Monday, December 30, 2013

Double Feature by Owen King

What if your biggest failure became the thing you were best known for? Sam Dolan used every leverage, favor, and connection he had to make a film right after he graduated from college. It's a semi-fictional coming-of-age story that's also a serious commentary on modern society. And then tragedy strikes.

This novel swivels back and forth through time - hinged upon Sam's filmmaking experience - to tell the bigger picture about Sam's B-movie famous father, his parents' relationship, Sam's childhood, the making of his movie, and what came after.

Perhaps the only person who doesn't love Sam's dad, Booth, is Sam. As a reader you'll understand why Sam has issues with him, but you'll also secretly want to become part of Booth's fan club. Actually, I loved a lot of the characters in this book, which is nice because Sam's sort of prickly: across the timeline he's confused, pretentious, shattered, scared, and really, epically messed up. It's only through the humanity of the friends and family around him you see his potential; the question is, will he do the same?

Great book - it kept me interested, and the shifts in perspective and time continually reveal more to the story. You'll especially love it if you're a cinephile.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Someone like you

by Susan Mallery

In a search for downloadable books to take on vacation, I came across a Mallery title that was completely new to me.  The best part is: there's also a sequel.  On that note, the foreshadowing has me desperately clinging to hope that either the physical or downloadable hold for the next title will hurry up!  Of course, I finished Someone Like You just before a national holiday.

Jill finds herself filing for divorce, out of a job, and back in her dreaded hometown.  To top it all off, her childhood crush is also back and even more tempting than before.  Too bad he's still hung up on a hands off policy where she's concerned.

Mac pretty much owes his life to Jill's father.  He's also intent on fixing his relationship with his eight year old who will only eat foods that match her outfit.  Jill, her clients, and her family are complications in his life. 

This story will make you want to snuggle under a favorite quilt as you watch the one-time bad boy show that he's not only all grown-up, but also a very good man to boot.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Stopping on the street to help a girl in need changes Richard's life - but not necessarily for the better. Besides the fact that his fiance is apoplectic with rage about the distraction, almost immediately weird things start happening: dangerous-looking men at the door, unbelievable occurrences, and then ... it turns out he's invisible.

See, this one act of kindness has essentially erased Richard from the real London Above world's consciousness; he's now part of London Below, where magic and the improbable rule. Fantasy, mythology, an epic quest - this book has it all. And maybe, just maybe, Richard will turn out to be more than anyone expects of him.

I picked up the book because it was recently banned in a high school in New Mexico; nothing makes me want to read a book more than somebody saying you shouldn't. The novel was created from the story Gaiman originally developed created for UK television, and the version I read is listed as the "author's preferred text" and was in fact an audiobook read by Gaiman himself.

I have to say that Gaiman is a masterful storyteller, but he's also an AMAZING reader for audiobooks. It's a different artform - more acting than storytelling - and the vocalization of different characters is a major part of the audio experience. Gaiman is a stellar audio reader. Is there anything this guy ISN'T good at? I don't want to find out. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mary and O'Neil by Justin Cronin

Looking for a great literary novel to discuss with bookclub? This may be the answer.

The novel's actually a series of stories which deal with the sort of everyday occurrences that make up a life: college love and lovers, the bond between siblings, uneasy imperfect relationships between people who love one another, children and change.

While the book is titled after one couple, the story actually encompasses the lives of an entire family - parents, two children, their spouses, and the eventual grandchildren. It's a literary novel, but accessible and relatable to anyone who's ever wondered where they should be going in life, or if they're ever going to figure things out.

This was Cronin's debut novel (2001), and if you're looking for the vampires found in his newer books, you'll be disappointed. But the same wonderful writing is here, and the same pull of strong characters about whom you care and want to see triumph.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wicked City by Alaya Johnson

In an alternate-reality past, 1920s New York is dealing not only with the Prohibition, but also with a controversial new intoxicant for its vampire population called Faust. Should that also be prohibited? Because the alcohol prohibition has worked out so well (not).

Our do-gooder heroine, Zephyr Hollis, grew up in a famous vampire killing family. But on her own as an adult, she's softened her views and taken up campaigning rather than staking. Her best friend is a mystic, and she's accidentally magically bound to a djinni.

This is the second book in the Zephyr Hollis series, and I occasionally felt like I should have read the first book to give me some additional background, but it wasn't strictly necessary for the story. I had a tough time tracking down the first book, but I'll be giving that a try also, soon. And this book ends with a dramatic phone call, certainly indicating another book in the works.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kiss Kids by Chris Ryall, Tom Waltz and Jose Holder

The band KISS' marketing is a strange and diverse thing - the latest example is the new comics series Kiss Kids; they're juvenile bubblegum versions of the stage characters familiar to the KISS Army.

They're a little cheesy - but that's OK, because so is Archie and he's done alright for himself. They're a little cool, because the band is too. Each character has his own brand of swagger, true to the "characters" they become in makeup ... and they're ALWAYS in makeup in the comics. This is an all-ages read, with kid-size conundrums yet lot of in-jokes for fans in-the-know. The art is excellent.

I can see super-fans introducing their kids to KISS with this, and I think it certainly could work.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan

Junior Bender isn't your typical hero - for one, he's a master criminal. But when a burglary-for-hire goes wrong in a million ways (and turns out to be a setup), we discover Junior has a real conscience when it comes to things that matter.

A former child-prodigy actress who fell off the pop culture radar in adolescence is back in the spotlight making an adult film. Junior's "persuaded" to get involved in the film to protect the investors interests. And despite all the trouble, Junior starts to feel protective toward this messed-up young woman - enough to sabotage the plan a bit to get her out of this nasty, icky movie contract.

I really enjoyed this book - the pacing's great, and the characters are compelling. It's a trendy kind of theme (Hollywood's cannibalism of young stars), but doesn't settle into the well-worn grooves.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Two teens thrown together by fate and the school bus become friends (then more) despite the odds - doesn't that sound like a book you want to read? YOU TOTALLY SHOULD!!

Eleanor's new to school, and things at home suck: becoming invisible may be the only way she'll survive her mother's explosive new husband. On the other hand, Park's been in the same neighborhood his whole life and lives a common middle-class existence with minimal family drama. It's not an easy or fast friendship but music and comic books become a common language and a bridge to understanding.

These are kids you relate to and root for - hell, odds are you knew or may have been one of them at some point in your life. And their story is stellar.

And a note: while it's marketed as a teen book, the 1986 setting meant that as a 40-something reader, the music and cultural references were especially poignant for me. Do not miss this one!

(I can see now why some people were so hard on Rowell's book Fangirl - which I read first although it came out second. I absolutely loved that book, but now that I've read this one I can see how Fangirl might falter in a direct comparison. I still think it's a great book ... but this one is EPIC and certainly would be a hard act to follow.)

Man In the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

An unnamed time-travelling dystopian-future dude has to stop someone (himself?) from killing him a year from now at the birthday party he throws himself every year. But if he dies next year, why are there still older versions of himself at the party - shouldn't they never exist?

Sometimes I suspect I'm not smart enough for science fiction; I was continually confused and a little delirious about who, what and which version of the narrator was bending which paradox. The narrator's habit of giving differently aged versions of himself nicknames based on some notable characteristic or experience (The Drunk, Seventy, Screwdriver, and The Inventor) aid the unpuzzling - but also make it easy to forget it's all just future and past versions of the same guy.

The reason I persevered is the storyline that takes place from the party - about a woman he meets the night of the murder, then backtracks six months in time to attempt to steer her away from the party. That six-month story was way more interesting to me - and by the time we caught up to the party again, I simply had to finish to find out what happened.

This book was a tough row to hoe for me, but I suspect there are time-paradox fans who will find it much more though-provoking and engrossing than I.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

An angsty New York teenager is swept down a strange back alley, invited to take a special test, discovers a latent capacity for magic, and as a result gains entry to a secret university. Harry Potter much? Well, not quite - this one takes place in New York, and the students are in college. Also, the book is written for an adult audience.

But the parallels are a bit distracting as a reader, and honestly Grossman's writing doesn't hold up well to a comparison with Rowling. The book felt thin, and yet at the same time much too large. It covers six or seven years total - and a lot happens in that time - and yet because there's so much to cover, nothing gets much attention. It felt like we're reading the first run-through of what the author hopes will become a series, but we've gotten it before the writer has taken the time to break it up into more than one book and to flesh out the story and characters.

The final section - where the gang finds a way into the magic land of a favorite children's book series - is anticlimactic in its desultory plotting. It feels impermanently tacked onto the prior three-quarters of the book, which focus mostly on Q's internal struggles.

A friend gave me this book after she just couldn't get into it. While I did read the whole thing, I thoroughly understand her surrender. There is a sequel, "The Magician King," but I think I'll take a pass on that one.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don's more than a little set in his ways: he has a 7-day meal plan designed for nutritional needs and to perfectly offset his activity level, and his minimal wardrobe is calibrated to his activity level with no concern for fashion or style. He'll make allowances and adjustments as required, but why bother when the calendar is optimized for efficiency?

But Don's also beginning to feel lonely. After a couple disastrous first dates he begins to hone a complicated questionnaire to eliminate time wasted with unsuitable potential partners (smokers, picky eaters). And then a chance encounter and a giant misconception blow Don's whole schedule to bits.

This book is light, funny, and incredibly well written. Don could easily be a bore or a joke or a jerk, but Simsion makes him likeable and sympathetic. You root for him to figure things out, and his endearing challenges make the breakthroughs a glad triumph.

