological changes - but that info is doled out on a need-to-know basis. I hadn't expected all the religion in this book, but it's done well. Through her ordeals, Hannah lost her faith and searching for answers is part of her quest. 

The book gave me lots to think about - and yet, it was very entertaining and an easy read. It's one of those stories that stays with you. And with all the hot-button topics it presents, it's the kind of story you'll revisit and reassess long after you've put down the book.

Spud - the Madness Continues ... by John Van De Ruit

South African John "Spud" Milton is back with another year's diary about his friends and foibles as a scholarship student in a prestigious boarding school: still struggling to understand girls, still waiting for his hormones to kick in, and still struggling to understand his lessons.

While I really enjoyed the first book in this series, this one left me a bit cold. The diary format seemed to turn dull here, just a rote entry-by-entry list of events rather than a more fleshed-out story of the boys' hijinks. And this time there's no "cast of characters" in the beginning to help you remember who's who (everybody's got a nickname).

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship edited by Wade Rouse

The subtitle: "Hilarious, heartwarming tales about man's best friend from America's favorite humorists"

Rouse allowed a whole bunch of writers to tell any kind of dog story they wanted - and the resulting tales are a mixed bag: about dog training, childhood dogs, current dog-mates, puppy-sitting, naming dogs, and much, much more.

Every story is good. Really, I was surprised - there's not a weak link in the chain.  While reading, I found myself flipping back and forth to read each writers's bio before I read their story, to see if they were comedians, novelists, magazine writers - it's a nice mix of names you know and new faces to learn.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

OMG funny. No other way to describe it.

A strange kid with weird ideas, Haven Kimmel mines her childhood (nickname: Zippy) for comic gold in this book about small-town life, families, and growing up. Riding around town on her lavender bike named Rodeo, searching for good Christian deeds that need doin', and generally making trouble at every turn, Zippy's world is filled with characters like her a sci-fi fan mom who never leaves the sofa, a mean old neighbor lady, and the drug store owner who doesn't sell drugs.

I laughed out loud all the way through this book. This was Kimmel's first memoir, although it's been followed up by others that I will soon be trying out, also.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things About Me by Jenny Slate & Dean Fleischer-Camp

This goofy picture book is a random, run-on series of disjointed thoughts by a cute little shell. If you've seen the popular video (, you'll recognize much of the story. But it's still worth revisiting. Seven million times. Because I still laugh every time.

As a stand-alone, the book is still funny. Little kids think and talk the same way Marcel does - in strings of tangentally related thoughts on their everyday life. Marcel's size offers a different perspective on everyday objects, and you'll probably never look at bread the same way again.

I bought the book, and donated it to the library for Christmas.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

The tiny island of Guernsey, off the coast of France but part of the UK, was occupied by German forces during WWII. Island residents who hadn't fled lived under Nazi rule for five years.

In this book, a young wife lives out the occupation while caring for two daughters and her elderly mother-in-law while her husband serves overseas. A group of German soldiers take up residence in the vacant house next door to Vivienne - just across the hedgerow and definitely within earshot. How the two groups interact and relate throughout the war becomes our story.

A couple of years ago, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was on the best-seller list and covered a similar subject matter. Honestly, I also thought it covered the topic better. "The Soldier's Wife" takes a more melodramatic tone and a certain Harlequin-romance element sneaks around the edges of the storyline.

But while I saw the ending coming from a bomber's distance away, there were enough interesting twists to keep me reading. I find the idea of living in wartime a great dramatic foil and an interesting subject - I just wish this hadn't been quite so close to the previous book.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Absolutely not another vampire book. Really! (Just immortals - they're not vampires. :))

Nastasya (Nasty to her reprobate friends) is about 400 years old. She's seen and been everywhere, so by now she's desperately looking any kind of a thrill: alcohol, drugs, sex - the usual kinds of debauchery. But then something happens, and Nasty begins to wonder if there's more to life.

So she goes into hiding, finding a commune-of-sorts especially for immortals like herself. Reluctantly she begins mucking the barn, growing spinach, scrubbing floors, meditating and studying crystals - in short, trying to learn to be a better human (who lives forever).

It makes perfect sense to me that if you are forced into immortality, at some point you could lose your morality. Nasty's quest for a better self is agonizing, and she spends a lot of time sabotaging her own journey. That makes it a story that will resonate for many people. And while I understand the marketing of a supernatural novel is easier in the teen market, I really think a lot of "mature" readers will find this book engaging.

The writing is captivating, and the story also encompasses ancient flashbacks, modern-day romance and family drama, and hints of a much bigger storm brewing on the horizon for Nastasya. This is the first book in a trilogy, but I didn't feel like the story was incomplete. While the end certainly doesn't wrap everything up in a neat bow, I was satisfied and still curious about the next book's release date (pushed back to Jan 2012).

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

A twist on the traditional antebellum novel, The Kitchen House is the story of a white orphan girl indentured at the ship captain's estate to pay for her now-deceased family's fare to America.

Lavinia is raised in the kitchen house, and enfolded into Mama Mae's family - a close-knit, proud and loyal negro slave family on the Pyke plantation. She's completely accepted as a member of the family, yet she doesn't understand why sometimes things are different for her; she truly doesn't see that she's any different from any of her playmates or workmates.

Equal parts wise and naive, Lavinia is pushed and pulled along the course of her life, sometimes based on fate and other times due to her actions. Sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but I also know we do our best based on the information we have at-hand.

The library's book discussion group chose this book, and I really had to scramble to finish it in time. But it's actually a quick read, and I found it completely captivating. The audiobook is narrated by two women, Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin, as chapters alternate viewpoint between Lavinia and her surrogate mother Belle. Both women are excellent narrators (Turpin was also part of The Help's audio team), and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Little Goblins Ten

by Pamela Jane, illustrated by Jane Manning

It is definitely the season for goblin related books. In my search for something "slightly scary", I came across this new counting book. Counting books can be a lot of fun when reading with little ones. I think my favorite part of this book is that each number features a different ghoul and his/her children, but each one appears to be a single parent. So often children's books feature multiple adults in the lives of children, but this author recognizes that there is a distinct group of kids that have only one parent at home. The illustrations are purely fun; all these characters that could be scary are simply cute in this story.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The lamb who came for dinner

by Steve Smallman

Wolf is very hungry. He really doesn't want plain vegetable soup on such a cold winter's night. Luckily, the morsel of his dreams happens to knock on the front door. Can the big, bad wolf follow through on his dastardly plan when the sweet, timid lamb starts to warm his heart?

So often, wolves are depicted as horrible creatures in children's literature. It's nice to see one experience a bit of remorse before carrying out his scheme. This would be a fun story time read. In fact, the only thing I didn't enjoy was the fact that the wolf's name becomes, "Woof". I'm a stickler for using that "L" when pronouncing "wolf". Joelle Dreidemy's illustrations are sinister and sweet in all the right places. I particularly enjoyed the wolf's stripey socks.

What will fat cat sit on?

by Jan Thomas

Fat cat is looking for somewhere to sit. Unfortunately, he looks at each of his friends first. Who will find a reasonable solution before someone gets squished? This book ends with another question about the next thing fat cat is looking to do.

A humorous look at the adventures of a few select animals that every child will know. The illustrations are simple enough to make this a great choice for a toddler story time.

