Friday, December 23, 2016

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Another tale of two weddings - but a very different story!

Scriptwriter/college professor Jack Griffin's life is unraveling: He's unhappy in his job, uneasy in his marriage, beleaguered by his parents, and bewildered by his in-laws. In the year between two Cape Cod summer weddings, he attempts to figure things out.

Jack's kind of like Winnie the Pooh's friend Eeyore - he's generally unhappy and it actually seems he's the most satisfied when he's unhappy. He's been driving around with his Dad's ashes in an urn in the trunk of his car and he seems completely unable to part with them as he's been instructed. His mother's haranguing on the phone leads to reminiscences about his youth, his snooty professorial parents' drama-filled marriage, and their summers on the Cape.

Richard Russo knows how to write about the common man, and he knows how to make a dramatic situation turn slapstick and yet still ring true. This book is somehow loftier (again, professorial?) than his Nobody's Fool/Everybody's Fool townies and slightly less entertaining, as I found Griffin's doldrums to be a bit wearing. But it's worth it to stick around for the final, dramatic wedding events and the resolution (or non-resolution) to his mid-life crisis.

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Archer Magill's story starts and ends with weddings - but all the fun happens in the in-between.

He makes friends with a girl, his class gets a long-term substitute teacher and then they get a MALE student teacher. There's bullying, sick grandparents, baseball, a new school, and a budding realization that if he keeps his ears and eyes open there is a big, fantastic world happening all around Archer.

The book shifts back and forth in time as Archer tells his own story, and it covers his first-grade through sixth-grade years. It's no secret to reveal there's a gay marriage - Archer tells you right away - but there are plenty of other surprises along the way.

It's a realistic look at modern schools and multi-generational families. A lot of the humor comes at Archer's expense, since his friend Lynette is as savvy as he is oblivious. It's a story sweet, sad, funny, and very, very good.

When I finished, I actually sighed, closed the book, and said aloud, "Oh, Richard Peck." What a writer! What a book! What a fantastic tale told well! Can you tell I loved it?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Family and responsibility are at the core of this literary novel set in India and the United States. Two brothers - almost as close as twins - take very different paths in their young adulthood. Which is greater: civil action that works for change, or the tending of tradition and family?

We read this as a book discussion title at the library, but I didn't finish it in time for the conversation. Too bad, because there's a lot to talk about.

Even while Subhash builds a life in America, he's bound by duty to his family in India. He marries out of a sense of obligation, but when their daughter is born he finds a pure delight in raising her in Rhode Island. His duty to her future becomes more urgent than his dedication to the past - but that's not true for his wife, who never really left India behind.

The book offers mothers and fathers, siblings, husbands and wives, and there are lots of comparisons to be drawn between counterparts. Also, the role of responsibility: personal responsibility, family obligations, parental duty, social activism, passive acceptance. It's a heavy book, filled with lots of internal dilemmas, and it really would make for a fantastic discussion.

I listened to the audiobook version, which was an excellent way to read a book filled with foreign names and places.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan

Both a Russian mobster's deadline and Christmas are looming large for burglar-turned-detective Junior Bender, and it's likely either or both will be the death of him.

In this installment of the Junior Bender series (#6 if you're counting), our ethically questionable hero is stuck in a decaying suburban mall trying to figure out why store loss numbers are so out of whack. Also, what to buy for holiday gifts.

The book's funny, and this series has a wry wit that's unlike anything else. A dying mall is hardly anyone's dream, and the fact that Junior is stuck circling, circling, circling this pit of despair is a great setup for his equally dark introspection about the state of his life and love.

There's a great cast of characters in the store owners and mall regulars, with a few of Junior's friends mixed in too. It might not put you in the holiday season, but it's a great read.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

Nanette can't keep pleasing everyone else at the detriment of her own desires, but can she face the disappointment of her teammates and parents? Alex has decided to fight back against the bullies, but that might not be the best way to express individualism.

Have you ever read a book that absolutely changed your life? For the characters in this YA novel, a cult classic, out-of-print paperback leads to a different perspective on being one of the generic human crowd. But how much can you "quit" and still be alright?

This book isn't as dark as Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, but it's certainly no spring June walk in the park. Metamorphosis is hard work and not always pretty. (Let's hope Quick does better in handling the enthusiasm of his readers than his character Booker did.)

I adore Quick's writing, and his characters are amazingly nuanced, flawed and very relatable. These kids are searching for something - searching for themselves - and the way they work through it brings love and light but also unpleasantness and drama to their lives.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

At the suggestion of an alley cat, a brave boy named Elmer Elevator sets off to rescue a dragon.

This 50th anniversary volume contains the books My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland along with an introduction by the author. Together, they make up the "Elmer and the Dragons series." In the first book, Elmer sets off to save an enslaved baby dragon. The second book is the fantastic journey homeward. In the third book, the dragon returns to enlist Elmer's help in saving his family.