Born Wild

by Julie Ann Walker

Wild Bill Reichert will never forget the way things ended with his little sister's best friend.  There was nothing he could do as she married "the right kind" while he was "sometimes literally drowning in SEAL training".  He's also never forgotten how sweet Eve Edens always was: how unlike her the cruel ending always seemed.  Now he's the best shot she has at staying alive.

Eve has her own demons related to that finale twelve years past.  As hard as it will be to overcome them, she must.  After multiple attempts on her life, it seems her only chance is to stick close to the one black - ops guy who wants little to do with her.  Self-defense classes can only go so far.

Both Eve and Bill are determined to stay alive, and protect their hearts.  Lucky for them, Billy's self-proclaimed specialty is, "hot, slow, and just a little bit dirty."  Ms. Walker comes through with another rip roaring tale of the secretive lives of Black Knights, Inc and the, impossibly sweet, warriors that live within the compound. 

Rumor has it

by Jill Shalvis

Get ready for a hot flash.  The sparks between Griffin and Kate were flying even during his sister's book (Rescue My Heart) which is an early title in the Animal Magnetism series. 

Grif's been medically discharged but would rather not mention that part as he returns for the wedding of his sister and best friend.  Kate's always had a huge crush on her best friend's big brother.  Of course, that means she and Adam are the only people tuned in to Grif enough to see his suffering. 

She's spent years caring for extended family while delaying the opportunity of a lifetime.  He once lit out of town like his tail was on fire.  Now she's got a chance at something great away from Sunshine, Idaho and he has finally returned to his roots. 

Although her self-confidence is often in question when he shows up, Kate knows what she wants: Griffin.  He knows two things: it's a bad idea and his sister will kill him if he touches Kate.  If you thought the sparks flew during that accidental topless Skype in the previous book, just wait until you see these two try to resist the pull in person.  All she wants is one night.  All he wants is to do what he sees as the right thing.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Princess Super Kitty

by Antoinette Portis

You know that little girl (or big girl, or boy) who always wants to play dress up?  Portis has that person captured in this book. One costume is just not enough.  If it's good to be a kitty, it's even better to be a kitty and superhero rolled into one.  The fun builds as the story tumbles along.  This savvy main character knows just when to adapt the costume every time.

This book is great for the month of October when your little one changes her/his mind several times about the ultimate costume.  Why select just one? It's a cute, silly story that will allow creative kids to see even more possibilities. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The next best thing

by Kristan Higgins

Ethan Mirabelli's biggest dumbass move was keeping his mouth shut when his brother and the girl he wanted fell in love at first sight.  Stepping aside that way also makes him a grand hero for this story.

Lucy has loved and lost, just like nearly every woman in her family's recent history.  She has found herself a young widow whose best friend has always been her brother-in-law.  Somewhere along the way she "convinced" him to make theirs a friendship with benefits.  After all, her heart has been shattered, and so has his.  Comforting one another seems only natural.

Then again, Ethan is really all wrong in Lucy's eyes.  At the start of this story, she's decided to find a new husband.  The perfect candidate will be reliable, and utterly uninspiring as far as her tattered heart (and libido) is concerned.  Um, yeah, smoking hot Ethan is definitely out of the running; his job keeps him away from home regularly, and then there's that pesky chemistry.

Higgins has crafted yet another funny, heartwarming story with characters that find just the right kick in the pants to get them together. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Perfect Match

by Kristan Higgins

You might start this book thinking, "Oh, poor, Honor Holland."  Yes, she finds herself in a barroom battle with her best friend. Yes, the man she's loved for years rejects her. Yes, she decides an arranged marriage is her only hope toward motherhood one day.  She winds up with a freaking hottie who's incredibly intelligent.  Poor Honor, my foot.

She takes on pseudo-motherhood to a boy who is not quite a stepson.  Luckily for Honor and Tom, the bond with this teenage boy is a strong factor in making the marriage work.   Like any teen, Charlie is struggling with evolving friendships, bullies, and his own world view.  He's never had much in the way of a truly loving family other than Tom.  When suddenly thrust into the Holland clan, there is a definite adjustment period regarding unconditional acceptance. 

Higgins' characters are funny, snarky, and terrible liars.  Somehow, they manage to fool even the toughest critics of the relationship.  Of course, with this arranged marriage, there is a period of utter loneliness for two individuals who crave more love, nurturing, and, yes, sex, than they believe is available.  Don't worry fans, Higgins makes quick work of that misconception. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING, or Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog by Jen Lancaster

Most adult women fall into two classes: those who want to be Martha Stewart, and those who are horrified by that idea. Even Martha's daughter is in on the joke with "Whatever, Martha." But you have to admit that if you want to do something right (fold a fitted sheet, grow roses, organize the pantry, throw a baby shower), Martha's got the checklist and recommendations. So it's not surprising that when Jen Lancaster decided to make changes to run her household more efficiently, she turned to Martha Stewart's counsel.

Insane ill-trained animals, drawers and cupboards shoved full of disorganized crap, and a garden that barely grows even with professional supervision - these are the hallmarks of Lancaster's home. But she's also the chick you want to have cocktails with (or get invited to one of her parties) because she's always got a good story featuring her own ineptitude. I love her books precisely because she's so relatably messed up and funny.

In the course of a year Jen hilariously agrees with Martha, disagrees with Martha, skews very far from the mission and then comes back around again. Life happens in the meantime, and eventually she builds her own Tao of Martha (and Tao of Maisy, Jen's dog) based on determining what's overkill, what's appropriate, what's worth the time and trouble, and what actually makes life "a good thing."

And you'll get to enjoy the journey without spending a whole paycheck at The Container Store or making a gift box from an acorn!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It's a dark tale, full of suspense, that starts quite innocently: a trip back to his hometown takes a man down memory lane to a place and time he'd forgotten.

The new renter to the family's upstairs room brought bad things from the start for the young boy, his family, and his neighborhood. But it also introduced him to the family of women at the end of the road - the Hempstocks. What happens next is a tale strange, scary, and unexpected.

Gaiman is such a masterful writer, that as a reader you're just swept up and carried away in the story. I listened to the audiobook (read by the author), and enjoyed every minute. And what I loved most is that just as the story's winding down to it conclusion, Gaiman is able to sweep the rug out from under us in a truly fantastic way. I was left stunned and tearful at the end, more in love with Gaiman as an author with every story.

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

Do you have one of those storytellers in your life who, when they begin a tale, you're never quite sure if it's truth or fabrication? I do, and this book reminds me of Pops. Neil Gaiman had one, too - the book is dedicated to his father "who would have told the tale with delight" and his son "who would never have believed a word of it." Sounds about right.

When Dad takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r on his run out to get milk for breakfast, he's got some explaining to do when he returns home to the kids. Luckily, there's a good reason it took so long: abduction by aliens, pirates, dinosaurs ... I won't spoil it for you. Let's just say it's a tall, tall tale. Fortunately, the milk stayed with him through it all.

(Perhaps I've just got Halloween on my mind, but it would be soooo fun to group-costume this story. I've got dibs on Queen of the Pirates, though.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sophie's Squash

by Pat Zeitlow Miller

Little Sophie starts off the book on an average adventure with her parents.  They are just heading off to the farmer's market to pick up a few things for dinner.  On the very first page, she's so helpful, she even picks out the finest squash available while her parents look on proudly.  However, this young lady has absolutely no intention of eating that magnificent morsel.  It quickly becomes her dearest friend. 
Our staff was enamored with this story even before we knew the author is relatively local.  How could we not be?  Sophie even totes her pal to the library.  She does eventually have to admit that the farmer she met on the day Bernice came home might know the best way to care for her as the squash begins to age.  The reader is treated to roughly a year of Sophie's life and her relationship with a just right friend.

All the water in the world

by George Ella Lyon

This picture book is a wondrous blend of realistic fiction, non-fiction and poetry.  The story actually begins on the title page and flows as a smooth river of language.  Many pages are filled with nonlinear text perfect for tracing with a finger.  What a magnificent way to showcase those shapes that make up letters and letters that make up words; Oh, the early literacy opportunities!  Every page gives a distinctly different view of water and its many uses. 
I've already told you how great this is for very young listeners, but older kids could love this, too.  It's filled with poetry, and dynamically varied illustrations.  More so, it realistically portrays the water cycle.  Poetry and non-fiction? Pop this story into a science lesson to balance out those Common Core State Standards. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

Music geeks who came of age during the 1990s will find fraternity in Sheffield's tales of his relationship, marriage and widowhood. Despite the subject of grief, this is an often-funny book with touchstones for even those who haven't experience his kind of loss.

You remember mix tapes, right? Finding, combining, and recording music in a perfect combination to express a mood or emotion is an artform lost in today's playlist-and-shuffle world. Rob and Renee created tapes to help with dishwashing and going to sleep along with the more common dance and exercise compilations. 

It's easy to understand how Sheffield's connections to music shift after Renee's sudden death. There are songs he'll never listen to the same way again - some for better, some for worse. And this book will make you dust off those old mixtapes from your own life and also run to iTunes for some new finds.

The audiobook version is read by the author, which brings a new layer of meaning to the tough and terrible times he experiences after Renee. He does a commendable job getting through it - I'm not sure I'd have been so strong. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The black rabbit

by Philippa Leathers

Get ready for a great snuggling book.  This story shows a little bunny who is terribly frightened by a big, black rabbit one sunny day.  The black rabbit does everything he does and follows him everywhere.  He manages to lose the black rabbit behind a tree momentarily, and also when he swims.  Finally, he reaches the deep dark wood where he thinks he's safe.

