Sunday, December 30, 2012

Luck or Something Like It by Kenny Rogers

This is a really great memoir: true, honest, funny and incredibly well-written by a man whose music career has spanned decades. I've been quoting factoids from the book ever since I started it; there are tons of great stories, and Kenny's really lived a full and rich life.

While he's met everyone and had friendships, relationships, or partnerships with super-big celebrities, he's not a name-dropper. He discusses his childhood, career, and relationships in an honest approachable style that neither sugar-coats things, nor plays to the reader's sympathy. He's a guy who came from little and became big, yet never forgot the lessons of his upbringing.

Kenny's career has been so expansive (jazz? hippy rock? and of course, country and pop-country) that I'd forgotten much more than I realized. He's had 5 wives, 5 sons, and notable challenges - all of which make for some great meat to the story. He discusses his philanthropy, but doesn't do it in a back-patting kind of way.

I'm a music memoir geek, and unfortunately a lot of them aren't great. But I have to say, this one is stellar.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

What a giant, sweeping saga of life after the apocalypse! Skipping across three generations of Americans during and after a virus changes the world. (The beginning of the story was told in The Passage.)

My only problem is, I keep losing track of all the seven quintrillion characters Cronin has given us. Across three generations! And I should at least be able to keep track of the viral vampires, right? Except most of them haven't been talked about for what seems like a thousand pages, so they feel a little distant. And while they're referred to as the Twelve - there are really 11 now ... except there's also Zero who's not in the count, nor is Amy who's something else entirely.

So perhaps I should have had a graph or a map or something. Cronin gives us a few outlines and character lists in the back, but I didn't find it wildly helpful. (And I know it seems bad that I found that list only because I was peeking ahead to see how many pages I had left. The book is 568 pages, but seems a lot longer.)

It's an interesting idea of the future, and I appreciate the religious and moral implications he presents. He's got some great characters with true, human flaws and drives.

Honestly, I did enjoy the book - but maybe, it was due to the fact I so loved the first book and that bled over. I'm curious to see where Cronin takes us in the next book (it's supposed to be a trilogy).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Those Darn Squirrels! series by Adam Rubin

I do so LOVE a good grumpy guy in a book, and there's nobody crabbier than Old Man Fookwire! All Fookwire wants to do is paint birds, but something's always preventing that - namely migration.

In "Those Darn Squirrels" OMF is trying to keep the squirrels out of his bird feeders. In the end, they make a sort of truce. In "Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door" the gang gets a new neighbor who throws off OMF's whole routine. And her cat - whew, what a terror! In the latest installment, everybody decides to follow the birds to find out what's so great about migration, in "Those Darn Squirrels Fly South."

These are books that are meant to be read aloud. There's a wonderful lyric quality to the writing, and the word choice is stupendous. (I walked around a whole day repeating OMF's signature exclamation: Great googley-moogley!)

The art, by Daniel Salmieri, is understated and just the right amount of weird: OMF is long and skinny, stretched and ugly in his angry. The squirrels are cute, and simply rendered. And the birds are exotic and strange, nothing like the ones that appears in my yard.

These are some of my new favorite picture books. They're funny, and subtle; there's a lot to laugh at on the first read-through, but even more to be discovered upon repetition. Additionally, the books are very informative - I'm sure you never understood the secret genius of squirrels, as revealed here!

The Brick Bible by Brendan Powell Smith

An idea so strange I just had to see it for myself: the Bible, retold in graphic novel format illustrated completely with Legos.

Note: I read both A New Spin on the Old Testament and The New Testament: A New Spin on the Story of Jesus, but I'm reviewing both here together.

I know Lego-format just screams "KIDS!" but I'm not sure I'd recommend these for too young an audience - do you realize how bloody the Bible is, really? Instead, Smith's broken a few of the most famous stories out into stand-alone books specifically for kids (The Christmas Story, Noah's Ark).

Smith explains in the introduction that he really just wanted to get people reading the Bible - it's one of the most referenced and quoted texts, yet most people simply haven't read it. And even here, the novelty of the format only lasts so long - at some point, you've really got to be interested in reading the Bible to enjoy reading these books.

But the art: Wow. It's stunning the diversity of expression he milks out of simple minifigs. The landscapes and stage sets are amazing, and the creativity in depicting such famous images in a unique way are inspiring. The limitations of the format leads to a bit strangeness (How do you show a pregnant Lego? And what about all the circumcisions?). Blood is depicted in transparent red bricks which somewhat neuters the violence and at the same time lend a very surreal quality. And the occasional anachronisms can be truly hilarious.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams

Twelve-year-old soccer star Dennis is a little lonely - his mom left a couple years ago, his dad isn't dealing with it well. So when he strikes up a friendship with Lisa, a glamorous fashionista a couple years older, it's the best thing to happen in a long time.

When Lisa suggests she try on come of her clothes, Dennis is a bit torn: he want to try on the beautiful dress and he's curious how it looks and feels - but he's a boy! Lisa prevails, and Dennis is elated. Then, she has an idea: Hey - how about you go to school this way! I'll say you're a foreign-exchange student so you don't have to talk! I'll bet no one notices you aren't a girl!

The kids don't consider the implications of their scheme, and it goes as bad as one would expect. But there's more to the story, and it's not as down-pat as you might anticipate.

One of the most interesting things about this book is that Dennis is young enough he isn't really considering his sexuality - for him, this is more about the clothes. He's maybe got a bit of a crush on Lisa, but that's not really the focus, either, and nobody in the book asks him if he fancies boys or if he wishes he was a girl - it's totally about what you're wearing.

The story moves fast, and the lively illustrations (by the incomparable Quentin Blake) add to the story without turning it into a picture book. This book would be an awesome conversation starter with a younger age-group, and fun to read, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas wombat

by Jackie French

French has found a way to take a very simple concept and make it very funny.  All of her wombat stories are best for audiences of at least preschool age.  Toddlers might not get it if there are no wombats in the neighborhood. 
This time, little wombat is ready to do battle for carrots.  The strange creatures who also want them turn up repeatedly on his voyage to find even more tasty nibbles around the world.  Eventually, wombat discovers that reindeer are rather helpful. 

Christmas parade

by Sandra Boynton

Chickens with bassoons!
Piccolo mice!

Boynton returns with a holiday story filled with her signature rhythmic style.  The onomatopoeia will draw the audience in on the very first page.  For storytime, it would be lots of fun to have band students visit with the actual instruments in the parade.   If not, any rhythm instruments make a preschool crowd into one of the liveliest marching bands possible.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

In a near-distant future, magic exists. While it's been relegated to performing boring tasks like delivering pizza and rewiring houses without tearing up the walls, it does exist and is in use - and teen orphan Jennifer Strange is the girl who schedules the work and fills out the forms to make it legal.

But it seems there are bigger jobs for Jennifer to perform - this coming Sunday at noon, for example, she's supposed to kill the last dragon in existence. Not that she WANTS to, or even necessarily WILL ...  but Big Magic is afoot, and abundant soothsayers agree the visions include both Jennifer and dragon death.

The comedy is decidedly British (like Fforde's other books, and in the vein of Douglas Adams or Monty Python), and the setting is the Ununited Kingdoms. It's fairly obvious Fforde plans to make this a series - there are a lot of characters introduced here that could have a rich life down the line in another tale. And while there's a satisfactory ending to the tale, the climax of this story is almost an after-thought in the larger scheme of establishing mythology for another story.

While the main character is 16 years old (in two weeks), this story would easily be of interest to younger readers or adult readers too. Jennifer is a teen slightly wise for her years - but not dissimilar from anther magical orphan embraced by young and old alike (*cough*Harry*cough*).

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

Yes, this was a movie too - but they took lots of liberties with the "based on a true story" and I wanted to read the nonfiction book it was based on.

It cannot be said that the Mee family "fell into" zoo keeping - it was a long, tumultous process fraught with challenges that eventually led to their owning the Dartmoor Zoological Park near Devon, England: they fought the former owner, creditors, banks and lending agencies, and even one another. Many people would have given up any number of times through the process but Benjamin persevered, even when his wife became gravely ill with brain cancer during the wind-up to licensing inspection.

Overall, this is a warm, personal story about a guy with a dream. The way the extended Mee family gets involved cannot be undervalued, and their commitment to the animals is amazing. The reader learns a lot about exotic animals, as incidents and anecdotes are sprinkled throughout the tale.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beyond Courage

by Doreen Rappaport

Audio version.  A well researched look at some of the stories of the Jewish Holocaust.  The most haunting part of this tale is that every short story is true.  The reader will find himself/herself cheering alongside the members of the resistance as they devise each technique to outwit those in power.    Some stories may be familiar to adult readers, but many will also be new.  The juvenile audience will have an opportunity to imagine life separated from loved ones, often with the knowledge of imminent death.  The suffering endured by so many is chilling.  Alternatively, the courage and will to fight for the lives of others is empowering.  Many of the stories are short, so that they could easily be cherry picked for addition to a classroom setting.

Note: This is written for grades 5 and up.  Teen readers would enjoy combining this with the fiction title, Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein for another perspective of the war.

Code Name: Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

Female pilots are rarely the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions WWII.  In reality, many did have the important task of ferrying new and/or damaged planes from airfield to airfield.  Thanks to those oft-forgotten women, Wein created Maddie, a young woman with an aptitude for mechanics.  Get to know Maddie through the eyes of her friend, a female spy.  This friend is a prisoner of war with an engaging story to tell.  Throughout much of the book, I couldn't help but wonder how much was really the cover story.  By the end you will know.  If you are a tenderheart, you will be blubbing your way to the finale.

