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.