Little ones will love the illustrations that convey the bunny's fear without ever making the book actually scary for the reader.  Kids as young as three knew right away what the black rabbit was all about, but will still play along with an animated reader.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt

Although she downplays it in her reminiscence, Linda Ronstadt's fame and that of her friends really is the history of American pop music in the 1970s and 1980s: They either were the zenith of stardom, or were reacting to it (and often in opposition to it) with their own styles and pursuits.

This is a wonderful memoir if you're a fan of music. Ronstadt talks about the importance influence of the music she heard as a child, and her evolution as an artist. While many claimed her voice was near perfect, she continually worked to hone her craft and improve her technique through new challenges and styles. I found it interesting that she was never a songwriter - always the interpreter and a collector of others' music.

But if you're looking for backstage gossip and personal revelations, you'll have to look elsewhere. While she's perfectly comfortable drawing back the curtain to reveal backstage influences and musical struggles, once she leaves "work" she's much less forthcoming. I often resorted to wikipedia for more personal background. For example: she does not talk about becoming a mother or parenthood; her children are solely mentioned in passing as inspiration for lullabies.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Always on my mind

by Jill Shalvis

The people of Lucky Harbor are ready to watch another couple get lost in love.  Not only, that, they will happily write about it on any social media site they can find.

Leah is back in the town she couldn't leave fast enough.  Lucky for her there are a few great people making it a lot more happy this time around.  She's got great new friends you've seen in other Shalvis titles like Ali and Aubrey (I hear she's getting a story, too).  She's also got great old friends like Ben and Jack.

Yeah, Jack.  He was always the one she ran to when things got rough at home.  He was older, wilder, and just protective enough to be a perfect fit.  Too bad she panicked way back then.  Even when she was gone, he was her rock. That rock has grown up to be the town's hottest firefighter.

Now Jack's mom is battling illness, and Leah slips up with a little white lie.  Surely, she and Jack can pretend to be together if it will bring Dee some happiness.  Surprisingly, Jack goes along with the sham, and the citizens of Lucky Harbor get to watch real sparks fly in the made up relationship.

Shalvis has reunited her readers with a favorite community.  She threw in just enough suspense to keep this reader guessing as Jack tried to solve the string of arsons plaguing his hometown. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Going to college is a giant scary step into adulthood for most kids - but for Cath it's nearly unbearable. She just got divorced by her identical twin (who wanted her own - independent - college experiences), her new, older roommate is SCARY, and she can't face the unknown long enough to even find the cafeteria. What's an introverted girl to do? Hole up, eat protein bars, and write fan fiction!

Cath is a famous fan fiction writer online with a following of thousands (the Simon Snow books she's obsessed with are a kind of literary mashup between Harry Potter and Twilight). Away from the internet, Cath's not sure she's got what it takes to be a "real" writer. Or maybe even a real person.

Can I just say I loved this book? LOVED THIS BOOK. I'm not much for love/dating stories - and not only is Cath trying to figure those things out, she writes a gay love story for her online characters. Usually that would be enough to send me running. And still, I loved this book. I couldn't put it down, and I wanted to see what would happen next. The characters are fully three-dimensional with faults and attractions and quirks and annoyances.

Now, excuse me while I backtrack to find and read Rowell's other books ...

Sutton by J.R. Moehringer

Willie Sutton was one of the last great bank robbers and a folk hero to the Depression-strapped Americans who lost it all thanks to the crooks in suits that ran the banking industry. But Sutton was also quite a storyteller, which is what captivated former journalist Moehringer: Sutton wrote two autobiographies (which contradict one another), and the police reports don't tell the same story as the newspaper accounts. So Moehringer spun a fiction story between the "facts" of the known story.

The book takes place on the day Sutton is released from Attica State Prison, Christmas 1969. He's picked up and put up by a New York newspaper reporter and photographer who have been promised the exclusive on his first 24 hours of freedom. Willie takes them on an epic roadtrip through his past and all over New York City - much to their chagrin. Between stops, we get Willie's story through his reminiscence - but reporter and photographer get barely anything; we hear Willie's thoughts, but they're left in the cold.

I'll read anything J.R. Moehringer writes (I loved his memoir "The Tender Bar" and read Agassi's "Open" because he was the ghostwriter) and this one was no disappointment. He's so good at putting you right into the action that non-fiction (or pseudo non-fiction) feels like great fiction.

At 15 hours long, this audiobook is practically "real-time" - I felt like I was spending Christmas Day in the car right along with Willie, reporter, and photographer. I loved the story, and many times I was compelled to further research a fact or character to find out how much was real. It's a great inside look at a period of American history that tends to get written off in broad strokes of Depression, poor, blah blah. I feel I better understand the frustrations and struggles through Sutton's story (even if it's hypothetical, pseudo-fiction, and unreliable).

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich

Taking it several steps farther than the old "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" - in these stories Rich suggests it's more like men are horny billy goats and women are androids.

This book is a collection of short stories - really, they're brief vignettes (often funny, some sad) on various aspects of love and relationships. Some stories are just a single page, and the longest are about 10 pages; Rich was a staff writer on Saturday Night Live and some of these definitely feel like sketch-worthy setups.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it's a great pick-it-up-and-put-it-down kind of book because of the brevity of the stories. Depending on your own history and experience, I guarantee a couple stories will trigger something in you and stick in the back of your mind. Others may be forgotten as quickly as you've turned the page. The stories range from science fiction to absurdism and fantasy, a want-ad, game show clues, and a few are even more true-life with a twist. This one's definitely worth the time if you're a fan of contemporary fiction.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Enon by Paul Harding

After the sudden death of his preteen daughter Kate, Charlie Crosby slowly falls apart right before our eyes. As his bright mind turns in on itself, folding over, returning, and twisting his too-short time with Kate, we watch with increasing horror as he barely notices life unspooling around him.

Harding's known for his lyricism, and this literary novel is thoughtfully, subtly crafted. Charlie's a smart guy, and the way Harding depicts his mental wanderings and near-hallucinations is really a thing of beauty: we're right there with him, and even at his worst the reader understands, empathizes, and follows Charlie into the deepest depths.

It's a novel to savor - not one to gulp down in a sitting - although its dark, raw nature sometimes made it hard to want to pick up again. Ultimately, the time is worth the trouble. This is a wonderful book, and a unique, poetic look at grief and death and life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ostrich by Matt Greene

Alex is working hard to figure things out: Are his parents divorcing? What happened to his hamster? Is his dad cheating? Where do you start when measuring your penis length?

Complicating matters for Alex are the fact he's ill (brain tumor, but the details are left for us to muddle out) and simultaneously intellectually precocious while emotionally immature.

While Alex is a middle-schooler, there are mature situations in this book and the much of its comedy is found in Alex's naivety, which requires the perspective of an older reader to comprehend. I guess what I'm saying, is that I think the book is written for adults. Seriously: not a book for middle-schoolers, despite the colorful cover and main character's age.

The writing style is unusual - sometimes it's straight narrative, sometimes more stream-of-consciousness, occasionally in untranslated non-English (French, post-seizure gibberish), and often a bit disjointed. Like Alex's perspective.

The spelling is "creative" - when Alex mis-hears (or is led astray by his jokester father), things are spelled out as he believes them to be. The book title is actually part of this: "I already know what it's like to feel ostrichized, which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can't fly, so they often feel left out)." (quote from page 16)   Click to see a true definition of ostracize from Merriam Webster.

I really enjoyed this book, but the end came as a bit of a surprise to me. I could even get on a soapbox and say it was unsatisfactory, but at the same time that may be what the author intended.

(Sorry if this review gets you excited and then you can't locate this book: from what I can tell, this book hasn't been released in the US and may not be in the near future. Every review I see online - including this one - came from reviewers' reading advance readers copies, and the Fall 2013 publication date seems to have been cancelled. On a positive note - apparently the ARCs are not hard to come by!)

Rose Under Fire

by Elizabeth Wein

The sequel to Code Name Verity is an equally compelling, wrenching account of World War II.  This time the prisoner we get to know is in a concentration camp.  As tough as it seemed Verity's battles were, Rose experiences and sees even worse.  Although this is a work of fiction, Wein has managed to continue the pleas of so many of the victims: "Tell the world."  This is only a sliver of insight into what happened to so very many people.

Rose is a young ferry pilot from the USA. By the standards of that war, she should never have been flying within range of the enemy.  Upon finding herself a prisoner of war, she follows instructions from the one English speaker she meets in order to be treated as humanely as possible.  As expected, translations, and huge masses of individuals simply create havoc which change her circumstances exponentially. 

Throughout her horrific explanations, the reader sees glimpses of hope.  Rose's memories of home, her boyfriend, and her primarily up-to-date account of the war give other prisoners something to cling to.  The sense of community and family many of them create give Rose opportunities to find strength when her own suffering threatens to overwhelm. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Nickel Plated by Aric Davis

Nickel's not like other kids: He lives alone in a rented two-bedroom house he pays for with money from his private investigation business, online perv extortions, and by selling marijuana he's growing between the corn rows in the backyard. He understands that kids are mostly invisible to adults - unless there's a reason to pay attention to them (Shouldn't he be in school? Why is a kid that young doing the grocery shopping? What's he in such a hurry for?). He's gotten good at "average kid" camouflage.

Nickel is a strange mix of 12 year old and adult, and that's a major appeal of this book: the discord these two opposite characteristics creates for the reader. Another major appeal is that Davis has given this kid a classic crime noir setup: the solitary PI, the attractive dame, the shadowy backstory, and the colorful cast of characters (good and bad). It's familiar, yet totally unique.

