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.