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

Somewhere about 300 years from now, a couple of teens are adapting to their bodies - but not in the way you may think: Kara and Locke's brains have been uploaded from long-term storage into brand-new (and slightly improved) bodies. But how exactly did they get here, in this strange future, and what are Dr. Gatsbro's intentions for his progeny? And what ever happened to their friend, Jenna?

I'm not always excited for sci-fi, but I LOVE this series' treatment of ethics and the moral gray areas that technology and medical developments can present. If you could be a stronger, better person ... should you? And at what point is a "being" a person ... or a non-person?

But it's not a heavy-handed lecture. Instead, we get a relate-able character in Locke: he wants to be liked, he wants to enjoy his new-found future, and he just wants things to be all good. Locke doesn't know much about how the world works in this technologically advanced society, and we learn right along with him.

On the other hand, Kara just seems to want revenge. And by the way, where IS Jenna?

I really enjoyed this book. It's a pretty quick read, but certainly not the kind of book you leave behind once you've closed it. (Days later, I'm still pondering the implications of Dot's metamorphosis!)

The natural world close-up

by Giles Sparrow

I placed a hold on this book thinking that it would give me tips on macro-photography. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be intense magnification of ordinary animals, plants, water and more. Some photos are so close-up they require a microscope. Others are simply very detailed macro photography. A zoomed image of a dragonfly's wing is exactly as it appears to your eye. However, the foot of a gecko is covered in tiny hair-like fibers. This is an astonishing view of the smallest parts of our world.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Death Echo

by Elizabeth Lowell

Emma is ex-CIA, but she got tired of the political machinations that make getting the job done, shall we say, sticky. She's now, officially, in the business of high end insurance repossession. Unofficially, she's pretty much still an operative. St. Kilda consulting has sent her on a mission to find a missing yacht. However, that "boat" is likely to be carrying some dangerous cargo. Emma works well with her partner, sniper, Mac Durand, to solve the puzzle and stop the plot against a world superpower.

Lowell started out as a romance writer, but she kept the sentiment to a minimum in this book. Although the entire novel spans just nine days in the characters lives, the story does not move at a breakneck pace. The characters are masters at their jobs, but we learn little about their lives away from this mission.

Monday, October 17, 2011

F in Exams by Richard Benson

A compilation of (supposed) real test answers - really, really BAD and pretty funny test answers.

Most answers fall into a couple categories: the smartass, the dumbass, or the clueless. The Smartass is attempting to get points for creativity. The Dumbass thinks they know the answer but they're really, really wrong. And the Clueless have an answer that's in the ballpark of right - if you didn't know better (mostly mis-heard words or something close, but no prize).

This is a funny book, and a quick browse. But what bothered me is that it makes no claims about where the answers came from - it doesn't say if they polled teachers, if they setup a website for submissions, if they had a panel they culled answers from, etc. There's absolutely no validation that they're truth.

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

Five books into this series, and I could not be more disappointed. I'm starting to feel like I'm wasting my time.

This time, it's supposed to be Simon's story - the "Daylighter" vampire discovers what it's like to be a vampire and makes adjustments to his new life. But honestly, he's been backburnered even in his own book. It's all about Clary, Clary, Clary! And despite the fact she's got this awesome talent to use (and isn't), and despite the fact she's taking Shadowhunter butt-kicking classes, Clary spends most of this book wringing her hands and acting like an angsty wimp, a boring old damsel waiting for a white knight to remove her from harm. Irritating, and boring.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rah, Rah, Radishes

by April Pulley Sayre

Children's librarians (and teachers, parents, grandparents, etc.) the world over try to make vegetables exciting. Sayre has finally found a way to make adults excited to read about vegetables, which in turn might make kids excited to, dare I say it, EAT them. This full-color photographic look at some of the most flavorful morsels found in our gardens is satisfyingly enhanced by a jazzy chant. You cannot help reading this in a cheerleader's voice. Especially nice is the final page which give adults a few suggestions to make vegetables an even more spectacular part of every day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Along the Watchtower by Constance Squires

Lucinda's an army brat, newly stationed in Germany, and on an emergency mission to find her dad - who has forgotten to make any kind of accommodations for his arriving family. Mom's having a meltdown, the kids are hungry, and he forgot to apply for housing so they're in crummy temp housing. In the next hour, she earns a nickname, finds her dad, discovers German pastry, falls in love and then ruthlessly leaves him standing in the cold.

This is an incredibly well-written book about family, growing up and making-do in a military family. It's not a book where a lot happens, unless you count Lucy's eventual maturity.

The reason I picked up the book - and one reason I loved it so - is that music becomes Lucy's saving grace and a beacon in her uncertain life. She begins with an interest in pop music (don't we all?) and then, cassette by cassette, Lucy discovers the classics, which lead her to punk, metal, and true rock.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

The cat got mad at me while I was reading this book because I kept jostling her when I laughed; Janzen's stories about her family, her disastrous marriage and its breakup, and her medical mishaps are truly and amazingly hilarious.

But be warned: she's a fan of big words, and knows how to use them! On her mother's farting: "One of the great surprises to proximate auditors was her contribution of hortatory flatulence. Loud and astonishing were her expostulations, like the speeches of Daniel Webster." (This is one of the passages where the cat abandoned me.)

But there is a more serious side to the book, and there's a fair amount of spiritual discussion as Janzen explores and analyzes her beliefs concerning her Mennonite childhood, chafing against that restrictive lifestyle, and then her return for an extended stay at her parents' home during her adult "rebuilding" phase.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Surprisingly, this is one of those books that you just can't put down. I really didn't anticipate liking it - the library discussion group chose it, and I'm just not a big war fan. But I got truly sucked in from the start.

Louis Zamperini was a troubled kid who made good by learning to run "for" something, instead of "away" from things. His Olympic dreams seem inevitable - and then he enlists for the war effort. Hillenbrand (who also wrote Seabiscuit) does an excellent job of quickly drawing you into Louis' story - he's a very personable guy, and you're cheering for him and laughing at his antics right away. Who wouldn't love this guy?

But the answer to that question, we learn, is a horrifying Japanese prison leader nicknamed The Bird. Zamperini's story takes a tragic, almost unbelievable turn after his enlistment; the fact that it's true doesn't make it any easier to understand.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The ideal man

by Julie Garwood

Ms. Garwood is back with another FBI thriller. This time Agent Max Daniels is hot on the trail of the elusive Landrys who have been running illegal arms into the country for years. Just as his team is closing in, the Landrys shoot another agent directly in front of Dr. Ellie Sullivan. Her quick thinking and proximity to the trauma center are essential to saving the man's life. Unfortunately, she may have gotten enough of a look at the Landrys for her own safety to be compromised. Agent Daniels starts out wanting to protect his witness, until he finds out she has been on the run from a dangerous stalker before and that one is also missing. Both Ellie and Max try to resist temptation as they keep watch for all the threats to her life.

Garwood has produced another zippy, if predictable, read with this one.

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

In 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, Skeeter Phelan is about to become an outcast. She has returned from college just filled with ideas about fairness and the difference between right and wrong. She soon finds herself a job and realizes she knows absolutely nothing about the topic she is supposed to use for her column. The only solution is to befriend the help, but she can't possibly do that in her mother's home. It doesn't take long before she has an idea that will change the lives of everyone she knows, if she and her new friend have the courage to go through with it.