I picked up this book based on a recommendation from library comic Unshelved, and I was certainly not disappointed. I even read a bit of it aloud to my fiction-hating husband, who thoroughly enjoyed it and asked for more!

I loved this book. I can see this character taking off into a series (this is Davis' debut novel), and I'd definitely read more. Nickel's horrific backstory is still a bit vague (it's meted out in tiny bits and hints), and there's plenty of room for growth.


by Judy Blume

Recently, there was a list of 40 Trashy Novels You Must Read Before You Die.  For the most part, it was entertaining to see which had already made the cut in my life.  Also fascinating were those that did not.  As a children's librarian, I've read my fair share of Judy Blume's collection.  The gamut of romance novels for adults has also been run.  Somehow, Wifey slipped through the cracks.  All in all, I'm pretty sure that Jackie Collins influenced Ms. Blume on this one.   This is no preteen guide to life.  When someone tells you Blume wrote an adult novel, they are not kidding.

A pretty, bored housewife discovers within herself a desire to banish the sexual repression that has dogged her life.  In an era when casual sex was becoming less taboo, she explores her fantasies to the brink.   Wifey has little respect for her domineering husband and his static sexual choices.  She remembers the excitement of her youth and the timidity she felt towards exploration with her boyfriend.  When opportunity knocks, Wifey opens wide the door to her own personal sexual-revolution.

In fewer than 300 pages, Blume rockets her main character from repression to full understanding of her choices.  Tag along as Wifey rides her fantasies through all the phases of reality, with or without approval from others.

Monday, September 2, 2013

1,227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off by John Lloyd, John Mitchison, and James Harkin

Three quiz-show creators pulled together a bunch of their favorite, most compelling factoids, strung them together into an order of their own logic, and the result was this funny, interesting, light book.

This would be a good pick-it-up-and-put-it-down kind of book (it's just a string of facts) - but I'll admit, I just sat down and read it straight through. That allowed me to enjoy the eccentric thread of logic the authors applied in organizing the facts - they're not sorted by subject or themed in any way. It's just a bunch of things these guys thought were interesting. And you will, too.

It might be a good car-ride book; you really want to share some of these facts as you read them.  And you're guaranteed to come away with something new ... even if it's just that armadillos carry leprosy.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Cinderella deal

by Jennifer Crusie

While the main characters do refer to their budding relationship as "The Cinderella Deal", Crusie manages to make the plot vastly different from that of the historically famous waif rescued by magic and a prince.
Instead, she's got sassy, energetic Daisy and, seemingly, lifeless Linc.  He's a college professor with no time for his neighbor's silliness.  She's an artistic sort who has never learned that a little order can make life sweeter.  The two are at odds early.
Linc uncharacteristically lies himself into a corner, and realizes that the only way out is to convince his flighty acquaintance to be his fake fiance.  Soon enough, the lie grows until it seems there is little chance of escape. 
I read this months ago. It was fun, but I don't remember why.  Sorry.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

When Alex Woods was 10 he got beaned in the noggin by a large meteorite that slammed through his home's roof at 200 miles per hour and conked him out. He's lucky to be alive - although he lost a month of his life (he doesn't remember anything for 2 weeks before, or the 2 weeks he was in a coma) and now he's got to deal with epilepsy caused by the injury.

That's not the only reason he's a bit different. He's really into science and math but hates sports, so that's made him a target for bullies. Oh, and his mom runs a crystal and healing shop and reads tarot cards.

But he can thank those bullies for the incident that introduced him to Mr. Peterson; what began as making restitution turns into an unconventional friendship between the teen and the Vietnam vet. And that friendship ultimately leads to the biggest action in the book.

I'm not sure if this book is supposed to be young adult or adult ... and who cares about labels anyway? It's such a great book that I think anyone over the age of 16 should give it a try (why 16? why not?). Alex is the right kind of quirky - the kind you see yourself in, even if you've got your own unique style of strange. His mother loves him, and he's a guy who does what he believes is right.

I cried. And laughed a lot. Read this book!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hyperbole and A Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh is that wild sort of storyteller whose true tales should make you weep for her struggles but instead make you howl with laughter. And they're accompanied with her distinctive kindergarten-style MS Paint illustrations.

Brosh has a wildly popular blog ( that birthed this book; the publisher says half the book previously appeared on the blog, and half is brand-new material. Whether it's the story about her desperate efforts to eat somebody else's birthday cake as a child, or the challenges of adopting "broken" dogs you won't even mind if you've seen it before - it's worth the reminder.

Perhaps her most inspirational work is about her own mental health challenges. Brosh has been very open and outspoken about her struggles with depression and anxiety, and I think her brave, honest descriptions are an important part of the dialog. Plus, did I mention she's got a hell of a sense of humor?

I follow Brosh's blog, and I was anxiously awaiting this book. I'm delighted that the book holds true to her visual style, and I'm certain she'll attract many, many new fans with its release.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975) by Ken Sharp, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley

I don't remember a time when there was no KISS; in my life they've always existed. And for that reason, this book was very interesting to me - it chronicles their rise to fame, and the immense struggles it took for the band to build an audience and one-by-one win over the critics.

I really wanted to LOVE this book. And I do actually love it, a little - but I also thought they needed a much stronger editor (the book is an unwieldy 560 pages long). If four people said that Paul and that one guy didn't get along, all four quotes are in the book: Wouldn't we have been better served by one of those quotes, and then perhaps Paul's perspective? The book could have been about one-third shorter.

What did I love? The stories! The day the band took over Cadillac, Michigan and the reasons why. The friendship between KISS and Rush (and the animosity between KISS and Aerosmith), plus Ted Nugent's opinion on a KISS stage show. The only time Gene ever got high and the one time Paul got drunk. During the timespan this book covers, the band was a strong fierce foursome, a band of brothers - before things got ugly and the split happened. Ace and Peter are quoted extensively in the book, and while there's a bit of foreshadowing there's no ugliness or animosity in this book.

And a minor annoyance: I wished there had been a few more pictures. Most of the photos in the book are previously unreleased, which is very cool. But when they talk about the photo shoots for the album covers, I wish they'd also given us the cover (I spent a lot of time looking things up on the internet while reading this book).

Highly recommended for the KISS Army, and still recommended for more casual fans. You'll come away with a new appreciation for how hard they've worked to get where they are.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

William Eng is the only Chinese child at his Seattle orphanage. On the boys' birthday (they're all celebrated at once - the girls get a different day), William is shocked to see his mother starring in the movie preview for an upcoming live movie-star appearance. You can imagine that a boy like William won't rest until he sees and speaks with the actress Willow Frost.

A few years back I loved Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and this one is just as good. The author does an fantastic job of really putting you into the American minority experience.

Bad things happen to William and his mother, Liu Song, but they aren't solely minority stories; during the depression and 1920s life was hard for many in Seattle and elsewhere, white or otherwise. But the fact that both characters are American-born Chinese (who have never been to China) does add a different flavor and accent to the story.

This story contains heartbreak and misfortune, but also innocence and optimism. And I never knew this real-world history about early American film (before Hollywood became our movie capital). Fascinating, and another great one for your book club to discuss.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster

Subtitled: "A Life, A Witch, and A Wardrobe, or the Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered, Smart-Ass Phase"

Remember the glory days of childhood where your biggest wardrobe concerns were whether you shouldn't wear yellow on Tuesdays (or was that Thursdays?) and if you remembered your sash for the Girl Scout meeting this afternoon?  Jen Lancaster remembers that and so much more.

Lancaster's made a writing career by telling her own life stories with wit and sarcasm. I've read some of her other books (who could forget the story about going to the unemployment office carrying a designer bag?) and they're all really, really funny. This time around, Jen's mining her childhood, teen years, college, and early adulthood - the pre-career Jen, you could call it.

We all have special childhood memories, but in addition to remembering "the lobster birthday" Jen also recalls what she was wearing and why. Framing these great self-mocking memories with significant wardrobe choices gives the stories a connecting thread - and a bit of foreshadowing, in many cases. Also, the luxury of time allows Jen to look back with added wisdom that brings a new depth to the stories: one story's big gay reveal is all the funnier because there are a signs, references and hints sprinkled in the lead-up, to all of which teen-Jen is hilariously myopic.

I listened to the audio, read by Jamie Heinlein, and this is a perfect car-read. It's laugh-out-loud funny and likely to send you on your own mini-nostalgia trip of bad hairstyles and questionable fashion.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Double Crossed

by Ally Carter

Carter has mixed the worlds in two of her series with this free ebook.  This novella appears to be a teaser for more interaction between the Heist Society and Gallagher Girls characters.

Macy McHenry is not just the society princess the press sees.  Readers know her as a master spy.  That's why she's so keenly notices Hale's sneaky tactics during THE social event of the season.  Quickly, the two must rely upon each other to stay alive, and save all the other hostages.

This is fun, quick, and hopefully a portent of things to come from Ms. Carter.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

This is a STUNNING novel about a bad mother. And while you find yourself thinking "Josephine doesn't seem so bad ..." well, that's the thing!

Perfect eldest child Rose ran away. Middle child and hellraiser Violet tells us half the story. Protected, sheltered youngest, Will, tells the other half of the story. Between the lines, we may find the truth.

Years ago I read Zailckas' memoir, "Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood" (published in 2005) and I remember that I really enjoyed her terrifying but not wholly surprising story of alcohol abuse. I was curious about her transition into fiction writing - and then, I was utterly blown away when I read this.