I read this as part of my self-education on award-winners of the past; the first book in the series was a runner-up for the Newbery Medal when it was published in 1948.

It's an odd type of children's story - the kind we had before anyone took "children's literature" very seriously. It's a series of wildly improbable adventures taken by a child without the aid of adults. There are talking animals. There's menace, but no big danger befalls them. All's well in the end, and it always finishes with the adults befuddled as to what's happened right under their noses!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Some stories are just so strange they have to be true - and the con artist at the core of Razor Girl is one of those; her scam involves shaving her privates while behind the wheel, "accidentally" rear-ending someone, her hiked skirt and blood droplets for effect.

This book is a return to former-detective, health officer Andrew Yancy and his endangered bit of paradise. A big-city lawyer and his high-maintenance fiance are planning a new McMansion on the lot next to Yancy's house. Things didn't go so well for the last guy that tried to build there ...

Throw into the mix a reality TV star who isn't what he seems, his beleaguered Hollywood agent, and a Florida redneck with a man-crush. Typical Hiaasen!

Truly, it's prime-form Hiaasen too, with a story that hums right along and a plot you couldn't possibly predict. Nobody does comedy-mixed-with-satire the way he does, and it seems like Florida is determined to provide fodder for these novels (we'll call that a silver lining).

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Super Extra Grande by Yoss

Who knew there's a whole sub-genre of Cuban sci-fi? And apparently, Yoss is the crown prince.

This slim volume features a space biologist who specializes in really, really large creatures (partially because he's very big, himself). The one experience that so-far eludes him is actual research on the living, moving lakes of a distant planet.

When he's offered the chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so, it's not without an ulterior motive. Because not one but two of his former employees are MIA, crash-landed in one of the alive lakes, but they were on a secret mission that cannot be revealed. Also, they're both sort of in love with our hero.

The book was entertaining and the characters and creatures were interesting and new. I felt like some things were a bit too pat - just sort of resolved immediately with no drama or tension. I wanted more!

The real reason I picked up the book was that I'd read about a heavy-metal rocker with a degree in biology who wrote sci-fi, and that was just the kind of strange I had to investigate.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Love is at the center of this short story collection, but it's equally a look at the American immigrant experience.

The collection revolves around Yunior: - the stories are about his brother, his parents, his past and present lovers. He's a Dominican in America, smart but naive, and like many, he's struggling to figure out his own life while getting older every day.

The language is raw - but appropriately so - and often it's a mix of Spanglish (and it's not translated, so you'd better dust off your high school espanol). Yunior's a bit of a fuck-up where it comes to love and sex, but granted he's got no solid role models to show him otherwise.

I understand why the book got so much love. It's not necessarily a happy tale, but it's told well and offers a unique perspective on the American experience. I listened to the audiobook (awesome) and it was interesting to hear the "street" come and go from the dialog across the stories.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy

When the Fletchers land at their summer getaway, they discover the historic lighthouse next door is blocked off and inaccessible. Not only does that put a damper on their trip, but it sets in motion a mission: to save the lighthouse.

The Fletchers are modern kid lit's favorite diverse family, and in this book they experience a bit of prejudice and hold a few conversations about being brown in America. It's still appropriate for the age group and not overdone, but serves as a great supplementary storyline in a book full of personal interactions and developing feelings.

But the book's not weighed down with politics - there's also time for teaching cats to swim, fear of bees, acting inappropriately at a fancy dinner, kayaking, Shakespeare, soccer, girls, snakes and other critters.

This series is a WONDERFUL addition to the juvenile chapter book world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

In this dark, graphic reboot, Snow White has been transplanted to flapper-era New York, her wicked step a former Ziegfeld girl.

While fairy tales usually are meant for the very young, the dark nature of this depiction and the historical setting will mean more to preteen, middle school readers. The minimalist palette and sketchy quality add to the story's noir quality. There are some interesting twists to the familiar story to accommodate the change in timeline - for example, police Detective Prince.

It's an interesting story, and very quick to read - certainly an innovative mashup that's well done.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

When her family moves to aid her little sister Maya's health, Cat is horrified to discover their new town is full of ghosts.

Telgemeier's a graphic novel rock star, and this book's been getting a lot of love. I totally understand why! The characters are rich, emotional, and very real. And the diversity of the characters isn't a plot point - it's just a given. While the main characters are in sixth grade, I think this book could be read by younger ages who were interested and engaged readers.

The book does a great job explaining Cat's fear; it also does a fabulous job explaining cystic fibrosis and Dias de los Muertos for a younger audience. And even with that much information, the story moves along nicely and keeps you interested.