The Help is the story of three women looking at the world in which they live and feeling as though something is terribly wrong. This is a well-written story that leaves the reader desperate to know more about the lives of nearly all the characters. It's funny when you realize you are so wrapped up in the characters experiences you almost forget what you already know about history and get surprised by one or two events.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spud by John Van De Ruit

Proving that boarding schools are the same the world over, this is young John "Spud" Milton's diary: his first ventures away from home, his making friends and forming life-long bonds, and the dream of finding a girl to kiss. Along the way we also meet his odd-ball parents, his senile granny they call Wombat, and a whole cast of characters that make Spud's life interesting.

This book is head-and-shoulders above most of the genre - it could easily have been a throw-away story and instead it's a hilarious book. The reader really becomes part of Spud's world (although I admit to a bit of trouble keeping the immense, nicknamed cast straight), and at the end I was delighted to find there is a second book, "The Madness Continues."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Burger Wuss by MT Anderson

As part of his larger revenge plan on the jerk who stole his girlfriend, 16-year-old Anthony gets hired at O'Dermott's fast food restaurant (think: McDonalds). Unfortunately, Anthony didn't anticipate how bad his life could be with Turner (the jerk) as his shift manager ... he may not have been thinking clearly when he formed his grand evil plan.

It's a very funny book, and written in an almost stream of consciousness that illustrates Anthony's neurotic thoughts. Yet despite the fact we know what's going through Anthony's head most of the time, the reader still is left in the dark as to the actual revenge plan - you don't know what's going to happen until it happens.

The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro

I had a couple of rather drunken years in the early 90's, and Laurie Notaro could easily have been my best friend. The stupid things she does (especially when drinking) are a page right out of my own book.

I don't know if this book is culled from Notaro's Arizona Republic columns, or if these are direct reprints. While some of the stories here seem a bit dated now, if you were a young adult in the 1990s you'll understand and recognize many of the references and situations.

I laughed out loud. And then I was glad I've grown up (some) since then!

Man with a Pan edited by John Donohue

Somehow the stereotype persists that women do all the cooking at home; if a man cooks, he's a professional chef. This book puts that idea on its head by asking 21 men who cook at home to write about their experiences.

Some discuss one recipe, others write about how they learned to cook. Many discuss the challenge of getting kids to eat anything but mac and cheese. A few of the writers are known foodies, a few are non-chef celebrities, and many of them are just regular guys who cook.

You've probably got to be a food geek to really enjoy this book - but if you're the kind of person who read cookbooks for enjoyment, you'll enjoy these "stories from the field" written by men who know their way around the kitchen.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

A different approach to the ever-popular vampires and fairy genre - and it really works!

Evie's never known "normal." She bounced around in foster care until her special talents were discovered when she was eight, and since then she's been an agent under protection of the International Paranormal Containment Agency. Her best friend is a mermaid, and she's homeschooled at the IPCA between capture-and-tag assignments. But really, she's a teen who dreams of hanging out at the mall, having a locker, and going out for pizza with friends.

When the IPCA is infiltrated by a supernatural being they can't identify, Evie's whole world is rocked off it's boring old rails. Before it's over she makes a friend, loses a friend, finds herself, and saves the world (while wearing a really pink prom dress).

The book's got a satisfactory completion, yet still leaves itself open to becoming a series. And I'd buy that - I really liked the characters, they experience realistic angst and emotions, and the action (while supernatural and weird) was also believable.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner

Although he's really just an unremarkable kid beginning his senior in high school, nonetheless Shakespeare Shapiro believes he's got it rough. His younger brother is popular and dating an actual girl. He's got a funny name. His friends are weird.

But it's that conviction that his life is tragic (while it's decidedly *not*) that makes Shakespeare's story so interesting. It's that teenage certainty that the world revolves around you, and the sun shines only on your planet.

Shakespeare's funny, and the book contains the biographical stories that make his "senior memoir" required for graduation. Will he learn anything by writing his story? Will he win the memoir award? What kind of a big finish will it take to complete the tragic tale? I enjoyed every minute, finding out.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Centuries of June by Keith Donohue

Wow - not what I expected, and yet so, so good.

A guy lands on his bathroom floor, bleeding from the head, in the middle of the night. But just as this occurs to him as a potentially very bad thing, another man appears in the room. Our hero is able to get up, his head wound begins to heal - and a strange parade of visitors to the bathroom begins.

With the overarching storyline of events leading up to the the man's late-night bathroom trip, the bulk of the book is short stories as told by each new visitor to the bathroom. They're from all across time, and each is a fantastical gem on its own. But who brained the man? And what's the link between the tales? It's a story worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Any man of mine

by Rachel Gibson

Forgiveness is often hard to come by. Autumn has had nearly six years to come to terms with the way Sam LeClaire, hockey great, broke her heart and left her alone and pregnant. Since the paternity test, he's been an alright dad, but by no means stellar. One conversation changes his view on his own behavior.

Sam has always known that his behavior was reprehensible. He's never felt bad about most of it either. He also never realized how much of an impact his actions had on his child. Sam sets out to put as much effort into fatherhood as he does with hockey. If he happens to realize that the biggest mistake of his life was not having a wild fling in Vegas, but rather walking out on his bride in a callous, heartless manner, then so be it.

I read this in an evening. Autumn and Sam are not the most well-rounded characters, but Gibson manages to make their story ring out with the force of a plexiglass rattling check into the boards nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Between shades of gray

by Ruta Sepetys

Think back to your childhood history classes. How well do you remember Hitler's atrocities? How about Stalin's? This is the fictional story of one family taken from their home in the middle of the night.

Lena is a proud Lithuanian girl. Her father is a respected university worker. She sees no reason anyone should want to harm her family and that is why the invasion is such a shock. In some ways, her family is lucky. Mother and children are allowed to stay together through their journey and hardships. Lena's naivete is a problem for her at times, but she also has skills that aid her family a great deal.

Amazingly, throughout the story, Lena manages to see hope in many ways. She makes a friend early on and learns the true meaning of trust. Like any coming of age story, Lena's is one which shows her beliefs being proved both right and wrong.

Lena's story is powerful. It is a reminder of a time in history that many want to forget, but no one ever should. I had two other people read this book before I even returned it to the library.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

Concerned for the welfare of a favorite library patron, a children's librarian bumbles into an unplanned cross-country roadtrip. But is she trying to save 10-year-old Ian, is she trying to save herself, or is he saving her?

The more you love libraries, librarians, and children's books the better you'll like this novel: Lucy the librarian is a story evangelist, spreading joy and discovery through the books she thinks are important. And without making you embarrassed about the books you haven't read, the author peppers the novel with children's books and characters that you DO know (or are almost certainly familiar enough with to understand).

I loved the way that Makkai keeps you guessing the whole book. What happens? Do they get caught? Do they go to Canada? Is she in jail? (Plus, she makes it hard to find out by sneaking a peek at the last page!)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

Margaret is a lonely woman with a mansion filled with valuable objects - inkstands, figurines, teapots, and soup tureens. When she decides to take in a boarder, it's important that the objects agree to the situation and get along with anyone Margaret brings into the house.

Wanda is a lost woman, searching for a lost love; she's a perfect fit as Margaret's renter.

Together, the women find friendship, form a great community of motley souls, and heal their hearts. By breaking things.

I listened to the audiobook, and I have to admit I couldn't wait to get in the car to listen some more. It's an odd, captivating book about people out near the fringes of sanity and society. I enjoyed the unexpectedly twisty plot; with several subplots and characters blooming into life, just when I thought I knew where their stories would converge, the book took me off in another direction.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

I missed out on the big pirate-lovin' trend that the Pirates of the Caribbean series stoked. But when I saw the title of this book, I couldn't resist the mash-up of my beloved vampires ALONG WITH pirates. Pure gold?!