As a reader you don't know what happened - and maybe you don't even know what you don't know. It's become so trite this year to compare everything to Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl", except in this case there are true similarities in the way the novel is written and the way the storyline is revealed.

This is a wonderful book, and I'll be talking about it a lot in the near future. Don't miss this one!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Leonard Peacock has a gun in his backpack, and once he's delivered a few parting gifts he's going to kill Asher Beal, then himself. It's something that needs to be done - and today's the day.

Not just another book about school shootings, this one's a fantastic look from Leonard's perspective. Through his thoughts, memories, and interactions we learn about Leonard's lonely existence and piece together the source of his fury. Leonard (and the reader) know that each conversation today will mean something different in reflection tomorrow, after Leonard fulfills his plan. And when you can see things from Leonard's point of view, you really may see why he thinks this is a logical course of action.

This book is puzzling, heartbreaking, suspenseful, and thoughtful. Leonard's a guy you want to befriend before it's too late. You wonder how in the world it got this bad, while also understanding that all too frequently kids like Leonard slip between the cracks.

Quick's an excellent writer who really gets inside the head of his characters (see also: Silver Linings Playbook). This book features a multitude of footnotes (little asides in Leonard's narrative) and some typographical weirdness (when Leonard's closest to the edge of insanity, so is the text - it gets crammed out to the page's edge and marginalized like Leonard).

I love, love, love this book - it's absolutely one of my new favorite books.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Three little words

by Susan Mallery

The town of Fool's Gold is still awash in romantic entanglements.  For those that remember the Hendrix Family, Ford is home from his stint as a Navy SEAL.  His ex-fiance's little sister, Isabel, is also back in town running the family bridal shop. 
While Isabel's once unrequited crush has long since passed, she and Ford do still seem to enjoy each others' company.  As can be expected, the rest of the Hendrix family is ready to see Ford and his brother, Kent settle down.  Grandchildren are always nice to have.  The bonus in this book is that we get to follow Kent through his foibles at wooing a war-hardened woman. 
Four people each set out with goals in mind.  Isabel has no intentions of staying in town long.  Two have spent so much time in war zones that they've never had an opportunity to try loving.  Then there is Kent; he's such a quintessential good guy that he might struggle with exciting the exotic Consuelo  long term. 
Depending on your mood, either Jo or Patience will be waiting with just your favorite treat when you settle into the latest Fool's Gold fantasy.

Monday, July 29, 2013

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Both Jeremiah and Ellie are new to their private Manhattan high school, and both are going through a rough patch in their personal lives. When they run into one another (literally) the first time in the halls, something immediately clicks into place.

But he's black, and she's Jewish; she's a doctor's youngest daughter, and he's a famous artistic couple's only child. While they're defiant together as a couple, they're each reluctant to introduce the other to their family.

One thing I found interesting is the relative timelessness of this story - Woodson has made it feel contemporary, yet they don't use cell phones or Facebook or IM one another. There's no tech to date the story. So it would be wonderful as a discussion book: when do you think the book takes place? Could the book have taken place in 1986? Or 2016? What might be different?

The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

Hugo Marston isn't your traditional investigator - he's not a cop, he's the chief of security for the US Embassy in Paris. But somehow, he just can't keep to himself when he sees wrong being done.

Here, the wrong is the abduction of a Paris bookseller, a man Hugo counts as a friend. The fact that everyone else on the street lied to police and said that Max went willingly means only Hugo is really investigating. Good thing he's on "vacation" this week.

I recently read the second in this series (The Crypt Thief) and enjoyed it enough I hunted down this first in the series, too. Unlike that book, in The Bookseller the reader doesn't know any more than Hugo does - we're piecing together the puzzle as he is.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

High school senior Keir is a football player, a decent athlete, and an all-around good guy, he says. But the more he talks to us (the reader) and to Gigi Boudakian, the more we start to see there's a darker side to these stories that he's apparently overlooking. And the scary part is that he really, truly believes his own bright-side stories.

It's a quick read, only 165 pages. This would be an awesome book for a teen discussion - I can see a great conversation about the lies we tell ourselves, about social responsibility, about bullying, and about how often athletes are held as above reproach.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nation by Terry Pratchett

The big wave took everything Mau has ever known - his Nation (a tropical island) has been swept away, along with all its inhabitants. The young man lived only because he was on the water when it happened.

The same wave killed everyone aboard a large sailing ship - except one properly raised "princess" ill-equipped for primitive survival. Against the odds and a language barrier, together they survive, grieve, grow, learn to communicate, and build a new Nation with the refugees who appear one by one on the island.

As with any Pratchett book, there's a lesson, some philosophical questions to ponder, and a lot of just really funny gags. This one pokes fun of monarchy and manners, introduces us to the tree-climbing octopus, and introduces a new brand of Robinson Crusoe.

Runt by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Middle school is hell, and you just gotta get through it. But if it's truly that bad for everyone, why does it seem like some people have it made in the shade?

This book tells a couple different stories - some boys, some girls - and in the course of the back-and-forth, ahead in time and back again, we get multiple perspectives on the action: a boy pees on another boy's shoe, gossip flies online, a fake online profile is created.

What becomes clear is that there are at least two sides to every story, and maybe bullying isn't a black-or-white thing. Was the victim innocent? How long does it take for a dish of revenge to get cold?

This is a book that should (and I hope it does) get a lot of attention with middle schoolers, their parents, and their teachers. There's a lot to talk about: what would you do? Have you ever seen something like this? It's hard to rise above - is it even possible?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Midnight, Jesus & Me: Misfit Memoirs of a Full Gospel, Rock & Roll Late Night Suicide Crisis Psychotherapist by J.M. Blaine

Often it seems like the people who could most use a spiritual leg-up are the people evangelists most want to avoid. But those ne're-do-wells - the homeless, insane, unloved, unwashed, hard-rockin' and hard-livin' - are just J.M. Blaine's kind of people.

This is a phenomenal book about Blaine's personal journey into adulthood (although he'll always be 11 years old inside). He drifted a bit through young adulthood searching for his "place" through music, books, religion, work, and education - and ultimately found they all slot together. Blaine took a job in the psych ward to pay for college and wound up with a PhD, certified as a therapist. But he's not your mama's kind of doctor: he'll play punk rock hymns on rollerskates, takes Jesus with him everywhere (including the strip club), and would never pass up a game of pinball. You can see how he's got a unique talent to connect with people others can't (or won't) reach.

The book's written in short stories: anecdotes and vignettes that when taken as a whole give you a bigger picture. It's inspiring, and made me very glad there are people with skills and talents like Blaine's who do this kind of work.

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Emma is white, and her parents are American - although she's lived in Japan since she was a baby and she has never been in the US longer than a visit. She feels 100% Japanese on the inside. So she's definitely in for a culture shock when the Karas family moves to grandma's in Massachusetts for awhile (months? a year?) while Emma's mother is in treatment for breast cancer.

This book is written in verse, and the story deals quite a bit with artistic expression: As Emma struggles with the fact her outside doesn't match her "filling", dance and poetry become outlets for her emotions. Volunteering at the nursing home she becomes friends with a stroke victim who communicates only through eye movement, several elderly Cambodian refugees, and many American kids of Cambodian ethnicity, who collectively help Emma realize she's not alone - that many people have internal lives that don't match their physical shell.

I enjoyed the book, and I think it would have been equally well served in prose form. Emma and her friends are relatable, intelligent teens with real-world concerns. The author does an excellent job with character and pacing, and I loved that the world's not tied up in a tidy bow at the end - while still giving readers a satisfying resolution.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

Just one phone call and Becky Randle's life changed: celebu-designer Tom Kelly offers this trailer park orphan three dresses and a deal she just can't refuse. Adventure! Travel! Fame! Along with the face and body to go with it (sans surgery) - while she's still simply Becky on the inside, everyone else magically sees the human ideal that is Rebecca.

The story's like "The Princess Diaries" swirled with the ominous candy-colored magic of "Willy Wonka" then filtered through the snarky pop culture lens of E! Entertainment Television.

It's funny, fabulous and really fun. It's a quick read and light but also contains an important message about beauty and soul. I'm highly recommending this for anyone who loves glossy celebrity magazines, high-fashion vamps, and royal watchers - while Rudnick contorts his characters into fiction, you'll easily recognize their real-world inspirations.

Big Girl Panties

by Stephanie Evanovich

The newest Evanovich on the literary scene has created witty, likeable characters.  Not just anyone can endure the hardships Holly Brennan has had in her life and still come across as funny when the sarcasm rolls.  While Holly starts the book with a self-deprecating view, she is never mean or spiteful.  Even when she sees herself negatively, this character has enough spunk to push herself toward a higher goal.

It doesn't hurt that her new personal trainer is hotter than Adonis.  Evanovich masterfully creates just enough baggage for each character to keep them apart until she is ready to push them together long term.  Whether you settle in for the laughs on the beach, pontoon, or patio, you will find this light love story a welcome addition to your summer.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Crypt Thief by Mark Pryor

I picked up the book because the first murders takes place at Jim Morrison's grave in Pere Lachaise cemetery - I kept reading it because it's good.

Through a strange twist of political positioning, the murder investigation has been hijacked from the French police by a CIA spook and the US embassy's security chief. And while they're chasing a terrorist as their lead suspect, they also secretly know he's not the murderer - so they're chasing the real killer on the side.

