Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fingal O'Reilly, Irish Doctor by Patrick Taylor

While we've come to know and love Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly as the senior doctor in a tiny Irish town, new doings have stirred things up in his life - including his memories of the past. Interspersed with the "modern" timeline (1960's actually) are his reminiscences of beginning his career out of medical school (in the 1930s).

Almost unbelievably, this is the eighth book in the Irish County series, and I'm still captivated and engrossed in the lives of the residents of Ballybucklebo. I've made it my habit to wait for these on audiobook, because narrator John Keating is a true gem: He seamlessly breaths life into men, women and children from all parts of the British, Scottish, and Irish lands.

These books are touching, but also funny. In this one there's a bit of grandstanding about political unrest and world events, but I have to admit that I've also found it enlightening in ways I wouldn't have expected. Young Fingal's work in the slums of Belfast allow some historical insight into a world I'd heard about but never actually studied. In the newer storyline, there's a new female doctor working with Fingal and her presence stirs up bias and prejudice it's easy to forget our foremothers endured.

I was again glad to visit the good doctors and hilarious characters in this small town, and can't wait to visit again!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

Finley lives for basketball, and because he isn't the best player on the team he works extra hard to prove he's an asset. But when Coach asks Finley to watch over a special new kid in town, the strange boy's friendship changes everything: Russ has been through tough stuff and seems not quite right in the head, yet he becomes the kind of friend Finley's never had. When it comes down to friendship or basketball, there are tough choices to make.

Matthew Quick always does a wonderful job with marginalized characters, and typically he likes to put you right inside the head of his most damaged character. So it's a bit different that in this novel, he chose Finley's voice: Finley's life isn't ideal and there's a lurking darkness, but he's a more "normal" character than Russ, who believes he's from outer space and answers to Boy21 instead of his name. Just a slight change of style for Quick, I thought.

I absolutely loved this book, and I have really come to adore Quick's writing style and the stories he tells. His scenarios aren't easy, but they're a journey I'm glad to embark upon to get a new perspective.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best to Laugh by Lorna Landvik

In this semi-autobiographical novel, folksy funny novelist Lorna Landvik introduces a cast of eccentric Hollywood characters who span from the Golden Era into the tarnished TV years.

Asian-Scandinavian Candy Pekkala followed her dreams to Hollywood so she could pursue a career in comedy. Using baked goods as leverage, she's immediately absorbed into a community that mirrors the Minnesota-nice she left behind: the natty Francis who once ran Hollywood's hottest nightspot along with his blue mohawked punk rock son Frank, a female bodybuilder with a sudsy TV soap star mother, a Romanian seer, a lesbian black-power sistah with a penchant for country music, and many more.

It's an upbeat, funny book about friendship and the end of an era. Candy has some great jobs as a temp worker in Los Angeles, and her friends and neighbors are a hoot. The fact that it's basically Landvik's own story is interesting - because I'm tempted to say the ending is too pat and neatly tied, too "finished" for real life, except it's real life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

When a legal assistant falls dramatically and gracelessly at the feet of the richest man around, her life suddenly changes. After a globetrotting-but-chaste month of dating, one of his ex's warns Penny never to sleep with C. Linus Maxwell - so she turns around and jumps him just like that. It's the beginning of a sex adventure that eventually brings about the complete downfall of humanity. Seriously!

This book is all about control, but it's not whips and chains. It's about the most primal forms of pleasure and the most advanced high-tech gadgetry: a modern satire on feminism, sex, and technology.

Despite the fact this book is about testing and creating sex toys, don't go into this one looking for a thrill - this is seriously the least sexy sex book I've ever read. It's clinical probing and medically specific anatomy with very little titillation. It's almost a relief when Linus and Penny's 136-day relationship is over - because that's when we finally see what's really going on.

It's a sci-fi, future-apocalypse kind of book, and I enjoyed the audiobook read by Carol Monda. There's a lot of  emotionless sex and perhaps a slightly thin plot (with several "Really?" moments) but it's also entertaining and offers some interesting thought-points on technology.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

On New Year's Eve, four strangers meet accidentally as they all queue up to kill themselves by jumping from one of London's most famous suicide spots.

They form a motley band of survivors, and almost reluctantly the strangers become a quasi-support group. They've got little in common, and many don't even have strong cases for why they're suicidal - which leads to some interesting conversations and soul-searching amongst the characters. It's both a funny book and quite thoughtful, too.

I listened to the multi-voiced audiobook, and I think having a cast brings a fantastic, diverse element to stories told in multiple voices (as this one is). Because we get the perspective of all the major characters, it's not just a single-sided look at suicide - you get four very different perspectives on what's wrong with their lives, why they think they should die, and how they got there.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain by Alan Light

The song, album, and film "Purple Rain" epitomize a certain spot on the 1980s timeline, and I was surprised when I read this book was being released for their 30th anniversary. (It seems like just yesterday!)

Written by a former Rolling Stone editor, this book is chock full of memories and stories from the making of Prince's 1985 magnum opus. Unfortunately, very little of the information is from the notoriously press-shy artist himself - but the story stands up pretty well without Prince's input due to the wealth of truly inside information mined from band mates, friends, rivals, and business partners.
Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman participated fully in this book, and their up-front-and-personal insights may be the best look we'll ever get into the operations of Prince's mind; they were friends and collaborators in a way Prince has rarely allowed. The book also does a nice job putting the music and film into historical perspective, with criticism and analysis from the 80's but also delving into the larger context of their legacy.

It's not the kind of book you read if you're not already a fan of Purple Rain - but for those who are already fans, this deeper look at the behind-the-scenes machinations and little-known facts is a fun way to reminisce and revisit a classic.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

With the holiday season upon us, I pulled an old favorite from the library shelves.  Later in the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to engage two very young children in the reading of this story.  You might think a four-year-old is too little to sit through this, but Mr. Henry's lyrical text entrances.

Mr. Henry captivated his readers with this 1903 story of a young couple facing dire times.  While we often remind ourselves holidays are meant to be about more than gifts, we always want to show our love somehow.  You probably already know the sacrifices made by Della and Jim, but cherish the feeling you have when they discover the depths to which they each are loved. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tunnel Vision by Aric Davis

Under the ruse of a research paper, two high school girls investigate a 15-year-old murder case after they discover the victim was one girl's drug-addicted aunt. They get help when their paths intersect with kid-detective (now teen detective) Nickel.

Sorry - that's a lame plot summary, but I don't want to give too much away. I adored the first Nickel book (Nickle Plated) and one of the best parts about that character is that he's unique; he's a kid who can do what few adults would. That plays out in various ways throughout the story arc. This book's less gory than the first - but we still see bits and pieces of Nickle's tragic, horrific past in flashbacks. Plus, there's a bit of a time-gap between the books and apparently Nickle hasn't been on vacation.

Honestly, this is mostly the girls' story and they carry the bulk of the narrative. Unfortunately, that also makes the book feel a lot more commonplace and less fresh that the first, truly dynamic book.

I enjoyed this one, but I'm still hoping to see more of Nickle's story in the future.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Almost Everything by Tate Hallaway

In this third (and final?) book of the Vampire Princess of St. Paul series, the animosity between the vampires and witches comes to a lethal head: the vampires can't survive without a sacrifice - and it has to be a witch. The witches wonder if it wouldn't be better just to let them die. And the half-vampire, half-witch teen at the center of this series is trying her hardest to find a fair, moral settlement for all sides.

It's too bad this is the end of the series, because it's finally a fully fleshed out story with suspense, drama, and resolution too. The other books (Almost Final Curtain and Almost To Die For) were entertaining, but this one's really quite good. I wasn't sure I believed Ana could pull off her plan - and actually, she doesn't. But I won't give away any more than that!

Hallaway has written herself an "out" to the finality of the series; she could easily spin it off into a new trilogy or series. I'm surprised to find I actually hope she does.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler, art by Zack Giallongo

What happens after the zoo closes? Well, in the Stratford Zoo the animals put on plays.

This is a wonderful reinterpretation of the Shakespearean tragedy in a graphic novel format as depicted by animals. Macbeth the lion starts eating everyone in his way toward becoming the king. But it takes lots of ketchup, and is giving him indigestion. His upwardly ambitious wife is played by a serval (I think) - bringing new meaning to Lady Macbeth's famous spot problems.

The gory parts of the play get deflected by the antics of the audience full of animals - a strategically placed elephant ruins the viewing of the "best scene in the whole play." A couple of young chimpanzee act as comic relief and narrators to some of the audience reaction.

I'll bet this graphic novel still makes sense if you don't know Shakespeare - but it's even funnier if you do. In all, it's a wonderful adaptation for a wide variety of ages.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson

After saving a unicorn (accidentally) Phoebe is granted a wish - and after trying all the usual work-arounds angling for more wishes, she settles on wishing the unicorn to be her best friend.

The socially awkward kid and smartass unicorn are wonderful pair. Nothing really happens in this graphic novel, and it's perfect just the way it is - it's mostly the pair talking, observing the world, and hanging out. And while Phoebe is a fourth-grade girl, I'd say the satire level and snark make it a book for a slightly older, preteen-through-adult readership.

I cannot wait for more Heavenly Nostrils (the comic series, taken from the unicorn's name), and will certainly be checking out the online comic's back issues. Pick this one up for sure! A truly hilarious graphic novel.

The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

In this third book in the Fox and O'Hare series, our favorite uptight FBI agent and her handsome rogue con are working to 1) clear his name in a bunch of international thefts he didn't do, 2) bring down a major player in the drug-smuggling world.