Note: This title ties in well with the nonfiction title, Beyond Courage by Doreen Rappaport.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hidden by Helen Frost

On a trip to the store, eight-year-old Wren was accidentally kidnapped during a car jacking. Six years later, the new girl in Wren's cabin at summer camp has a connection to that long-ago incident.

The tension between the girls is well-told: Each is scared and wary of the other, and both have spent six years wondering about and kind of hating the other, without really ever having met. The story's told in alternating chapters between Wren and Darra, and each girl has her own poetic form - Wren in short, visually creative stanzas, and Darra in longer free-verse, with another facet of the story constructed between the lines.

It's a great story - something I haven't seen a bunch of times before - and I was completely captivated by the girls' stories and connection. They're relate-able characters with honest feelings and complicated lives. The book brings up some interesting subjects: victimization, difficult family relationships, mixed emotions, and childhood trauma. But it's not a heavy story. The story zips along briskly, and Frost has made every word work its hardest in less than 150 pages.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Sunny has spent five years being the perfect mother: wearing the blonde wig, making the mother-shape in the world, organizing, responding and acting properly. And yet, her son Bubber is autistic and must wear a helmet in the car to prevent head-banging.

Her husband, Maxon, has spent his life trying to respond and react appropriately in social settings: nodding, raising his eyebrows, and using inflection in his voice to convey emotion. And yet, now that he's in a rocket headed to the moon, his robotic Asperger's brain may make him Earth's perfectly evolved hope for space colonization.

When something sets each Sunny and Maxon's missions off-course, it's not just a minor glitch - these are major situations, not in the plan or part of the forecast. Nobody graphed this out on the whiteboard. Will the cracks show? Will anybody be OK?

I loved, loved, loved this book and I'm not sure I can fully describe why, but I'll try. The characters are perfectly flawed, yet trying their hardest to be normal: They don't see is that normal is a mirage. Each has a unique perspective coloring their world vision, and I thoroughly delighted in their thoughts and theories.

Additionally, the narration of the audiobook by Joshilyn Jackson was truly, monumentally EPIC. Her voices for each character were rich and unique, truly fitting such spectacular and strange people.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Librarian on the Roof! by M.G. King

Rarely do librarians get to show our secret super powers with the world, but this awesome book shows just how powerful we can be if we set our minds to it.

When librarian RoseAleta Laurell arrived in Lockhart, Texas, she decided things needed to change: nobody visited their outdated library, and kids believed it wasn't any kind of place for them. Right off the bat, RoseAleta livened the place up with her oversized personality and new books and magazines. Then, she took to the roof in protest - and swore she wouldn't come down until they had enough money for a children's area.

Kids will love this book about a woman who took a stand; it's funny, colorful, and relevant to their experiences. It's also a great depiction of modern librarians - loud, fun, and edgy. RoseAleta is the kind of out-of-the-box thinker that we should all strive to become.

The Wise Fool by Shahrukh Husain & Micha Archer

While most of the fairy tales and morality stories in America are based on European folk tales, the rest of the world also is rich with these type of stories. This bright, vivid book tells a series of Mulla stories, as have been handed down all across the Middle East.

The stories all center on Mulla Nasruddin, a man of great wisdom and humor. In the stories he uses his brain to maneuver sticky social situations. It's a kind of manners or ethics lesson told through brief encounters, a trickster tale like Br'er Rabbit or Loki or even Bugs Bunny.

The artwork in this book is astounding, a colorful papercraft that truly brings the Islamic world to life on the pages. Each story is less than 2 pages long, which leaves plenty of room for large, bright illustrations.

Emma's Poem by Linda Glaser

Meant for older kids, this poetry picture book tells about Emma Lazarus, the woman who wrote Lady Liberty's famous call to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

I found the book fascinating, and Kristine said the prose gave her goosebumps. I didn't realize that the Statue of Liberty was never intended as the symbol of immigration that we see it today - it was Emma Lazarus' poem that did that. Her poem was written in response to a call for help fundraising for the immense pedestal needed for the statue (a friendship gift from France). Emma imagined and wrote about what the large lady might have been thinking ... and as a result changed our perspective on this icon.

This is the kind of book kids writing reports on American history love. It's simply and colorfully illustrated by Linda Glaser, and it gives a great amount of information in a fun, dynamic manner.

Emma Dilemma by Kristine O'Connell George

Jessica has a little sister, Emma. The two have a very typical sister relationship: close, friendly, antagonistic.

The book is really a series of brief poems that build into a larger story of the girls' relationship: the annoyance of a pesky little sister going through your stuff, the delight in sharing an old favorite book together, the challenge of splitting a piece of pie so it's really fair. But later in the book it's darker as Emma breaks her arm and Jessica worries she might have prevented the accident.

While the book is subtitled "Big Sister Poems," really they're simply sister poems. Whether you're the little or the big sister, you'll find something familiar here. I think kids will enjoy finding bits of themselves in both Emma and Jessica and revisiting the ups and downs of sibling love and rivalry.

Who Has What? by Robie H. Harris

This basic picture book offers a great starting place for parents - it deals with the difference between boys and girls, without going into the whole "where babies come from" section.

Mostly, the cartoon illustrations deal with all the body parts we have that are the same: legs, ears, noses, belly buttons, and nipples. Then it deals briefly (and again, with simple cartoon drawings) about the parts we have that are different: dogs have tails, boys have penis, and girls have vagina.

Every little girl with a brother knows this stuff - it isn't information we should hide or be embarrassed about. Yet it's hard if your family isn't gender-mixed to know how these things should be approached. Harris does a nice job of beginning the conversation for you.

Later, when kids want to know about sex ... there are other books and resources. This one's more for the basic, pre-kindergarten discussion.

The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Matthies

Discussing cancer with kids is a tough topic too many families have to deal with at one time or another. This book does the job in a lovely, delicate manner through the eyes of a child whose mother is sick.

When the doctor says Mom should be feeling better "by pumpkin time," an idea sprouts - the family will cultivate a garden in the yard to help track the time until pumpkins - and Mom's recovery. The year is filled with many milestones: surgery, seed catalogs, planting, head shaving, harvest, and healing. The story deals equally with mom's limitations due to illness, the kids' every day enthusiam, and the cycle of growing a garden.

I don't see this book as a general bedtime favorite, but it is a well done story for families who need a little encouragement during a difficult situation.

My only gripe: it should have been simply "cancer" that mom has, instead of specifying breast cancer. Why limit the situation, when so much is universal? Lots of kids have family members with lots of kinds of cancer, and they all deserve this kind of story.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Glamour, Interrupted by Steven Cojocaru

Cojo became famous for his red carpet fashion reports, his giant grin, and his sparkling, friendly reporting style that makes you feel like a gossip insider. Yet when he became sick with an inherited disease and required a kidney transplant, he hid his illness from everyone - even his family - for as long as possible because he was afraid he'd be shunned by Hollywood's "beautiful people." 

Cojo's medical saga was harrowing - the first transplanted kidney didn't last - but he brings his characteristic wit to the retelling; the result is a pretty light, rather funny look at illness and recovery. 

I picked up the book because I'm interested in transplant stories - I have several friends currently facing similar situations. This book is a quick read and, while entertaining, it's also accurate in describing the good, bad and ugly of a patient's experience. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Me ... Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Jane's the kind of girl who wants to know about animals and nature and how the world works. With her stuffed animal, she explores the backyard and grandma's chicken coop. She dreams of helping animals.

And then Jane the illustrated girl becomes real-life Jane Goodall in the end. The champion of chimpanzees and a grown up who got to live the life she dreamed of as a girl.

I loved this picture book for its cute, universal story that doesn't seem like a biography - until it is.

The Star Maker by Laurence Yep

Overreaching, eight-year-old Artie gets caught in a bad situation. He just said he'll have so many firecrackers at the New Year's celebration that he'll give them to everybody in his family. But that's a big extended Chinese family, and that will cost a lot of money he doesn't have - and his older cousins (who goaded him into the brag in the first place) aren't going to forget this whopper of a story.

Misfit Uncle Chester sees himself in young Artie - the youngest kid everybody picks on, the one everybody loves yet nobody expects to amount to anything. Can Chester help Artie with the lie? Or will Artie get laughed at again?

This book will expose kids to some really great Chinese traditions and Chinatown culture. Yet it's not preachy or foreign - at heart, the book's about a regular kid, and his position in the family and his community at large. He's got real-kid problems, and a real, flawed family who loves one another.

I did think it's funny that while set in 1964, the book's got a hefty 2000-era disclaimers about the danger of fireworks. As a beloved children's book author, Yep's not willing to be accused of advocating dangerous behavior (although it's at the core of the story!).

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak

Based on a true story, this kids' novel relates the friendship between a platoon of Polish soldiers during World War II and a young brown bear they rescue and raise.

While at heart it's a cute animal story, this book's not for younger readers - the depictions of war are toned down, but they're still true to life. In one scene the soldiers open up about the horrors they've seen: boys blown to smithereens right before them, boots with the leg still in them, etc. It's appropriate, but still gory. Our library's copy is cataloged in the preteen section for middle school readers.

Voytek the bear wreaks havok on their camps, but also protects the soldiers from invaders. He's a mascot for the group, but also helps load ammunitions and supplies with the transport team. And for a group of men far from home and separated from all they love, he growing bear is a heart-warming friend and companion.