Throw in a sexy newspaper reporter, a substance abuse problem, and a truly deranged serial killer and you'll see why I found this book so entertaining. The investigative characters are well developed and interact in the joking, knowing way long-time friends can. While the Scarab's plan is no secret to the reader, but his full implementation is still shocking.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline

Podiatrist Dr. Mike Scanlon is making a difference in Afghanistan, where incendiary devices have made his special skills invaluable. But while he's quietly doing good work in a war-torn country, things aren't peaceful at home either: he's barely met his infant daughter, his wife Chloe is putting on a brave face as sole parent, and then a freak accident flips everything upside down.

This book fits into a subgenre of contemporary writing marketed to women I've seen called "Mother Love" - ripped-from-the-headlines, emotionally driven stories of a family in peril and a mother who overcomes all to save a child. Scottoline has written a number of them, and Jodi Picoult pretty much invented the form. What sets this book apart is it's departure from the standard: this story revolves around a father, for once.

Mike's the kind of guy who should have a perfect life, yet one thing after another sweep the feet out from under him. It's a very good book, well written with fast action and just enough tension to keep you turning pages long after you should have gone to bed. (I actually started to catalog this at the library and got sucked in; I had to take it home to read when I discovered I'd read 20 pages sitting at my desk.) 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen

Despite the title, this book's not about food; it's really a memoir about growing up and traveling and figuring out who you are ... but there's also a good bit of food, too (and recipes).

Christensen had an uneven childhood with some rough family dynamics: her parents divorce and her dad's involvement in the family falls away. They struggle through hard times. Even as an adult Christensen has a tense, volatile relationship with her sisters and mother.

Throughout her life she travels in an almost accidental, haphazard way facilitated by her extended family's ties in the anthroposophist movement and Waldorf schools; by becoming a nanny or cook or camp counselor she spends extended time away from home and around the globe.

She experiences many styles of food and many kinds of cooking, picking up bits here and there. She's chubby then thin, fat and then willowy again - her relationships with food are as uncertain as her home life.

It's an interesting story, and well written. I kept rooting for her to get her life straightened around and find happiness - it's not a tragic story, more a relatable tale of an unconventional family and a self-described late bloomer.

I would recommend this to those who also enjoyed Jeannette Walls' "The Glass Castle."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

A literary who-done-it that sweeps across two world wars, this novel in letter format encompasses both a transcontinental pen-pal relationship during the first World War and a young woman's journey of self-discovery during WWII.

We know right away these two stories are connected; early on it's clear that the end of the first war story is going to illuminate the beginning of the second - and the getting there is truly the good part.

These are wonderful letters, the kind we don't write any more: back then friendships and entire relationships were sustained on paper and moved only at the speed of postage. And Brockmole does an amazing job fleshing out these characters into completely realized people only through their correspondence.

Book clubs will love this one as much as they did the similarly structured The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But it's not a simple knock-off; this book stands on its own merit as an exciting read with fantastic storytelling.

Shut Up, You're Welcome: Thoughts on Life, Death, and Other Inconveniences by Annie Choi

Annie's made a name by being crabby - but in a fun, funny, and rather endearing way. She's exasperated by her huge, traditional Korean family, yet she loves them to death - and you will too, reading these essays.

Each chapter begins with a letter to a place or thing (not really to a person) with whom Annie takes issue. In the letter she explains her feelings. Then, the stories told in the following chapter give you the background on why or how Annie formed her opinion of the DMV, or her curtain-less neighbor, or Caesars Palace ... just to name a few.

The stories are a riot. Whether she's trying to get rid of her parents' kitchen table during their move or describing the quintessential American road trip in a station wagon full of Korean immigrants, the stories are highly relatable and downright hilarious. You want to be a part of her family just as much as you're delighted they're NOT your family.

This is one of the funniest books I've read in a while. Loved it, and I highly recommend you give it a try too.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

It's hard to concentrate on your studies when there's so much going on, but Fergus McCann is determined to make the three B's he needs to get into medical school and out of Northern Ireland. In one brief season Fergus experiences love and loss, finds a body in the bog, and takes the first steps into his own future. There's the ever-present danger of the political unrest (the book takes place during the 1980s) and the moral dilemmas and soul-searching the unease provoke in the young man's life.

But it's also a quaint look at families and coming of age: crushes, bullies, beer, and prying little sisters are all part of Fergus' story. In flashbacks and dreams, we get the story of Mel, the ancient girl found under the peat.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Sile Bermingham, which was an interesting casting choice - a boy's story, with a female reader - but her delivery was wonderful.

Monday, June 24, 2013

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

This is an author who understands he's only doing half the work, writing the book - you're an equal partner, as you bring the narrative to life in your imagination. And in this case, it's especially horrific because the bad guy's grabbing kids.

True conversation:
Me: This book is ripping my guts out. Yesterday I couldn't put it down, but I almost don't even want to pick it up again. It's awful and it's dark and it's making me sick. 
Husband: So you won't be giving it a good review, then.
 Me: Are you KIDDING ME?!? I'm giving it a STELLAR review! But with a cautionary warning: pansies need not apply.
This book is the epitome of modern horror in my book: twisted and dark, but not unnecessarily gory or explicit. He's sketching it out for you, but you get to add the color yourself. I've read Hill's other books (and loved them) and he's just getting better.

I haven't told you anything about the book. Do I have to? You're either in already, or you're not. :)

Monday, June 17, 2013

The wonderful wizard of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

You think you know the story, but have you actually taken the time to read the book?  I don't remember finishing it as a child, so last week I ordered the audio version at the library.  I got the one narrated by Brooke Shields, and she does an amazing job.  Kids will be engaged by all the voices she does for the vast array of characters, especially the ones not in the movie.  Check out this version for your summer road trips.

First, this is a children's story.  The conflicts are just enough to keep things interesting without leaving little ones trembling in the overnight hours.  Baum's story is a captivating tale of a, seemingly, very young girl unwillingly having an adventure in a strange land.  While some vicious events do occur, the story quickly moves beyond them. 

Second, adults should give it a shot.  If the written version escaped you in childhood, you will likely find this to be far superior to your memories of the 1939 film.  Additionally, if you have become enamored of Gregory Maguire's version of events, either in print, or on stage, this will give you added background.  It is fun to see just how much room Mr. Baum left for expanded ideas when writing the original story.

How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession by Daniel Duane

Duane dealt with the birth of his first child in a unique way: he took over the dinner preparation for his family, but rather than focusing on simple food preparation and nutrition or sustenance he went off the deep-end into obsessive cookbook mania (never repeating the same recipe twice, checking recipes off toward an epic unattainable goal).

This isn't a cookbook - you'll have to find the books Dan's reading to replicate his progress. More, it's a story about his obsessive-compulsive cooking saga and the ups and downs of his life that drive it.

The book's entertaining, and Duane is a smooth, talented writer who blends the cooking mania and food preparation stories into the tale of his personal growth and family life. He twines things together in a rare way: one paragraph of biography on a famous chef may also somehow tell you about the progress of the remodeling of the Duane family home.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and both envied and pitied his wife throughout. Early on in the book (and in their relationship) Liz explains her preference for simple, uncomplicated food - which Dan resolutely and dramatically ignores for years.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Professor Langdon's back, puzzling through his next cryptic treasure hunt to save the world; this time, he's trying to prevent a plague inspired by the 14th century epic poem by Dante Alighieri.

I'm a sucker for these books - they're the perfect mix of contemporary issues with geeky art and history knowledge that strikes a chord with me. Plus, I can't ever seem to set the book down because Brown ends even the shortest, two-page chapters with some kind of cliff-hanger that keeps you going.

To admit that I read this book over 4 days doesn't mean that it isn't read-it-in-one-sitting material - only that it's 460 pages long. Over those 4 days, I was totally sleep-deprived due to late-night reading binges - I just didn't have the time to stay up and binge.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll by Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson with Charles R. Cross

Behind-the-scenes rock-and-roll memoirs always fascinate to me if they're done honestly, and the Wilson sisters keep one another true in this double autobiography of their lives and careers (especially their band Heart, but also solo, as the Lovemongers, movie soundtracks and scoring, and more). The book spans 40 years in rock and roll history, along with background on the globe-trotting Marine Wilson family, their early music influences, romances, marriages, and family.

Rock's not always pretty, even for two gorgeous women: they were constantly questioned and belittled by the music machine, rarely taken seriously as musicians and songwriters, and frequently bullied about their appearance. Rumor and innuendo follow them (incest! sluts! fakers!) and while they didn't necessarily intend to pioneer, they truly blazed a new path for all who have followed.

The audiobook was interesting because the sisters read it themselves (with a bit of assist, but I can't find credits for other minor narrators anywhere). Ann's a natural storyteller and I felt like she was simply telling her tales - Nancy on the other hand is a bit stilted and often her reading felt mechanical and nervous.

Overall I was very happy with the book - they cover their story warts and all, and that always provides the best stories.

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

It's a familiar setup: a wily con man with a true talent for the big score and an FBI agent who will stake her career and go to any lengths to capture him. There's a bit of professional teasing and sexual tension that drives their cat-and-mouse game, but midway through the book things shift and the game changes when they're asked to work together, playing for the same side to bring down an even worse bad guy.

This is a great, funny book that moves at lightning speed. The combination of these two writers brought out the best in both: Evanovich's comedic female lead is wittier, faster, and more competent with Goldberg's lift.

You can tell this will be a new series (and this book introduces us to a great cast of characters I'm anxious to explore) yet this book feels whole - it's not simply a lead-in setting the platform for something bigger. The story's complete and satisfying, but I guarantee it will leave you wanting more.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

I often wonder how much world knowledge is lost when the only "knower" dies without passing along their story. Somebody knows what really happened in every conspiracy, murder, tragedy or drama - but we may never know the truth if it's never spoken.

