Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Astrid looks forward to summer like any other kid.  She'll spend time with her best friend, and do all her favorite things.  That is until her mom comes up with the lastest "Evening of Cultural Entertainment" or ECE.  She finds a new interest when she attends her first roller derby with her mom and best friend.  Suddenly, all she can think about is learning how to do all those cool things.  She just knows she and Nicole (BFF) will have the best summer ever until Nicole admits she's more interested in ballet camp than derby camp.

Astrid soon finds herself lying to her mom, venturing home alone across busy roads, and covered in wicked bruises from all her attempts to learn to not only how to skate, but also speed, bumping, and the art of falling.  She makes a new friend, but soon learns she has to learn to share in the interests of others if she wants to keep them as friends.

By the end of summer, she'll have to decide how willing she is to not only try new things, but keep herself open to the ideas her friends present as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

The grand cross-century adventure trilogy that is about both a couple's unlikely romance and the origin of supernatural beings draws to a close with this dramatic, transcontinental chess match.

Supernatural power couple Diana (witch) and Matthew (vampire) are back from their time hop to the 16th century and now are ready to pull together the scattered pieces of an ancient alchemical manuscript and discover once and for all what's it's all about.

But not everyone wants to see Diana and Matthew succeed - there are plenty of other creatures who would like to find the "book of life" first and grab the knowledge and power it likely brings for themselves. And not merely incidental to the storyline, Diana is now pregnant with twins - a cross-species fete heretofore thought impossible.

I have loved this series, and the sweeping saga of the story's climax was worth the wait. I've been listening to them as audiobooks, and Jennifer Ikeda does a truly commendable job with the unique and varied characterization of ancient beings from all corners of the planet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold

I picked this book up after hearing it described as The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend  meets Neil Gaiman.  I have to agree with that assessment; I've been telling parents about it all week as a last minute gift idea for kids around ages 8-10.  

Amanda Shufflepup might not have realized she needed a friend until one showed up in the wardrobe.  Rudger was just what she wanted, except no one else could see him.  The two have great adventures until the day someone else does see Rudger.  Mr. Bunting is greatly dangerous to imaginaries.  In fact, because of him, Amanda and Rudger are separated, and Rudger finds himself running for his life.  Most important of all is his need to find Amanda again before she forgets him; can he survive if there is no one to imagine him?

For anyone who ever had an imaginary friend, this is a treasure.  If you were the kid who played along when someone else dreamed up friends, this might make you believe just a little more. 

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

A fake mystic scams her way into a "home cleansing" job and gets way more than she bargained for.

This short story (60 pages) was originally published in the 2014 anthology Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and now has been published as a stand-alone title.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book was that you don't know what you're in for: Is this going to be serious or funny? About the supernatural, or a crime? The back says, "You like ghost stories?" Yes, please! But we're not really given any other clues.

It begins with a hand job - or more accurately, approximately 23,546 hand jobs. Our narrator grabs you from page one, and you're captivated by her tale. Amazing!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Violent Ends: A Novel in Seventeen Points of View by various authors

In this stellar cooperative collection of interconnected short stories, we glimpse the before, during, and after of a group of students. Eventually, one of them opens fire at a high school pep rally, but there's really much more than just that one moment.

Each of the 17 stories was written by a different YA author - lending different styles, unique viewpoints, and a breadth of perspective on the scene. Some of the stories are short, others much longer, and some are further divided into chapters.

We see the anorexic cheerleader's perspective on her insatiable hungers: for perfection, for love, and for popularity. The sad story of a little girl's birthday present, ruined almost immediately. There's a slightly strange new girl at school with a big secret, the band geek whose only hope is to follow the treble clef doodled on a pair of Converse All-Stars, and the soccer player who isn't going to prom anymore. There's even one chapter (a bit strangely) told from the perspective of the gun.

I've really come to love interconnected short stories - I think the multi-faceted approach is always enlightening, and especially in the case of a teenage tragedy, there's always way more to the story than the headlines allow.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi-Winget

Suddenly every part of Poppy's life is uncertain: her only relative, her grandmother, had a stroke. And then, when running away from the group home to visit Grandma Beth in the hospital, she gets lost, witnesses a burglary, and is the only one to see the guy's face when he flees.

Poppy makes an impression on the detective called to the scene, and Detective Brannigan goes out of his way to accommodate his star witness until they can apprehend the bad guy. Along the way, she even helps the police in another, unexpected way.

This is a wonderful story about a girl living on the fringes. While there's turmoil and upheaval in the story, the book isn't super scary and the message of friendship comes through strongest. There's an interesting thread about kids' desire to act out in various ways when they've lost control of their life, and it's handled honestly and realistically.

Poppy's a middle schooler, but I think this book could be read younger. It's not too scary, and the conflicts and emotional struggle will be familiar for many kids whose parents have divorced or who have lost a loved one.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

While the art is what sells this one, I have to say the message is done very well too.

Without becoming a storybook, DeYoung intended to convey the over-arching message of the Bible: belief in God is the path to heaven. He doesn't get wrapped up in telling about Noah, or lingering on the nativity - he briefly touches on them on the way to a larger message. It's an interesting approach, and a couple times I laughed at the simplification job he does: the popular betrayal story gets summed up as Joseph's brothers "almost killed him because of his fancy coat."

No matter your Christian denomination, the message here is going to ring true and stand with church doctrine. There's obviously a lot more to it and this shouldn't be your only sourcebook, but I like it as a different tactic for kids. It's something I haven't seen before.

But let me move on to the art. Because illustrator Don Clark knocks one out of the park with this book; the retro-inspired design is simply rendered yet intricately detailed. I can't stop looking at the Garden of Eden, and the way he depicts a lot of anything (houses, people) is stupendous. I read an advanced reader's copy provided by the publisher, but I've now also seen the finished publication which is even brighter and more engrossing. There is a lot of visual inspiration here for artists of any age.

In this season of books as gifts, I'm gonna recommend this one for the Sunday school kids on your list. It's different, it's absolutely gorgeous, and it's a book that will definitely give you something to talk about.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hollow Man by Mark Pryor

What's it like to be a functional, passing-for-normal psychotic?

Dominic is an American lawyer who grew up in England and supplements his income as a musician in the thriving Austin scene. He's a part of the justice system and works hard for his clients.

And yet there's something he's hiding. He's known he was a psychopath since childhood and his move to the US may have been strategic - he's spent his life controlling himself (and everyone around him, honestly).

So when an opportunity for a long-shot windfall drops in his lap, it's not a big leap for him to enjoy a life of crime. It may be both the perfect crime and a way to get revenge on someone who's trying to tarnish his reputation ... or maybe not. It may all fall apart.

I loved the unpredictability of the storyline - how far will the scam go, and who will it take down? It's an interesting look inside the head of someone decidedly different and also a frightening look at how reasonable and rational planning a crime can be. I'm really enjoying Pryor's style of writing (he also writes the Hugo Marston series) and his characters - who all share just a bit of his own backstory, once you read his bio!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Strandal

THIS IS MY BOOK OF THE YEAR! It's that simple.

Eva Thorvald is a once-a-lifetime palate destined to greatness, born to a foodie father and an oenophile mother. In this series of short stories, we learn about Eva's life, but we don't hear about it from Eva herself; these stories each star someone else - random characters with whom Eva has varying degrees of involvement. Yet through their eyes we get a reflected-light look at Eva's life and a truly multi-faceted story.

This book is funny, sad, and even heartbreaking. But right from the start you're drawn into the characters, their struggles, and this all-encompassing story of Eva. I wanted to know more, I couldn't get enough, and if Eva didn't show up right away in each new chapter I started peering into the shadows and around the edges to find her. How does she relate, this time? But even without Eva these are fantastic stories of common people and regular Midwestern lives.

The audiobook was narrated by Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg. The pair delivers an amazing performance of characters from snotty teenagers to harried moms, from redneck drunks to wealthy businessmen.

I have been evangelizing to everyone I meet about how SPECTACULAR this book is - it's a must-read. Don't delay in finding a copy for yourself!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Elevator Ghost by Glen Huser

A new tenant in a bustling, ancient apartment building adds drama to all the residents' lives with her dramatic flair and fantastic stories.

Carolina Giddle attracts all the kids' attention right from the start - she's got a trinket-decorated art car, a pet tarantula in a cage, and an endless bag full of homemade snacks. She quickly becomes everybody's favorite babysitter, able to calm savage tantrums and coax reluctant bedtimes with her ghost stories and impeccable timing.

This is a great, not-too-scary Halloween story with fresh ghost stories to be enjoyed by all ages.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stand Off by Andrew Smith

In this sequel to Winger, we return to Pine Mountain Academy for Ryan Dean West's senior year of high school. Things got serious at the end of last year, and Ryan Dean may not have fully processed everything

But on top of his post-traumatic stress from that incident, he's got new concerns too: mainly, that since he forgot to apply for a room assignment, he's stuck in a tiny ground-floor dorm room with a claustrophobic freshman. That his roommate Sam is practically a reincarnation of Ryan Dean's own awkward former self is an irony not lost on our oh-so-much-cooler-now senior lead.

