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.