And actually, it IS pure gold. This is a dramatic, adventuresome book about a set of 14-year old twins (one boy, one girl) who are orphaned, then shipwrecked and rescued by separate ships. All they want is to be together - but getting there is quite a journey.

It's a juvenile book - but I can see it being enjoyed by anyone over the age of about ten. It's not bloody or gory, the story clips right along, and the characters are fantastic. There are major female and male characters, so readers of both sexes should stay engaged and interested.

Additionally, if you're into audiobooks - Daniel Philpott is absolutely awesome here. The pirates are a world-culture melting pot, and Philpott carries off their multitude of accents and vocal characterizations without a misstep.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

(I know - K blogged this same book earlier in the week. But I get my chance, too!)

Ranger. Mmmmm.
Oh. The book.

It's a pretty standard-fare, fluffy funny Stephanie Plum book. Our favorite cupcake has pissed off enough people (this week) that three people are actively trying to kill her. And she's conflicted about Ranger vs. Morelli (as if!) and that is further complicated by the sex-crazed "vordo" curse Grandma Bella put on her.

What else? Grandma Mazur is in prime form, Lulu's barely encased in spandex (yet also glorified on the side of a bus), and the bond office is working out of Mooner's van and the coffee shop since it got blown up in the last book.

If you love Evanovich books, you'll enjoy this one too. The storyline's fun, and the ending is appropriately vague to guarantee you'll stick around for Explosive Eighteen.

Monday, July 25, 2011


by Ellen Hopkins

First off, I love novels written in verse. The concept just leaves me in awe. One of the most provocative authors in this genre is currently Ellen Hopkins. Triangles is her first novel for adults and will be available this fall. This is the story of three women with intertwined lives. Holly has a marriage that most people would believe is ideal, but she's bored. Marissa's whole life has been strained since her child was born with special needs. Andrea is trying to be a good sister, friend, and mother while realizing that the man who best fits her vision of ideal is married to her best friend. If you pick this book up, be ready for a raw look into these women's lives. There is adultery on many fronts, death knocks upon a door, and some will face gay and lesbian issues in ways never expected. This is a gritty, clever, character driven read.

Smokin Seventeen

by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is back for another adventure. For some readers, the most burning question is, "Who done it?" In this instance, it's pretty obvious. However, when it comes to Ms. Plum, the question is more, "Who's Stephanie gonna pick?" Ride along for another Morelli v. Ranger battle; this time Stephanie's dilemma is aided by a curse. Yeah, as if Ranger ever needed help taunting her.
Grandma and Stephanie's mom work to convince her that an old flame would be a much better choice than either of the usual suspects. This is another sassy, rollicking read.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

If you have a book club, you should read this book; it's very powerful, a quick read, and you CERTAINLY want to talk about it when you're done.

Alice is a professional at the prime of her life when she starts noticing memory lapses. She's concerned enough to seek out her doctor - but not concerned enough to tell her husband. After a battery of questions, tests, and scans the diagnosis is early onset Alzheimer's disease. Alice is 50, and her life is about to change.

The book is told from Alice's point of view, but the reader acts as an omniscient observer. This means you see Alice innocently repeat herself or make mistakes - and you understands the progression of her disease better than she does - even though you're inside her head.

The book gives a fresh perspective (the victim's) on Alzheimer's disease, plus it's beautifully written and extremely thought-provoking. What would I do in the same situation? What would I do if this was my spouse/child/friend/coworker? How is my forgetting where I left my keys different from Alzheimer's?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bad Dog (A Love Story) by Martin Kihn

This is a funny, suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat drama that's equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking book about recovery and self-discovery. And dog training.

When his marriage crumbled - mainly due to alcohol and an uncontrollable dog - Kihn joins AA and decides to train his Bernese Mountain Dog, Hola, to be a certified AKC Good Citizen. Individually, either of those pursuits seems unlikely to succeed and piled together they're practically guaranteed to fail. But it's the road to the goal that's ultimately an enlightening process.

The book's well-written, and the levity Kihn introduces certainly lightens what could have been a depressing and dark book. The whole way you're on an emotional rollercoaster: rooting for Hola, despite the sinking suspicion things won't go well. But yet, they could be OK! Or, not.

If you've ever loved a dog, you'll enjoy this book (and especially, if you've known a Berner). And if you've ever taken on a challenge despite the fact you knew you couldn't win, you'll root for Kihn and Hola on their epic adventure.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass

Percival Darling's adjustment to retirement isn't what he thought it would be. His grown daughter is back, her life in shambles. He has somehow been talked into allowing his beloved barn to be converted into a daycare center - which also means his skinny-dipping days in the pond are numbered. Plus, he's met a woman who reminds him (for the first time in decades) that he has baser urges. It's a book about the quirkiness of families and the inevitable yet unexpected life changes we all face.

I absolutely loved this book! Can't make any bones about it. Percy's a cranky treasure, educated and caustic, sarcastic and curmudgeonly, and yet soft and squishy at the center. He's not the kind of guy many people feel warmly toward, so it makes his name even funnier: everybody sounds like they're saying, "Percy, darling!"

Beyond the titular character, there are several other first-person storylines: a gay teacher at the daycare, Percy's Harvard-student grandson, and a illegal immigrant worker. There's a lot going on in the tight-knit cast of characters, but you come to love and enjoy all these people and their eccentricities.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Paul's an "out" gay sophomore in a high school where gay and straight don't matter; parents, on the other hand, aren't always quite as accepting - except Paul's, who are cool. Between Paul's ex having second thoughts, his best girlfriend dating a jerk, the cute new artist kid at school, and the drag queen quarterback, it's just another high school soap opera/high-drama situation.

I'll admit that I expect a lot from David Levithan, and this one left me cold; it's a little too unrealistically accepting to be truly believable, yet not unrealistic enough to become a fantasy.

But I have to admit that opinion may have been jaded by the audiobook. Full cast audio are either excellent or bad, and I thought this one fell in the latter category. Compounded with the overly melodramatic music interludes, and it just felt over-wrought and lame.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Teeth: Vampire Tales edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

Nineteen short stories about vampires - how could I resist? This book brings together some huge names in fantasy fiction; some of the authors I've read, others were new to me. And overall, it's a stellar collection.

I'm always fascinated by different views of the same subject - and vampires is a topic ripe for review. Each author here takes their own approach to the mythology - some stay true to precedent, others take liberties with the mythology to put their own spin on the genre.

And the short story format - well, it's amazing how much a really great writer can squeeze into just a few pages; you really feel connected to these characters, and then you realize you've only known them a minute. Next thing you know, it's over.

There are some excellent set-ups here - stories that I'd love to see spun into larger works. Notably, the book's last story; "Why Light?" by Tanith Lee will haunt you long after the book's been closed. Nocturnal communities? Sun-born? I'm so there ...

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

One night, when walking aimlessly, Alexandra happens across a Winnebago filled with books. But not just any books - this is a bookmobile filled with every book she's ever read.

I was disarmed by this lovely, gothic tale: a love letter to book lovers. It's a strange tale, unexpected and yet really beautiful, with slightly awkward illustrations. It's not perfect, and so it somehow feels more real.