Again this time, the novel is hilarious and more than a bit sexually frustrated. Again this time, Ryan Dean is both wise before his years and an utter dolt, interchangeably. It's maybe not as strong as the first book - you'll definitely want to have read that one first - but it's a great continuation of the story and an engaging look at friendship.

And the myriad nicknames for Sam are worth the time alone!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience compiled by Shaun Usher

In this huge compendium of world history are collected notes, letters, and treatise from across the gamut of science, politics, art, and literature.

It's an interesting glimpse inside personal lives - most of these letters were never intended for the public to see. Elvis's letter to President Nixon offering to be a secret agent in the drug war, Kurt Vonnegut's letter home that explains his WWII POW experience (that later spawned the legendary "Slaughterhouse-Five"), Katherine Hepburn's agonized letter of loss addressed to her deceased beloved Spencer Tracy.

There's so much to learn here about the human experience and how similar we are, even separated by space and time: Leonardo da Vinci had to apply for jobs, and here is his letter of interest! She may be the Queen of England, but Elizabeth still has a killer recipe for scones. And a child advises Abraham Lincoln to grow a beard, and he takes her advice.

I read this book over the span of a couple weeks as my lunchtime enjoyment. It's perfect for reading a letter or two at a time (it's a really big book!) and it gave me plenty of mental fodder to accompany my meal.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

You'd think you only get half of a story if you're given only one person's letters, but in the case of college professor Jason Fitger we get a more-than-complete story reading only his hilarious, twisted, and sad outgoing correspondence. Trust me.

Through his rants, recommendations, and personal letters of reference we learn all about Professor Fitger's ex-wife, ex-girlfriends, ex-students, college friends, and coworkers. We know all about the building's remodeling project gone wrong, about Fitger's love life gone wrong, and about his career gone wrong.

It's a story of office politics, university backstabbing, and one insufferable man's attempts to do right by a promising young writer. I laughed out loud on several occasions. It's a very good pick-it-up-and-put-it-down book, and make sure you stick around for the end.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

When a cruise ship disaster wipes away a young woman's entire life, a wealthy, grieving father offers her the chance to be reborn by assuming his daughter's identity. But the desire to avenge her former life and make the guilty pay consumes her new existence.

This book is extremely compelling - it moves quickly, and there's a lot of engrossing drama. Love! Revenge! Attraction! Intrigue! It will sweep you away, and you'll want to know what happens next.

My only complaint was that the girls "died" at age 14, so all the love and romance they experienced was before that. Kids these days grow up fast (OMG did I really just say that?) ... but I've still got problems with this: when adult-Libby keeps getting all hung up on the taste and touch of Grey, she's remembering from when she was 14. That less-than-a-weeklong shipboard romance must have been seriously off the hook?!

Anyway ... this is a super-soapy, fun drama of revenge and insanity: Just how far will she go to reveal the truth and rain hell on the liars? Wow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh

I get asked all the time, "What's the deal with all the skulls?" And while it's a multi-faceted love affair for me, this book may help at least partially answer that question.

Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada didn't get famous for his Day of the Dead artwork until after he died, and this children's picture book tries to explain both why he drew them and also why they eventually found such widespread popularity. Lots of Posada's art is used throughout the book.

But the book's author/illustrator, Duncan Tonatiuh, uses another native Mexican art form - Mixtec codex - as the inspiration for his own drawings, which means the book offers a wonderful "crash course" in heritage art and its inspirations in modern culture.

I love, love, LOVE this book - make sure you give it a look!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Friendships change when kids hit puberty and alliances shift quickly; that unsteady ground of middle school is the heart of this fantastic preteen novel.

The stories all converge, but it takes most of the book before it's all clear: Bridge can't really explain why she's wearing cat ears every day, except that it's comforting, somehow. Emily's got a new texting buddy who wants pictures - but, of what? His grandfather moved out, and Sherm isn't ready to forgive that abandonment. An unnamed high school girl ditches school to spend some time alone and instead she makes a new friend. Jamie's killing himself trying to win strange contests with a "frenemy" determined to crush him.

Kids will recognize themselves and others in the characters and situations here - heck, I'm a grownup and it's not unfamiliar territory for me, either! I love that it's not all bound up in a bow, but there are real consequences and concerns throughout the novel.

I will highly recommend this for middle schoolers and high school freshman everywhere. No one's immune the slings and arrows of puberty, but how you deal with it can make or break you.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

In this lush, full historical novel we get a peek inside the art world in Vienna before World War II, as seen through the eyes of Emilie Floge, haute couture fashion designer and companion to famed artist Gustav Klimt. 

Emilie and Gustav meet when she's a girl, and she eventually became a beneficiary of his estate and guardian for his legacy. Between those times, it's well known they were friends and even family (another Floge daughter married Klimt's brother), but the full story of their relationship isn't told - which is where author Elizabeth Hickey set her book's narrative.

The story is told through the small, intimate conversations between two people - their thoughts, emotions, and conversations that aren't part of the historical record. She's given the pair a difficult, complex relationship that's neither friendship nor love but much more and also sometimes less. The story shifts back and forth from Emilie's wartime exile in Attersee and her reminiscence of Vienna and the heyday of the Secession movement.

I loved this book and since all the artists are real, it persuaded me to do some fantastic art history research to see the art they're discussing. Emilie is a strong and independent character, and I was fascinated to learn which parts of the book were really factual. Excellent!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys by Francesca Lia Block

How much trouble can a bunch of teenagers get into, being left alone in Los Angeles for an extended period of time? Turns out, exactly as much as you'd expect.

All the adults in the Bat family have gone to South America to make a movie. They've left Cherokee and Witch Baby home alone, but they can check in with Coyote if they need something.

The kids start a band (the Goat Guys of the title) and are given a boost by the special gifts Cherokee makes with help from their mystical sage guardian Coyote. The wings, pants, horns and boots hold special magic that may be more than they'd bargained on. Also, kids alone always discover sex.

This is the third book in the Dangerous Angels series, and it's maybe the one I've loved best yet. While there's a strong magical realism, it's not a stretch to see the cautionary message applicable to the real world, and even now more than 20 years after the book was written.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

I'm sometimes inspired to go back and read classic children's books that I somehow missed during my own youth - this is one of those times.

The 13 Clocks stars an evil duke who has stopped time and is holding a beautiful princess captive. He assigns impossible tasks to each prince who visits to win her hand. But an unusual suitor takes upon the challenge with help from a truly unique plot device, and they may be the ones to overcome the duke's hurdles - or perhaps, not. I won't give it away.

The story is begging to be read aloud - even just reading the book, you can internally hear the wonderful cadence of the language. I'm putting this book at the top of my school-aged read-aloud list.

Additionally, I'd like to note this is the kind of intelligent children's literature that sneaks in advanced vocabulary and adult ideas to stretch kids, cognitively. I was reminded of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," a personal favorite for the same reason.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer by Una LaMarche

In this series of short, comedic essays, the author offers the advice she wishes she'd received from her mother - or the advice she's offering to youngsters after her (but not while they're still kids, because there's lots of wine guzzling and a few swear words).

Una was an awkward, pop culture-obsessed kid with an unfortunate unibrow. She eventually figures out how to navigate life and also to tame her brows, gets married, and births a son. And through it all, she maintains a wonderful sense of humor, along with the ability to poke fun at herself without becoming a joke.

I really enjoyed this, and it's a quick read with fantastic pick-up-and-put-down potential for those busy or short on attention.

Although I'll admit to being slightly scarred by the cover photo of childhood Una (I just didn't want to carry the book around with me).

Monday, October 19, 2015

An Irish Doctor In Peace and At War by Patrick Taylor

In this, the 9th book in the Irish Country series, the "modern" storyline about Ballybucklebo's residents takes more of a backseat to Dr. Fingal O'Reilly's reminiscence about his WWII service.

Young Fingal serves as a medical officer aboard the HMS Warspite, stationed out of Alexadria, Egypt. He's pining for his fiance back in Ireland, Diedre, who will become his wife at their next opportunity.

While we've come to love the much older version of Dr. O'Reilly as a wizened, experienced man, this book offers a wonderful look at his younger, more naive self, experiencing the world at large. He tries new food! Women pay attention to him! Bombs are dropped!

The 1960s storyline is less dramatic: babies are born, small problems are solved, and Barry's fiance meets his ex-girlfriend.

I adore this series, and even though it's getting more "warsy" than I would usually enjoy, it is very interesting to get some non-American perspectives on Hitler and the Nazi campaign in Europe. I sometimes get bored with ship and gun schematics, but as always the novel's appeal truly boils down to the people Fingal meets.

And as always, audiobook reader John Keating brings them all to vivid life with his characterizations.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart by Jane St. Anthony

Her new home in Minneapolis is a duplex, with nosy elderly landladies downstairs. A new school, a new town, and a different life - but all Isabelle really wants is the old life back.

It's a universal yearning when something bad has happened - I just want things the way they were before! - and St. Anthony does a lovely job addressing it for kids (Isabelle is in eighth grade, but this book could read younger with no problem.) You like Isabelle right away, and I rooted for her to make new friends and not get stalled in her grief.