They find an ingenious way to tease a crook out of hiding, then take him for everything he's worth. There's lots of Hollywood theatrics that make the con work, and the usual cast of characters joins the job: Kate's retired Special Forces dad and his undercover buddies, drive-the-wheels-off-anything Willie, eccentric Method actor Boyd. plus a few new faces too.

It's a light read, but also hard to put down. I've loved every one of these books, and this one's the best yet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

El Deafo

by Cece Bell

It's a graphic novel! The main character is deaf! It's an autobiography! 

Cece was an average kid until she contracted a disease at age four which left her profoundly deaf.  This occurred in an era when technology was just beginning to be useful in aiding comprehension of language.  Ms. Bell does a wonderful job creating showcasing her childhood struggles and successes. 

Cece makes her way through school with a specialized hearing aid. She quickly discovers her ability to hear her teacher anywhere in the building - even the bathroom.  She uses that power to create a secret identity for herself; she becomes El Deafo. 

This is a great read for anyone who enjoys superheroes.  I'd also recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

Corporatized magic for profit, professional kidnapping and ransom scams, and high-risk tourism are all factors in the fantasy quest (sorry, no, not a quest, didn't fill out the paperwork - it's just a business trip) of this novel, the third installment of The Chronicles of Kazam series.

When magician The Once Magnificent Boo gets kidnapped, our heroine and intrepid orphan Jennifer Strange turns the ransom negotiation into a multi-tasking trip to also save the world's last two dragons by locating a mythical stone for a crooked magician. And she might find a way to sneak in a date, too.

The first two books in this series (The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast) to me felt a bit incomplete ... like they were building to something. Yes, THIS is what they were building to! Fforde has found his groove with this third book, and he's not done because this one ends with the start of a whole new world for the magicians of Kazam. I won't ruin it for you.

I seriously loved this book, and I couldn't have said that for the first two. But I've really come to love these characters, and the storyline in this one is full, rich, and satisfying. Best yet!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Liz Emerson may be the most popular girl in the junior class, but she's also a mean-queen diva who has decided to end her life but make it look like an accident.

The book moves back and forth in time - from Liz's childhood, to now in the hospital, to months ago, to last week, to 8th grade, to the day of the accident. How on earth did her life get to the point where she can see no other way?

Wow, this is a wonderful book - tough, but also fair in illustrating how broken many otherwise perfect-seeming people can be. Does she deserve to live? Could this have been avoided? Why would you even want to be her friend?

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Duncan is one of the world's biggest superfans of an obscure 80's musician nobody's ever heard of, and he runs a website dedicated to cracking the mysteries of Tucker Crowe's art and life. His long-time girlfriend Annie runs a tiny museum in their forgotten English seaside town. When a new album of old Tucker Crowe music is released, every thing changes: Duncan loses touch with reality, Annie gives up on Duncan, and the reclusive Tucker Crowe steps into the real world.

Hornby is widely known for his music geekiness (he also wrote "High Fidelity" about a record shop, which was eventually was turned into a John Cusack film), and this book is a wonderful multi-faceted look at fandom.

These are characters you enjoy spending time with, and their eccentricities are of the real-world kind. You probably know someone (or are someone) like these people. Nobody's got it all together - not by a long stretch - yet you find yourself rooting for them to get their shit together and SUCCEED just like you would a friend.

I listened to the excellent audiobook version of this novel recorded by three readers: American Bill Irwin, and Brits Ben Miles and Jennifer Wiltsie. Since the book is told in three voices, it was fun to have an audiobook read that way too. Later in the book it gets slightly odd, as there are conversations between the characters - for example, you hear Annie in Duncan's section, so that guy was mimicking the voice of the woman reading her sections. Not terrible, just a bit unusual.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Finn's just a regular high school junior - he plays baseball, has a funny best friend, and gets along mostly fine with his family. He's had epileptic seizures since he was 6 and was hurt in a freak accident that also killed his mother, but he deals with it pretty well.

Oh ... and his father wrote a famous sci-fi novel that pissed off a whole bunch of religious people. And it may have featured Finn (characteristic scar and all) as one of the destructive carnivorous beings from another dimension bent on taking over Earth.

Not a lot happens in this book - it's more character-driven and deals with Finn's asserting his independence, falling in love for the first time, and trying to figure out his place in the world (without eating people and taking over, like in Dad's book).

I have LOVED every Andrew Smith book, and this one's also wonderful. Perhaps it's not so over-the-top like Grasshopper Jungle, but a great read and worth the time none the less. It's funny and heartbreaking, there are moments of suspense and mistaken identity, but mostly it's simply about becoming Finn.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill

Neighborhood kids wandering the foggy morning beach make a startling discovery - the beach boulder they've climbed in fun turns out to be their lake's fabled sea monster, dead and washed up on the sand.

This short story has been published as a stand-alone ebook. Since I'm a sucker for anything Joe Hill writes, you know I'm in. At just 20 pages, it's a masterful piece of childhood innocence that grips you, then nails you, and left me stunned. Did I mention just 20 pages of actual story? :)

Skink - No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

Worried about his possibly-missing cousin Malley, a teenage boy stumbles into an important friendship on the beach: Skink, the eccentric former Florida governor familiar to fans of Hiaasen's adult novels.

It's the typical teen novel where a guy just can't wait for the police to do their job and has to take matters into his own hands. The difference is that in this one he's got a ethically oriented yet unstable adult to drive, guide, and kick ass; just when Richard needs an ally to rescue Malley from an internet predator, the slightly crazy swamp dweller with a million-dollar smile turns up for the caper.

It's a rare Hiaasen novel that doesn't take on environmental vigilantism - although Skink still finds a couple ways to educate everyone on native fauna. And while the wacko forms of death that are a Hiaasen hallmark are toned down a bit for the juvenile audience, because he wrote this one for teens he gets to leave in some of the gore.

I'm not sure why Hiaasen was determined to break into the young adult market, but the book feels a bit watered down to reach the market. I enjoyed the book (and I've long thought a Skink-centric novel was overdue), but the same story with only a few tweaks would easily have been a more satisfying adult novel. He wouldn't have even needed to change the character's ages - adults can handle a book with a teen protagonist.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan

In this third novel of the Junior Bender series, our hero is called upon by a powerful Mobster to investigate the end of a Hollywood starlet's career more than 60 years ago.

Junior's not actively thieving anything in this book - he's too busy digging into the 1950s and juggling his relationship with new girlfriend Ronnie (but he does make a little time to wreck havoc in his ex-wife's life). It turns out the long-forgotten starlet has been living just a couple floors above Junior's head at his secret lair that's much less secret than he'd thought.

There are lots of great Golden Age of Hollywood stories in the book - from the starlet Delores, and also from some of the dames and heavies around her at the time. And once again, Junior's precocious preteen daughter acts as his research guru and smart-alecky moral compass.

I've really come to enjoy this series - the ace burglar with a heart of gold is fun, and Hallinan does a bang-up job with the story and characters.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Without fail, Cadence Sinclair Easton spends every summer on her grandfather's island off Martha's Vineyard with her aunts and cousins. There are four big kids alike in age: Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and family friend Gat. They swim, read, flirt, canoe, avoid the "littles," explore, and talk the summers away.

But something happened on the island the summer the big kids were 15, Cadence was instead sent to Europe for summer 16, and only after a tantrum is she allowed a short 4-week island stay in this summer 17. She's got mega-migraines, complete amnesia of summer 15, and everyone is under strict orders to not answer her questions or tell her anything about what happened.

So what happened? From the start we know we've got an unreliable narrator - the book is named "We Were Liars," she's got holes in her memory, and it sometimes takes a while to determine when Cadence's stories shift into elaborately embroidered metaphor. I spent the whole book looking for answers and hidden meanings and lies - and yet, I still was blindsided when the truth was revealed.

I finished the audiobook today, and I'm starting right back over again from the beginning tomorrow with the paper copy of the book; I have to go back and do it all over again, now that I KNOW.

And I have NEVER said that before! Amazing.

And My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You by Kathi Kamen Goldmark

In one amazing, unforgettable day singer Sarah Jean Pixlie gets fired from a major country music star's roadshow, finds out a song she recorded on a whim months ago has gone viral and has made her a hot commodity, and has a one-night stand that will change her life. And that's just the start of this novel about musicians and the music business, about honkeytonk bars and awards shows, and about parenthood in all its forms and flavors.

I picked up this book after reading several tributes to the author, who passed away in 2012 and was the founder of the all-author band the Rock Bottom Remainders. As a working musician and author, Goldmark gave the book a definite insider feel - you know the behind-the-scenes scenes are as true to life as you're going to find.

It's a funny, fluffy book with few major surprises - but I didn't even mind the thin plot when there was so much fun to be had with this rowdy bunch of characters. It's light, but fun.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Everybody's Baby by Lydia Netzer

When a young couple face infertility, they choose a Kickstarter campaign to fund their in-vitro treatments. What can possibly go wrong in parenting the most-connected fetus on the planet?

This one is a novella only available in ebook format. I've loved both of Netzer's novels (How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky and Shine, Shine, Shine), so I was anxious to read this little stand-alone story too. And I certainly wasn't disappointed!

Every pregnant lady has horror stories about boundry stomping - seems like everyone you meet has an opinion they're dying to share about birthing, naming, eating, diapering, ultrasounds, and more. It's worse when you're a public person (say like a celebrity, public official, or business owner) and even more extreme when you've INVITED the world to participate in this very personal experience like Jenna and Billy do. What if the woman who bought the naming rights decides to name your baby after her two dying cats? Or the gender announcement turns into a political statement?