It's the kind of story that makes you think. What's on my bookmobile? Who is my librarian? And are they proud of my collection?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

Meet 11-year-old Swan Lake - a girl who knows her own mind and doesn't often hold her tongue. As a narrator, she's brilliant: we see family tragedy filtered through a child's skewed perception and observe day-to-day life through the lens of a kid who sees more than she should.

Her mother's family, the Moses clan, are a proud people; they're known for honesty and integrity, and the family businesses hold a solid place in 1950s Arkansas society. But as this book begins, the Moses' are rocked by a series of events that shakes up their family dynamic and eventually force them to re-examine "Moses Honesty" versus "Plain Old Honesty."

The book's got great heart and a warmth I really enjoyed. It's literary but still fun, light enough for summer reading but welcomes further examination. Due for release in July, I've already devoured the advanced reader's copy of this book and will be recommending it for next year's book club rotation; themes of family, trust, faith, and childhood innocence could all be ripe topics for lively discussion.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

I got utterly and thoroughly sucked into this world and these characters - and then the action just ENDS! No conclusion, everybody's under investigation, no answers. Not even a temporary conclusion before the next book's action! Argh!

The first book in a new series, Clare is continuing her Shadowhunter mythology here but stepping back in time to the Victorian age. Some common Shadowhunter family names pop up here and the immortal Magnus Bane features into this story as well, but for the most part it's a stand-alone series.

This book has a steampunk feel to it - the bad guys is creating humanoid robots and trying to animate them with demon energy. It's got another great lead female character who isn't quite human but until now has never suspected anything was different. And there's always the allure of a sexy Shadowhunter (or two).

But where Clare's past books have wrapped up a storyline yet led you into the greater story of the series, this one has nothing completed when it ends. And second book doesn't come out for six months.

Friday, May 27, 2011


by Emma Donoghue

I know. Your first thought is that you don't want to read about a woman who has been held captive in an 11 x 11 room for seven years. You especially don't want to know about her five year old son.
Jack is that five-year-old. Everything he has ever known is inside "Room". Now that he is five, he is old enough for his ma to "unlie" about everything. He realizes that, for her, he will need to be braver than ever. Through Jack's eyes you will see the life he has always lived and the world his ma hopes he can one day experience.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Can You Get Hooked on Lip Balm? by Perry Romanowski

Ultimately skim-able and sure to bust the myths you've believed for years, this book may change the way you shop the beauty counter, drug store and salon.

Yes, you can get hooked on lip balm. Not addicted, but certainly dependent. The book explains why, but it has to do with skin cell regeneration.

No, the salon brands you find at the big-box store aren't different than the ones in salons - they just lie and say they're different so they don't anger the salon owners.

Biore pore strips may be the most fun, beneficial thing you can do for your face. In moderation.

I certainly didn't read every word of this book, but I did read every question and the bottom line answer (conveniently highlighted). If you're interested in the details, every response is given several paragraphs or more of scientific explanation into the fact or fiction.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

In this series of short stories, schoolteacher Olive Kitteridge is sometimes the storyteller, sometimes a major character in someone else's story, and occasionally a mere walk-through in a story mostly unrelated to her.

It's an interesting way to present a person's life - a multi-faceted approach that defies self-definition, familial ties, and even your own best intentions to form a more rounded characterization. It's both a skewed, yet very fair way to encounter the whole person - the good, the bad and the ugly. And Olive's a character full of all those things.

Strout's storytelling is rich with visualization and description. It's an easy story to get lost in, and well-deserving of the accolades the book has won. We discussed it for book club, but I found I'd gotten something slightly different from the experience by having listened to the audiobook. Sandra Burr's vocalization was a real addition to the text - and I found several parts hilariously funny where others in the group had not seen a comic undertone.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Rip in Heaven by Jeanine Cummins

Somewhere I read about this 2004 nonfiction book and decided to give it a try. Written by a family member, the book details the 1991 brutal assault of 3 teens on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River at St. Louis.

True-crime books always have a bit of a rubber-neck appeal - they're horrifying, yet we want to know all the sickening details. Here, the author tries to stand apart from the action and report the events as if she's not involved - showing varying points of view to give a multi-faceted look at the crime, investigation, trials, and media frenzy.

Unfortunately, that approach isn't as strong as it could be. I think it might have been a better narrative if she'd picked one angle and stayed with it; by creating that distance away from her own involvement, she loses a lot of the heart of the tale. Additionally, in trying to bring a scholarly angle to the reportage she sometimes throws in a paragraph or two about psychology or police investigative theory that just throw the brakes on the whole flow.

I stuck it out til the end, but I'm not sure I would recommend it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

I loved these flawed realistic characters: a high school boy, a high school girl ... but not your typical teen romance.

June's family moves a lot due to her parents' consulting jobs (6 schools in 4 years), and her dad's motto for the family is "Next!" After each move, June's cell phone is replaced or erased - no sense in maintaining friendships with kids she'll never see again. I thought, "who could live like this?"

Wes is struggling to find himself. What does he want? Who are his friends? He's got a lot of thinking to do ... and cleaning out the garage seems to help.

Wes and June aren't instantly attracted to one another. Even after they start to spend time together, things aren't always smooth sailing - then June's family moves again, and things get more complicated.

This book actually reminded me of "One Day" by David Nicholls, which I loved earlier this year. It's the kind of true, flawed romance where people misbehave, hurt one another, and still try to follow their hearts.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones

If you're a food channel and cookbook addict, this book is for you!

I'd never heard of Jones, but she's a big-wig in the publishing industry, along the way working with and becoming friends with many of the biggest names to publish cookbooks: Julia, Jacques, Lidia ... She's also co-written a couple cookbooks, too.

Here, Jones talks about her own growth as a "foodie" and the things she learned from each of her famous authors: how she discovered Asian cooking as she published with notable Asian chefs, how she explored game meats as she helped with the L.L. Bean cookbook, etc. One of her favorite tricks was to bring these chefs home to cook in her kitchen - forcing them to adapt to non-commercial equipment and thereby learning how we may all reproduce their culinary magic later.

You'll be hungry almost the whole time you read this book, and thankfully Jones includes a section of recipes at the end. Although I'm not sure I'll try the calf's brains anytime soon, there are others I'm definitely interested in reproducing!

Monday, April 25, 2011

I Am J by Cris Beam

Like many teen books, this one deals with the internal voices of doubt and confusion of a kid coming of age - unlike most of those other teen books, the main character of this book was born a girl, but self-identifies as a boy.

I've never read another book like this one - Beam is really reaching out to an under-represented audience with this excellent book. J is confused, angry, and lonely, which makes him an interesting dramatic character; those same traits also makes him a crappy friend, a bewildered boyfriend, and a sullen child.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey

If you have even a little wave in your hair - YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. Emphatic enough?

Massey has tons of curl herself, runs a salon specializing in curls, and truly feels your pain. She talks about how so many of us have struggled with our hair our entire lives - hating it, fighting it, and settling for bad haircuts.

She's got some pretty radical ideas, but if you take away even one or two tips from this book you'll be happier that you were before. I'd already given up traditional shampoo years ago and seen the amazing difference, but I was very interested in her styling and trimming tips.

I've recommended this book a bunch already, and I'm thinking about buying a copy for my stylist as a gift!

(Is it bad that when I tagged this post, I considered: depression, grief, horror?)

Crap Lyrics by Johnny Sharp

Even as a huge music buff, I couldn't do it: this book is not at all interesting.

While Sharp tries to be funny and does a commendable job of categorizing why the songs are crap (over-reaching literary references, bad rhyme scheme, nonsensical lyrics), in the end it's just not engaging enough to read.

Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan

This book is told in alternating chapters by twin teens: one girl, one boy, one gay, one straight, both looking for a boyfriend. They're in the center of seven kids in their family, and it's a typically strange kind of normal family.

When there are nine people in the house, what's one more? So the family takes in another teen for the last month of school, so he can finish out the year before moving with his family. He's quiet, artsy, very goth, and says he's a vampire. Both Kyle and Judy are intrigued by this addition to the family - he's their same age and mysterious, both off-putting and also strangely attractive.

Really, this is at heart a teen discovery novel - a bunch of young adults feeling out the edges of their world to figure out where they fit in and who they will become. Nearly everyone's different in one way or another by the end of the book, and while there is some drama involved, it's not a tacky "after-school special" lesson.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Once I really got going, I could not put this book down. It's got a great, brisk pace and each event acts like dominoes in a line - impact, after impact, after impact. Nothing is without consequence, and each action causes the next (expected or unexpected) reaction.

History scholar Diana Bishop has denied her family's witchcraft legacy since her parents were brutally murdered when she was seven. She's spent her life and career making sure that magic plays no part - she wants to know that she truly earned everything she achieved.

But things have started to get weird, and lots of non-human creatures have taken an interest in Diana. And it all seems to come back to one particular manuscript she checked out of the Oxford library.

The best I can say is this: take the best of the old Ann Rice vampire books, combined with the not-terrible parts of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books, with the intrigue of Dan Brown's books. Have I got you curious yet?

I picked up this book at 8:30 pm and put it down when I finished the last page at 4:30 am. My arms ached from holding the 600 page novel, but I just couldn't seem to quit. I think the last book I did that with was "The DaVinci Code."

Just my luck: this is book one in an anticipated "All Souls" trilogy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

Everything kinda fell apart when Rowan's older brother died - her mum's totally fallen apart and become a zombie, her dad get fed up and moved out, and Rowan is left to hold things together for her six-year-old sister.

But when does Rowan get to be a 16-year-old kid, and grieve too?

The world tilts on its axis one day when a boy Rowan's never met insists she dropped a photo negative - that turns out to be an incredible picture of Jack she'd never seen before. Who was the boy? Where did the photo come from?

This is a short, powerful book about family dynamics and all the things we don't know about the people we know best. I consumed it in a sitting, and will highly recommend it to our teen readers.

An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor

I've thoroughly enjoyed Taylor's "Irish Country" series, but this may be my favorite so far.

We've come to know the good doctors and the residents of Ballybucklebo pretty well to-date, but I was still surprised and delighted with the twists in this chapter of the tale: Kinky takes offense to the budding romance between Kitty and Dr. O'Reilly, young Barry tries to decide if country GP doctoring is really his calling, and the whole gang works "under the table" to give Bertie Bishop his what's-due.

John Keating's reading of this series is a true gem - he pulls off a dozen different kinds of accents throughout with nary a pause. With each book I've come to love his characterizations more and more.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


by Lili Wilkinson

This is a smart, hilarious read for anyone who has ever questioned their place in the world. Wilikinson's main character falls into the, Questioning category of LGBTQ. However, that is not the biggest question in Ava's life. Sure, she questions her sexuality throughout the novel, but she also questions the friends she is choosing in her new school and those she left behind. Is she one of the pretty people, a geek, or a near-goth lesbian? Feeling as though she must pick a side of her personality, Ava makes some tremendous mistakes that threaten friendships, both old and budding.
Teens and adults will enjoy watching Ava navigate her life while recalling their own attempts to fit in. Let out your inner geek, some of the trivial facts Ava's friends toss out will send you searching for added details.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Radleys by Matt Haig

High school can be agony anyway, but the Radley kids are true weirdos with no friends: Clara's a militant animal-rights vegetarian, and Rowan's just awkward and strange. Neither of them is sure why things are always so hard for them ... until Clara's at the center of an accident at a field party.

Then, when the family curse is revealed to them, things become much clearer.

Also complicating matters are a couple currents of drama concerning the Radley adults: Peter's heretofore-unmentioned brother Will has arrived on their doorstep, Helen's acting stranger and more tense than usual, and the next-door neighbors are getting rather too close for comfort.

Overnight, everything has changed and nothing's quite right in the Radleys' previously very boring suburban home. Interesting indeed!

This was one of my favorite of recent vampire reads because it's well written, with a different twist on the mythology. The "abstainers handbook" excerpts that begin each chapter were hilarious, and I thought the Radley kids' coming to knowledge was very well done.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Since Eva Bigtree's mom (and the star of their family's Everglades alligator wresting show) died of cancer, things have been going downhill fast for Swamplandia! As the tourism dries up, her already crazy dad, The Chief, goes off on bigger and bigger schemes in an attempt to reinvigorate their appeal. And each of the Bigtree kids finds their own way to deal with the changes and their loss.

This book has been super-hyped as "THE BOOK" of the year, and I couldn't resist the setup: a girl alligator wrestler? Yes, please!

But I wasn't prepared for the dream-like surrealism of the story; I was never completely sure what was true and what might be fantasy or hallucination. It is a great story, lyrically written and fascinating, worth pondering - and potentially awesome for a book discussion title.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Many books have been written about how a single day can change everything - but in this one, it's six days that forever change three lives.

Browsing at Pricemart, a man approaches 13-year-old Henry. He agrees to help the man and they meet up with Henry's mom, leave the store, and drive home. Hostages? Accomplices? It's all in how you view things. But for better or worse, things will never be the same again.

It's a small story, told with little drama and a quiet unfolding. More literary than thriller, despite the set-up to the story; still, there were several times I gasped out loud at the shock of it.

The Wonder Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Kids and adults in love with grammar, punctuation, puns, and poetry will get a giggle out of this silly collection.

Rosenthal compiled anagrams, wrote punny little pieces and amused herself with various silliness - then illustrator Paul Schmid ran wild to add simple yet detailed black and white doodles.

Better for slightly older kids who'll get the joke, but most fun to share and enjoy together!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Perfect Chemistry

by Simone Elkeles

Romeo and Juliet has again been rewritten. This time, Juliet is an upper class princess and Romeo is a gang-banger. Forced to work together for a class, Brittany and Alex must come to some kind of truce. Alex has always looked at Brittany as an elitist; she sees him as terrifying. The two soon find out there is always more beneath the surface. One has friends and family who are loving and supportive, but often unable to show it. The other has family and friends who care, but are often mainly concerned with keeping up the image so carefully cultivated.

Being a rewrite of a Shakespearean tragedy, this story does, of course, have its share of sadness. However, Elkeles allows her characters to be led by hope quite often as well. Most of the book clips along at a quick pace. Near the end, the story moves at light speed while the reader is left grasping for a few more details. All in all, it is an enjoyable story with a predictable ending.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

If ever there was a book meant for a listen-and-read-along, this is the book; if you do either alone, you're missing out on something great. Audio and visual together, it's honestly one of the best books I've read. I could not recommend this one more!

This adventure novel takes place in a not-too-distant future, just after the aliens have landed and taken over Earth (now known as Smekland in honor of the great and glorious Captain Smek who led the invasion). Tip, an orphaned 12-year-old girl, decides to drive to Florida (where all Americans are being relocated) rather than take the alien shuttles. Along the way she forages for food, makes an unlikely friend, and perhaps saves the planet.