And while the book is set in the 1960s, it feels contemporary and not stuck in history: A lack of technology is the only real giveaway, and perhaps that the events of the landlord sisters lives are so far back in time, now.

At 140 pages it's not an intimidating read for kids, and the short chapters make it easy to digest. You like the characters enough to keep reading, and the emotion is so real and relatable.

I really, really liked this one!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Luna by Julie Anne Peters

Being a teenager is tough enough, but imagine carrying a secret, too. And Regan's secret isn't even her own! It's that her older and only sibling is transsexual and wants to begin the physical transition to her true self.

Liam may be ready to truly become Luna, but that doesn't mean Regan's ready to let it happen. Plus, she's so used to not talking about big parts of her life that Regan's having a tough time connecting with a dreamy guy who REALLY wants to get to know her.

This book is an interesting twist on the transgender experience because it's told from a sibling's point of view. She and Liam have always been very close, but this is a different story when it's about Regan's fears and worries about Luna's emergence.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Romy Grey's life has been hell since she was raped by the sheriff's son: No one believes her, she's a target for bullies, and her whole family's reputation is as gutter trash.

Carefully, she's kept her diner job separate from everything else - it's out of town, and her coworkers are mostly from the next town over. She's even noticed the flirtatious friendship offered by the cute cook, Leon. But then, her two carefully separated worlds collide and everything gets jumbled - she almost loses her job, she's blacked out a critical night, an ex-friend is missing, and she can't explain the push-pull of her reactions to Leon. And who would believe her, even if she could explain?

I loved this book's dramatic pacing and the twisting alliances of the mystery. It's a realistic look at the tangle of high school relationships and the angry crush of unpopularity, where it's not always pretty or tidy. What a good book and a great thought-provoking novel.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Beneath the Bonfire by Nickolas Butler

In a series of brilliant, poignant short stories, Butler exposes the best and worst of rural America: in love, in trouble, making do, settling the score.

His first release, the novel Shotgun Lovesongs, was my absolute favorite book of 2014. So I was certainly going to pick up this book as soon as it arrived - and once I turned the first page, I couldn't put it down.

The stories range from sweet (a grandfather just quietly doing what's right in raising his grandson) to bitter (a former cop's revenge on a bad, bad man) but together form a fantastic collection that's beautifully diverse and wonderfully crafted.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Going into senior year, Tyler's hoping to just get through it and move on. But his court-ordered community service (helping the school janitors) and his summer landscaping job have left him buff and attractive, with a bad-boy reputation - much different than the nerdy kid everybody laughed at previously. All eyes on are on Tyler.

But for a kid who's not used to attention, having the school administration eagle eye his every move waiting for him to screw up, the girl of his dreams paying attention to him, his dad breathing fire about college acceptances, and his previous bullies warily circling just waiting for their big chance ... something's bound to crack.

This book is EXCELLENT. It's meaty and thought-provoking, and it has characters you really want to see come through it. The novel's themes include the challenges of growing up (maturity) and how you shape the perception other have of you (reputation) are relatable for anyone. Through Tyler's homework and even his favorite video game, a number of perspectives on hell presented - enough you may want to revisit some of your own high school reading.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to read my first Laurie Halse Anderson book - I've always heard they're good, but for some reason I never sought one out. Live and learn!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm

Spending the second half of the summer at Grandpa's in Florida isn't exactly what Sunny had planned. But that was before what happened on July 4th.

This bright, full-color graphic novel was authored by the same sibling pair who do the Babymouse and Squish books. It's still a kids' book, but it's a more realistic style and subject matter - a major theme is family secrets. Plus it's set in the 1970s, so adult readers will appreciate the cultural references (Dorothy Hamill hair, the bicentennial).

Sunny learns a lot in Florida - she makes friends (of all ages), evades an alligator, discovers comic books, and learns to trap lost cats. It's a great story, and it builds tension by flipping forward and backward in time.

I'll be curious to see if the 1970s timeframe makes it less interesting to 2010s kids, or if it doesn't matter because the story is still relatable.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

Inside and outside his urban Washington, D.C. grocery store, an Ethiopian refugee watches the neighborhood shift and change around him. Sepha is haunted by his past and frozen in place, unable to move or act in his ill-fitting, lonely American life.

In this literary novel by an Ethiopian-born American author, the themes of loss, friendship, and the American dream make for a rather sad, yearning tale. Nonetheless, it's beautifully done - filled with thoughtful characters and gorgeous prose.

Sepha's life, the store, and, in fact the whole city decay before his wise, analytical gaze, but he takes no actions to forestall their decline. He awkwardly makes friends with a young new neighbor and there's romantic tension with her mother, but again these interactions require actions - enthusiasm, even - that Sepha can't muster.

This would be an awesome book for discussion, and the more diverse the group, the richer: There's a lot to discuss in the way Sepha wanders his neighborhood and ponders its residents, and his African immigrant friends and their war-themed mind games could be quite a conversation in itself.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Witch Baby by Francesca Lia Block

Witch Baby doesn't fit in with the rest of her family: she's quieter (more introspective), her moods are darker, and she even looks different (also darker). She's determined to find her REAL family.

This is the second in the Dangerous Angels series, but definitely stands on its own.

Witch Baby pastes newspaper articles on her walls and absorbs the darkness of the world. She falls in love only to have it spoiled by her lighter, brighter sister. And she runs away from home to find her birth mother, only to discover things aren't always better somewhere else.

At about 100 pages, these books are fun diversions. They deal with serious topics in relatable ways, but also veer lightly into mystical realism and a fantastical version of Los Angeles.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Thank You, Goodnight by Andy Abramowitz

After the 90s band Tremble's one-hit-wonder career, the band members all drifted into boring normal lives. But when Teddy Tremble finds he's the object of ridicule in a photo displayed at the Tate Museum, his long-forgotten creative juices begin flowing anew and he decides it's time to get the band back together. It may be a midlife crisis - but does that mean it can't also be a good thing?

I loved this book. It's funny and sweet and there are some great philosophical theories on music scattered in too. Teddy's adorable, but also a bit of a self-centered asshole (typical lead singer) - and you soon learn everybody else feels that way about him, too. Their agent and guitarist both provide some comic relief, and I think this is a pretty fair peek inside the dynamics of a band and the way music gets made.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Adam by Ariel Schrag

Adam learns a lot during the summer he spends with his older sister Casey in New York City. It's the kind of experience a 17-year-old guy will never forget: a taste of independence, the big city, a rapidly expanding worldview, first love, sex! ... and being mistaken as trans.

Casey's queer, and she introduces Adam to friends of all genders, proclivities, orientations, and pronouns. When he meets the girl of his dreams at a lesbian party (hoping she's bisexual), he doesn't correct her assumptions that he's twenty-something and transitioning to male. It's a recipe for disaster with all the miscues and fumbles you might expect, but Adam also gains insight, empathy, and a few other important life skills.

This could be a teen book, but it's pretty explicit when it comes to some sex matters (this is an obvious concern to the characters); the library copy I borrowed had been cataloged as adult fiction. This book's not for the prudish, but the sex isn't gratuitous and the experiences all add to Adam's enlightenment (and perhaps the reader's, too).

I enjoyed the book, and my only complaint was that the center section (and Adam's deceit) dragged on a bit long. Schrag does a nice job integrating sensitive information and cultural context into the storyline without halting the action to give a lecture, and I felt the characters were relatable and realistic.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende

After interviewing innumerable families in their times of great grief and discovering wonderful and unexpected things about the people in her town, author Heather Lende offers a hopeful, encouraging text about living the rest of our lives looking forward and looking up.

This book is a quick read - either consumed in one sitting or in morsels an essay at a time - full of sparkling stories of remarkable people. The author lives in a harsh Alaskan town full of fisherman, and she's found that you don't have to look too far to find a notable story about everyone you meet. From the fisherman whose tragic death inspired safety measures that may save others to the "homeless" lady who left to serve Christ in England and the daughter transporting her mother one final time across the ferry - these are the kind of people you see and meet in your town, too. It's just that Lende's made a habit to look for the connections and the stories in us all.

It's a habit of positivity, and she believes you can do it too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Boo by Neil Smith

Somehow, the afterlife as a perpetual, middle school-aged town is a little unexpected. But when eighth grade geek Oliver "Boo" Dalyrymple dies, he finds he's captured in time as he was when he died and housed with all the otherworldly American 13 year olds..

He quickly begins to make friends and get acclimated - turns out in the afterlife you're a slightly better version of yourself, and in this form he easily makes friends - when a new, familiar kid arrives. They were classmates, and Johnny reveals he and Oliver were the victims of a school shooting. Johnny's been in a coma for weeks, but now he's out for information and revenge.

While this isn't a "mystery" book, there is a definite anticipation and anxiety about what the boys may find out, along with some big questions: Who was the shooter? What can they do about it? Would Zig (god) allow a murderer in heaven? Is there a way back home?