I enjoyed the balanced depiction of the hardships of war and the friendship and camaraderie of the group. The zoo they accumulate through their travels (in addition to the bear, there's a monkey, dogs, and a parrot) seems unlikely and unruly - but really did happen. How they managed to get away with it is amazing.

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Fifth grader Felix Funicello will never forget the winter of 1964, and this is the story why. During the fall and winter, Felix's mom competes in the national bake-off, his class gets a lay teacher after his nun teacher cracks up one day, and a new student shakes things up in the class.

The book is a nostalgic look at childhood: a time when you pretended to understand all the jokes (but really didn't), when somebody puking was news, and a time when the Christmas pageant was epic. I was surprised by this book because I always think of Wally Lamb's books as serious, with issues. This book, on the other hand, is a lighthearted comedy.

It's not completely unpredictable - if there's a Christmas program at school, something bad's going to happen - but there's a lot more going on that will keep readers guessing. Felix's cringe-worthy antics are well drawn, and incidentally, Lamb did a nice job reading the audiobook version himself.

Monday, October 15, 2012

October Mourning

by Leslea Newman

You likely remember a tragic story that made headlines in the autumn of 1998.  A young, trusting college student named Matthew Shepard left a bar with two men he believed to be friendly, and like him, gay.  Eighteen hours later, a bicyclist found him tied to a fence rail and beaten so badly that he never woke in the last five days of his life.

Newman crafted a series of poems surrounding the incident.  She chose to feature a vast array of viewpoints including: each of the men involved, the first officer on the scene, the fence post, and a young deer passing by.  Whether you followed the headlines raptly, or tried to ignore the hate that brought about the crime, this story will make you cry.  The author's hope is that it can be used to teach about tolerance and compassion.

This book is heart-wrenching and filled with beautifully sculpted poems.   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Unknowingly, Marylou took part in a 1950s study of radioactivity. The effects destroyed her family, killed her daughter, and wrecked her health. So now, 60 years later, Marylou is determined to find the smug bastard who made her drink that cocktail and make him pay.

Except Marylou's no cold-blooded killer, and Dr.Wilson Spriggs' health is declining with Alzheimers. Once her plans to kill Wilson disintegrate, Marylou decides to mess with his family - but it turns out she really likes the grandkids. Now what?

It's a darkly funny book full of interesting characters - each living in their own bubble and ignoring one another in the way families sometimes do. Will the radioactive lady destroy their family? Or will Otis build a reactor in the shed and nuke them all first? Will Florida ever see the hurricane Vic's been wishing for? And does Elvis ultimately have all the answers?

Friday, October 5, 2012

An echo through the snow

by Andrea Thalasinos

Let me start with the full disclosure that I have known this author for many years.  With that in mind, I dove into this book with a critical perspective.  I'm like a kid when it comes to books; if it isn't good, I will move on to something else.  That said, this story captivated me.

Twin plots carry the reader between Siberia and Bayfield, Wisconsin and span about sixty years.  The unifying feature is the relationships formed with sled dogs.  In Siberia, Tariem and Jeaantaa struggle with finding ways to save their family and still honor traditions in light of the changes imposed by Stalin's soldiers. 

In Bayfield, Rosalie is a young woman who has lived a life of underestimation.  An impulsive decision to rescue an animal changes her life and reveals family secrets.  New and old friends help her find her way and discover hidden talents within herself and those she loves. 

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt

Toby can't wait to get out of tiny Antler, Texas. Even at 14, he knows there's nothing to do there, and a there's a great big world just waiting to be discovered. So then why is Toby so upset when his mom goes to Nashville to follow her dream?

Toby's best friend Cal has an older brother serving in Vietnam (the book is set in 1971), and his achingly homesick letters to the boys begin to open their eyes to the wonders of small-town summer. And the arrival of a trailer carrying the "World's Fattest Boy" also helps change Toby and Cal's perception of their hometown.

The boys are the right age for a major life change, and they really mature in this book - a lot happens during this one summer: love, loss, friendship, responsibility, and a reimagining of their ideas on family. The characters are well-formed, with realistic flaws and true-life personalities. And while it's a preteen book, I enjoyed that there's a well-executed cast characters in all stages of life who accompany the boys in their journey of discovery.

It's an excellent book - for kids coming into their own journey to adulthood, or for adults who've already lived it. The historical setting will make the story more relevant for those of a certain "vintage," but the tale is universal for contemporary readers, too.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Return to Titanic series by Steve Brezenoff

Over the course of four books, a couple of young adventurers repeatedly time-travel to the Titanic (by illicitly touching artifacts in the back room of a museum where the boy's mom works). By the time the series is finished, readers know the whole story of the mighty Titanic's sinking from the perspective of those on the oceanliner.

Comparison to American Girl books seem suitable - both try to make history come alive for contemporary kids, and both use protagonists similar in age to prospective readers in order to place you in the character's shoes. Super short chapters and liberal pencil-sketch illustrations pitch the books even to reluctant readers. Unlike American Girl books, which have an unabashedly female audience, since the main characters here are a boy and girl (friends, not siblings) you may be able to entice boys to read the books.

I really liked the way they involved you emotionally in the historic drama; the reader and the main characters all have the luxury of historical perspective and understand the clock is ticking down until disaster. But I was annoyed by the every-other-page "will they escape" plot points - an extended effort to keep kids interested, but overly dramatic and tiresome.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Borden Tragedy: A Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Mass., 1892 by Rick Geary

Based on an unsigned journal, this black-and-white graphic novel presents the facts and speculation surrounding this infamous turn-of-the-century murder and media spectacle. Lots of research is pulled together here; fans of true crime will find this brief volume concise yet thorough.

Geary's illustration style is both gothic and contemporary, and works beautifully for his subject. He presents maps, diagrams, portraits and rumor in a simple, yet detailed manner. The gruesome murder scenes are depicted without being overly sensationalized - he couldn't really shy away from it, since actual pictures from the murder scene were widely published at the time and easily obtainable today.

And I like the fact that the unsolved mysteries aren't wrapped up here, either - he offers multiple theories and options, but draws no conclusions for you.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Narrator Jim Dale does an astounding job with this novel of fantasy and magic, where a young man and a young woman are bound by their mentors in a competition with vague and unknowable rules. Le Cirque des Reves is their competition arena - a remarkable black and white circus where the illusions are real.

The book has a steampunk aura, without the gears and mechanics. Perspective shifts in time and character, from the magicians to an artistan clockmaker, from circus entertainers to boy entralled by the the circus, and even an odd occasional third-person narrative telling "you" where you are and what you see. It all ties together, but the shifts (like magic) put you off-balance and allow the reader to view the wonders from all angles.

The novel takes place all over the world, with a true multi-cultural cast of characters - the kind of narration Jim Dale has made his calling card. I was captivated, and the myriad possibilities of the fantastic setting allowed me to wander wherever the story led without anticipating the finale.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

When Bee's mom disappears, the super-smart middle-schooler gathers up all the pieces (emails, faxes, correspondence, a magazine article, police police reports, and more) in an attempt to determine what really happened. So, what really happened? Her mother Bernadette's artistic frustration, amplified by a chain of chance encounters and epic irritations, boils over in a series of cacophonous misunderstandings - all before the book begins. Once Bee's on the case, it gets even more mysterious and strange when Bernadette is found, then lost again.

The darkly funny novel is told through disjointed bits of writing - since it's made up of all the information Bee has gathered. Some of the sources are wildly untrustworthy, and everybody's got their own prejudices and biases. Your perception of Bernadette shifts as you uncover more and more of her illustrious past and unrealized potential. Bee is a heartbreaking conduit for the story; she's a kid who really just wants her mom back.

I loved the digging-through-the-files way the story unfolds, and I adored the crazy, vindictive characters involved. The city of Seattle is practically a character, too, and the eccentricities of the nerd micro-culture at Microsoft Corporation are well featured. While I'd like to say the story's a bit improbable, I know that truth is often stranger than fiction ... and it's probably not all that improbable.

Friday, September 14, 2012

37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon

Ellis may be falling apart around the edges. She's almost at the end of the school year, but who cares about sophomore year when your mom wants to discuss pulling the plug on Dad?

Perhaps the only way Ellis is keeping it together is by visiting her dad in the nursing home: holding his hand, telling him about her day, sitting next to him. He's certainly more supportive than her supposed best friend, Abby - who's having her own kind of drunken, slutty teenage crisis.

I loved this book. It's got a heavy theme, but is drawn with a light hand. By the end, Ellis is figuring out that  when you loosen your grip, others will be there to take your hand. She's blocked out a lot of people (including her mother), but she's not as alone as she thinks.

(Also - this is not a "big gay book" as I was led to believe it might be. I absolutely loved the way that it's actually totally NOT a big deal of any importance really, in this book. I'm not even tagging this post for LGBTQ - so there.) 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Kitty Cornered by Bob Tarte

I found this book when I was looking for cat psychology. This is NOT the help I was looking for ... but it is an entertaining, light look at the six (yes, 6) cats in the Tarte household: their personalities, their eccentricities, and their interactions.

If you're a "pet-person" you know every critter has a personality - some adorable, some annoying, a few terribly independent and others needy and attention-starved. Somehow, Tarte thought he knew what he was getting into with each of their cats and yet each time he's amazed and thwarted by the actual animal.