The great thing about novellas is that they're quick. The disadvantage is they're over before you know it. This is a great story with relatable characters even in their eccentricity, and it could be used as a morality tale for every 21st century prospective parent.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

Amber Appleton is the princess of hope - she's super involved in tons of community service projects, and she bounces through life with a song in her heart and a smile on her lips. Which is why nobody has figured out yet that she and her mom are homeless (living on a school bus), and that things aren't so rosy in Amber's home life.

In typical Matthew Quick style, this is a fun book full of slang and trendy teen talk. He's a master at getting you inside the head of his fully-formed characters, and Amber's a real prize. While she's doing her best and pulling out all the stops, she's also just as flawed and mis-directed as the rest of us.

Additionally, this book is chock full of other fantastic people: the misfit band of boys with whom Amber hangs, her English-as-a-second-language learners (aka The Korean Divas for Christ), and all the old folks at the Methodist home gathering for her weekly verbal smackdown with a hundred-year-old pessimist, just to name a few.

I loved this book - but then, I haven't read a bad Matthew Quick book yet. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois

After being rescued at sea from the debris of a hot air balloon craft half a world away from where he started only three weeks before, Professor William Waterman Sherman becomes a reluctant celebrity. But despite the media hounding him to tell his story, the drama builds because Sherman says he won't explain what happened until he gets to San Francisco to reveal the tale first before the Western American Explorers' Club. Despite the speculation and rumors that run rampant on the street and in the media, the fantastical story he tells in San Francisco is even wilder and way more curious than anyone had dreamed.

This book was originally published in 1947, and it won the 1948 Newbery Award. I picked it up recently upon the recommendation of a local family who had just read it together.

Some children's books don't age well, but this novel's storyline was never "fresh" so it hasn't grown stale; the storyline occurs in 1883 when ballooning was at its zenith of popularity, so even in the 1940s it was a historical tale. Neither of us at our library had heard of the book before, and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering this forgotten classic.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How to Catch a Frog: And Other Stories of Family, Love, Dysfunction, Survival, and DIY by Heather Ross

Quilters and sewists already know Heather Ross as a fabric designer; parents and librarians know her as a book illustrator. In both cases, wonderfully illustrated characters and vignettes have become her hallmark - there's a soft, yet contemporary feel to her work.

But here, Ross as a writer presents the story of her tough childhood growing up poor in Vermont. Much about that growing-up has shaped her illustrations, and the book is liberally sprinkled with art too. The more you know about her life, the clearer her art becomes.

That said, the book stands on its own two feet. It's a good read - sad, but not syrupy or begging for sympathy. It reminded me quite a bit of "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls about her nontraditional and frankly neglectful youth in the Southwestern desert.

Most of Ross' childhood was spent living in an uninsulated schoolhouse in the wild woods with her mother and sister. They stoked a wood stove for heat and food was never her mother's priority for their lean funds. Later in life when she complained to her mother about her childhood without, her mother scoffed and told her she'd gained plenty of stories from the experience.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

When a scientifically precocious 12-year-old accidentally wins a fellowship from the Smithsonian, he decides that maybe nobody will notice if he runs away from home, goes to Washington D.C., and takes the job. You know - in the logical manner common to 12 year old boys.

This unusual book is highly illustrated with T.S.'s doodles, diagrams, and annotations. They're an integral part of how we come to understand the story of this unusual boy and his astounding gifts.

T.S.'s hitchhike across the country is a wild ride full of history, thoughtfulness, avoidance of the truth, and daring. And the reaction he gets in the capitol city is a brisk adventure too. But where this book failed me a bit is in the ending - too pat, and unbelieveable (because the rest was totally true? not.). I'm willing though to give the last 3 pages a pass because I loved the rest so much.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

One day recent retiree Harold Fry walks down to the mailbox to post a letter. The walk feels so good he decides to wait 'til he reaches the next letter box - then the next, and the next. Suddenly, the letter he was going to send seems insubstantial; his message requires more. Next thing you know, Harold has decided to walk the length of England. Immediately. With no planning. In yachting shoes.

The book follow's Harold's walk and his mindframe; the time alone and the exertion on his unprepared body wreak havoc with his mental state. Will he make it? Why in the heck is he doing this? And why can't he and Maureen just TALK to one another!?

It's a lovely book full of ups, downs, and good intentions. Harold may be a little loony, but his heart is in the right place. You'll want to find out how this walk ends.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

One day on the beach in San Francisco, a six-year-old child disappears. Her watcher, the father's fiance and our narrator, looks away from Emma for a moment, and the girl simply vanishes.

Abby spends every moment of the next months trying to remember, trying to find a clue, and trying to find Emma. When hope is lost, Abby soldiers on. When Jake gives up and holds a funeral, Abby attends but then continues looking. But in constantly searching for Emma is Abby losing herself?

This book is agonizing at times - Abby really does lose it for a while. Her continual looping of the city, the count of days missing, the fliers and the questions all wear you down as a reader until it's easy to see the claustrophobic emotions of losing a child.

I listened to the audiobook version read by Carrington MacDuffie, and I sometimes found it hard to listen to - it's a heartbreaking scenario. But I also understand that dragging you through Abby's hell (and every parent's nightmare) makes the emotional journey more real to us as readers.

In the end, I enjoyed the book, which was recommended to me by members of our book discussion. They each raved about the writing and the story. And you do certainly learn a bit about memory, photography, and surfing through Abby's quest!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Family doesn't have to be inherited - sometimes you piece and patch together a family of people you love and who love you. In this emotional literary novel, when two bedraggled and practically feral preteen girls - both pregnant - appear in the orchard of a solitary farming man, he chooses to act from his heart and help the girls.

Talmadge is an isolated farmer, tending his fruit trees alone in the mountains of Washington. His family is gone, and his few friends are enough. But the girls need help, and he can help them; it's just that simple. And while their relationship isn't ordinary, they form a family of sorts over time.

There's a lot unsaid in this book - every character is a still pool of dark water. I'd expected a straight-forward historical novel (this book was chosen by our book discussion group at the library), but I was pleasantly surprised almost from the start by the complex characters and drama that takes place.

I enjoyed the casual unspooling of time across the story - weeks pass slowly as the story unfolds, then it accelerates and several years pass in a heartbeat. A large part of the book takes place in a single year, then a decade zooms past. It's unsettling, but also feels right for the story.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder

Penelope Grey is a rather lonely child. She lives in a mansion, has a cook and private tutor, and has two parents who love her. But at 10 years old, she's learned all the adventure in books isn't enough to fill the only-child, bored hole in Penelope.

But after throwing a wish in a well, thing change - they get exciting, frightening, and all together less boring. Her father quits his job, a long-lost relative leaves them an inheritance, and they pickup and move halfway across the country.

It's Penelope's chance to change her name, make friends, try out the fun things she's only read about, and learn about community.  And things don't go exactly like the plan - because real life is messier and less tied-up in the end than a book would be.

It's a cute book, and the story moves quickly. There is a mystical element (real, or imagined?) and as a reader you don't know if this will be a straight-ahead real life book or a fantasy where there's Action! Drama! Bad Guys! etc. It keeps you guessing, which is a fun way to read.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

A girl is born into a world of hurt and hunger. Shortly, she is strong enough to heal and hunt. But who is she, and where is she? She has no memory - and yet, she seems to know how to survive. She finds a savior in an adult man named Wright and together they attempt to puzzle together her story.

In this fantasy fiction novel, Shori is a creature similar to vampires yet wholly different. She is Ina, a race of blood-drinking creatures who form close-knit communities with their human "symbionts." Her amnesia is a result of a major head injury - Ina heal from injury quickly, but complex brain regeneration can't restore lost memories.

This is a slightly different kind of vampire story with a whole new cosmology, and Shori's total amnesia allows the author leeway to have characters do a lot of lecturing on history and tradition. But the book's not without suspense and action - somebody's out to get Shori, and her amnesia makes it impossible to know who to trust.

And the culture of Ina and of their symbiots leads to a different kind of vampire philosophy - where typically there is an underlying theme of existential angst about God, death, and immortality, in this story characters spend more time pondering connections, family, and kin.

I enjoyed the book, and found it refreshing to see a unique twist on the vampire legend.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman

As a founding member of The Roots and a talented record producer, Questlove (or ?uestlove) has made his name in the hip-hop industry. But many don't realize he's actually a music fan first with a base of amazing depth and breadth, a true walking encyclopedia of music and musicians.

I'm not a hip-hop fan, but I am a music geek and I've read a lot of cool things about Questlove and his music geekdom. I read a positive review and thought I'd give this book a try. And I'm glad I did.

Ahmir's life is interesting, as are the stories of creation and evolution of The Roots. But what's more interesting are his opinions on music, his memories on sounds that stopped him in his tracks, and the fanboy moments that left him speechless. His loving Prince even though his parents disapproved; his loving the Beach Boys even though he's a big black hip hop guy.

I really enjoyed the book, and he made me go back to listen again to some great music in order to hear it Questlove's way. Music geeks unite!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden

Almost from the moment they meet, there's something different and precious about the friendship between 17 year olds Liza and Annie. It's when the girls realize that perhaps it's not mere friendship - perhaps it's simply love - that things become anything but simple.

I picked up this book because the author passed away recently. In a tribute, they discussed the ground this book broke for fair and accurate representation of same-sex couples in fiction. Seemed like a good enough reason to look it up.