Bahni Turpin is one of the best audiobook readers I've experienced - but if you follow along in the book, too, you get to see the illustrations and mini-comics that accent the story and give life to some of the strangest of Tip's alien encounters.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Brave by Nicholas Evans

Told in two parallel storylines at two different points during Tom Bradford's life, this book tells both the story of a boy growing up and the tale of a man growing mature.

Growing up in England, Tommy is obsessed with American TV cowboys. The lessons they teach concerning bravery, strength, and honor help him navigate a confusing world - until Tommy meets one of his heroes and learns that real life may be a kind of different story.

Modern-day Native American history scholar Tom is struggling to bridge the divide between himself and his estranged Marine son, who the military has returned to California and accused of Middle-East war atrocities.

I have always enjoyed Evans' books - they're creative, and filled with beautiful geography and well-drawn characters struggling with real-life demons. Until the very end, I wasn't quite sure I knew where the story would lead me: a major kudo to any author that can keep me guessing.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Told as memories of an old man tying up loose ends in preparation for the end of his life, this book is a story of friendship, loyalty, pride, and honor.

Mixed-race teen Philip Hutton doesn't feel he fits in anywhere - with his full-English siblings and father, with his full-Chinese relatives, or anywhere else on the island of Penang. Then, a raw, strong connection forms with the Japanese diplomat who's renting land from Philip's father; a friendship that will define the rest of his life.

Similar in tone to "Memoirs of a Geisha" or "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," the book is written with poetic language and florid descriptions of a culture, sites, and lifestyle that are truly foreign to most westerners. The author works hard to illustrate the traditions of honor and face that are so important to the characters, to show how they influence every decision they make.

I enjoyed the book, but it's not a fast read. Several times I went to the internet to look up maps, objects and even words for a better, more thorough understanding of the book. (Book club is discussing this one tonight, and I'm curious to see what they thought.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

I couldn't resist a book about a teenage library page ... especially since she's working at a materials repository (rather than a book repository) that has a collection of magical items collected by those famous Grimm Brothers!

I *loved* this book: It's got suspense, magic, mystery and lots of the unexpected. I absolutely did NOT know what would happen next, or how - and that's really rare. I anxiously read along, wondering upon wondering what would happen next and who would be behind the strange happenings in Elizabeth's library.

Although it's positioned as a teen book, there's no reason middle schoolers or even mature readers younger than that wouldn't enjoy it too; there's no gore, only a bit of chaste teen romance, and a plot that moves things right along.

I can't find anywhere that says it's the first in a series, but I hope it is. And I can see how it might be!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Girl in the Song: The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics by Michael Heatley & Frank Hopkinson

This little book of stories brings lots of speculation, historical facts, and performer interviews together to search out the "true" stories behind the girls/women who inspired famous songs.

It's a fascinating pick-it-up-and-put-it-down kind of read: each chapter is no more than 4 of the undersized pages. But the authors assume you know these songs and lyrics already - too rarely are lyrics quoted directly. I suppose it would have been a licensing nightmare to get the permission to do that for all the songs mentioned, but it would have been extremely helpful.

As it was, I spent a lot of time reading some, dropping the book, and then getting lost on the internet doing more research. Overall a fun book - but just a start to your education, if you're really interested in music.

Monday, February 14, 2011

God is in the Pancakes by Robin Epstein

Smart-ass 15-year old candy striper Grace has met her match with smart-ass nursing home resident Mr. Sands. She probably should have been fired after she busted him out and they went to a movie. But when he asks Grace to help him kill himself rather than be further ravaged by Lou Gehrig's disease, she's got a big choice to make.

Without being heavy-handed, this is a great book that deals with belief, morality, and ethics. I think it would be a great book for a family read or a teen book discussion - there's a lot to ponder. Even Grace acknowledges she's not sure what she would do, looking back or in the future.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sports From Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition by Rick Reilly

Can't you just see the pitch meeting for this book? "OK, you give me an advance, and I'll travel the world looking for the most idiotic sports I can find. And I'll try them all!" Sure, Rick, sure.

It's a truly funny book - Reilly's got a flair for metaphor and simile. His florid descriptions alone are worth the time. And he does find some amazing competitions: the rock-paper-scissors championship, an illegal lawn dart tournament, a single take-your-life-in-your-hands golf hole.

I'm not much for sports, but this book was really, really good and I've recommended it a bunch already. Sauna-sitting, anyone?

Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex

What if you're made a vampire on accident? And what if, contrary to popular belief, you find vampirism doesn't make you handsome, mysterious and attractive? Chubby 15-year-old science fiction geek Doug Lee is finding these things out.

This book had great promise, but ultimately I felt unsatisfied. It's trying to change things up and poke fun at several pop culture touchstones ... but I was just alternately bored or confused.

It's an OK book, just not great. Lots of teen angst, and the substory about the Indian exchange student had promise as its own full-blown book. But it was a bit hit-or-miss overall, and I'm still not sure I understand what exactly Victor the wolf/vampire really was.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

Fans of short stories and six-word memoirs will love the idea behind this novel told through dictionary entries. Over the course of these assembled brief entries the reader views the profile of a relationship - from first date through moving in, from lazy days to missing toothpaste caps, through the affair and the breakup (or is it?).

It's an interesting arrangement because you never know in whose voice the entry speaks or at what point in time it's concerning. Details emerge as the alphabet rolls on, sometimes repeating or doubling back for another look at some significant event. Because a lot is left up to the reader's imagination, it's easy to internalize the story by drawing your own life and loves into the narrative framework.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Winter Concert by Yuko Takao

Music adds color to a black-and-white world, and that color spreads as we carry the music with us into the world. Perhaps it's a big topic for a small picture book, but WOW is this book awesome!

The simple art is amazingly rich with details, and the swirling pointillist color of the music employs all the senses in the audience's aural enjoyment. Don't I sound like an art critic? :)

Trust me. Genius!

Monday, January 31, 2011


by Deirdre Martin

Hockey's hardest hitter is being charged with assault for an on ice hit. Lucky for him the league has hired an attorney who's just as tough in the courtroom as he is on the ice. Sinead and Adam are both known for their single-minded dedication to work. Can these two intense individuals relax enough to open their hearts when the time is right? It's a fast paced, steamy romance from an author who has proven time and again that she knows hockey as well as she knows flirtation.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore

After the spectacular crash-and-burn of his career as a pilot, Tucker Case free-falls into a questionable job illegally flying for an ask-no-questions medical mission in Micronesia. He doesn't have any other options, and who is he to develop a sense of ethics at this late date?

Tucker's new life is a series of epic misadventures, but at every bad decision he's steered right by the mysterious actions of a benevolent dead fighter pilot. Who is this guy? And why has he picked the fuck-up Tucker to be the islanders' savior?

This book is pure Christopher Moore genius. It's our introduction to Roberto the talking fruit bat (who makes appearances in several subsequent books, along with our hero Tucker Case) and it's a lively jaunt through island politics, cargo cults, and the ways of the Shark People.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Life-Size Zoo by Teruyuki Komiya

I'm always looking for good kids books to give as gifts, and I hit the mother-lode here.

This oversize book presents every animal in its 100% zoom actual size - meaning that you see the whole body of both the prairie dog and meekat across a single 2-page spread ... and you see only the elephant's eye across a 4-page gatefold!

Each animal is presented with plain background to highlight the animal. Facts about the critters (with lots of poop info) are presented in little sketch drawings on the same page as the 100% photo. It's really fun and you learn lots, almost by accident.