Tarte is making himself a writing career about the crazy goings-on of his critters. Not a bad gig if you can get it - and his giant brood of cats, ducks, geese, chickens, parrots, parakeets, rabbits and more provides plenty of fodder for his self-deprecating humor.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield

Yes, I am that big a font nerd - I not only paid for this book, but also savored it in little bites so as to draw it out almost three months.

If you love typography, then you don't need me to tell you how fascinating this is. For the rest of you - fonts and their good/bad selection affect nearly every part of your life. Imagine if road signs were hard to read - you'd crash trying to read them, or drive past your intended destination and get hopelessly lost and then be eaten by a bear. Either way, you die. And it would all be the font's fault.

The history of type goes back more than 500 years, to woodsmiths carving out EVERY SINGLE LETTER, backwards. Can you imagine: it makes you appreciate the simplification of drop-down menus in Word, now, doesn't it?

This is a really good book about an invisible art. You know, if you're into that kinda thing. :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio

In this cute but kind of preachy picture book, two young girl friends have an explosive falling-out over their very different lunches, but learn to appreciate their differences once they open their minds to new experience.

The illustrations by Tricia Tusa are soft with lots of white space, and executed in a loose, sketchy style. They're gorgeous, but the pastel colors and dainty drawings are rather ineffective in setting the dramatic tone for an escalating, full-school argument (although the food fight page is funny).

I know that in preschool, disagreements happen fast and are forgotten even faster. But I was surprised by the lighting-fast conclusion and set-pat resolution. Can you still be friends if you TRY your friend's sandwich and STILL think it's icky?

It's a great message, but ultimately I think it could have been done better. I'll give Queen Rania credit for trying, but it seems like this book proposal needed more work.

Binky Adventure series by Ashley Spires

If you've ever lived with and loved a feline, you'll appreciate Binky's cat-ness. Binky thinks he's a brave, adventurous, hero cat - which means in reality, he's a sleepy, crazy, and utterly normal kitty with a rich fantasy life. Much of his time is consumed by napping, eating, stretching, and chasing bugs - when he's not building rocketships, digging secret tunnels, and generally saving mankind. Holy fuzzybutt!

Each of these graphic-novel style books are only 64 pages long- but each page packs a wallop with anywhere from 3-10 panels in evolving and continually shifting configurations.

While they books are generally marketed to children, there's no way you adults won't find a few grins at Binky's expense. Great for reluctant readers of all ages!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Almost Final Curtain by Tate Hallaway

In volume two of the Vampire Princess series, Ana is caught up in three projects: trying out for the school play, writing a history paper about slavery, and trying to keep all of vampiredom from being enslaved.

Her sometimes-boyfriend and rock god/vampire hunter/witch Nik is doing the music for the school play. Her other sometimes-boyfriend and warrior/vampire is looking for the lost talisman to AVOID vampire enslavement by witches. Her mother/witch queen is trying to get the lost talisman to ENSURE vampire enslavement by witches. And Ana's trying to figure out if she's more witch, more vampire, or if it's possible to balance the two.

I'm kind of liking this series. Even though it's slightly overdramatic at times, it's in a realistic teenage-hormones kind of overdramatic way. But I have to say that the next book better start with Ana getting a complete history lesson about vampires - her blundering is becoming contrived.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

That thing called love

by Susan Andersen

Anderson weaves a story of the prodigal son and a woman who has made it past her days of hard knocks.  Said prodigal son just happens to have a child of his own, and that boy's guardian is none other than the tough girl who has made good.  Andersen concocts vistas of the Northwest that make a reader feel the mist of the ocean.  She also can write a steamy sex scene better than most.  This woman knows her foreplay and she can drag it out for an entire chapter.  It takes a while to get to that first hot scene, but then again, it takes a while to get through it, too.  Really, the blush on my face as I write this is all due to the hot coffee at my side.

The actual plot:
Jake left town shortly after his young wife died and her parents assumed responsibility for the baby that scared him to his toes.  The elder generation has also passed on though, and now he realizes that it is time to man up and become a father.  First he has to get past Jenny.  She's tough, and everyone knows it.  She also can't understand how the whole town can possibly regard her as sweet.  Worst of all is that Jake breaks through the defenses quickly in his attempts to soften both her and his son to the idea of taking the boy away from everything he has ever known.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Echo and the Bat Pack series by Roberto Pavanello

These illustrated chapter books are much like Scooby-Doo mysteries: without adult cooperation, three kids and their animal (bat) friend blunder and quake through scary (but not really) mysteries until they eventually unmask the bad guy. Zoinks!

I had a devil of a time figuring out in which order to read this series - I eventually gave up and assumed it didn't matter. Each book makes references to the fact that Echo used to live in the graveyard, a cousin who's an acrobatic flier, and his Mom bat. "Treasure in the Graveyard" is the book that best explains how the bat came to live with the family, but even when I got to that story I mostly I felt like I was missing too much information.

They're breezy, transparent stories full of sorta lame jokes. Perhaps kids will think they're lovely, but I found it a bit tedious. They're targeted at third-graders, essentially, but there's an advanced vocabulary that seems a bit of a stretch.

I'm not planning to add them to our library collection - I think there's better for this reading level.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

At seven, Libby Day survived an attack that left her two older sisters and her mother dead and put her brother away for life in prison. Twenty five years later, she never recovered: Libby can't hold a job, can't maintain a relationship - she can't even manage the where-with-all to keep the power on in her rental house. She's eeked out a life on her savings (thanks, murder-survivor donations!), but now the money's gone.

When a true crime fan club contracts her to for a speaking engagement, Libby find there's an underground network of theorists who believe her brother is innocent. And they'll pay her for access to people who may know the truth. Is visiting the "Darkplace" worth the cash? Does she even have a choice?

Like "Gone Girl," nearly every page-turn had me reassessing what I thought happened. I don't know how many books Flynn will be able to write in this dramatic style, but I'm aboard as long as it lasts: she's a master at manipulating the storyline and the reader.

Highly recommended. I consumed this book in just a couple days.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

Have you read the other 2 books in Moore's vampire series? If so, skip the whole first disc of the audio - it's just review. I was a little annoyed by the length of "previously, in Bloodsucking Fiends & You Suck" summary that started this book. Sheesh. If you want to know all that, just go read the other books!

Past that, this is pure Christopher Moore genius: a new challenge for San Francisco's vampires, a couple wacky new characters, and the truly incomparable narration of Abby Normal - backup assistant mistress of the Bay Area darkness.

Narrator Susan Bennett does a notable job with the enormous range of voices and characters in this story: ancient multi-cultural vampires, angsty American goth teens, cops, kooks, several dogs, and even a huge vampire cats. And Moore's rapid-fire dialog can't be easy to record - sometimes I have to rewind and listen a couple times to catch it all.

Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss

When an "unconventially hot" girl invites him to come to her church youth group meeting, Phillip agrees for several reasons: she's HOT!?!; and his cross-country coach thinks it's a fake invitation; plus it'll probably make his atheist Dad unhappy. What more reason does a 15-year-old need?

This is a great, surprising book. Dad cautiously makes the church people out to be the "bad guys," but at the same time, he allows Phillip his own explorations of faith and belief - so while there's a lot of Christianity in the book, it's not all set down pat and handed to you as The Truth.

Phillip's challenges are universally teen - girl trouble, chafing against authority, changes in friendships, struggling with self-identity. And his quest for a belief structure helps him evaluate and work through these problems. I loved that the book's characters are realistically flawed - both Christian and non - making the whole thing very believable, not rhetoric.

I really thought this was a fantastic book - it certainly brings up more questions than answers, a trait I love in teen books. It would be an awesome discussion book for religious or secular settings, so long as there was open non-judgmental conversation encouraged.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Truly Terribly Horrible Sweater ... That Grandma Knit by Debbie Macomber & Mary Lou Carney

For his birthday, Cameron's Grandma Susan made him a bright, colorful sweater with big buttons. That he will never, ever wear. So he spends a lot of time over the course of the year trying to hide it, get rid of it, ruin it, and otherwise ensure that he'll never be seen wearing it.

Until Grandma comes, and he finds out why the sweater is so special. Carter gets a wider view of the love and care that went into his birthday present, and maybe a wider view of the world.

Sometimes your gifts aren't received with the grace that was intended, and this is a cute book with a lovely ending. But the text is a bit awkward in places, and once I was even convinced that I must be missing a page because the transition was so abrupt. Overall, it's an interesting book, but could have used better editing.

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford

What does Carter (a 14-year-old high school freshman boy) finally GET? Well ... you know, it.

Carter's disappointed in his lowly status in the social hierarchy. He's already got several strikes against him (a nervous stutter, ADD, a bitchy older sister) and he's fighting to find his niche.Is he a smooth ladies man? not so much. Baseball hero? looks extremely unlikely. Academic star? not gonna happen.

Mostly this book is about Carter's blundering through the year. His bike gets stolen. He goes to a party that gets busted. He's not the best athlete on the team. He can't figure out the right question to ask pretty girls. But over the course of the year, Carter begins to learn about himself - who he's not, but also who he might be. And it's fun to find out with him.

Carter's an incredibly like-able character, even when he's acting like an idiot. His friends are just as clueless as he is - I mean, come on, they're all freshman! And so their teenage pain is fairly universal. The book's well written, and I'll recommend it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Have you ever read the old, non-Disney-fied versions of fairy tales? The dark, gothic ones the Grimm brothers actually collected from the oral tradition? This book of poetry is a spin on those horror-filled tales of morality.