The book was originally published in 1982, yet it's aged incredibly well; there are very few hints in the book to place it outside our own time. My audiobook (read by Rebecca Lowman) was 2008 commemorative edition, which also included a fairly extensive interview with the author on the book's impact and legacy both in her own life and in LGBTQ history.

It's a great book (the tension that builds through the middle section was agonizing for me!) and I can understand why it's had the impact it has. Gay or straight, it's a good love story and it's also a fair look at the impulsiveness of teenagers and the implications of unthought actions.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Vacationland by Sarah Stonich

While some entitled people believe the planet revolves around them, the truth is that we each DO have a kind of world that circles around us - a web of friends, family, places, and acquaintances that are all connected (and maybe only connected) by you. This book, a series of interconnected yet independent short stories, is about one of those webs - a world that revolves around a way-north Minnesota resort.

Through these stories, you get a feel for the small town of Hatchet Inlet, for the guys who hang out in the coffee shop and the visitors to the resort. We see the resort in the 1960s during its heyday, and also through its decline, piece-by-piece demolition, and rebirth. Immigrants and draft-dodgers, native tribes, locals, and tourists all fill the stories with depth and diversity of view.

This is my very favorite form of storytelling, and Stonich does it incredibly well. Each story stands alone and tells its own tale, but taken together they intermesh and marry to provide a multi-faceted view of life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Port Chicago 50

by Steve Sheinkin, Audiobook Read by Dominic Hoffman

This is an oft-forgotten story of WWII.  Sheinkin tells it in a heartbreaking manner with this children's book.  In fact, I had not heard the story at all before the book became a sensation in educational discussion lists. 

During WWII, black servicemen were still segregated from their white peers.  At Port Chicago in San Francisco, those lines were strictly drawn.  Only the black men loaded bombs.  All the officers were white.  After a horrendous explosion killing more than 300 men, several black sailors became afraid of returning to duty. 

Initially, more than two hundred of them refused unless the conditions surrounding their work improved.  When told the punishment for mutiny was death, all but 50 agreed to go back to work.

This book chronicles the trial and controversy that followed.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How To Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

Once upon a time astronomy, astrology, and religion were all the same thing - and to the characters in this book, sometimes they still are the same.

Irene is an astrophysicist working with particles to create miniature black holes in her lab. George is a cosmologist trying to prove the philosophical concepts of the universe as explained to him by the gods and goddesses who visit during his headaches. They couldn't be more different - except that when they meet, it seems the stars collide and planets realign.

Lydia Netzer does a wonderful job with scientifically geeky characters (see also her book Shine, Shine, Shine). This couple banters about physics and the cosmos in a way that truly makes it almost sexy. They're a great match; which was expected, because their mothers planned it so.

I had three different theories on what I thought might happen at the end of this book, and I was wrong. Satisfyingly wrong, even. What an odd, wonderful book!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

What happens when you throw a modern female historian into 16th century England - does she know as much as she thinks? Can she cope? That's just what happens in this installment of the search for the rare alchemical book Ashmole 782.

Second in the All Souls Trilogy that began with A Discovery of Witches, this novel continues both the love story and the epic quest of historian witch Diana Bishop and her scientist vampire Matthew Clairemont. And while I devoured the first book in practically a single sitting, this one I enjoyed in audiobook format, spread over 24 hours and several weeks in the car. (This audio version read by Jennifer Ikeda is outstanding.)

Diana and Matthew mission in the time travel is twofold: study up on Diana's previously untapped powers of witchcraft, and attempt to lay hands on the Ashmole manuscript before it's torn apart. They slip into Matthew's own actual past, which creates some new challenges - since he was at that time a sworn enemy of witches but suddenly not only consorts with one but marries her.

These arrangements allows Diana a unique peek into Matthew's past, as she gets to meet long-dead friends, enemies, and family, but she also gains a deeper understanding for a long-lifed vampire's very necessary half-truths, constant goodbyes, and ever-shifting personas.

This book's a bit of a whimsy - a historical story stuck in the middle of a contemporary series. And it's fun to read; the fish-out-of-water element of dealing with a patriarchal, monarchical society puts Diana on unsure footing from the start.

No Strings Attached

by Susan Andersen

Andersen is back in Razor Bay with the last of the Bradshaw brothers.  Luc was disillusioned to discover the man he'd idolized had fathered, then abandoned two other sons.  Upon sneaking into town to check them out, he discovers another secret.  The woman he spent a great night with years ago lives there, too, and she's none to happy to see him.

Tasha remembers "Diego" as the rat-bastard that let her rot in a Bahamian jail on trumped up charges.  No way, no how is getting anywhere near her happy place again.  She doesn't care if he is the brother of her best friend's fiance. 

Um, yeah.  A little thing called chemistry teams up with honesty to knock them both for a loop.  If you liked the earlier books in the series, you'll enjoy this one, too.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll by Lisa Robinson

Lisa Robinson has been everywhere and knows everyone ... or at least, most of the cool music people you wish you knew. That's what this book is about: a behind-the-scenes look at rock stars from the 1970s through today. It's not Robinson's memoir or autobiography; you only learn bits and pieces about her through the other stories. Instead, the book is about the people who make music, who tour to entertain us, and what they're like outside the spotlight.

Robinson toured with Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, but she's not a relic of rock days gone by. Did you catch the book title is an Eminem lyric? Robinson's stories run the gamut from New York Dolls to Kanye West, Jay-Z, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

There's no real cohesive timeline or thematic evolution in the order the stories are told. For the most part they work from oldest to newest, but that's not strictly enforced. It's more like a casual sit-down with a great storyteller who's had some awesome experiences.

I enjoyed the book, but if you're not already a music fan you won't be convinced; you really need a little knowledge going into this book to get the most out of it. And she's not terribly concerned with helping you place these icons into any perspective - the deep thoughts and philosophy will be strictly your own. She may have been the only sober one at the party, but she was more concerned with having fun than gaining any real insights.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Darrow's part of a hard-working clan who spend their difficult, short lives mining underground on Mars in order to make the planet above hospitable for future colonization.

So he's shocked to discover everything he knows is a lie - for one, that Mars aboveground and many, many other planets and moons have been successfully inhabited for a very long time - when he's given an opportunity to join the rebellion and try to change things.

Comparisons to the Hunger Games series is inevitable - a "game" between young people that leads to the victor's eventual success in politics and society. But this book stands on its own - I didn't feel it was reactionary or derivative of Suzanne Collins' series. It's a great action-adventure story, full of strategy and twists, espionage and doubletalk. It's easy to forget (as it is for the competitors) that there's more to life on Mars than what's happening inside the game.

The book ends in a place that made me say "REALLY? Really!" and the countdown for the second in the series has begun ("Golden Son" has a January release date).

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Savages by Matt Whyman

The whole Savage family is obsessed with food: the perfect preparations, the ideal side dishes, a communal feast that brings them all together. But the secret's in the protein - it's from a very different source.

You'd think your teenage daughter dating an environmentally conscious hybrid-driving vegetarian would be the least of a parent's worries - but then, you don't have secrets like the Savage family. Sasha Savage has got her plate full of trouble with Jack, and it turns out being a flesh-eater is just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce).

We know from the start something bad happens to reveal the family's secrets; it's just a matter of getting there. How does it all unravel? Is younger brother Ivan really that inept?

It's a light book and hardly even gory, given its subject matter. The gross absurdity of the situation makes it comical, and the author did a wonderful job on simple philosophy and history to explain how it could even be possible to rationalize something like cannibalism. Or veganism. Or whatever culinary belief system you'd like to buy into. ;)

Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley

When a high school girl goes missing and then turns up dead, there are bound to be questions - but not everybody wants to hear the truth, and certainly not the whole, gory, unvarnished truth. With a mystical truth-teller in their presence though, the town might get a lot more than they bargained for when pondering what happened to Jade Price.

Aria is trying to keep quiet the fact she's an oracle - a descendant of the mythological prognosticators - who is compelled to truthfully answer every question overheard in her presence. She cannot stop the words when even inadvertent questions are asked, but they're not always clear-cut answers (sometimes its a riddle, a poem, or some obscured truth).

Aria tempers the truth by using her headphones to drown out the questions and by mumbling in public. But neither of those solutions are making high school easy for the 17 year old as questions fly fast and furious. When both of Jade's "boyfriends" start paying attention to Aria, the killer will have to be revealed eventually, right? But again, the truth isn't always crystal clear.

They mystery element is well done, and I changed my mind several times as I tried to predict where the story was going. This was a fun book, and it also made me spend some time thinking about how awful life would be if you couldn't lie or even control your own mouth. (yes - I see you laughing. shut up)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Then Came You by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis' Animal Magnetism series is back.  Veterinary intern, Emily Stevens is prepared for the struggle of living in Idaho, of all places.  She's not, however, prepared for her only one-night stand to be her boss.

Dr. Wyatt Stone is sex on a stick in Emily's eyes.  She sees him as a temporarily attainable treat that must be resisted if she has any hope of living up to her life plan.  Dr. Stone appears to be ultra-laid back and cool.  He's got a smooth as whiskey voice that soothes the most skittish animal - or woman.  Under it all is also a determined alpha male whose heart has been broken one too many times.

Tag along with Shalvis' true to form witty banter as a fiercely independent woman tries to hold off a man willing to kill spiders for her.  It's the kind of book that makes the reader hold her breath in excitement to find out what happens next, only to finish with the thought, "I'm already done?!?" 


Monday, June 30, 2014

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Is love enough, or does it take more to make a marriage work?