I was waiting for a big twist and may have peeked ahead - but it's not a straight-forward reveal and isn't an easy sneak, so be patient and enjoy the unwinding of the story. It's worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I Regret Nothing by Jen Lancaster

When Jen and her friends go on a girls-getaway vacation, their forty-something "adult spring break" is way more sedate than it might have been 25 years prior. This realization spurs Jen to contemplate her life from middle age (ack!) and begin a bucket list.
I've read several of Jen's books, and since we're roughly the same age her references and remembrances usually hit close to my own. If you've read The Tao of Martha you know that Jen will go to odd and improbable ends for self-improvement (and self-sabotage), so her "bucket list" projects bring lots of laughs but also many revelations.

Jen finds a new hobby, starts a business, tries to make sense of her food habits, rides a bike, and travels among other pursuits. I always enjoy her stories, as they mix serious with absurd. She's not afraid to be the butt of the joke, and you've got to give kudos to her husband for his overall geniality. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Button Man by Mark Pryor

While babysitting a Hollywood celebrity shouldn't be a huge challenge for the U.S. embassy security chief, you know these things have a way of turning quickly and heading south. It begins with the also-famous wife's strange death, and then turns into a manhunt - for which the embassy has no jurisdiction.
In this prequel to the other Hugo Marston novels (The Crypt Thief, The Bookseller, The Blood Promise), Hugo's new to his job at the London U.S. embassy. His wife's in Houston, he's in England, and he's having a tough time adjusting to the gloom.

Marston's a smart character (a former FBI profiler) who's comfortable with a gun but doesn't need it to do his job. He's brave and driven by the search for truth and justice, but isn't too bombastically macho. He wears cowboy boots, but he isn't a "cowboy" cop.
I really enjoy Pryor's writing and I especially enjoyed this peek into Marston's service before he landed in Paris. I love that it gave Pryor a way to explore new territory with the same familiar main character. There are a couple passing tidbits for fans which refer to the other books - for example, in this one, Hugo meets the bookseller Max for the first time. But you don't have to have read any other Marston books - this easily could be used as an entry point to the series.

Friday, August 7, 2015

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson

When shy, awkward Emma Freke meets her extended family for the first time, she suddenly sees much clearer who she really is.

Emma's grown up with her mom, grandfather, and his pet dog living in the apartment above her mom's bead shop. Emma doesn't look a thing like her mom and has outpaced everyone her age in height. Add to that her painfully shy demeanor and embarrassing name - you can see how Emma feels like she doesn't fit in.

But when Emma gets an invitation to travel to the Freke family reunion (the family of the father-she's-never-known), she meets a whole passel of cousins and relatives whom she resembles. She becomes less shy, gains confidence, and learns to make friends. Also, she learns to stand up for herself - all in a 3-day weekend!

This is a cute, fun book, and Emma's confidence building is a great tale. Sometimes things are a bit too down-pat (like a younger version of the "turn the whole town around" theme of Footloose) but it's such a good story you're willing to just buy it anyway. Additionally, I enjoyed narrator Ali Ahn's characterization and reading of the book.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

When hipster chick Weetzie gets three wishes from a genie, she gets what she asked for and so much more.

This celebrated 1989 teen novel takes place in a slightly fictional version of Los Angeles. Weetzie and her best friend Dirk look for love and adventure in their alternative, retro-punk life.  They dress in vintage and leather, and they speak in their own slang language (though it's easily understood). They form a new kind of modern family with 3 dads, 1 mom, freaky cool babies and a passel of bitty dogs. Life is good.

This is the first in a series (Dangerous Angels), and I'm now really looking forward to the rest. For a bit I thought the book might be dated (it's a little bit Pretty In Pink), but the truth is - hipster cool is universal. And Weetzie and her friends aren't really nailed down to any one era - it's 1950s meets 1980s and still works in 2015.

While it's a quick, light read it's also got some meat: the book deals with the AIDS crisis, this unusual blended family, and the universal desire for love and happiness.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Drunken Fireworks by Stephen King

In the form of a police interview, local lake-shack owner Alden McCausland explains how the escalating July 4th fireworks battle between himself and the rich summer-homeowners across the water got out of hand.

Narrator Tim Sample does a marvelous job with Alden's thick, sloshed Mainer accent and his only slightly apologetic account of the rivalry. And since I live in a lake (Lake Wisconsin) community, this short story rang especially true concerning the brooding tension between the locals and the summer people. Plus, it's very funny, with lots of strong language used to express intense emotion (my very favorite kind of vulgarity).

This is the wonderful, non-scary kind of Stephen King story people often forget he writes; no vampires or monsters, just real people and the kind crazy things that actually happen in life.

*This book has been released ONLY in audiobook format.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Charles Nancy has built a good (but boring) life for himself: accounting job, a beautiful fiance, and a quiet, uneventful London existence almost completely free from embarrassment. That is, until his long-estranged father in Florida dies and Charlie discovers the fun, fantastic, and completely unabashed brother he never knew. Charlie's life quickly becomes anything BUT boring.

It's a wonderful Neil Gaiman story of ancient gods and timeless grudges, acted out on several planes of existence. It turns out Charlie's dad was actually the trickster god Anansi, and this long-lost brother has inherited Dad's old embarrassing, supernatural tendencies.

I picked up this audiobook because I read an article with another author, Joe Hill, about his favorite audiobooks - he says this is the best he's ever heard. That's a recommendation I couldn't pass up - turns out, I wholeheartedly agree! Narrator Lenny Henry does a truly stellar job with accents, inflections, and characterizations that range from a 104-year-old woman, to an animated clay spider, to island men and women, to London executives, to ancient animal gods and goddesses, and much, much more.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

What's worse than a cabin full of surly, tech-deprived teenaged boys forced into six weeks of rustic summer camp? Well, at age 15 Ariel has already survived a civil war, refugee encampment, and relocation. Camp can't be THAT bad.

I adore Andrew Smith's books, and this one is no exception. It's got 4 main storylines: Ariel's past, Ariel's present, an arctic exploring vessel circa 1880, and a crazy guy with a bomb. They're woven together and build toward a climax that you're never quite able to put your finger on, as a reader.

The cover is super creepy on this one - it's a black bird beak holding a bomb ... or is it an EYE watching you?! And it's filled with wonderfully unusual - and yet typically Andrew Smith - kind of characters: a suicidal pet bird, the kid who pretends he's listening to his iPod through wads of toilet paper in his ears, horny teenagers with a million euphemisms for masturbation.

And while it's very, very funny it's also quite dark, even a bit bleak. Business ethics, cloning, de-extinction, war, and more. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

The mainstream media has been rich with stories about transgender experiences lately, but Janet Mock was an early advocate and voice - this book was published in 2014, and she first went public with her story in 2011 with an article in Marie Claire magazine.

The more transition tales we hear, the more depth of understanding we gain. Janet's story is familiar in many ways (sexual abuse, identity confusion, poverty, ridicule) and also truly unique. She was fortunate that with her mother and many siblings she received understanding and acceptance that others, unfortunately, do not.

But the book also provides fascinating insight into her experiences as a mixed-race (Hawaiian and black) child; Janet's identity struggles and self-perception were different based on which parent she lived with, on the mainland or in Hawaii. For example, Hawaii's diversity boasts a wide pallette of skin color "browns" thanks to ancestry of native and Asian descents along with blends from everywhere else - but there's also a very strong ethnic-biased social pecking order.

I enjoyed the book immensely - it's written extremely well, and I found it easy to get wrapped up in the story and root for this scrappy little kid to blossom into the confident woman we see on the jacket cover. I especially appreciated Mock's honesty about the good, the bad, and the ugly of her story - while there are parts she's not proud about, it's still part of the story and told unflinchingly.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Extraordinary People: A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Some of the World's Most Fascinating Individuals by Michael Hearst

Not "famous" or "great" or even "best" - this book offers a bevy of people the author names as "extraordinary." And by using that term, Hearst allows himself to add some fascinating - but also nasty or controversial - people to his book of mini-biographies.

Many of the people in the book you've heard of previously, but there are sure to be a few surprises. I'd never heard of smokejumper Wag Dodge, and his story is extremely interesting. And I'd be scared to stand too near Roy Sullivan, who was struck by lightening an amazing SEVEN times during his life (even his wife got hit once!).

List books are always subjective, and the author of this one does a great job of turning his "authority" into a running joke. He inserts himself and his opinions into the book, daring you to disagree with him and offering contact info if you'd like to convince him of your viewpoints. It's a fun, casual book with lots of great info - I'll be recommending this one a lot in the library.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Unicorn on a Roll by Dana Simpson

Phoebe's a slightly awkward kid, who just happens to have a real live unicorn for a best friend.

This is the second book in this awesome graphic novel series, and I can't wait for more. Phoebe's a relatable kid - she's insecure, nerdy-smart, and has a schoolmate frenemy. The unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is vain and funny - often, the joke is on Marigold about her haughty, self-involved self.

This book's about their friendship; the pair were linked in the first book by a wish, but in this one they take their relationship beyond the obligatory stage into true emotional friendship.

Plus, we get a peek behind the "shield of boringness" into the unicorn world!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

Can a rigidly scheduled, highly prepared genetic scientist make his marriage work with a free-thinking, spontaneous wife? And what happens to Don's carefully calculated spreadsheets when an unexpected pregnancy adds another variable to the equation?

