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.