When a chance at her dream job interferes with Christmas, sitcom-writer Georgie's husband and kids go on to Omaha without her. That leaves her free to work - or does it mean that Neal just left her? Everybody's got their own theory.

Which all leaves Georgie a bit out-of-sorts. Neal's not answering his phone, her battery's gone kaput, and her Mom wants her to come over for a sympathy dinner. Georgie finally reaches Neal's mother's house in Omaha from her old bedroom at her mom's house, but something seems ... off.

This adult novel by YA wundkind Rowell is a fluffy bit of fiction with the kind of real-world, flawed and relatable characters she does so well. Georgie's certainly not perfect - but do you have to be perfect to deserve love?

Rainbow Rowell's books make me want to curl up in a quilted cloud and get lost, uninterrupted until I've turned the final page. 2013 was certainly the year her star exploded, but I think so far we've only seen the tip of her talent's enormous iceburg.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

After high school, some graduates bolt for the city limits while others hunker down to start adult lives right where they are. This book is about five small town friends, about the underlying pull of home, and about friendship and adulthood.

Beautifully written and full of emotion, Butler's book is full of real people with real troubles in a rural northwestern Wisconsin town. Hank and Beth got married and live on a dairy farm with their kids. Ronnie ran the rodeo circuit until injuries forced him out. Kip made it big in Chicago before returning to inject some money into the dying downtown. And Lee became an indie rock superstar. Chapters alternate between the friends, and we come to understand the group's dynamics and history through their memories and perspectives on current events.

I could NOT put this book down, and I have barely stopped talking about it since the moment I turned the first page. Butler's got a real way with words, and his nuanced characters act and speak in the familiar way of Midwestern small-town stoics. I kept reading passages aloud to my husband because it's just written so, so beautifully.

Highly, HIGHLY recommended!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Before we kiss

by Susan Mallery

Absolutely hilarious. 

Sam and Dellina live in a very small town that's filled with all the expected gossip.  Following one spectacular night, Sam spends all his time avoiding her.  Why?  It's his impression that there is something seriously wrong with a woman whose home is filled with wedding gowns. 

It's a reasonable explanation if only someone could get him to listen.  Luckily, she's the best in her business - which has nothing to do with those gowns - and his company needs her. 

It would seem that's the perfect ending to just about any romance novel.  However,  she unwittingly hires his mother, a sex therapist, to speak at the major function she's planning.  Sam's parents, Lark and Reggie, make this book unforgettable.  Without them, it's a sweet, charming story with plenty of chemistry.  Sam's longtime friends thoroughly enjoy his parents antics, but will Dellina?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter

Largely forgotten by history, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives officers of World War II's Allied Forces worked to make sure important cultural relics were not destroyed during fighting, coordinated proper repairs where necessary, and helped track down and reclaim paintings, sculptures, important papers, and other objects of note stolen by Nazi officers all over Europe.

This amazing book recently served as inspiration for a movie starting George Clooney, and our library book club has chosen to read it for discussion later this fall. (We'll also be spinning several other adult-programming events in conjunction with the discussion.)  I cannot wait for the conversation. What an astounding book!

Edsel follows a handful of MFAA officers from the group's haphazard organization through the war and into their vital post-war restitutions work. We learn a bit about these "monuments men" and what drives them - why each was uniquely qualified for their mission, and how it the war affected their later careers.

I have to additionally note that I listened to the audiobook of this one and the narrator, Jeremy Davidson, was stunning. He did character voices, accents, dramatizations ... it's hard to believe it was just one guy, reading all of this so, so well.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson

New age zealots, the Alaskan townspeople who write Santa's return letters, and a horrifyingly large number of people who go missing from cruise ships - these are just a few of the interesting people you'll learn about in this book of stand-alone essays by British reporter Jon Ronson.

Ronson is a freelance journalist who gets to pursue crazy stories and fantastical personalities. He made a bit of money when a previous book, The Men Who Stare At Goats, was made into a movie starring George Clooney, so in these tales he travels the world and hunts down bizarre and unbelievable characters. Most of this volume's articles were previously published in The Guardian.

Many of the stories are funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Several of the people he meets would incite anger - if they weren't ultimately such sad, pathetic souls at the core of it: he takes a cruise with celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne, he hangs out backstage with the Insane Clown Posse, he gets profiled by the consumer target marketing company Experian, and he meets a guy who split atoms in his kitchen.

It's a fun book, but Ronson avoids drawing any real conclusions - you're left to ponder your own thoughts on the matter, in the end.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

More a stream of consciousness than a true narrative novel, this small volume offers one view of a marriage - in fits and starts, with pieces missing, and up to your read-between-the-lines interpretation.

The wife tells this story, presented in a kind of journal. In short bites - one or two paragraphs - she give her view: her thoughts, anecdotes, and her side of the story. She's not telling the reader about her life, it's more like she's talking to herself, writing notes in her journal, putting thoughts and emotions to the pen. This means a lot is left for you the reader to assume and infer.

She (the narrator-wife is never named) talks about her students and her child, but the book is really more about her relationship with her husband and her internal dialog.

It's a hard book to explain, and I'm finding it hard to even summarize what I thought. I felt a little voyeuristic, reading about her marriage and thoughts this way. Also, probably lots of deep meaning if you think about it ... but I didn't.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Photographer and American teenage girl Dimple Lala is most at home when she's shooting the world around her - especially her glamorous best friend Gwyn. But for all the focus Dimple has through the lens, she's hilariously unaware of her surroundings: her Indian family, her self-absorbed friend, the boys she has dated.

It isn't until Gwyn becomes obsessed with Indian culture (and an Indian boy) that Dimple realizes her cultural heritage is much more interesting than she'd believed - and maybe, it's also a bigger part of her identity than she'd realized.

This book takes a slightly unusual twist to an identity story: more about a first-generation American rediscovering her Indian culture, rather than the more-common story of trying to fit into white America. Teens will recognize Dimple's struggle to find herself, even if they don't identify with her race.

I don't know much about India and I was sometimes a bit lost in the descriptions, but also intrigued enough to research my lackings. It's a book full of colorful, busy descriptions of food, fabrics, sounds, and sights.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn

John is about to work his final job - he's retiring at the ripe old age of 25. But since he's a hired assassin, that final job requires starting at the bottom (as an intern at the law office), navigating his way through office politics while staying anonymous and completely forgettable, then creatively murdering his eventual target waaay up at the tippy top of the company food chain.

Along the way there are crosses and double-crosses, shifting alliances at every turn, and a spook over every shoulder. Oh, and romance. Or maybe it's just fake romance to get office intel. But maybe not. How would a guy who's never seen love even know for sure?

This book moves at lightening pace, and I just couldn't put it down. It's like a movie on the page. It's funny at times, a little sad in the way John became the heartless killing machine he is, and absolutely impossible to predict what will happen next. Loved this book!

(On a side note - this book has one of the best covers I've ever seen. Ever.)

Monday, May 5, 2014

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles

Twelve-year-old Fern has a crazy, big family: she's the third of four kids, and feels invisible. Her older brother may be gay but hasn't admitted it yet, her younger baby brother's just a spoiled pain, and her sister (the oldest) is angry with the world and working at the family's restaurant during a gap-year before college. Dad is always coming up with embarrassing, loony promotional ideas for the restaurant, and as a result, Mom's continually striving to tune out the chaos in favor of inner peace.

But in a mere moment, everything changes. Life will never be the same.

This is an excellent book, and also gut wrenching. Emotionally draining. I listened to the audiobook on a car trip and considered quitting because it was putting such a pall over my drive. But I also so badly wanted to know what happened that I persevered.

It's not too heavy a story for kids - every day, real-life kids deal with these same issues and more, and I'm glad books like this (and many others, too) illustrate they are not alone. It's exceptionally written, and worth reading. But it's also not a light novel, and I think it would be best accompanied by a discussion with a kid who reads it, to help iron out their emotions and thoughts about the events of the tale. I know I spent some quiet time, contemplating, at its completion.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

When an aggressive cancer stole Travis' life before he even got his driver's license, it should have been a shame and a tragedy. Instead, it became one of medical science's biggest breakthroughs when they reattached Travis' head to another teen's healthy body (after that guy lost his battle to brain cancer). But who would have thought that reattaching and reanimating a severed head would turn out to be the easy part of Travis' reincarnation?

For Travis, it seems like he took an afternoon nap; no time passed while he was inanimate. But while he was gone the world kept turning: the reality is, everybody else moved on. And the five years from age 16 to 21 meant lots of life-altering changes for his friends (and girlfriend) - they're not in the same place anymore.

I loved this book, and it's not as far removed from reality as you might expect for a sci-fi story. Because every teen is going through changes (and at their own pace), most of us have experiences where you get left behind despite the best intentions.

There's a great cast of characters here - old friends, new friends, parents, and the one other guy who was reanimated. They've each got their own struggles that help or hinder Travis' tale. In all, a great book about an unusually common experience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

In this quick, engaging who-done-it mystery for kids, a 12-year-old boy investigates the suspicious death of a theme park zoo's mascot, Henry the Hippo.

Teddy lives in a trailer at FunJungle because both his parents work there - his mom is a primate specialist, and his dad is a wildlife photographer. He's the only kid around, and he's usually in trouble for pulling pranks because he's bored. But something's not right about the giant hippo's death, and nobody else seems to want to find the truth.