Angsty, angry teen girls admit their attraction to the naughty, forbidden wolves and monsters. Minor characters in often-told narratives get their opportunity to tell the story from their perspective.

Many of the stories are a little naughty. Most are hilarious for the unexpected spin they put on familiar tales. Definitely not the kind of book for your toddlers - but teens and adults will enjoy revisting their nursery favorites!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lucky Harbor series

by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis' series is actually two trilogies.  Nearly all of them feature at least one main character who is native to the cozy Northwestern town.  All six are filled with far more traditional romance than other trilogies that have been making headlines this year.  Shalvis also manages to keep the steamy scenes hot enough to scorch the fingers that grasp the book.
Shalvis captures life in a small town with exquisite clarity as she brings many other locals along for the ride. The supporting characters make the stories more believable.  Every small town inhabitant knows life is more funny when it happens to someone else.  I literally stood at the stove stirring dinner with one hand while reading with the other (more than once). 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Almost to Die For by Tate Hallaway

Every 16 year old is struggling to find themselves - but on her sixteenth birthday, Ana is really battling. She's set to take the initiation test to become a True Witch (not wiccan religion, but the powerful magic kind of witch) - and she knows she'll fail because she can't do it. Then, her never-before-seen father shows up at the door.

So while she's trying to figure out what it means to be some kind of magical hybrid, suddenly more than one boy begins to notice this previously date-less girl ... and she has a fight with her best friend.

It's all very teenage drama with a supernatural flair - and strangely compelling. I'm actually embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed this book. And there are two more in the series, which I just placed holds on.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Vampire a Go-Go by Victor Gischler

This is the kind of story that got me into vampires in the first place: contemporary, yet historical. Adventure and suspense, with a satisfactory ending. Plus, it's got vampires, zombies, an Indiana Jones-like storyline, and ass-kicking swearing warrior priests. (Although honestly, the vampire element is minor in the grand scheme of the story.)

A college-age research student is unwittingly drawn into the search for the fabled philosopher's stone. What power will it bring to the numerous supernatural beings fighting to acquire it? Will Alan survive the adventure?

The story's narrated by an ancient ghost and the history of the stone unfolds slowly, intersliced with the contemporary search and battles between witches, warlocks, priests and more. The crude, terrible secret our ghost reveals at the end made me actually snort out a laugh. Escapist fiction at it best!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

June Elbus is lost and lonely. It's tax season so her accountant parents are mostly gone. Her slightly older sister is busy with the school musical - plus, she hates June. The one persons she could always count on loving her exactly, perfectly, and weird as she may be - her uncle Finn - just died of AIDS.

So when a hand reaches out to offer friendship, June tentatively grabs on. It turns out Toby was Finn's partner - a secret kept so thoroughly hidden from June that she can hardly believe it. Together, this unlikely pair try to find truth and a place in the world.

While written about a 14-year old, the book's being marketed for adults - really, either teens or adults will find something of value here. June's search for friends and love are a universal plight. Her misperceptions will ring true for all readers. And while we don't all mutilate priceless art, don't we all struggle to leave a lasting mark on something?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams

You may be shocked, but no, every librarian has not read every book in the library.  That being said, I just read this book for the first time.  Typically, I don't think of myself as much of a science fiction reader.  It's a genre that struggles to hook me.  That's why this book works; the absolute absurdity of the events pulled me in.
Having waited thirty years since the original publication, I frequently found myself laughing over the gadgets that are now a commonplace part of life which were truly fictitious in 1980. The double talk, twists, turns and silliness are such a realistic part of the characters' lives that the reader almost feels bad laughing, almost.
If you've never read it, all I can say is, "You've never had a day as bad as Arthur Dent's. You've also never had quite the level of excitement."

Rescue Me

by Rachel Gibson

Gibson takes a slight veer from her Chinooks series by focusing on the sibling of a previous character.  Vince Haven has traveled many paths since leaving his medical discharge as a Navy SEAL.  Proprietor of a relative's small town Gas 'n Go was never even on the short list of possibilities.  Before he even makes his way into Lovett, TX, he encounters a notional lady that is bound and determined not to like him too much.
Sadie Jo left town years ago because she never quite seemed to fit in Lovett.  Now she and her nearly sacrilegious flat hair have returned for a cousin's wedding.  The plan is to get in and get out, but life has other plans for her.  Sadie spends much of the book coming to terms with her past and trying to outrun her emotions with Vince as her new distraction.  Predictably, two duo believes that love 'em and leave 'em will work as well as it always has, and, of course, it doesn't.
Gibson ties her characters to previous novels just enough to keep old fans happy without making new readers feel lost.  It's quick, just a little naughty, and filled with the kind of sweetness we often forget to see in our daily lives.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

Alan Clay has a life that's unravelling - a series of bad decisions have brought him to middle age with a bitter ex-wife, no money, a shattered career, and a strange lump on the back of his neck. He's sure one meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia would solve all his problems - if only the King would show up!

With this novel, Eggers presents a mash-up of "Death of a Salesman" and "Waiting for Godot." Pathetic salesman waits for his next (last?) big presentation that he's sure will finally bring him success. While waiting for the king, it seems Alan may completely fall apart - or die by his own ineptitude.

It's a slow-speed car crash that you can't avoid. From the start you know the storyline is unlikely to come out well for Alan, but just how it goes and where it ends is the mystery. Alan's wandering mind takes us back and forth in time, in jerky bits of story and memory. He bumbles into several adventures that could either bring epiphany or the end.

I enjoyed this book simply as one man's foibles and failures - but if you wish, you could also analyze lots of ideas about commercialism, out-sourcing, modern technology, consumerism ...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

A sequel that works equally well as a stand-alone title, "Where She Went" is about the three years since the action of "If I Stay." I'd loved that book, and was surprised when this book was told from boyfriend Adam's point of view. I was also surprised by what's happened in the mean time.

Adam's got everything a guy should want: he's a rock star with serious money, his girlfriend is a gorgeous and smart movie star. But he's tired of the tabloids, and he's lost the spark for his music. While the last three years have been a rocket ride, gravity's kicking in and Adam's parachute isn't opening. Sometimes a perfect facade hides deep, tragic cracks.

Audiobook reader Dan Bittner did an amazing job on this one - he's really got a talent for narration and brought just the right edge to Adam's voice.

And yeh, I cried.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Greg Gaines is clueless. And since this book is a kind of journal from Greg's point of view, as a reader you see that sometimes Greg understand how clueless he is (ie: girls) and sometimes Greg is utterly clueless as to his cluelessness (ie: friendships). But he's both charming and annoying, and you root for Greg to come around eventually - because really, aren't we all clueless? 

Greg's been carefully cultivating a non-persona all through high school. He's pretty happy that now, as a senior, he's not associated with any group, scorned by any clique, or shackled by any categorizations. 

Then, his mother strong-arms him into a friendship with Rachel.

It's a funny book about friendship and growing up, about finding something only when you lose it. Greg's sure - right up until the last page - that he didn't learn a thing from his experiences, and he can't believe you're even interested. This light-hearted style makes the novel a quick read despite its thematic weight. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

I thought this book might be interesting based on my hobby as a quilter, but I've found much more than artistic stimulation to ponder; my initial mistake was thinking about creativity as confined to a leisure activity, when in fact creativity is the key to innovation and problem-solving in all parts of life.

Why does Apple headquarters only have one restroom? How did a sandpaper salesman invent the now-ubiquitous roll of masking tape? How do small changes in the presentation of a problem effect the perspectives we use in solving it?

This book is EXTREMELY interesting - and not at all boring. Lively writing and stellar examples illustrate a complex subject, and I often found myself putting the book aside at chapter ends to contemplate useful applications for the things I'd just read. Highly recommended!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Devine Intervention by Martha Brockenbrough

Jerome might be the worst guardian angel ever: it's a community service project because he's not "good" enough to get into "real" heaven, he didn't read the handbook, he's breaking all the rules, etc.

I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, I found it just average: it's not bad, but it's not especially good either. I read 100 pages during a pedicure - that's a big enough percentage of the book that I should have been consumed in the characters and itching to finish.. And then I just couldn't force myself to finish it. 

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore

I could tell you what this book's about, but you wouldn't believe me (no vampires!). 

I should just tell you it's hilarious, and that it has two of the most disturbing, alarming sex scenes you'll ever encounter. 

This is 1999 book, mid-way through Moore's writing career to-date: not heavy on message, but plenty thick with absurdity.

The Year of Disappearances by Susan Hubbard

Ari is a 14-year-old half-vampire who's way more mature than her years would indicate. Because she was homeschooled until recently, Ari's never really had friends - and her new relationships aren't 100% successful: She falls in with girls that my mother would have said were the wrong crowd. Then one of the girls disappears. 

You don't have to have read "The Society of S" to read this book. Which is good, because even though I read that (and I can't find it anywhere on this blog - it must have been before we started, but I swear I read it!), I have no recollection of the storyline. At all. Almost like I'd been hypnotized by one of the main characters ...

