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.