It's a fun mystery, and I'll highly recommend it for animal-loving kids. Teddy's not quite a normal kid (he's wise beyond his years because he's had an unusual childhood around animals in the Congo) but he's got appropriately kid-size curiosity and impulse control problems. His investigation is dangerous and unwise, but he just can't stand to see an animal harmed without recourse.

There's a minor romance element when he crushes hard on the park owner's daughter, but it's innocent (she's a celebrity - who wouldn't be a bit tongue tied?) Also, there's a high ick factor that's really quite funny (dead smelly hippo, lots of exotic poop).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Pocket the Fool is back, and he's seeking revenge on the bastards who killed his Queen Cordelia ... (if you thought these characters from Moore's earlier novel "Fool" would have a happy ending, you haven't read much Shakespeare).

In his second Shakespeare-inspired black comedy mash-up, Christopher Moore combines elements of "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice," then stirs in a little Edgar Allan Poe and a variety of other recognizable references, characters, and quotes.

It's a twisty tale of intrigue - Iago's out to become a councilman if he has to kill everybody he knows to get there, Pocket's in town under false pretenses. There's a lot of cross-dressing, a court scene where everybody's out to win over the doge, and secret casks that can only be opened by solving a riddle. Plus a big git that's only interested in sex, Marco Polo, and a monkey. You know, typical Christopher Moore.

I loved this book, but it's at times hard to follow: there are a lot of characters, tons of back-stabbing and lying, and way too many things going on at once (you know: exactly like the Shakespeare source material). The more Shakespeare you know, the funnier the book will be. Also, I think a second reading may be beneficial for deeper understanding - which is fine, because these are characters I've enjoyed revisiting and will again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

This lovely book deals with a tough subject: super-smart geeky kid Willow Chance is tragically left untethered after an accident claims her parents. But quick thinking and a hopeful heart lead to a new kind of family, made up of friends.

It's hard to write an encouraging review of a book (that will make you want to read it) with a theme so heavy. But this is a really, really wonderful middle-school book about friendship and community, about the impact you have on others without even realizing it. Even though there's tragedy, it's an uplifting book full of hope and happiness. There's a great cast of misfit characters, all of whom are a little broken but together can manage amazing, transformative things.

It's been a major award-winner, and for good reason. Highly recommended!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag

In this hopeful novel, several women at wit's end finds themselves on an unknown doorstep and at the start of a mystical journey to find a better future.

The house itself is magic (in a Mary Poppins kind of way), and accepts entry by women with no other options. Over time, nearly every woman of note in science, literature, and politics has paid a short stay at the house, and the haunted pictures on all the walls prove it. Along with the house's custodian (an 82-year-old woman with her own secret dilemma), the historical women from the pictures offer advice and wisdom to the current inhabitants: a defeated and grief-stricken college student, an aging and lovelorn actress, and a spicy Portuguese singer with a dark secret.

The storyline moves quickly, rotating between the four women's stories but also providing perspective from other characters. The action takes place over just three months, but sometimes the story takes a hop of a week or more to pull the narrative forward. I really enjoyed this novel, and it held some fun, pleasant surprises for me. It's a lighthearted book that's encouraging and bright without becoming saccharine.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

It's often debated whether love at first sight exists, but what about love BEFORE first sight?

Since the newspaper doesn't trust its employees with this new-fangled internet technology (the book is set in 1999), the IT department is filtering all email - and it's Lincoln's job to read flagged messages and issue warnings for violation of policy. But he's begun following the conversations between a copy editor and an entertainment writer like it's a daily soap opera, instead of sending the women warning notes from "security" like he should. Beth and Jennifer's relationship and all their daily interactions are so very interesting, especially for a guy who's stuck in a state of arrested development.

And as much as he'd like to take action - to walk into the newsroom and meet Jennifer face to face - it's hard to ask a woman on a date when you've been secretly reading her emails for months. Talk about awkward! Plus, she's got a boyfriend. But lately, meeting Jennifer is all Lincoln can think about.

I've had a huge booknerd crush on Rainbow Rowell since reading her teen books (Eleanor and Park, Fangirl) and this was her first adult novel, published in 2012. I've already read an advance copy of her upcoming adult novel, Landline, which you'll see reviewed here in June.

I've adored all of Rowell's books, and this one is no exception. She writes fully realized, relatable characters in the kind of real-world sticky situations you can imagine yourself in, too. I'll be passing this book along and recommending it quite a bit - don't wait to try it yourself!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Soup by Robert Newton Peck

In this classic children's tale, a pair of boys growing up in small town America find "innocent" trouble and make mischief. Actually, it's more like a collection of short stories - vignettes of days gone by (the stories take place in the 1930s).

I'd never read any of the Soup series of books, and picked up this audiobook for some car time. Narrated by Norman Dietz, the book felt like your favorite grandpa telling you about his childhood: rolling down the hill in an apple barrel, getting in trouble at school, having a crush on that one cute girl.

For those who haven't read this series, "Soup" is the narrator's best friend (who doesn't like his real name and at threat of violence, no one calls him Luther), and the narrator is Rob. Soup's the mastermind behind all kinds of hijinks, and Rob's usually the action man. I'd say the series is on par as a boy-oriented alternative to the Little House on the Prairie books.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Muppets: Character Encyclopedia by Craig Shemin

I'm a big Muppets geek from way back, so you know this one had to go home with me. This character compendium covers the complete Muppets chronology, from pre-TV's The Muppet Show through the in-theatres-now Muppets Most Wanted film.

It's fun, and you'll learn things about lots of the marginal characters. But the brief bio format left me wanting on the major players, and I wish there was more behind-the-scenes info on the character's development.

In summary, I'm glad I checked it out from the library rather than buy it, but I'm also glad I read it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

In the second novel of the series, sexy con artist Nicholas Fox is helping close in on art theft by partnering with by-the-books FBI agent Kate O'Hare in a secret operation.

I loved the first book in the series, and this one's just as good! There's a fantastic sexual tension between the main characters and a great volley provided by their opposing moral compasses. There's lots of action, plenty of explosions, and a fantastic cast of secondary characters. Even though you know it's going to be all right (it's always all right, isn't it?), the reader is still drawn into the suspense of the caper and its dangers.

For a lighter read, this one's near perfect.

Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

When freshman dorm assignments are sent out, immediately Jersey-girl Elizabeth sends an email to make contact with her San Francisco roomie Lauren. Over the summer they build a long-distance relationship, but written communication leaves a lot of gaps open to interpretation: Will they be friends in real-life? What did she mean by THAT response?

The girls are very different and face dramatically different (and yet also very similar) struggles in launching into adulthood. Going away to college is a scary enterprise on its own, and both girls are worried about the changes in their long-standing relationships that leaving will bring. Will their friends still be the same come Thanksgiving? What about long-distance love?

For each, it's nice to have an unconnected sounding board and confidante in this time of turmoil, but maybe it's not wise for that to be your yet-unmet future roommate. Their relationship begins at a lightning pace, with notable misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Since the book alternates points of view for each chapter we get both sides of the exchange, with the added benefit of all the background that isn't relayed by their messages.

It's a well-done, fun and relatable book that many teens will find hits very close to home. For adults, it's a look back - or a reminder in their future letting-gos.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Winger by Andrew Smith

Junior year is going to be different, Ryan Dean West has decided; he's been working out, he's got his eye on dating his gorgeous best friend Annie, and he's got big plans on diverting his boarding school classmate's focus away from the fact that he's only 14 years old.

It's a book about relationships and figuring things out as a teen. Rugby plays a central role, and the author does an excellent job explaining just enough about the sport but also keeps the story moving along. RD is a typical twisted teen - wonderfully insightful about a teammate's homosexuality, and then bullishly idiotic with his own hormones.

The text is liberally decorated with Ryan Dean's doodles (illustrations by Sam Bosma), which allow us to see into his head a bit. The book's a little gross, a lot horny, and overall excellent. Actually, the whole time I was reading I kept thinking it was a great book, and then at the end it became an AMAZING book. You'll have to figure out why on your own.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken

This fictional memoir tells the life-and-career story of comedian Mose Sharp and his partner-in-performance, Rocky Carter. These vaudeville actors eventually make the transition to radio and film, but it's their long and complex relationship that gives the book its dynamic story.

These two slightly broken men together create a work-marriage that outlasts every other partnership in their lives. It goes without saying this is a dysfunctional relationship and things maybe don't turn out so well. But it's the getting there that's fun.

I loved that this is a story I haven't read a million times over - it seems a fresh look at the relatively common theme on relationships. You love these men, and you want to smack them over the head for their foibles. The story doesn't focus overmuch on their financial success or their business - it's really an old man looking back at the brotherhood and his life. Highly recommended!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

After his wife's death, a small-town book snob's soul begins to shrivel up; he's drinking himself to death, and his prickly personality isn't helping the bookstore stay afloat (he openly despises most of the clientele). But a woman, a baby, and his tight-knit community will eventually force A.J. to live, to grow, and maybe even to try new genres.

This is a captivating, lovely story and a book geek's dream: A.J. has opinions (and so do his customers) and the more well-read you are the more entertaining you'll find those references. It's a refreshing breeze of a book, with flawed, real "human" characters and a brisk pace.

It was hard to put down - and honestly, I finished it in just a couple sittings.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Elderly sisters Twiss and Milly live in their ancestral home, but the story of how they ended up spinsters, together, isn't as straightforward as it may seem. Everything changed during one summer - the summer their cousin Bett came to stay.

Our book discussion group chose to read this for next month (I'm working ahead), and I'm so glad they brought this one to my attention. It's a wonderful story about the bonds and allegiances within a family. I think it will be a good discussion title.