In this sequel to The Rosie Project, Australians Don and Rosie are married and living temporarily in America to teach and study, respectively, at Columbia in New York. It's a comedy of errors as Don tries (secretly, so as not to add stress and increased cortisol levels) to learn as much as he can about babies, pregnancy, and fatherhood.

Along with the return of the first book's supporting characters, this story adds a great new bunch of friends Don accumulates in New York. He's got a guy gang with whom he regularly schedules ballgame-and-beer nights, and they become his sometimes ill-advising support network as he tries to navigate Rosie's pregnancy hormones and some unfortunate legal concerns Don's hiding from his wife.

Overall it's a mad-cap fun story, and a lovely light diversion.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

A week of sitting shiva for his deceased, lapsed-Jew father isn't what Judd Foxman wants to do right now. It's going to get ugly if the four grown Foxman siblings have to all live under the same roof for a full week. But there isn't really any choice.

Not that Judd's really got anything better to do - he's separated from his wife after he found her in bed with his boss. Oh, and for that same reason, he's now jobless and living in a basement apartment.

So maybe a week in his mom's basement might not be that bad.

The book's funny, and the sibling love-hate relationships are very realistic. They're each comfortable in their consigned sibling roles, and yet also dying to be something else altogether.

PS: I've seen the 2014 movie version of this (same title, starring Jason Bateman as Judd) and it stayed pretty close to the book, with a few notable exceptions and the usual simplification of the storylines. It should probably tell you something that I sought out the book after enjoying the movie. Additionally, I laughed out loud when Judd in the book remembers his Mom working out in the 80's and trying to get a butt like Jane Fonda's - because in the film Jane Fonda plays the mom.

Monday, June 29, 2015

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

Kristin's the kind of teenager who thinks going for a run with her boyfriend is romantic and can't wait to go to college next year on a track scholarship. Things have been rough since her mom died from cancer, but she and her dad are getting along all right.

And then sex happens (or doesn't) and when Kristin goes to the doctor to figure out why she's still in such pain her whole identity comes crashing down around her. In an effort to understand her new diagnosis, she confides in her two lifelong best friends - but suddenly EVERYONE at school is shunning her and calling her names, including her now-ex-boyfriend. How did they find out? And how can they be so mean and wrong?

I loved this book because it's not about the more common LGBTQ issues, but about a genetic anomaly that brings similar self-doubt and personal identity concerns. (Not that we'll ever hear too many "common" LGBTQ stories.)

Additionally, the book deals with bullying and cyberbullying, with trying to curl up and disappear rather than face another day of school, and of dreaming about moving far, far away and starting over fresh in a place where no one knows you. While Kristin's situation is less-than-common, her struggles and story will ring true for anyone who is or has ever survived the high school rumor mill.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story (a musical novel) by David Levithan

This musical-on-paper is presented as a companion piece to the teen novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green. You don't have to have read that book to understand this one, but seriously: GO READ THAT BOOK!

Tiny Cooper is a gay, larger-than-life high school student. He loves musical theater, screwball romantic comedy, and football. In telling his life's love story as musical theater, Tiny gets to analyze, satirize, and then pulverize every guy who's ever stomped on his heart (intentionally or not).

The book is written as a play, although Tiny gets more voice in the "stage directions" than would be strictly necessary for a production piece. Additionally, there are lyrics and stage directions but no music provided - I read in an article that Levithan was excited to see the crowd-sourcing fans would do with the parameters provided.

It's funny - really funny. But you probably have to already have loved Tiny to truly love this. Have I mentioned you really NEED to go read "Will Grayson, Will Grayson"?!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Interstellar Cinderella

by Deborah Underwood

Cinderella lives in space and she's a mechanic.  This book is cool, and even boys will sit still for it.  The twists on a familiar story are just enough to make everyone in the audience sit up and take notice.  My favorite part is how the heroine handles the inevitable offer from her galactic prince at the story's end.  Like any good Cinderella, she's gracious while showing readers she's got a mind of her own and solid goals she hopes to accomplish.  

I Don't Have a Happy Place: Cheerful Stories of Despondency and Gloom by Kim Korson

Kim Korson's not really depressed - she's just got a pessimistic (she'd say realistic) kind of look at the events of the world around her. In this memoir, we get a glimpse at her life as a mother and wife, but also as a daughter growing up and dating before she met Buzz.

It's funny, in a dark way. Everybody knows someone like Kim - the one with a perpetual slightly-cloudly look at life, rather than a full-out rain cloud over their head. (Some of us may even BE that person.)

And you'll enjoy her humorous anecdotes and stories as they're presented here. But it's not a gut-busting funny book, and Kim doesn't really find resolution or a message to bring the experience to a close. I felt ready-to-be-done but missed feeling a sense of completion at the book's end.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Strata by Terry Pratchett

It's hard to surprise or shock a person when they've lived more than 200 years; they've really seen and heard it all. But Kin Arad is intrigued by the invisible man who appears suddenly in her office and his news of a flat planet's existence.

This was one of Pratchett's earliest books, and he's setting up the cosmology that his later Discworld books are built upon. It's captivating and imaginative. But also a challenge.

This book moves very quickly and presents some extremely foreign concepts: So much so, in fact, that I concurrently read a paper copy of the book (in the house) and listened to the audiobook (in the car). I have never used this dual approach before, and I found I really enjoyed it. With the audio I got characterization and pronunciation while the book allowed me to take a moment sometimes to reabsorb and wrap my head around a new and complex philosophy.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin

I tried, and as much as it hurts me to admit it - I just couldn't do it.

Actually, I really liked Franny, the 1950s girl recovering from polio in Pittsburgh. She's restless and bored because she should be running around with all her friends instead of cooped up doing exercises with her wicked nurse.

But she strikes up a friendship with one of her dog's fleas: a single flea who has survived repeated fumigation attempts and as a result has gained incredible intelligence, super strength, communication skills ... and an annoying pompous attitude that I COULD NOT STAND.

I gave up. I made it halfway, and decided I had better ways to spend my time.

No love from me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

In this historical fiction, a young Hawaiian girl is ripped from her family and sent to a remote community isolating those with the same illness she has contracted (Hansen’s disease, incorrectly called leprosy at the time).

Our book club chose to read this 2003 title for discussion, and I’m so glad someone suggested it. This is a wonderfully captivating fiction with a strong nonfiction basis and many lessons to offer.
Everyone who lands on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i  is surprised (as are we readers) to find this “leper colony” is simply another small town community – with a few notable changes: There are stores, a post office, routine garbage pickup, people of all ages and several races, and a variety of religious beliefs. There are also doctors, hospitals, people with strange and monstrous deformities, and many, many cemeteries.

Rachel is merely 7 years old when she arrives on Moloka’i, and despite the fact she has a beloved uncle on the island, she is forced to live in the girls’ home run by the missionary nuns. She adjusts and makes friends, but never stops missing her family on the big island. Rachel lives, loves, and flourishes on Moloka’i, always wishing and hoping to leave, to travel the world, and to see and experience new cultures.

I basically consumed this book in a sitting, and I adored the island’s funny, creative citizens who were so full of life in the face of death. As any life would, Rachel’s story has ups and downs, joys and heartbreaks. I learned so much about Hawaii history and about Hansen’s disease - I will heartily recommend this book for literary and historical fiction lovers.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Us by David Nicholls

In an unlikely romance, geeky scientist Douglas Petersen wins the hand of the lovely painter Connie and they marry, start a family, and move into contented middle age ... until one night, Connie blindsides Douglas with the announcement she's thinking about leaving too when their son goes off to college in a few months.

In the meantime, they've got a grand European vacation planned to show Albie all the great works of art on the continent - and there's no reason to waste the money or skip such fun, now, is there?

This book shifts back and forth in time to tell the story of Douglas and Connie's romance and marriage, while also chronicling one really hellacious vacation. Eventually, Douglas realizes what's wrong - but is it too late?

This book can be pretty grim going, but it's also quite funny. Every family's got a "Douglas", so you'll recognize the depressions and dramas - sometimes you just want to swat him one for his ignorance. I was also super-jealous of their European adventure, even as miserable as it was.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Know Your Beholder by Adam Rapp

As musician Frances Falbo's life has crumbled around him (band breakup, divorce, agoraphobia), he conveniently has turned his childhood home into a small community of apartments; this means he has income, friends, and people to watch and interact with, all without ever taking off his robe and slippers.

This apartment microcosm community includes Frances' reclusive ex-brother-in-law, a pair of former circus acrobats whose young daughter has just gone missing, an aspiring thespian, a college artist, and a transient former bandmate, and more.

The book is funny, and also a little heartbreaking. The apartment tenants are a motley crew, and observing their comings and goings is full-time entertainment for Francis and for the reader. It's not the kind of book that everything gets tied in a ribbon bow at the end, but things end in a satisfying manner, and it looks like Francis may get out of the house after all.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

I was completely captivated by the American history and rich eccentricity presented in this book; this is the kind of nonfiction I love - well written and engrossing, with liberal photographic illustrations.