This is a more literary style of vampire story, and I'm not sure I'm smart enough for it. There are a lot of quotes from literary figures and philosophers. Ari gets mixed up in politics. Now that I reflect on the story, a lot happens in the novel. And this could have been a edge-of-your-seat thriller. But it's not.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wicked business

by Janet Evanovich

Evanovich returns to her supernaturally charged "Wicked" series with another puzzling adventure.  Lizzy and Diesel are now searching for the Lust stone which is said to contain all the power of that particular deadly sin.  The question is, can they find it before one of the more dangerous individuals with special powers gets their hands on it?  Also, can they keep themselves apart when the stone starts having effects upon the people near it?
This is another riotous romp filled with nearly as many explosions, and flames as one of Evanovich's famed Plum novels.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Me and You

by Genevieve Cote

Two best friends long to be like one another.  Children who are learning about friendship and how to be a good friend will learn about being true to one's self.  Many common objects are used to allow the duo to emulate each other.  The watercolor style images are actually mixed media, and they evoke a calm feel even when the friends experience a mild catastrophe.  The descriptive text creates visual ideas that are more complex than what is typical for this category of picture book. Tails that are "curly as a lemon twist" and "fluffy as cotton candy" made this even more ideal to be read during the week of our local agricultural fair. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wizard's Hall by Jane Yolen

So I picked up this book because it features a quilted monster. (How could that even be scary? Oh, maybe an ugly quilt? Just kidding. It's sewn up of people!)

And then when I finished the book, I wondered if this was part of a series. This can't be all, can it? It seems like just the start of a much bigger story. But it turns out that this is all in Yolen's series ... because eventually JK Rowling wrote the rest instead. Yolen published this book, about a reluctant boy wizard named Harry who's forced into wizarding school, in 1991. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book in 1997. 

Much, much too similar. And I just wasn't feeling the drama in Yolen's story like I was meant to. I wanted the original to be superior. But really, it just feels like it needs more (it's a pretty slim volume) - it feels like it should have been the first half of a longer book, or (I guess) the first book in a series. That never was.

I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

Justin Halpern was one of those geeky, awkward kids who hit puberty late and maturity even later. As he ponders whether or not to ask his girlfriend to become his wife, he takes a day to trip down memory lane to revisit what he's learned (or not) about women over the years.

Halpern's most famous for "Shit My Dad Says" on Twitter, in book form, and in the short-lived sitcom version. But this book proves he hasn't emptied his arsenal of straight-shooting parental munitions - and also, proves that Dad's not the only one giving hilarious advice in Justin's life.

100 Unforgettable Dresses by Hal Rubenstein

Underwhelming may be the best way to describe this coffee table book of fashion.

I love pop culture and was excited to revisit some iconic dresses and images - and there is a bit of that. The dresses are described elegantly, but I wanted more pictures of details and other angles to get the full drama. There's really only one photo of most dresses, along with tons of text and more history on the designers than is truly necessary. 

Additionally, the random pages featuring reversed out white text on black page are AGONIZING to read. Too fine a font makes the text smudgy and illegible. 

I was interested, but ultimately disappointed and wanted a lot more from this book.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters, Black Bears to Bumble Bees by Charles Finn

Each essay is brief, so I was tempted to gobble up another and another, but I think they'd be better savored one or two at a time. Fans of Aldo Leopold will swoon - these are similar in tone, and perhaps more accessible (less scholarly) than his Sand County essays.

While not all of his 29 creature encounters are native to Wisconsin, local nature enthusiasts still will appreciate his reflective, observational style. The language is gorgeous, and Finn has a knack for simile. My only criticism may be that he's a bit heavy-handed with the religious, spiritual end of his reverie - but Finn's is an easy-going kind of "gee whiz, observing nature sure proves there must be a higher power!"

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

The bus ride to school takes a fateful turn in this gripping, completely engrossing apocalypse story. Boulder-sized hail and a deadly bus crash are just the beginning, and a group of kids (kindergarten through high school) are forced to persevere during an epic crisis.

Fortunately, they're trapped inside a superstore. As they find ways to be safe, stay well, and keep busy, the kids form a community - complete with romances, rivalries, and disagreements.

I loved this book, until I got to the very end: This book has NO conclusion. Perhaps they're planning on a series. Even with that plan, there needs to be some resolution at the end in order to make a stand-alone story. I needed something! Instead, there's action-action-action ... blank page. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Planet Tad by Tim Carvelle

If your kids like Wimpy Kid or Fly Guy books, they'll like this one too.

Illustrations pepper the text, which is broken down into diary-like entries like they'd be posted on Tad's new blog. Sometimes it's a log of events in Tad's life, sometimes they're just the random thoughts and ponders of a 12-year-old boy. But in a word: hilarious.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Completely engrossing from the start, this twisting, tangled story takes the reader through a maze where you're never sure of what the end prize will be: a body? the truth? or something else?

The story gives two sides of a marriage in trouble - through the "now" viewpoint of Nick, whose wife is missing, and through Amy's diary entries. From the start, everybody (including the reader) has to wonder just what's up with Amy's disappearance. Was she abducted? Or did Nick do something to her?

Each new page and piece of information changes the story. I can't say much without giving something away, so I'll just say that all the hype about this book is true: pick it up, and you won't put it down. I read it in two sittings!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

In this book full of people with crazy names, a bunch of unpopular kids band together to thwart world domination by a mean fairy queen. Through breakfast cereal. Seriously!

It's hilarious, and totally preposterous: There's a secret society, experimentation on unsuspecting kids, more magic than you can shake a stick at, and a rabbit-headed man. You really can't go wrong with an Adam Rex book!

Monday, June 18, 2012

The fantastic flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

by William Joyce

This title should be required reading for every library employee, everywhere.  It encompasses the myriad feelings we experience on a daily basis when surrounded by stories.  I love the idea that books get mixed up because they are tired of their own stories and want to be around a different type.  The metaphor for life is exceptionally well done.  The story was previously done as a short film that won an Academy Award in 2012.  The story behind the book is as extraordinary as the one upon the pages.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

Ten years post-high school, Gavin's falling apart. And while a series of unfortunate events threw him off-kilter, ultimately it's the news he may have fathered a child in high school that truly unhinges his life.

In the stories of Gavin's high school friends, this novel presents a multi-faceted tale of failure and disappointment and happenstance. While the characters lost touch with one another as young adults, each is tied and connected to the others by an unseen chain of people and events.

The drama - and a sort of mystery - is revealed gradually through the book. Back and forth through time and across the five main character's lives, the reader gathers clues right up until the end. What happened back then? And what is happening now? Even the last page had me rewinding a bit.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I have been threatened that if I did not read these books SOON, I would no longer be sheltered from spoilers. So as my end-of-vacation and holiday-weekends converged, I consumed all three books. I'm going to blog them together but discuss each a bit individually too.

Overall, I loved this series - obviously, I read them all, and fast. Although I had moments of despair, I forced myself to remember that one of my favorite 12-year-old boys told me to plod on ... it gets better. So if he could endure the "which-boy-should-I-choose" dithering, so should I.

• "The Hunger Games" was my favorite of the three - fast-moving drama, unexpected twists. Several times I shouted out loud to myself as I was surprised by the direction of the story. "Romeo and Juliet!" I exclaimed at one point. Nice!

• About halfway through "Catching Fire" I got frustrated. It had deteriorated into Bella Swan territory with the helpless fretting on which boy I should love. Yuck. (Even though I did love the Twilight books) But once the Games began, I was again captivated. I loved the new characters and learning their histories and motivations.

• "Mockingjay" threatened to be just like every other dystopian future fiction: establishing a new colony, reinventing government, chafing at uniformity, etc. And again, once the action began I was swept away. I didn't know what would happen in the end, yet was satisfied by both the events and their conclusion.

Collins does a phenomenal job with the characters in this series. The victors stories were amazing, and kept getting better the more you knew. Even characters that had been present from the start continued to evolve in the third book. You could never just assume you knew anybody. And I thought that was brilliant.

I'll recommend these books - but will add the disclaimer I was given: Keep going. Whatever drags the narrative down will eventually pick up again. It gets better!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Under the mesquite

by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

McCall's first book is a novel in verse.  It's always kind of fun to see an author who manages to tell a complex story within the confines of poetry. 
Lupita is a high school student with aspirations toward drama and performing.  She's the oldest of eight children in a family that now lives in Texas, but once lived just south of the border.  The family travels freely and frequently back to visit relatives, until Mami gets cancer.  Lupita shows a level of strength that few teenagers in America find themselves needing.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Life for Rory Hendrix isn't easy - her family's history and poverty don't portend a happy future, either - but she's found a guide to help her navigate: the Girl Scout Handbook. Rory doesn't have a troop and has never met another girl scout, but she's sure the information and advice dispensed by the book are her key to survival.

Short chapters (almost independent short stories) make up the body of the novel. Some chapters are as short as a few paragraphs and none more than a few pages. There's a loose, almost journal or diary feel to the book: some chapters are government reports, others prayers to St. [whoever], a few Girl Scout badge requirements, and others are more traditional prose.

The book covers Rory's story from about ages 4 to 15. She's an early, precocious reader - against form and all genetics. She lives most of her life with her nose in a book - as well you might too, if you lived on the Calle (hers is a trailer park of the worst kind). And against all odds, it's a book I absolutely loved. While it's a dark and scary world Rory lives in, the girl is a bright shining star at its center. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fifty shades of Grey

by E.L. James

Here we go.  Yes, this book is in our collection, and yes, I read it.  This is written as well as any other romance novel you might pluck from the paperback shelves.  The main difference being that readers of those books get to know something about both main characters. 
Perhaps Christian Grey seems flat to me because there are two more books in the series which can build upon his personality.  Ana Steele on the other hand, begins the book as a well-rounded character.  She has varied interests, and a willingness to take on life.  It's that last part that makes her likeable when she chooses to become Mr. Grey's newest plaything.  If she truly were mousy and submissive, I would never have been able to tolerate this story. 
This novel is in the range of average romance fiction regarding readability. It is sorely lacking in character development.  There is enough plot to keep the reader's interest because without it, the sex gets a bit pestiferous.