An extra bonus: it takes place in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and the landscape and community of the book are extremely familiar.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott

Steve Abbott gave his daughter an unusual life; he was a devoted and loving only parent, a struggling full-time poet and writer, and on the front line of the 1980s AIDS epidemic as an out gay man in San Francisco.

It's a good book, and Alysia's honest in a way many might have glossed over. She didn't always behave well - often demanding her father's full attention to the detriment of the rest of his life. But it's overall a loving look at a nontraditional life, and the kind of story we've not heard much; since the AIDS epidemic primarily claimed gay men, most of its history has been written about the community of friends that grew up around sick men and their partners. This is a look at a marginalized group that's just beginning to speak out: children and wives of AIDS victims.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Best of Youth by Michael Dahlie

In this droll novel, a clueless young man struggles to find his place in life. Due to a family tragedy, he's a millionaire who doesn't NEED to work, yet he struggles to find something and someone with whom he connects.

It's a quick, funny book full of social commentary on the hipster lifestyle: alternative musicians, alternative magazines, boutique farming, and celebrity authors who've never written a page.

Henry longs to be a writer, and ends up a ghostwriter to a pompous Hollywood actor (second book I've read this month where that happens - strange new theme?). He's looking for a life partner, but ends up obsessed with a relative. And then there's a tragic farm accident.

This is an entertaining book, but I wasn't kidding when I said "droll." It's a literary, wry novel full of absurd self-involved people with first-world problems.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Guts by Roddy Doyle

Did you ever see the early-90s film "The Commitments" about an bunch of teens trying to become Ireland's greatest soul band? Doyle wrote the novel it was based on, along with several continuations: This is his fourth book in the Barrytown series.

The Commitments' manager Jimmy Rabbitte has stayed in music - he's made a career milking the nostalgia for Irish punk and folk acts, building internet sites and back-catalog sales for these mostly one-hit wonders.

But a sudden illness creates a strong sense of sentimentality about the glory days, and Jimmy starts to look up a few people he's lost touch with over the years. Most haven't fared so well, but a new music idea and a big outdoor concert help bring them all back to the friendship they'd enjoyed.

They're very relatable characters: flawed and funny, acting badly and also very bravely. This is a very funny book, but written in dialect and in a non-traditional quotation format - once you get used to it, it's a breeze, but I'll admit it took me a bit to get the hang of it.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Two women - each chafing against the limitations imposed upon her by others. One is a privileged young woman in a white Southern colonial family who wishes for a life of books, learning, and the law; the other is the young black woman given as her own personal slave.

It's a story novelists love to tell and it's been done a million times, but this one's not without its merits. Notably, this novel is spun from true historical figures Sarah and Angelina Grimke, sisters who became radical and much-publicized abolitionists in the early 1800s. While the book is fiction, much is based in truth.

Additionally, the contrast between the white and black women's struggles against her bonds is well-done and interesting. Each finds a way to free herself, however temporarily - one through activism, the other through quilt making (although that storyline's not terribly fresh, either).

It's a captivating story, and I did enjoy it. But if you're a Jennifer Chiaverini reader, this one's going to seem hauntingly familiar.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Once in a lifetime

by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis is a contemporary author who can always be counted on for a story that will make you laugh more than you cry.  I'm a sap, though, so I always have a tear shimmering for a moment, too.  She's back in Lucky Harbor with two individuals readers have been getting to know in previous titles. Ben and Aubrey have known each other since high school, but there's always been a laundry list of reasons to keep apart.

Aubrey's got quite a reputation in Lucky Harbor.  As a teen, she was forever in mild trouble, and walked with a deep chip on her shoulder.  More recently, she quit her job after finding her boss was embezzling, and cheating on her with two other women.  In an effort to outrun Ben, she stumbles across an idea that making amends will give her what she's been missing.

Ben's back after several years of philanthropic work around the world.  He tells himself he was doing good, but everyone knows Lucky Harbor was a painful place after his wife's death.  Thanks to Aubrey's uncle, he takes on a job renovating her new business.  He knows he's on Aubrey's list, but he has no idea why.

These two bring a little heat to Lucky Harbor's winter, and entertain the locals along the way.  I still wish there was a real facebook page of the exploits Lucille and the other senior citizens use to trump one another.  Instead, we can all follow Ms. Shalvis on Facebook

Monday, February 17, 2014

Raw: A Love Story by Mark Haskell Smith

Sepp's a reality TV hunk on a book tour for the book he didn't write. Harriet's a noted literary blogger determined to prove that this kind of "book" is bringing about the decline of publishing and society as a whole.

And while you might think that's a recipe for either 1) a boring discourse or 2) a porn movie, it's actually better and less predictable than either of those options.

It takes quite a talent to skewer both the pomposity of literary criticism and the inanity of reality television, but Smith manages to successfully (and entertainingly) complete both tasks - it just seems like a funny, contemporary caper!

Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan

When a "connected" music producer needs help proving he didn't commit murder, he's certainly not going to call in the cops. But Junior Bender is a burglar with a heart of gold, and he's just the kind of guy to help a crook prove he isn't crooked.

This is the second book in the Junior Bender mystery series (the fourth is coming out in July). I'm enjoying the series because Junior is a great character: a reluctant private investigator for the seedy underside while trying hard to be a good dad to his precocious preteen, he's intelligent and essentially good ... yet also operating a bit south of the law.

For example, in this book he's being blackmailed into helping with the murder, but he's also helping his landlady look for her missing adult daughter. That investigation he's doing just because it's the right thing to do, and maybe he can help. It's not fun or easy (and he's already busy), but he can't just walk away.

Additionally, I'm a sucker for anything related to rock and roll, and this one's based on the true-life phenomena of post-Elvis pre-Beatles crooners that scars rock history.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

August Pullman is about to start fifth grade. While middle school is hell for nearly everyone, Auggie's got a different story than most: He's never been to school before, and he doesn't look like anyone else.

This amazing, gorgeous story is told in multiple voices - we start with August's point of view, but we later hear from his sister, a classmate, and several others close to the story. The story progresses through time in these overlapping pockets of perspective.

The book's won significant accolades and praise - there's not much new I can add. It is a wonderful book - both heartbreaking and heart-warming - that should be read and discussed with preteens everywhere.

The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

Diplomacy is paramount when a visiting American senator accuses his French aristocratic hosts of misdeed; good thing the US embassy sent level-headed security chief Hugo Marston as the senator's unofficial "babysitter."

This is the third book in the Hugo Marston series, where the city and scenery of Paris is as much a character as any of the bad guys.

I'm really enjoying this series. Hugo's a likeable guy, and the writing is wonderful. There's police/investigatory action, but the main character doesn't carry a gun and avoids violence. He's a smart guy with interesting friends, and the uncommon way Hugo makes connections between people and incidents is a major part of every story.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

It all starts with a bullying and a beating, and then things continue downhill until giant bugs ravage an Iowa town. But mostly, this is a book about love, friendship, small towns, and Cold War paranoia.

As horny, sexually confused teen Austin Czerba keeps a record of the end of the world, his version of history is muddled up with his family genealogy, the story of a small town's industry, and an intense love triangle between Austin, his girlfriend, and his best friend Robby. It's a bawdy, messy, hilarious book: there's a lot of talk about sex, and Austin is haunted by the word "experiment." But the charged emotions of the love triangle are offset by the need to absurdly save the world from 6-foot man-eating mantises.

I couldn't put this book down. It's unique, in a sci-fi genre where it's hard to break new ground. Smith revels a bit in 1950s pop-culture nostalgia, then knocks it right out of the park. I'll admit I was slightly disappointed with the ending, but only because it's not what I wanted to see happen - no fault of the story or author. I won't tell you why, though. Because you should read this book. It's excellent.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Completely narrated in letters to Richard Gere, this story of a man's journey of self-discovery unfurls story by story. Bartholomew is a little slow-minded and he's never had a job besides taking care of his mother, but at 38 years old he's got to stand on his own now that brain cancer has taken her. And in the course of grief counseling - and a major roadtrip adventure - his horizons begin to expand.

The book's very funny, but a little sad, and also philosophical. Bartholomew does lots of research at the library, so even though the angry man in his stomach sometimes calls him retarded, he's also thoughtful about Buddhism and Tibet (Gere's interests) and his own Catholic upbringing.

Author Matthew Quick has become a prominent voice for mental illness awareness and social understanding because he's such a master at putting the reader inside the head of his unusual and broken characters. This is the third book of his that I've read, and each has been wonderful and eye-opening for me in terms of compassion and empathy.

I really enjoyed this book and was engrossed from start to finish. It's a fairly fast read, but the story and characters will stick with you long after the final page.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir by Kelly Corrigan

Every child is closer to one parent, and Kelly Corrigan is definitely her father's daughter. He's the fun one, while Kelly's mother, Mary, is all rules and no-nonsense. (A few years back our library book group read Corrigan's cancer memoir, The Middle Place, which deals a lot with her relationship with her father, Greenie.) 

When Kelly and a friend decide to wander internationally and seek adventure after college, Mary is unhappy to say the least. Yet mom is the one person who never fails to send Kelly the mail and news from home she craves. And Kelly is amazed to realize it's her mother's wisdom she hears in her head guiding her choices when she takes a nanny job with an Australian family shattered and rebuilding after the mother's death. 

While most of this book happens half a world away from home and separated from her family, it's at its heart a book about Kelly's relationship with her mother and the lessons Kelly absorbed even when she didn't know she was listening. Many women find a new appreciation for their mothers when they become mothers themselves; Kelly is lucky to have begin that shift earlier in life thanks to the Tanners.