And that's the core of this story, too: Noa never took the stand in her own defense, and the mother of the victim wants to know the true story of what happened on New Year's Day. But it's a tangled web of deceit and lies (and goes much deeper than that one day). Awaiting her inevitable execution, this story is really all Noa has left to hold onto and she's not giving it up easily.

I loved that this book unspooled gradually. The book just dips you into the pool and you figure things out once you're already wet. At first you don't know who's dead - then you learn it's Sarah. But who was Sarah to Noa? Clue by clue you learn more and the story Noa's holding reveals itself. But it's probably not the story anybody really wants to hear.

This is an excellent book, and I devoured the last 100 pages way too late after my bedtime because I could not put it down.

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Have I mentioned how much I love Carl Hiaasen?

This time, two guys each fight "progress" that is destroying their little corners of paradise - one a former cop in Florida with an illegal, unfinished McMansion next door, the other a Bahamian whose beach is sold out from under him and developed.

Stir that together with a sexy coroner, lots of hungry sharks, a scary voodoo queen, an angry monkey (who was in Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp), bad seafood, and a little Medicare fraud and you've got another fantastic, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction Hiaasen novel.

The action is fast-paced, the dialog snappy, and the hurricane imminent. Hiaasen's books are always full of pop culture references, and this one's par for the course; you might argue that Hiaasen's not really breaking any new ground here, but I've yet to bog down in a dull moment or yawn at the antics. He keeps the story moving, twisting in the wind, and I still find myself barking out unexpected laughter.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Just one kiss

by Susan Mallery

Fool's Gold, California is the kind of community that people either dream of living in, or dream of escaping.  Justice Garrett had the great luck to live in this small town as a teenager.  For more than a decade, he has been the kind of dreamer looking for a way back.  Wait a second, yes, I did just call a special ops sniper a dreamer?  He has found a way to open a business, and maybe find a level of security in life that has been missing for a long time.  The question has always been, can he live in Fool's Gold without hurting Patience McGraw?
Patience has endured quite a bit in life.  Both her father and husband walked out on her.  She is caretaker for both her child and ailing mother.  Through all her struggles, one of her most painful memories has always been the day Justice disappeared.  
Both believe he isn't really husband material.  The reader gets to watch as one character and then the other come to the realization that actions speak louder than words.  Grab a cup of coffee from Patience's new business and settle in for a late spring Saturday morning on the front porch.  Surely the people of Fool's Gold have a parade planned soon. Save your spot and savor this story.

Lettin It All Hang Out: An Autobiography by RuPaul

Ever wonder about the behind-the-scenes stage prep of a glamour diva cross-dresser? Love celebrity bio? This one's a keeper, despite its vintage.

I picked this up because somewhere recently I read good things about this 1995 memoir. And while many of the pop culture references RuPaul makes are now dated, this book holds up incredibly well. He talks about his childhood, his family and his career trajectory. It was a long road to celebrity, and RuPaul talks about his overall positive message of love and acceptance - he was never your traditional bitchy queen, more a sassy fun diva. How he came upon that message is really the story of his life.

It's a light read and full of the oft-heard struggling artist storyline, presented here from a slightly different angle. Not a trashy tell-all, RuPaul makes it clear he does not kiss and tell. There is one chapter about his loves and sexuality, but it's not explicit or sensational. 

Since the book's publication, RuPaul's career has continued to blossom with the hit TV show RuPaul's Drag Race. I appreciate that success all the more after having seen the back-story and the man behind the woman.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It had to be you

by Jill Shalvis

Return to Lucky Harbor with another couple destined to settle in for the long haul.  Ali Winters is the kind of woman who often feels like she is just treading water; she just cannot catch a break.  Her boyfriend cheated on her, she's been accused of theft, and oh yeah, some guy catches her trespassing in her underwear.  
Mr. Random turns out to be her ex-landlord, Luke Hanover.  He's a bad-ass cop in San Francisco who had hoped to find some peace and quiet in the house he inherited. 
Fate, and the people of Lucky Harbor, have plans for these two.  Luke has all the skills Ali needs to clear her name.  Surprisingly, she has a few talents that help him achieve his original goal as well.  Yes, and then there is the mutual attraction.  You didn't think there would be a dead sexy, bad ass and some boring lump, did you?  Ali's got the kind of eyes that stop Luke in his tracks, and she's fun. 
It's a cute and sassy story that will warm your heart as you return to one of your favorite fictional communities.  A few favorite characters from previous novels make repeat appearances.

Friday, May 24, 2013

One sheep, blue sheep

by Thom Wiley

Imagine a farm.  OK, that one's a little boring.  You need some color.  Maybe some paint spilled onto a sheep.  If it happens again and again, you will have a very fanciful flock.  The fun loving farmer in this story doesn't seem the least perturbed.  In fact, he's very good at finding a resourceful way to use his newly dyed wool. 

While this board book may not draw enough fans to last as a classic of children's literature, it is a fun read.  I recommend tying it to a rendition of Baa, Baa, Black Sheep with a colorful flock in the song as well.

Phoebe and Digger

by Tricia Springstubb

A girl and her construction vehicle.  It's the kind of combination that makes adults sing when trying to match children with books.  A twist on the ordinary.  Kids will relate to Phoebe's exasperation at waiting for her mom, and even feeling a bit bullied in the park.  Parents will relate to, well, a lot of things. Geared toward the background knowledge of preschoolers, this story is fun.  Even toddlers will enjoy the idea of a kid and digger.  Yesterday's crowd decided digger looked a bit like a dinosaur. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

What if you discovered a bit of your long-deceased mother was still growing in a lab? What if it was really that every single scientific lab in the world has been running complex medical experiments on growing, living pieces of your long-deceased mother and you never knew or received compensation?

That's where the core of this story begins: as the Lacks family learns that the same cervical cancer cells which killed Henrietta Lacks in 1951 are still growing and multiplying, providing 60 years of scientists with an endless supply of human cells on which to run experiments.

It's a deep subject with a steep ethical slope - but it's handled deftly and warmly by the author. She personalizes the story, weaves several historical and contemporary storylines together, and explains the complex science in an easily digestible manner. She also inadvertently became part of the story as her friendship with daughter Deborah Lacks spanned a decade of research, genealogy, and oral history.

This book makes you think, and the various moral, ethical, and medical opinions are presented in a nicely balanced manner. I still don't know what I think about a lot of it, and that's okay - if it was simple, the scientific community probably would have figured it out decades ago.

No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood, edited by Henriette Mantel

A lot of ink is spilled discussing the myriad of experiences of parenthood - but what of non-parenthood? Those who remain childless? Mantel has brought together a huge number of female writers without children to discuss (and often comically riff on) their childless state. You'll recognize many famous names, but lesser-known authors also have valuable contributions.

I thought the book was a bit too long (250 pages), as I found about two-thirds of the way through that I had stopped hearing anything new - that writers were just repeating what another had said previously.

But I found a lot to relate with, also. Some are childless 100% by choice, others simply didn't have kids by chance, bad timing or lack of opportunity. A few have regrets, but there's really a commendably wide variety of experiences and emotions expressed here.

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

When you live above the funeral home, death is just another day. But despite the family business and the fact she's been to 247 funerals, 10-year-old Comfort Snowberger is about to discover she's not as calloused as she believes.

This is a great, quaint book with excellent life lessons; Wiles has found a way to teach gently without preachiness. The characters are interesting and quirky but still seem real, and you wish you could become part of the caring, close-knit Snowberger family. Except for Peach. You don't want to be related to Peach!

Oh yes, cousin Peach. He's guaranteed to mess everything up. His voice and even his clothes make him the most annoying person in Comfort's whole world. He'll carry on like he's got no manners, and nobody ever bothers to remind him that "We Live to Serve."

I loved, loved, loved this book, and despite 250 pages I read it in a sitting. And yes, I cried.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Perry's Killer Playlist by Joe Schreiber

Perry's got a new, sophisticated girlfriend, and the band's going on a European tour ... which will probably lead to a record deal. What could possibly go wrong?

This book picks up in the fall, about six months since Perry nearly got killed on prom night in "Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick." Europe is a big continent - there's no way the band will run into Gobi, right? And especially not when Perry goes looking for her at their pre-assigned "someday" meeting place in Venice.

With chapter headings that are song titles, I really want to create an actual playlist of this book; the music's a blend of hip alternative, classic punk and kitchy cheese.

Again, the action-adventure is big-budget movie-worthy. Guns get turned and the double-cross is stunning but not entirely unexpected. Fast action and quick chapters make this entertaining story zip right along.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave by Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn with Gavin Edwards

This book is a fun little moonwalk down memory lane for any child of the '80s; the five original VJ's may have been making it up as they went along, but we were certainly along for the joyride, too. I was the perfect age for MTV's early years, and I know these authors as well as any of my real-life preteen friends.

The book's divided up into themed chapters, but each VJ gets their say in bits and bites (remember, they invented our short attention spans). Most of the stories are just a paragraph or two, but some tales take a little more time to tell. And tell tales they do: MTV Spring Break, house parties, and clubbing, along with celebrity crushes and strange behavior. "Diamond" David Lee Roth gets his own chapter because there are so, so many stories.

It's kind of fun to get this behind-the-scenes look at MTV back when it actually was all about the music. I thought it was funny that they setup their own note-libraries about the videos, since they weren't really watching them (how does that one end? what happens in it? silly or serious?).