Tales for very picky eaters

by Josh Schneider

This book is technically an early reader.  However, I don't know if kids should be allowed to know the secrets held within its pages.  It might be better as a true guidebook for parents.  OK, not really.  This is a funny account of a father trying to get his boy to eat.  The dad concocts wild stories about the food that is being snubbed until the boy decides the only choice is to at least give it a try. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Looking for inspiration? The advice and approval that will push you forward in writing, art, quilting, music, etc? The subhead on this book is "10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative" and while it's oriented toward the arts, I think many of Kleon's creative ideas can carry over into more mundane aspects of life, work, and leadership, too.

Kleon says the book began life as a series of ideas and doodles on index cards, and it's a small, loosely designed book with to-the-point examples so you can easily pick it up, grab some inspiration, and set it down again. It's full of sentiments you probably know (don't dwell on negative criticism, seek out positive inspiration) but it's refreshing to hear them again. Ever notice how some things ring especially true and loud JUST when you need to hear it?

I read this book in about 15 minutes, and found tons of cool things to read aloud to Kristine because I couldn't keep it to myself. I'm going to add a copy of this book to my studio bookshelf; it's a great set of ideas, and presented well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

FarmKid: Tales of Growing Up in Rural America by Justin Isherwood

Justin Isherwood's got a kind of chewy way with words - I want to read everything out loud, just to hear how it sounds and get a better handle on the prose. But I don't mean that to sound too snooty, because he's mostly writing about cows and jackknife, chores and climbing trees.

I picked this up because author Michael Perry referred to Isherwood in a blog post, and you usually don't do too badly when a favorite writer recommends another writer. There's a lot to compare and contrast between the two: animals, ethics, simple living, and an educated way with words to describe some pretty basic things. Not to say they're the same - Perry's probably more accessible, but he'd be the one to tell you Isherwood's more authentic.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Catching Fire

by Susanne Collins

The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy was riveting; I had it read in 24 hours and that includes taking time out for an all day event. Katniss is a survivor , but now she has to see how that will change her life beyond the extra food she expects. Will she be the new mentor for District 12's tribute in the 75th Games? Added to that is the fact that it is a Quarter Quell which always means there is a dramatic twist to the whole event. Behind it all is the realization that "the girl who was on fire" has ignited a rebellious spark throughout the nation of Panem.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Imagine the agony of being trapped; then, imagine that you're trapped inside your own body. I think this fear is nearly universal - it's why we fear major illness and why we fear aging. But this is a juvenile story. And perhaps what makes it "Out of My Mind" so extraordinary is that it's not a sugar-coated kids story about a kid with a disability - it's an honest, sometimes painful tale that's still utterly lovable.

Draper does an amazing job presenting the reader with the funny, smart and utterly amazing story of Melody. Since birth, she's been stuck inside her own head by cerebral palsy and, despite a photographic memory and amazing mental abilities, as a fifth-grader Melody is still being taught the ABC's. Only a few people recognize Melody's talents, and even they don't fully understand what a gem is hidden under the spasms and grunts - until a computerized aid helps opens the lines of communications for the very first time.

What I loved most about this story is that while the medi-talker brings the kind of  wonderful change that Melody has been dreaming about, all life's challenges don't disappear once she can hold a conversation. There's more to the story, both good and bad.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

OK. I get it. This is worth the hype. It's well written, alludes to other great works in literary history, and captivates the reader. On a Wednesday night, knowing I had to work in the morning, I still settled into the plot until 1:30 a.m.

Katniss Everdeen has been a survivor for years. Unfortunately, the only real challenge in that has been starvation in the past. That all changes the day she becomes her district's female tribute for the annual Hunger Games. She knows that now she must use all her best skills to hunt other teens while they hunt her and the entire nation watches.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin

Lucas dreams of grand gestures and Hollywood endings: He edits a yearbook spread and borrows the sale billboard out front of the grocery store to invite Tessa to prom. Meanwhile, helping her brother order his prom tux, Tessa falls in love with a fitted and slightly feminine tux and on impulse, buys it; she dreams of going to prom dressed in something comfortable and appropriate (not a big frilly dress - that idea gives her hives). She also dreams of asking her sorta-girlfriend/crush Josie to be her date.

Each is devastated their best friend hasn't notice the biggest thing in their lives: that Lucas loves Tessa, and that Tessa likes girls. Neither teen reacts well to the big news - and neither does the community as a whole, once the news gets out. Funny how something so personal can become a nation-wide news event.

I liked this book - there's a lot of "issue" in it and moral dilemmas to wrestle with, but it's handled in a pretty light and approachable manner. The book cover is INCREDIBLE in its simplicity, and is the whole reason I picked up the book in the first place. These teens are fairly normal - family, work, school - and their actions have far-reaching repercussions they never considered. It's maybe a little "down pat" in the end, but perhaps times a happy ending can be good, too.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

At the completion of Year Twelve examinations, it's the kind of night a teen will never forget: adventure, hooking up, parties, danger, and more. Lucy wants to find the graffiti artist she's been obsessing over. Jazz wants the kind of life-experience that will drive her acting to the next level. Ed and Leo need to find some cash, right now.

This is a 12-hours-long, all-night adventure story - a compression of time where, amazingly, the whole world shifts a bit on its axis: illusions destroyed, futures changed, biases revealed. The chapters alternate between Ed and Lucy, so we get different perspectives on the drama and much of the back-story revealed through their thoughts.

While the premise is much like "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist," this one holds up nicely to the comparisons without being a copy-cat. I loved these characters, and would like to see more of their stories.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

A fictionalized history built around a true-life artifact, this novel illuminates the fantastic journeys of one Jewish manuscript from its creation through several wars and persecutions into modern times.

As the main character, rare books expert Hanna Heath, analyzes and stabilizes the ancient manuscript for exhibit, we the reader are transported through time to discover the stories behind the clues. As Hanna speculates on the science behind each "fingerprint" in the book, we learn the stories she'll never know.

We can never know the full provenance of an inanimate item - Where did it come from? Who touched it? What has it been through?  But the long history of the Sarajevo Haggadah and the persecutions of the Jewish people throughout history offer Brooks a wealth of opportunities to weave an imagined fiction for this novel.

I found it fascinating, educational, and lush with description about places and peoples I'd never before encountered. You'll speculate differently about "things" you encounter in life after reading the secret life of this one object.

Girl Meets Boy edited by Kelly Milner Halls

You could start anywhere here, and you'd be fine - each chapter is a stand-alone short story. But each story also is paired with a he-said/she-said partner that tells a complimentary - and sometimes contradictory - tale.

I loved this book - I consumed it in a sitting. Each story is a gem, and together they deal with the myriad facets of the dating scene. Where each of the stories may take you is an enjoyable surprise - it's hard to predict what's coming, and there are so many tales to be told. Most are about dating and relationships, not so much sticky gooey luuuurrrve.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

What does the "typical" drug addict look like? Why would you ever try meth the first time, knowing what it does to people? How dumb do you have to be?

Through Laurel's eyes, you'll get a different look at crystal meth addiction. A cheerleader and good girl, she catches the eye of the basketball star. But there's something broken inside Laurel, and there's something broken inside T-Boom. Together, they'll try to fix those breaks - and break much, much more.

This is a very good book, with a quick pace that shifts back and forth through time. Sometimes it's very eloquent and thoughtful, sometimes scattered and choppy - a real look at Laurel's state of mind and thoughts.

Demon Song by Cat Adams

In this third installment of the Blood Singer series, bodyguard Celia Graves must help save the world by figuring out how to close a rift between the demon dimension and ours.

Along the way she'll learn more about her siren ancestry, perhaps figure out some of the mystery of her friend's strange last-will-and-testament, and fall in love/out of love/into lust with a bevy of hunky dudes.

Entertaining escapism, but you have to read the series to enjoy each book - they're not really stand-alone books. And this one ends with Celia getting dragged away for another task. Guess we'll find out soon enough ...

I don't want to be a pea!

by Ann Bonwill

Hippos and Birds go together. They really are the best of friends. In fact, they have an annual Fairy-tale Fancy Dress party. This year, Hugo and Bella must decide on a costume. The only problem is that in most fairy tales, the sidekick always seems to be a less than desirable costume option. Can the two friends find a solution that works for both of them?

This adorable new story was a hit with the first grade class I visited this morning.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shut up and kiss me

by Carolyn Hughey

Mmm. Italian comfort food. Oh wait, that's only a side note in this romance. Ellana has spent her entire life being coerced by her mother and Nick's to believe that combining the two families is inevitable. Nick, however, sees her only as a sisterly figure in his life. After twenty-six years, Ellana has decided it is time to call the bluff. Rather, she is going to start bluffing in order to convince Nick that he is missing out. Enter chef Giovanni, who will aid Ellana in her quest, but seems to have a hidden agenda of his own.

It's a quick read that keeps the steamy bits to a minimum. If I were using a five-star scale, this might be a 2.5.


by Charise Mericle Harper

This adorable picture book chronicles the adventure of a vanilla cupcake. Cupcake is so proud of herself until she is the only one left on the platter. Soon she befriends Candle who tries to think of ways she can become special enough to be eaten. A silly selection of toppings ensues until Candle comes up with just one more idea.