W.A. Clark was a pioneer in Montana back before it became a state. He made a ton of money in his entrepreneurial ventures, including hauling mail, prospecting in grocery items and tobacco, and copper mining. He built railroads and subdivided a plot of land that became downtown Las Vegas. A late-in-life second marriage to a much younger woman brought two daughters, in addition to his already-adult children.

Combining W.A.'s late-in-life family and his youngest daughter Huguette's 104-year lifespan means this book and these 2 rarified people's lives encompass a huge and extremely eventful span of American history. But perhaps just as interesting as the history lesson are the tales of lavish spending and luxury lifestyles.

At the end of her life, Huguette owned five residences (3 homes and 2 apartments) and yet insisted upon living in a New York City hospital - despite the fact she wasn't sick. She spent piles of money on dolls, dollhouses, and charitable donations to whomever she wished, while also refusing money to many who thought themselves more deserving. She owned priceless art masterpieces, jewelry she never wore, and cars that were never driven.

When I finished the book, I had to immediately get online and learn more - that's the sign of a good book, in my estimation. Lawsuits were still pending when the book was published, and I so wanted to know WHAT HAPPENED! I highly recommend this book. Awesome!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Kinda Like Brothers

by Coe Booth

Many kids in small towns likely know very little about life in an inner city.  Hopefully, they know just as little about the foster care system.  This novel gives a peek into both those worlds.

Jarrett's mom is a foster parent.  He's used to babies coming and going in his life.  What he's not used to is a baby that comes with a brother who is actually older than he.  Late one night, he finds himself suddenly sharing a room with a boy filled with secrets. 

Thinking of himself as a super spy, Jarrett finds far more information than he should about his new roommate.  The real challenge is determining the best path he can take with this knowledge.  He walks a fine line between trying to help reunite a family and just wanting to have his own room again.  Jarrett and Kevon both learn hard lessons about getting along, acting like a responsible person and family dynamics.

This is, at times, a heart-wrenching view into an all too common part of our world.  It is also a story with a realistic ending.  There's no tidy bow showcasing happily-ever-after: a welcome feature for the genre.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Emerald Atlas

by John Stephens

Adventure! Intrigue! 

Three siblings find themselves on the journey of a lifetime.  A decade previous, their parents disappeared, and they've bounced from one orphanage to another.  Shortly after we meet them, they find a land ruled by a viscous woman and her undead army.  In order to survive and save countless lives, they must travel through time, determine which magical beings can be trusted, and secure an enchanted book.

This story is riddled with fast-paced action.  Even still, I struggled to get through it.  Now that it is finished, the ending has left me wanting more.  I'm determined to find out what happens in the rest of the trilogy.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Skylar's just graduated high school and she cannot wait to get out of the trailer park to start art school in San Francisco - just as soon as she can get her mom straightened out, sobered up, and jobbed.

Josh, on the other hand, got out ... to the Marines, and then straight to Afghanistan. Just two year later he's back at his mom's, rehabbing with a brand-new prosthesis and wondering how he even fits into the world anymore.

They were acquaintances and co-workers before, but this summer things are different: Skylar seems to understand Josh in a way everyone else can't, and they both could use a friend right now. But for every pull there's a push, and for every give there will be some take; this could be the start of something good or just another in a string of things that are bad, bad, bad.

I really enjoyed this book, and despite the synopsis I've written here it's much more than a young-love story. The novel is mostly told from Skylar's point of view, but we get intermittent glimpses inside Josh's head too. They're each dealing with much more than they're letting on, so this gives the reader the inside scoop on backstories and their thought processes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Kampung Boy by Lat

In this pictorial autobiography, a famous Malaysian comics artist explains growing up in a small Southeast Asian village.

While the environment of Lat's story is unfamiliar to most Americans, it's also quickly easy to see how similar kids are everywhere in the world: He'd rather fish than do his homework. His dad tells him stories and facts about the nature around them. And while he may be studying the Koran in his stories, but it's just like kids in catechism or Hebrew school when you get right down to it.

It's a great story, and entertainingly told. While the people are cartoony, the also have enough realism to recognize individuals and ethnic characteristics. Each page is usually a single scene, with the illustration enriching the accompanying text.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Young Oliver Crisp's explorer parents have decided to settle down in one place. But within minutes of arriving at their new house on Deepwater Bay, his parents row off to investigate islands which are not on their map. And then, they don't return.

So begins a deep-water adventure for chapter-book readers featuring wandering islands, mermaids, a talking albatross, and sarcastic seaweed. Fearlessly, Oliver sets off to find (save?) his parents, and the boy who's seen everything discovers some really interesting new sights while he's at it.

I loved this highly illustrated juvenile fantasy. It's full of fun characters and a quick-moving plot that's just a little different than everything else.

The Dark Side of the Sun by Terry Pratchett

It was long ago predicted through complicated math and probability that Dom Salabos will die on the day he takes the helm of his family's empire. Yet his assassin keeps failing. Can everything be predicted through p-math?

This is a funny, furiously fast story of space fantasy fiction. The extended theories and new worlds introduced in a rapid-fire manner have at times left me reaching for the pause-and-rewind and a second chance to absorb it all.

Also, listening to the audiobook has given me a real appreciation for the foreign languages and accents of the universe. (Although I have to admit the audiobook version of this was tough to come by and less than perfect when it arrived.)

NOTE: In honor of his recent departure from this plane of existence, I've decided to read Terry Pratchett's catalog from start to finish. Apologies in advance if you tire of this endeavor more quickly than I do.

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

Craig and Lio's friendship seems to be leaning towards something more than "just friends," but each boy carries a heavy burden of grief into their fresh, budding relationship.

The dark pall of 9/11 is only a year in the past, and the Beltway Sniper is all over the news; schools and parents are on high alert to perceived threats and security concerns. Which only makes things more stressful and tense for one boy missing his first big love and another whose twin is dead. They try to find solace and happiness together, but it's a lot to process when you're just a teen.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the realistic way the 24/7 news coverage of public security threats affect the people in the book - many of them take it very personally, in a fashion that's true to the time. While the relationship between the teens is at the center of the story, their homosexuality is in no way the dramatic core of the book.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wolverton Station by Joe Hill

You know those unlikeable businessmen whose job it is to destroy small business? The despicable ones we love to hate in pop culture films? In this brief story about a man on a train, Joe Hill gives that bastard his right proper due.

This short story was published as a stand-alone ebook, and since I'm a total sucker for anything Joe Hill writes, I downloaded it for my Nook. This is the kind of twist-on-the-expected, clench-your-stomach, waiting-for-something-really-bad-to-happen short fiction I used to love from Stephen King. It's not outright gory because it doesn't have to be - your imagination does all the heavy lifting!

Yikes, and yay!

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor

In this installment of the lives of our favorite 1960s small-town Ireland physicians, the curmudgeonly Dr. Riley is counting down the days until his 30-years-later wedding to his college sweetheart Kitty. Also, the young Dr. Laverty woos the feisty local schoolteacher.

This is the seventh book in the series (I've been a bit out-of-order with the series lately, but I'm straightening that out now I think).

Along with the usual (and always delightful) workaday village problems the doctors help to sort out, their receptionist and housekeeper, Kinky Kincaide, suffers her own a health scare.

I probably mention this every time, but I cannot give too many props to John Keating's audiobook narration on this series. I have come to love every one of these characters like they're my own friends and neighbors!

Friday, April 10, 2015

A + E 4ever by Ilike Merey

A feminine-looking boy and a masculine-looking girl become friends in this graphic novel about love and identity.

Ash is a beautiful boy with a bad life, looking for a cute guy to love him. Eu is a big tough girl assumed to be a dyke - but with a big crush on the small androgynous boy. They become friends over art, but can they be more?

I loved the story here about kids who don't fit in and how they find ways to be comfortable in their own skin. The rough, simple drawing style is perfect for the subject and helps convey the emotion the text may be lacking. My only complaint is that one of the typefonts used liberally (mostly as headers) is super hard to read and I thought it was a distracting nuisance.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Wily O'Reilly: Irish Country Stories by Patrick Taylor

Different from the rest of the Irish Country Doctor novels, this book is the genesis of the series - the medical journal humor columns Taylor wrote in the 1990s that eventually spun into the fiction series.

In the columns we see many of the familiar Ballybucklebo residents, but in a slightly different light. Most notably, Dr. O'Reilly is depicted here less favorably than in the novels - here he's rough, gruff, enigmatic and incredibly quick to anger; while the O'Reilly of the series is all of those things too, in the novels he's depicted in friendship and with affection, which effectively paints his negative attributes with a broader brush. Also, Doctor Barry Laverty is missing from these stories - instead, Taylor himself fills the role of the young protege and foil to O'Reilly's antics.

Reading these columns is an interesting exercise in perspective - the myriad ways an author colors our perception of a character by the nuanced words used to describe their actions.

That said, I'm happy now to go back to a friendlier, gentler Ballybucklebo with the next novel.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Have you already read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? This new novel is a companion - not really a sequel or a prequel, more like a parallel story - to that excellent book.

In that previous story, Harold is walking to see a terminally ill former coworker; this book is her side of the story. Since there were several big surprises toward the end of the first book, you'll think you know the story ... but Queenie's got an ace or two up her sleeve, too.

