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.