It's a little choppy in places, what with 4 author voices plus excerpts from the late J.J. Jackson. But that quality also makes this book excellent for pick-it-up-and-put-it-down reading (again, short attention span!).

Friday, May 3, 2013

I'll Seize the Day Tomorrow by Jonathan Goldstein

A funny, reflective goodbye to youth, this book's a year-long countdown to Goldstein's 40th birthday. He's not where he thought he'd be by age 40 - can he make the changes before then? No. The answer is no. And I'm not spoiling the book by saying that.

I came to really love some of Goldstein's friends and family, and I recognized some of his age-related angst. Society tends to judge a person's worth based on marriage, children, home and job - what if you've developed a life outside those normal constraints?

Despite its subject, it's not a particularly weighty book. Goldstein is a radio humorist, and his year-long observations range from literary insightfulness to frat boy absurdity. And honestly, that's a combination I adore.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The sunflower sword

by Mark Sperring

Imagination is a wonderful thing.  The cover of this book shows a dragon in the background gazing upon a child who wears a colander upon his head.  The two are ensconced in a field of sunflowers. 
The child dreams of one day becoming a knight who will fend off ferocious dragons and protect the land.  His mother tells him no.  If he really needs something to "whoosh and swoosh in the air" a sunflower will do.
Of course, some imagination is required to believe in a land filled with dragons: even more to believe in the power of a friendly gesture. However, it was the imaginative way the young knight put the sunflower to work that had me retelling the story just hours after reading it.  This could be a great reader's theater story, particularly with real sunflowers used as props. 

Hip Check

by Deirdre Martin

Martin has returned to her New York Blades team and another romantic entanglement.  This time Esa Saari is the hockey star embroiled in excitement.  He has found himself suddenly the guardian for his young niece.  Both are grieving the loss of Esa's sister, but little Nell seems more capable of continuing to behave responsibly through her sadness.
Esa's solution is to hand her off to a nanny.  Any nanny will do, just so long as his bachelor behavior remains uninterrupted.  Fortunately for Nell, Michelle Beck is used to working for the rich and famous.  Her take charge attitude will assure Nell of a loving, safe home, while forcing Esa to man up. 
What starts out as a bumpy ride, predictably smooths out over the course of the hockey season.  If you have been of fan of Martin's previous books in the Blades series, this is an enjoyable continuation to the series. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

In a desperate act, an unemployed professional takes a job night-clerking in a weird old bookstore. Customers are rare - most visitors instead stop to borrow from an immense and mysterious not-for-purchase collection shelved in the store. Then Clay's customer-less boredom and his attempt to impress a cute girl-hacker cause him to bumble upon the answer to a puzzle he didn't even know he was solving - and the start of an epic quest.

This book is like Dan Brown's stories ... but replace the religious iconography with book nerds and typography: old-school books versus new-fangled computers, a secret underground library, a shadow sect, and the ultimate search for truth in a coded codex vitae. Intrigue, suspense and a secret book club!

But I'm being unnecessarily flippant about it: this is actually a good book that I enjoyed immensely. Despite the unlikely trajectory of the story, it's not cheesy and the characters are all very true to life. Clay's biggest asset is the same as that of any good librarian: he doesn't have to know everything, he just has to know how (or with whom) to find it. Facilitation as super-strength!

Monday, April 29, 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

Mostly, this book is the personal memoir of a man who works hard every single day to manage a health problem. He's been incapacitated, given up on life, and damaged by something he has no control over. And yet he maintains a great sense of humor and perspective.

Hanagarne has the most extreme case of Tourette's that his doctors have seen. His tics cause him harm in a number of alarming ways: when medicine failed to help control it, he became ... a weightlifter? When he couldn't stop the noises, he studied to become ... a librarian? While this may seem counter-intuitive, Hanagarne perseveres as a big thinker who puzzles through problems by asking a million questions without worrying that many are unanswerable.

I really enjoyed this book because it's not a typical autobiography. Josh isn't always positive, and he's never certain he'll be successful. He loses faith, and his worst nightmare (passing Tourette's to his son) comes true. Yet he keeps putting one foot in front of the other.

This is also a book about libraries: the people who love them, the people that use them, and the philosophy behind the institution. Big-city libraries are a true melting pot, and Josh does a great job explaining what his day is like and describing the people he meets (I'm reminded to be grateful as a small-town librarian that I don't have the same characters and struggles).

Hanagarne is a Renaissance man - smart, bookish, inquisitive, and polite. But he's also a physical hulk with a hobby that includes throwing boulders for no good reason. The book is well-written, a great mix of trials and tribulations, funny library stories, and moments of faith and reflection. I'll recommend it -  and not just to librarians and fans of libraries - to anyone interested in personal stories.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl

This book has two distinct sections: the first, concerning Pandl's family and the Milwaukee-area restaurant they owned; the second about her parents' aging, illnesses, and deaths. Most of the descriptions I read of this book described a memoir on family business or an inside look at restaurants - and while that's not totally incorrect it's only half right and unfairly dismisses the powerful, emotional second half of this book.

In the first half, we get to know the Pandl family (9 kids, ham-fisted authoritarian chef father, ultra-Catholic mother) and their life in and out of the restaurant. It's well-written and funny, with an appropriate number of behind-the-scenes horror stories you would expect of one who grew up in a commercial kitchen. But what that section really does is set up the characters, emotions, and relationships for the very different second half of the book.

Many adults reach a point where their relationship shifts from parent-as-caregiver to child-as-caregiver. As the youngest child in her family, it seems Pandl frequently diverted her own independent adulthood to return home for one reason or another. But rather than making her bitter about what she lost, this offers her new perspectives on life (and religion) and an unusual, rich closeness with her parents during their decline.

It's 120 pages of a very different writing style - more artistic and less chronological. There's pain, and lots of Catholicism. But there are also some very funny sections and lots of love.

I'm recommending this book, but not necessarily for the reason other reviewers noted. For me, it's all about the second half.

Three Sisters

by Susan Mallery

Picking up this book, a love story was expected.  In reality, it's about the power of friendship in difficult times.  Yes, these women do have their own romances, but as in life, there is much more.

Andi, Boston, and Deanna each feel broken in some way.

Andi: jilted at the altar.  She ran off to purchase a rundown house and launch her pediatric practice in a small town.

Boston: her six-month old baby died of a heart defect.

Deanna:  the world sees her as the evil queen.

While their homes are geographically as close as possible, Boston and Deanna's lives were equally diverse.  That is until Andi swooped in to purchase the only other home on the street.  One bond forms nearly instantly, while the others take a little push.  The story reminds me of Cathy Holton's Kudzu Debutantes novels with fewer catfights.

Although each woman is facing challenging circumstances, the deep friendships they form through their pain make me want to find more books in Mallery's Blackberry Island series. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

A glamorous woman in a boat arrives in a tiny forgotten Italian fishing village, and that's all it takes for decades of  amazing, wonderful stories to begin. Right from the start, this book's characters will draw you into their tales: a small town and tiny lives in 1960s Italy, huge stars and over-the-top drama of Hollywood lives now and then, a failed 1990s musician and his vices.

The writing is wonderful, and the multiple storylines braid and weave themselves together at a languid pace. The story glides into the future and back into the past, which mean sometimes we know more than the characters, but not always; sometimes Walter leaves us in the dark for a while, a step or two behind the action. We gradually learn about the in-between-times - when a hole in the timeline begins to fill in - and a couple times I thought "when? wait? tell me about that!" Eventually we do hear it all, and puzzling together the pieces is one of this book's great joys.

I listened to the audiobook, and the narration by Edoardo Ballerini was spectacular. He artfully voices these myriad characters, and his Italian really brought those sections of the book alive for me in a way my own reading would have lacked.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy

In a near-distant future, reality TV producers clone DNA from the Shroud of Turin and the world tunes in to watch the re-birth of Jesus Christ. Newly released in book format, this graphic novel was previously serialized in six volumes under the same title.

This is an amazing book, gorgeously drawn with a fantastic story arc and lots of sticky questions to ponder along the way (and long after you've finished). The evils of reality television, religious ferver of all ilks and brands, the environment, and scientific ethics: it's amazing how much is crammed into these dark, hard-edged black-and-white comics.

Highly, highly recommended.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Best Man

by Kristin Higgins

The only thing that could have made this a sweeter love story is chocolate.  Faith could be viewed by those around her as a sad character.  She's epileptic, and lost her mother at a young age.  To top that off, she was left at the altar by the man who had claimed to love her since high school.  How was she supposed to know he was gay?  She has always blamed his best friend, Levi for the whole incident, because he appeared to be the only person on the planet who noticed.

After fleeing home for years, Faith has returned to find everyone is just as she left them, except for one.  Levi is now home from the Army, and chief of police.  She can handle the pity, and probably even regain the friendship she's held so dear with her ex.  The real question is, can she forgive the man who was always on the sidelines of her life?

Higgins is one of my favorite authors.  Her tender stories bring a smile, and often a few tears as they are savored like a glass of wine from the Blue Heron winery run by Faith's family. 

Princess Addison Gets Angry

by Molly Martin

I had to read this title since I know little one with the same name as the main character and the same fantastic red hair.  So often, books with a purpose are tricky to sell to any reader.  This is a well done book on a tough emotion.  I quickly purchased the entire set for our library.

After every story time, at least one little girl wants a book about a princess.  Often, parents have read the same stories so many times that they want something new.  Ms. Martin has come through on that front, and created a series about emotions that will have pre-readers understanding more about their feelings.  Well done.