The news of Harold's walk affected Queenie greatly. She's spent years feeling guilty about what happened all those years ago, and she feels this may be her time to get it all off her chest. As she begins to write, we're introduced to some lively new characters (many are other hospice residents) and we see a different perspective on some people we met in Harold's story.

As with the first, this book is WONDERFULLY written and you'll be absolutely transported to her beach garden and the Well-Being Garden as Queenie observes the passage of time and the healing balm of nature.

I don't know if this book would be quite so enchanting if you haven't read the other one - I had a hard time "unringing the bell" of having heard Harold's story to imagine this as a stand-alone novel, but it might work that way, too.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

At just the perfect moment, 12-year-old orphan Mosca finds her chance to escape when a traveling con artist needs a hand getting out of town posthaste. But she may have just walked into a whole new brand of trouble by hooking up with a spy.

This kids novel is set in a time and place much like 19th century England, but with a fictional political upheaval that has resulted in the banning and elimination of almost all written word. Mosca's father was a revolutionary who taught her to read - a skill that almost no one has.

There's lots of political espionage here, and a fair amount of behind-the-scenes machinations that add drama to the tale. Mosca's goose Saracen adds a bit of comedy relief, and Mosca's a plucky heroine who tries always to do the right thing.

I'd recommend it for the 9-12-year-old crowd looking for adventure and a bit of fantasy.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Smek for President by Adam Rex

Timed along with the release of Home (the animated movie made from The True Meaning of Smekday) this sequel continues the friendship of human 12-year-old Tip Tucci and Boov alien J.Lo (whose name was changed to Oh for the film) about a year-and-a-half after they saved the world.

Socially, J.Lo is in bad shape: He's viewed as a villain by his people, who consider him The Squealer because his message allowed their enemy the Gorg to find Earth. On the other hand, the humans view him angrily as one of the recently defeated earth invaders and all-around as a general nuisance.

So when J.Lo and Tip strike on the idea of a trip to see New Boovworld (formerly Saturn's moon Titan) and try to clear his name, what could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, Mom says NO. And there's that bit about J.Lo being Public Enemy Number One.

It's not necessary to have read the first book to understand this one, but by all means READ THEM BOTH!! This has become one of my ultimate favorite series in the history of ever.

I cannot say enough about the AMAZING Bahni Turpin, who narrates these audiobooks. The noises, inflections, and personality she injects into the characters and story are fantastic - she has brought it all to life in such a wonderful way, that I'm actually afraid to see the movie with someone else's version of these characters.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Growing up at the turn of the 20th century, precocious youngster Francie Nolan understands her family lives a mean, tough existence in poverty, but also sees the world as a place rich with experiences for a smart, thoughtful girl like herself.

This year our library's book discussion group has chosen to read a few classics, which I think will be fun - I had never read this book, and in reading recognize I would not have enjoyed it as a student, but very much enjoyed it in adulthood.

Through the lives of the Nolan family and Francie's mother's Rommely sisters, we get a look at the lives of the poor Irish in America. Frequently I found myself amazed that, although the book takes place 100 years ago, many of its struggles and strifes are not significantly different today.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

When teenaged daughter Lydia dies, the hairline fractures in the Lee family shatter into insurmountable caverns between them. How did this happen? How many secrets do they each carry, anyway?

American-born Chinese James wants popularity and "common" experiences for his family, not the unique apartness he always felt. Marilyn wants her daughter to do everything she didn't. Nathan wants to reinvent himself at college, away from his family. Lydia wants to be free of the crushing expectations of her parents. And Hannah just wants to be noticed.

All this want, and no one's any good at expressing it. But that's true of many families, isn't it?

A strong theme in the book is the burden of expectations: what parents expect for and of their children, how children believe they should act to make parents happy, what we expect of others based on our preconceived notions. Ultimately it's that weight that wrecks them all.

I loved this book! While the book takes place in the 1970s, it's still a modern story with current themes and problems. You feel for each of the characters and the boxes they're trapped in; how can they burst free to really live? It's a familiar challenge.

Friday, March 13, 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Cooke family was irretrievably broken by something that happened years ago. And while Rosemary would like to tell you about what happened when she was five years old, she's going to have to come at it in her own way - from the middle out, and perhaps with the beginning at the end.

The story begins in the middle with Rosemary in college, the only child left in her family and anonymous at a school far from her hometown. She's proud that no one here knows about her sister or her brother, and she's decided to purposefully not speak about her family. See, the Cookes were a close-knit family until Fern left: but the FBI is hunting older brother Lowell as a domestic terrorist, dad drinks too much, and their mother's psyche is full of fissures. What happened to Fern?

Rosemary's memory is spotty (she was just a child), and we'll learn the story as she remembers it, one bit, one crisis, and one discomfort at a time.

I loved this book, and sometimes forgot it's fiction - it reads like the kind of pain-filled autobiography that is popular to press.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

by Chris Grabenstein

Would you rather ... be locked in a library or be a playing piece in the live version of a board game?  In Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, twelve children have the opportunity to do both.  These children have lived their entire lives without a public library in town.  At the end of the school year, the new one opens, and they are lucky enough to be the first people inside.  The new library was funded by the town's most famous person, Mr. Lemoncello, who creates board games.  Mr. Lemoncello is an imaginative sort, and his library is no different. 

This story is action-packed, hilarious, and ideal for voracious readers of children's literature.  The more kids' books you know, the funnier this story becomes.  The title's namesake is chock-full of book puns.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

Flavorist David Leveraux is a guy who makes the medicine go down, makes microwave popcorn taste so good, and makes diet soda sweet. And while that's a noble, necessary chemical trade ... he's also having moral pangs about the consequences of putting all these chemicals in our food.

No, this isn't the latest nonfiction food expose; it's a comic novel set in a slightly fictionalized modern day!

This is really a fun story with captivating characters. In his first job out of college, David was involved with product testing - and he's spent the rest of his career trying hard to forget about it. But when his daughter starts researching Sweetness #9 for a high school newspaper article and his red dye addicted son stops using verbs, David is forced to again consider that something's wrong with the way America eats.

There's plenty here to get you thinking, but it's put forth in a way that's funny and light with no black-and-white answers and lots of gray space. Even when David believes the junk is bad, it only takes a day or two for him to backslide into eating garbage again. His former-Nazi boss and mentor provides lots of history and a good many laughs, too. You'll learn about how food is produced, and also ponder a return to the fresh market.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Falling From Horses by Molly Gloss

Reminiscing, Bud Frazer tells us this story of his youth trying to break into cowboy stunt riding during Hollywood's Golden Era. The time elapsed allows him to foreshadow and ruminate a bit on the path of his life, giving the novel a multi-faceted feel despite the sole narrator.

Bud's story of fame-seeking isn't unusual: he's naive and broke, and this ranch boy is completely unprepared for the realities of a big city. But he gets a couple lucky breaks ... and then some unlucky breaks, which bring us to the story's climax.

I really liked this novel, and I'm not usually one for cowboy stories. Bud's a captivating character and a wonderful storyteller (thanks Molly Gloss!). His foreshadowing helps push you through the more mundane parts, wanting to know how he gets busted up and whatever happened to his sister.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

In her first foray into fiction, punctuation expert Lynne Truss brings us an absurd, completely horrifying novel about the evil inner lives of cats. I'd forgotten how subversively funny Truss can be, but her nonfiction books were both informative and hysterical. This novel sneaks up on you with the laughs ... and the cold heebie jeebies.

A man on a grief sabbatical gets bored and begins reading a document emailed to him by a former colleague. What starts out fantastical and unbelievable begins slowly to make more and more sense until you're scared of your own housecat and can't put the damn book down.

It's a gothic horror premise: Let me tell you my tale of death and immortality. But it's told in a more contemporary manner, in a shifting variety of forms: sometimes it's straight narrative, other times it's transcripts of oral recordings, descriptions of images, email correspondence and more.

I love horror, and I have a cat. That said, I had to put this down for a bit in the middle because I made it half-way through after dark and I got the creeps. I finally got up the guts to finish, and I loved it - but I'm still giving my cat the side-eye treatment.

Friday, February 20, 2015

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

Things are inexplicably different this summer for Rose's family on their annual beach vacation: Mama's not herself and won't even go into the water, and eventually their fighting drives Dad to go back home to work for a few days rather than stay.

Rose and her "summer cottage friend" Windy (a slightly younger girl whose family always rents a neighboring bungalow) hang out, watch horror movies, and spy on the local kids who loiter at the one-and-only store.

It's a book about that awkward time when you're too old for baby games and not old enough to really understand what's going on around you. Even though she thinks she knows, Rose doesn't really understand why her parents are fighting. Also, the things she overhears from the local kids lead her to imagine a whole drama that's going on there - which she may or may not be right about, also. Despite the year-and-a-half age discrepancy, Windy may actually have a better understanding of the summer's many plot threads.

