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.