Also in this series: More Life-Size Zoo, and Life-Size Aquarium.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Pet for Petunia

by Paul Schmid

Something about the cover of this book drew me in. I had to read it before leaving the library the day it arrived even though I already had my coat on. Within two pages, I found someone who would listen as I transformed into performance mode.
Petunia is a fan of skunks. So much so that her toy skunk is no longer a suitable pet. She has decided that only the real thing will do. Petunia has a very childlike tirade near the middle of the book that sent me into a gale of laughter. Her desire for a cute, cuddly friend cannot be quelled, no matter what she learns about the creatures.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The other half of my heart

by Sundee T. Frazier

OK, so the most historic days of civil rights in in American history took place before I was born. Even still, I remember learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks in school. This book talks about that history a little, and shows how individuals can still sometimes feel less than whole when surrounded by people whose skin is another color. The twist in Frazier's novel is that it is a story of twins born to one white parent and one black parent. One girl appears black, the other appears white. Minni, the blue-eyed redhead has always admired her sister's outgoing personality and never questioned how Kiera feels as one of the very few black children in their community. Suddenly, the girls are to spend part of their summer visiting their grandmother in the deep south. The purpose of the trip is the Miss Black Pearl Program (pageant). Now Minni begins to question her own strength and ability to embrace both sides of her ancestry.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

When the band Dumb wins Seattle's Teen Battle of the Bands, they celebrate with an unauthorized gig on the school's front steps. After watching their impromptu performance, 17-year-old Piper smarts off about the quality of their showmanship and lands herself a job as Dumb's manager. It's a job she's sure she can do ... despite the fact she's mostly deaf and can barely hear what they sound like.

I loved this book - it's a new take on a familiar theme. The band comes with its predictable problems: musical direction, personnel changes, front-man syndrome, lack of talent. But Piper's stubborn insistence on making it work (namely because several other things in her life aren't working out so well) adds a different variable to the equation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Wish for Elves by Mark Gonyea

This clever, simple picture book was one of my favorites this holiday season. It's got a hip, retro-contemporary look, with a pallette limited to lime, yellow, green, red and black and super simple shapes that look almost like paper clippings. And yet with the pared down art style, it's still got quite a storyline.

A boy, frustrated with the stresses of Christmas, wishes he had elves. Overnight, the elves appear in his bedroom - but suddenly, Santa has no helpers. And through a series of great illustrations, the elves show how helpful - or unhelpful - they can really be.

I think this would be a great book for sharing. Since there aren't very many words, you get to look and look at the pictures to see what's happening. The little pyramid shaped elves can make lots of trouble, and in a simple picture there can be more than a dozen of them ... each up to no good.

Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti

Benway has had it. He's the unappreciated, under-duress butler for a crazy family of eccentrics. The Benway family's 200-year old contract of indentured servitude to the Bellweathers is about to expire, and he can't wait to get away. Benway is counting down the minutes.

In the mean time, though, there are messes to clean up, lunches to pack, an albino alligator to avoid, groceries to gather, holes in the yard to sidestep, a family of circus performers hiding in one bedroom ... and a tell-all memoir to write, in order to afford a quaint, quiet cottage somewhere far, far away.

Benway won't miss the Bellweathers at all! They probably won't even notice he's gone! And good luck to the next poor sap who has to try to meet this family's needs!

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

Book three of the Mortal Instruments series takes the ball and runs with it. Non-stop action adventure, strong plot, and great character drama made this my favorite book in the series yet.

Disregarding the wishes and advice of everyone around her, Clary willfully uses her untested and untrained powers in an attempt to find the man who has the book that contains the spell that will save her mother. Under seige by her evil father, the sacred city of Idris isn't quite the nirvana Clary had been led to believe. And seriously big things happen for Clary in this book.

Thankfully, author Clare has decided she's not done with these characters yet ... originally slated as a trilogy, the series now has at least 3 more books mapped out for publication! And a prequel, standalone sister series!

Monday, January 10, 2011


by Kate Klise

Daralynn is alive because she was grounded. She and her mother must now find a way to continue living after the tragedy that took the lives of her father, brother and sister. Daralynn starts out thinking that she will never be in trouble again. Surely, her mother will miss the others too much to ever punish her. Mother is now busy working two jobs to keep the family a float, and taking car of Grandma who has suddenly reverted to a childlike state. Daralynn also believes that she has found a grand new way to make money. To save the funeral home where her mother works, she believes that people should host living funerals. That way they can hear all the nice things people normally only say after someone dies. As the story rolls along, Daralynn finds herself caught up in what she believes is a mystery. Can she possibly solve it? Should she?

Dirty Sugar Cookies by Ayun Halliday

Halliday explains her culinary adventures, from a picky kid who didn't eat anything to an college earthmother, then into an adventurous epicurian ... with her own kid who won't eat anything.

The book mixes anecdotes and observations with a few recipes to try. Unlike many food-memoirs, this one doesn't go into lengthy, orgiastic descriptions of meals eaten and pleasures discovered. Rather, it's a series of personal stories that illustrate how Halliday grew and expanded her food horizons one step at a time.

I enjoyed this book - Halliday is really very funny - and some of the tales reminded me of my own experiences. What kid didn't have birthday cake envy at some point?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cul de Sac: This Exit by Richard Thompson

In my opinion, Cul de Sac is one of the smartest comics in the newspapers today. Filled with familiar, quirky characters you recognize as your own friends and neighbors, it's consistently funny without being mean or overly political.

Alice is the youngest in the family (preschool/kindergarten aged) and her observations, thoughts, and attitude frequently remind me of our own library Storytime regulars. Dad tries hard to be the voice of reason, often frustrated when everyone disregards his information in favor of their own realities. And the gags about his teeny, tiny car make me laugh everytime. Big bother Petey is the 14th pickiest eater in the world (as he monitors through an online barometer of eating habits). Mom? Well, she may be the world's most patient mother.

This is the only Cul de Sac book in our library system - I'm surprised, and wishing for more. My personal collection may have to expand to include a couple.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

King of Screwups by K.L. Going

Here's the pitch: spoiled rich teen gets caught screwing on dad's desk on the first page. He gets thrown out of the house, and he has to go live in a trailer park with his cross-dressing uncle. Let's just say I expected big things from this book.

And I wasn't exactly disappointed - just differently entertained than I'd thought.

Liam is a screwup, but really - right from the start - the reader can see that it's not so much his fault. Everything's not wine and roses in the mansion, and eventually, everything's not terrible in the trailer. Imagine that!

Liam is a girlie-boy who loves fashion and knows clothes. He's his model-mama's boy ... although he's also straight. I'm not sure I can see a lot of teen boys diving right into this book - although I do know several teenage girls who might swoon a bit.

I enjoyed it, but I'd had a different book imagined in my head before I started ...

Everything is Going to Be Great by Rachel Shukert

This memoir of Shukert's post-college European adventures is a comical alternative to the "Eat, Pray, Love" type of travel memoir. While Shukert "finds herself" just as Gilbert did, they go about the adventure in MUCH different ways.

Shukert's sharp wit is mainly directed at her own ineptitude. She travels to Vienna with a horrible touring play, then stays in Europe when it's over - travelling, drinking, and generally making bad decisions. In many ways she's a typically lost post-grad, attempting to navigate in the "real world" - albeit the real world of Amsterdam. Bad roommates, no money, temporary romance, and language barriers add up to a pretty entertaining look at one woman's painful transition to adulthood.