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."