This wonderfully inked graphic novel was highly lauded this awards season, and I can see why. It's the kind of story that sticks with you and would be a fantastic book discussion title.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

When a Las Vegas magician with true magic is hunted by a fetch, she whisks her children away to the place where she was born - a New England ghost town and haunted forest thick with family secrets. But all the secrets make this "safe" place dangerous too in unexpected ways.

It's a good book with a unique angle in the very crowded genre of supernatural novels. Reve is a well-drawn character, flawed but also likeable, and her kids act like typical kids ... even though Nana is not your ordinary kind of grandmother.

It looks like Szarlan is working on making this a series called The Revelation Chronicles (this book ends well, but leaves it open for more stories). I'll be interested to see where she takes this.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

If you've seen his comedy you know there's a certain amount of hipster snark to B.J. Novak's "voice." These short stories (some very, very short and others actually quite long) all contain a kernel of that, a virtual eyebrow arch in the delivery. Perhaps it helps that he read his own audiobook.

There's not really a theme at work here, so it's hard to summarize the book. Stories range from an emotional personification of the stock market to a boy violating his parent's moral imperative to tips on how to give good advice.

It's good, and it's funny. But there's a lot of smarminess crammed into one volume here, and I found I needed to take a break from the audiobook every so often. Perhaps best consumed a bit at a time.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

I wanted to love this, and I really, really tried: The title! The cover! The premise! But alas, no.

There's a new (male) school librarian, and he's got Cyn's best friend Annie seeing stars and hearts and K-I-S-S-I-N-G in her daydreams. And while that could be creepy in an inappropriate-student-teacher way, it's actually much, much worse ... because he's actually a demon come to suck the souls of hapless teenagers for power and he wants Annie as his human consort.

That would be drama enough for most teen novels, but this one goes further to add another layer: actual drama in the form of a school production of "Sweeney Todd." Cyn's all tied up in knots trying to rig a barber's chair for the production that's dramatic and scary and perfect.

The novel's too slow - there's a lot a lot of wringing of hands about the fact the big evil showdown is coming right after showtime (because apparently demons love Sweeney Todd and the battle can wait until after they've seen this production). But that's 10 days away! And then, that's 7 whole days away! Oh no! In any event, it's too far away.

I persevered for the sake of saying I did, but I'm not sure I can recommend it for anyone over 17; teens may be slightly more in-tune with the loves-me-loves-me-not substory than I was.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

In this beautifully written novel, four generations of one family live, love, fight, and much more all under the same, solidly built roof; it's the story of a family and the story of a house.

Great-grandfather Junior built the house in Baltimore as a craftsman working for a wealthy family, but it was always his house and soon the other family moved and sold it to him. Grandpa Red grew up in the house, and raised his kids there with his wife Linnie. Now oldest son Stem, his wife, and their children have temporarily moved in to "help" his aging parents.

Tyler's got a Pulitzer Prize medal, and it's easy to see why with luminous storytelling and gorgeous writing like this. This is a very real family with often-told stories, sadness and laughter, petty annoyances, and a few skeletons in the closet. Not much happens, plot-wise - there's no big mystery or hurdle to overcome. It's more about their relationships with one another, and their family legacy in the big old house.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

John Dies @ The End by David Wong

Profane and hilarious, this book is like a mashup of "Ghostbusters" with "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure." Humanity is in peril as portals to another dimension open and spit through evil beings, and the only ones (maybe) able to save us are a pair of twenty-something slackers.

David works in a movie rental store, and John can't keep a job for more than a couple months. At a summer party where John's (horrible) band plays, a new drug gets passed around. Nearly everybody who takes the "soy sauce" dies in a dramatic and horrific way - except John, who goes comatose.

Turns out the drug turns your brain into a supercomputer able to do astronomical calculations of probability in a split second, and allows you to see horrific and fantastic things invisible to everyone else.

This book is incredibly smart - and also really, really dumb. It's twisty and unpredictable, funny and fun, but not the kind of thing that will last long in your memory. Sometimes you just need a good flight of fancy, and this one has certainly been entertaining for me.

There is a sequel, and I will be looking that one up too.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Arcady's Goal

by Eugene Yelchin

What do you know about the children left behind by Russia's enemies of the people in the beginning of the 20th century?  This work of fiction sheds just a little light on the life of one boy whose luck might just turn for the better.

Arcady has spent most of his life in a children's home.  While life is tough, he excels at one thing - soccer.  Although the children must play all games one-on-one, he is able to beat anyone the guards place against him.  It doesn't sound like much, but his skill is sometimes the only way to win food rations from the stingy guards.

He dreams of the day his talent will lead him to a better life.  When it does, Arcady must learn just how difficult life on the outside can be.

The author's note at the end will have you clamoring for more information.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Herbie's Game by Timothy Hallinan

Junior Bender's crime sensei - his father figure and burglary mentor - is dead, and it's up to Junior to figure out who and why. But in the course of tracking down the truth, he learns more about Herbie than he thought possible and it's not all good. Can his memory survive the tarnishing?

In this 4th book in the Junior Bender mystery series, Junior is more introspective than we've seen him before. He's a bit adrift, unmoored by Herbie's death, and unsure about the truths upon which he's built his life. This soul-searching also leads to deep conversations with his girlfriend, his ex-wife, his daughter, and several of his crime-world friends.

This book is a wonderful addition to the series - something a bit different, but leading to a new, fuller understanding of the characters. Also, in the author's note, he admits the storyline allowed him to kill off a few characters and thin out the cast list moving forward. It's nice that Hallinan hasn't fallen into a rut with the books, especially how quickly he's putting them out. Each book has been diverse and unique, and each time I finish I can't wait to see where he goes next!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen

A lonely teacher becomes the much-anticipated 10th-and-final member in a lauded writer's group. But before her initiation can be properly carried out, the famous children's author who founded the group disappears mysteriously - leaving the newest member unmoored and without a mentor.

The woman learns about the group's history and relationships though a strange "game" the members play. It's a kidnap-and-interrogate system that lends the whole thing an illicit element and makes every revelation feel like a dark confession.

This is a strange, dark story (translated from Finnish) and I was never sure if I was reading a supernatural novel, a murder-mystery, or literary fiction. It could be a good book discussion title, if only to see and discuss what others thought of the characters and story.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

In the second of the Red Rising trilogy, class rebellion is nearer to erupting as red-hiding-as-gold Darrow negotiates the political and social intrigue of the ruling class.

This book is all about tactical planning - political, social, and in battle. There are crosses and double-crosses, friends who turn out to be enemies and enemies who aren't what they seem either, and lots of literal and figurative backstabbing.

While Darrow believes every person should be free, he can't let that be know. And now that he's lived among the ruling class for a few years - and enjoyed the fruits of that class' position on the hierarchy - does he still have the drive his wife Eo's death once lit within him?

I could NOT put this book down. It's all scheming and doing, running and fighting, leading and inspiring - action from start to finish. I'm totally recommending this series to my teenage nephew as his next read (and I cannot wait for Morning Star).

Monday, January 5, 2015

Return of the bad girl by Codi Gary

Even though she's been gone a long time, Caroline is still regarded as the town bad girl.  Most business owners are still wary of her, and she regularly faces open confrontations wherever she goes.  She's determined to start fresh and repair relationships.

She's got a great new apartment lined up and her plans are lining up.  Too bad the place was also promised to ex-con Gabe Moriarty.  Their reluctant compromise brings forth a smattering of sensational sparks.  It also shows enough of Gabe's character to melt anyone's jaded heart.

These two come with back stories that will make any tenderheart cry.  Luckily, they've both learned a lot about how strong they are.  The real trick is learning to lean on someone else for a change. 

Codi Gary's newest novel is filled with fiery outbursts and endearing moments.  It's sweet, sexy, and I'm pretty sure Gabe has stolen a piece of my heart.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The lodge on Holly Road

by Shelia Roberts

If you are looking for a chaste, sweet story of new love, this is it.  You'll find several new couples who have a happier holiday because they chose to stay at Icicle Creek Lodge. 

From the single mom whose children just want a dog and grandparent for Christmas to the man planning to propose, the lodge is filled with hope in this holiday story.  Of course, there is the mall Santa who is feeling curmudgeonly facing his first Christmas after losing the love of his life.  Can his grown children help him find his spunk, or will he need the magnetic pull of someone new?

Oliva Wallace and her son, Eric have their hands full making Christmas magical for their guests.  Luckily, there's enough holiday spirit to make the week special for each of them as well. 

Sheila Roberts has knocked out another heart-warming tale for the holidays.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

In this twisty mystery, a suburban London neighborhood churns with private dramas after a woman goes missing. Three women - and two timelines - converge into one unexpected climax.

Every day, the train stops or slows at the same signal - right behind the house where Rachel lived with her now-ex-husband. Her life's not so great, and it's a small pleasure to make up domestic stories in her head about one set of neighbors who she glimpses almost every day. Then one day she sees the woman kissing another man. The next day, the headlines indicate that same woman is now missing without a trace.

Critics love to say a book is hard to put down, but that really is the case sometimes; this story hooked me early with a narrative peek into the private lives of these women. Chapters alternate between Rachel, her ex's new wife Anna, and the missing woman (from a year prior). I consumed the book over a weekend, and will be recommending it to fans of domestic suspense.