This book would make a very cute flannel board for retelling. Some day I'll have to incorporate it into a story time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Border Songs by Jim Lynch

The war on drugs and paranoia about the country's largest unguarded border bring an unlikely superhero in this book. An innate sense of attention to detail and change makes Brandon Vanderkool a phenom in his new role as a Border Patrol officer in his hometown in Washington state. His linebacker size makes the resulting arrests easy. Too bad he's really more interested in watching the birds and building spontaneous nature sculptures.

In a small town, it's easy to get pigeon-holed - and early in life, Brandon was labeled "dumb" and "weird." Even his dad can't get past those labels. Brandon's social awkwardness has made it tough for him to find a girlfriend, make personal connections essential for friendships, or even really find a place in life. Until now.

This is an excellent novel - lyrical, strange, touching and funny. You can't help but root for Brandon to somehow come out ahead, and his small town is just chock full of the kind of characters you know from real life.

Young Fredle

by Cynthia Voigt

Can you relate to the life of a house mouse? You might initially think the answer is no. Then you'll realize you have gotten wrapped up in the lives of far more unlikely characters in the past.

Fredle is like the precocious child who asks a thousand questions. His curiosity leads him to the magnificent scent of a peppermint patty. Unfortunately, there is danger in consuming chocolate if you are a mouse. Soon, Fredle finds himself alone in a new world - outside. He has quite an adventure that involves raptors, raccoons, lawnmowers, and stars. Fredle must learn about trust and a whole new kind of safety as he builds unlikely friendships and skirts danger. It's a coming of age story for young readers that will engage the whole family.

The audio version was an Odyssey Honor title for 2012.

Taft 2012 by Jason Heller

Given all that's going on in today's politics, this book is incredibly relevant: a subtle, truly funny political satire for people who wouldn't normally read anything in that genre.

Improbably, ex-president William Howard Taft has reappeared after a 99-year Rip VanWinkle-style hibernation. Lots about America has changed in the last hundred years - except the fact that we could still use an honest, ethical politician who speaks his mind and heart. Taft for President!?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft

Usually, poets have a grasp on the darker side of life. And 16-year-old poet Jonathan's definitely on the dark side: his twin is dead, he's flunking out of school, he can't sleep,and jumping off a bridge seems like a great solution.

Jonathan's offered an ultimatum - to pass this year's classes and become a senior, he'll have to perform some custom-tailored tasks. His "thicks" are there to help, and along the way he makes new friends in unlikely places.

It's a pretty fast read, and dark in a good way. As a poet, Jonathan explains his musical expression well enough that, even though I don't play, I understood the emotion (guitarists will love this book). His agony over Telly's death is very real, and as the story goes on his new friendships reveal as much as the life-long "thicks." Eventually, learning old stories helps Jonathan move on to new, fresh ones.

I can't say enough good things about this book, and I'd love to see it as a teen discussion title. Themes of friendship, artistic pain, drug abuse (although mild, and legal - maybe more "misuse"), grief, and music could make for a phenomenal conversation.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's So Easy (And Other Lies) by Duff McKagan

This is one of the best rock memoirs I've read, seriously. Duff tells it like it was, he owns it (good and bad), and he's found a way to be funny and eloquent about his own debauched life.

There's no reason he shouldn't be dead: his pancreas exploded from alcohol abuse, and tons of his friends died from addictions and AIDS. But somehow Duff McKagan skirted the edge of the abyss and lived to tell.

If you like Guns n' Roses, you'll enjoy the story. But it's actually his writing about post-pancreatitis recovery and his family that make this story such a gem. Additionally, it's amazing how many now-famous people Duff grew up with in Seattle and became friends with in Los Angeles; but he doesn't resort to name-dropping - he really just tells his own story, but with this amazing cast of characters and cameos.

(I'm putting this one near the top of my favorite rock books list - just behind Nikki Sixx's "The Heroin Diaries" and "I Am Ozzy" by Ozzy Osbourne)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Love in a nutshell

by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly

Evanovich lovers who are looking for a Plum-like twist, move on. Romance lovers, settle in. Kate Appleton's life has pretty much fallen apart. Similarly, so has the family cottage which she now wants to renovate into a B&B. Fortunately, she is able to strong arm the owner of the local brewery into giving her a job, mostly because she blames him for the loss of her old one.
Matt Culhane agrees to her proposal but with the caveat that he really needs her to be the company spy. Someone is sabotaging his business.
It's dripping with sappy sweetness, and that's why I liked it. Kate and Matt find themselves on an adventure that is too chaotic to be believable.

In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault

I'm not even sure what to say, other than I wasted a lot of my life lately with this book. I didn't like it, but I kept reading because I wanted to know who killed the damn babysitter.

I should have skipped ahead.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

First love can be true love - and this is one of those books. It's really a book about two teens who are too wise and philosophical for their age. Perhaps, that's because they're terminally ill. Perhaps, it's because they're John Green characters (who are all too smart and philosophical, but in the BEST POSSIBLE WAY). Perhaps, people like this really exist.

It's a funny book about a girl with cancer. Or it's a book about teens who despise the Kids With Cancer cliche and make jokes about the misuse of the word literally. No - it's a hilarious and heartbreaking book about the self-proclaimed King of Cancervania who is too gorgeous to exist.

How can I sell you on a book about cancer?

Just read it.

Siren Song by Cat Adams

This second book in the Blood Singer series picks up where "Blood Song" left off in the story of newly transformed vampire/human/siren professional bodyguard Celia Graves. If you haven't read book one, this is not a good entry point.

But ... having read book one, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. These are great, light books with fast-moving plots and a different take on what could be an over-done genre. Celia's coming to terms with her new body - but she's slightly different than anyone before her: she wasn't completely "turned" by her vampire sire, and it brought out the latent siren blood in her family line.

I did get a little tired of the fact she's always having to stop to "eat" something (actually drink) so she doesn't go bonkers ... yah, yah, we get it! And having not one but two ghosts at her bidding makes it tooooo easy to get out of nearly any scrape.

But, like I said: entertaining escapism.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I'm fast

by Jim and Kate McMullan

The creators of the story time hit, I stink, are back with another title sure to be crowd pleasing. Magnificent rhythm flows from the page as a train and speedy car race cross country. Who could resist chanting the engaging "Chooka, chooka, chooka" of the locomotive? Settle in with your favorite train loving toddler for this adventure that personifies Route 66 on rails.

Friday, January 13, 2012

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

In the aftermath of World War II, everyone had something they wanted to forget, and it was especially true for many immigrants displaced by war - including the family portrayed in this book.

Six years after he left them as a soldier, Polish immigrant Janusz Novak is reunited with his wife and six-year-old son in Ipswich, England. They work to make a new home together, but each has secrets from the war years that haunt them still.

Chapters shift between the voice of each family member, and bounce back-and-forth through time. While I thought I understood some of the secrets from early-on, more information is revealed throughout the book that may surprise the reader - it did, for me.

I really enjoyed the book, although I considered quitting part way through. I'm glad I stayed on - the story trajectory changed more than I thought they would, and I was very curious about the end.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lola and the boy next door

by Stephanie Perkins

Lola is not your average teenager. She has flair beyond most anyone's wildest imagination. That often makes her stand out in a crowd. Some might think it's a bad thing. Her boyfriend seems to like it, but does he really? Her parents don't trust him; he is much older than her. He endures time with her family.
On top of that, a moving truck arrives next door. Much to Lola's dismay, it is not another renter, but the family that owns the house. The Bell twins hold a special place of disdain in her heart. Calliope is bad enough, but the other one is so much worse. She is now forced to come to terms with a lifetime of friendship and the shattered ending from two years before.
Although much of the plot is heavy on the foreshadowing, this book will be gripping for young romantics.

Monday, January 9, 2012

There's a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell by Laurie Notaro

Maye is having trouble meeting people since she and her husband moved to Washington. He works at the local college and has a built-in way to meet new friends, but without kids and with a stay-at-home consulting job Maye's short on new friend opportunities. Her bumbling attempts to meet people culminate in the decision to compete in the town's version of a talent show: the Sewer Pipe Queen Pageant.

It's a goofy story filled with comic mishaps and a mild mystery. The book's certainly not high art but it's also not the standard chick-lit: Maye is middle-aged, overweight and more than a little socially challenged.

It took until about page 20 to realize I'd already read this book. It's not the kind of book I would have re-read on purpose, but I was bored and I couldn't remember the end. So I read it again.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

12 Things to Do Before You Crash and Burn by James Proimos

"Hercules" Martino gets put on a kind of timeout - his mom sends him to Uncle Anthony in Baltimore for two weeks  - after he got up at his dad's funeral and says "He was an ass. My father was a complete and total ass."

Uncle Anthony's not real big on supervision or fun sightseeing activities, but he does give Herc an odd list of missions to accomplish. And while he in no way embraces the project, eventually the list provides Hercules with some insight along with a bit of adventure.

Clocking in at 121 pages (many only partially filled), this review is almost longer than the book. This is a super-short book, and it's good.

Herc bumbles his way into as many of the tasks as those he actually sets out to achieve, giving the mission a bit of a "destined" feel. Funny things happen, we learn bit-by-bit about the father-son relationship, and you're sad to see the story end so soon.