It's an excellent book, engaging and incredibly touching as Kelly comes to recognize and appreciate all that her mother is and does. The title comes from her mom's description of her marriage and parenting: "Your father may be the glitter but I'm the glue."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Tidal debris deposits a baggie containing a heck of a story, right at the feet of a beach-combing stymied writer.

The bag's contents include artifacts and journals: an early-2000's Japanese schoolgirl's troubles, her 104-year-old great-grandmother's zen teachings, her depressed father's woe, and a dramatic WWII kamikazi story told two ways. Those many, many stories are layered and twisted into the threads of the novelist's life and longing in a small Canadian outlier island as she explores her find.

Many times while I was listening to this book, I suspected I'm not deep enough to really get all that was going on in subtext and philosophy. But none-the-less, I enjoyed the story immensely.

This audiobook is read by the author - and there's an interesting note at the end. Ozeki explains that the book includes graphs, footnotes and other marginalia that doesn't translate well to the audio format, so you may wish to find a copy of the book to see what you missed. Additionally, though, she explains that audio listeners get a richer, deeper portrayal of the book's characters as she gets to add inflection, tone, and characterization through her dramatic reading. Much like the book itself, many different interpretations of the same text. Up is down - down is up.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

It's hard enough to be a teenage girl in love - but what if you fell for two guys? Well, at least in this story, somebody's going to end up dead.

Brit teen "Zoe" is writing letters to a death row inmate in Texas. She figures she can unburden herself to Mr. Harris since he killed his wife - he'll understand that terrible things can happen in the heat of passion. A boy is dead, and Zoe is to blame ... but it's going to take almost a year, a lot of letters, and a complicated backstory before we get to that.

This is a fun, addictive, and frustrating novel. I was completely sucked into the story and I read it in just two sittings - but I had to constantly stop myself from jumping to the end to find out WHICH ONE?!? And about the time you think, "a-ha!" you'll also wonder, "Was that a red herring?"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bare Essentials

by Jill Shalvis and Leslie Kelly

Two books in one is two times the fun. 

I picked this one up because it had Jill Shalvis' name on the cover; Leslie Kelly's story was every bit as fun.  This is just the right mix of funny and tactfully raunchy.  Kate and Cassie come from a long line of women with reputations for liking men a whole lot.

In Naughty but Nice (Shalvis), lingerie model, Cassie, returns to her dreaded hometown to hide from a stalker and exact a little revenge in the process.  Too bad sheriff, Sean "Tag" Taggert quickly catches on while single-handedly upping her car insurance rate.  She hightailed it out of town as a teen after the sheriff hit on her the night of her prom.  Tag's got his work cut out for him to convince the beauty that he won't believe the rumors, even when they come from his own family. 

In Naturally Naughty (Kelly), Kate Jones finds herself back in Pleasantville with the excitement of opening a new store.  She's sure she'll shock the townspeople right into sending her packing for a second time.  Within minutes of arriving she has a brief but sizzling staring contest with Jack.  Hours later it turns into much more.  Frustration sets in when Kate figures out that Jack is the one man she wanted to leave in a miserable puddle: too bad she likes him.  He's got his own reasons for holding back; her mom is one of the most respected people in his life. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Law man

by Kristen Ashley

This book's so hot, my fingers should be scorched from flipping pages.  Sweet Mara has spent a lifetime believing she's low girl on the totem pole when it comes to what makes someone attractive.  That said, she's great at friendships, but any encounter with her sizzling neighbor, Detective Mitch Lawson, sends her running for cover. Quite literally, this gal will trip over her own to feet to avoid the man of her dreams.

Mitch has spent years waiting for Mara to give him just one opening.  It'll take everything he's got to show her how completely whacked Mara world is. 

Following her desperate escape, their worlds collide in order to provide stability for Mara's two young cousins.  Luckily, Mitch has all the skills to get those kids and Mara through the maze of protective services while protecting them from the Russian mob, drug dealers, and the genetic cesspool out of which this adorable trio has risen.

Seriously, CRAP, I've found a new series.  Not only that, it appears the Chaos series has characters tied to some other series in Ms. Ashley's repertoire.  Hmm, maybe I should start to be grateful for this bitterly cold winter and the abundant opportunities to snuggle up with a good book.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress by Lawhon

The real-life disappearance of a New York judge in 1930 spurred this fictional whodunit of political intrigue, crooked cops, and the behind-the-scenes power of women.

Judge Joseph Crater is a slimeball from page one - from every perspective we see, he's got "bad news" written all over him. But where did he end up, and who's behind it all?

His wife has retired to her beloved lake cottage, and isn't going to deal with any of the mess surrounding his disappearance. The maid has seen way more than she lets on, and is desperately trying to get pregnant with her politically compromised police detective husband. And then there's the showgirl who's a mob moll and compromised in a million different ways.

The result is a twisty, sudsy, rumors-and-lies kind of book. I'm always fascinated by unsolved crimes and the idea that SOMEONE knows and doesn't tell - and this is one of those stories. It was a quick read, and I think mystery lovers will enjoy the tale.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quilting Isn't Funny by Megan Dougherty

Are you a quilter? Do you have a quilter in your life? Because this book is hilarious.

I've been a fan of Megan Dougherty since her first column appeared in Quilter's Home magazine years ago. When I read that first column, I knew this was a chick who understood humor - she can look at an everyday situation (like a quilt guild meeting) and mine it for pure comedy gold. It's the familiarity of Megan's comedy that makes it truly shine; you've been in these situations, but somehow you completely overlooked the humor she found there. She's the chick you want to sit next to in the back row to misbehave and snark with. 

This book is a compilation of material previously published in magazines or on her blog ( with a bit of new to keep things fresh. This book is laugh-out-loud funny; read too much in a single sitting and I guarantee it'll build up to tears. I bought copies for all my quilting besties as holiday gifts.

Granted, if you're not a quilter this one's probably not your cup of tea. Don't know a fat quarter from a quarter auction from Fat Tuesday? It's probably going to sail right over your head. But that's the least of your problems - sheesh, I mean, all the cool kids are quilting these days. What's wrong with you?

Caveat: I helped copy-edited this book for Megan pre-production. But seriously - I've read this book multiple times and I LOVE, love, LOVE it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

From the Top: Brief Transmissions From Tent Show Radio by Michael Perry

Whether he's looking at the stars, admiring his young daughters, fixing a fence, humbling himself before his wife, or touring the country pitching his books, Mike Perry does a lot of thinking. Thankfully, he's willing to share his ponderances with us, because they're well turned, medium-deep, and often quite hilarious.

Some of those thoughts turn into books (if you haven't read Perry's books, drop everything and get one NOW!). Others are simply the little bits Perry talks about during intermission on the syndicated Tent Show Radio program; those intermission interludes are what's presented in this volume for the readers' (rather than listeners') enjoyment.

I have long believed Perry is the very best blend of intelligentsia and redneck. He's got an utterly amazing way with words (oh, the vocabulary!), and he certainly isn't hesitant about making himself the butt of jokes. What's especially nice about this book is that you can pick it up and put it down: open to any page, flip around, and it's all good. Since they're essays and ponderances, there's no chronology you have to follow.

Lexicon by Max Barry

As unlikely as it seems, this is a geeky word-nerd action-adventure novel with guns. Seriously!

A secret organization has discovered how to control people simply with language: using the right combination of sounds, and they can instantly hotwire your brain to believe anything or do anything they tell you. They call it "compromising" a person, and the expert practitioners of this art are called poets.

This is a fast-moving, hard to put down book. The story shifts around in time a bit, so you're often uncertain if the events are now, later, or before - which adds to the suspense. What students we meet will eventually become the poets? What on earth did they unleash in Australia? Seriously, a WORD could do that?!?

It's very good, and moves along quickly. Once I finally picked it up, I read it in just 2 days.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

A happenstance meeting, punctuated by a gun, changes the lives of everyone inside the Circle K gas station. Single young mom Shandi becomes smitten with the strong lonely hero who puts himself between her son and the gun. But like real life, things aren't that easy: William's got his own issues, and he isn't likely to simply fall head over heels because Shandi says so. Complicating matters are his best friend, her best friend, and so, so much more.

Jackson is an absolutely wonderful writer - a real reader's delight. She's both funny and emotional, and her characters are genuine and relatable; they're flawed in all the true ways, rendering them three-dimensional. They're practically living breathing people because you recognize in them yourself and others you know.

In addition to the pseudo-romantic storyline, there's another piece to the tale: Shandi coming to terms with her son's conception. She's been in strong denial about what happened that night, but facing a gun makes her realize she owes it to everyone to face down the dragon. Incidentally, William's in a perfect position to help with that, too.

Drop everything, and pick up this book! I'm not one for romance stories, so understand that for me Jackson's name on the cover trumps the word "love" in the title. And I certainly wasn't disappointed. I loved, loved, loved this book.

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson

If having a baby doesn't necessarily make you a mother, what does? For Shandi Pierce, it's an unexpected danger to her 3 year old son that flips a switch in her mind and her heart and turns her into a real mother.

This 75-page short story is a preview of sorts to Jackson's new book, Someone Else's Love Story. It stands alone, but also offers a bit of back-story to the longer novel's characters and plot.

Seriously, this teaser just made me want more. Jackson has such a wonderful voice to her characters and story that I just cannot get enough. I've already moved on to Someone Else's Love Story.