Friday, October 21, 2016

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

When immigrants traveled to the new world, they brought with them the foods, traditions, and beliefs of their homelands. Unfortunately, America as a land is not kind to gods and goddesses.

In this sweeping saga, a newly released felon gets hired to act as driver and bodyguard for a mysterious older businessman. Things are odd from the start, and pretty quickly Shadow discovers that gods live among us - but many are worn down at the heels by a lack of belief and waning worship.

It's basically a roadtrip book, although there are periods of inaction, along with side trips into another realm. Shadow's a guy with a heart of gold and a huge capacity to believe the unlikely.

The more old-world gods and goddess stories you know, the more this book will entertain. That said, Gaiman connects legends of Egypt, Romania, Norse, Native American and more - you'll inevitably want to step away to look up a new character's backstory.

I love everything Gaiman produces, and this is no exception. Exceptionally good!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

A kindergartner is killed in a hit-and-run accident in the street in front of his house, right in front of his mother. Will the driver ever be found?

This is a fantastic twisty thriller full of complex characters, and I'm afraid to give too much plot synopsis because I don't want to give anything away. Chapters alternate between characters and perspectives (annoyingly, one is in second-person).

The setting, the mystery, and the characters in this book reminded me of the British crime drama "Broadchurch." Fantastic, and highly recommended!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a fantastically detail-oriented person and it drives him crazy that no one does things the right way. Signs are meant to be read. Rules are meant to be followed. Also, schedules are very important.

It took me twice to make it through this book - the first time I picked it up at the recommendation of a Swedish friend, when it was first released in English, but I put it aside after about 40 pages because Ove is just such a bitter crab ass. Since then I've had about 27 library patrons tell me how good this book is and now we're discussing it at the library, so I had no excuse not to sit down and read it.

Now I finally understand the book's popularity!

Ove's a complex man, but it's hard to see past his persnickety nature. As the story goes on, the reader starts to see the man behind the scowl and to better understand his situation. You start to feel sorry for him and to care about his well-being. Just like his new neighbor, Parvaneh.

This book currently is being made into a movie - I've watched the trailer, and I'm curious about the project. So often good books are ruined in the film translation, and this book has such a delicate balance. We'll see how it goes. One good sign - it's being done in Sweden, not in Hollywood!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past by Eric Spitznagel

Sure, it's crazy. But Eric Spitznagel decided he didn't just want to recreate his long-gone vinyl music collection - he wanted the EXACT records back. The one with his first girlfriend's phone number on the cover, and the one sporting his brother's threatening note about not borrowing it. The ones will all the familiar, unique pops, skips and scratches.

It's really nuts. But also a little understandable - it's a modern midlife crisis, right?

Spitznagel is funny and that's what makes this doomed quest bearable. He's got a real way with words, and there were times I laughed out loud at his descriptions. And yet there were other times I was physically uncomfortable with his mania - I got embarrassed for him when he was too blinded to realize how dumb he was acting.

There's some language in this book (you were warned), but it's the way guys this age really talk when they're telling you their best stories. It's really a good book, and the audiobook narration by Ramiz Monsef was spot-on.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reality Boy by A.S. King

Gerald's just a teen trying to get by until he can get out - working his job, staying out of trouble, keeping his head down at school. But that's tough when you grew up on TV as part of a "reality television" show that especially focused on your outrageous behavior. Everyone's sure his future is limited to either jail or death.

When he makes a couple of new friends at work, Gerald decides instead of acting out he'll take his life into his own hands and determine a new, brighter future.

While the story's slightly fantastical, you know this kind of thing actually happens. It's an acidic look at the unreality of reality television and the tolls it takes on its youngest celebrities.

I enjoyed the audiobook - Gerald's a kid forced into his own mind much of the time, and the narrator Michael Stellman does a great job making Gerald relatable and not just a space case lost in his own la-la land.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

A year ago Gottie was having sex with Jason, but it was a secret. A year ago her beloved grandfather was still alive and planning a big solstice celebration. But right now, time keeps slipping down a wormhole that spits Gottie out last summer, then rips her back to the present.

Gottie's a science and math genius, so the wormhole dilemma is a challenge she's attempting to rationalize. Is it possible? How? The part she's maybe overlooking is the Why? Additionally, her obsession with last summer means she's not really living her fullest life right now - there's a lot she's missing.

It's a story of shifting perspectives, with new information leaked out in drips and drabs. There's a delightful cast of characters in a loose, free-form hippy kind of household with minimal guidance and too many teenagers. I was captivated by the narrative - I couldn't decide if this was a story of magic realism, or science fiction, or some kind of psychological breakdown.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark

Two teenagers connected only by a tragic car accident that took the lives of their philandering parents.

Juliette is addicted to Adderall, a passed-down legacy from her glamorous, over-achieving mother. Juliette knew about the affair and chose to shelter her wanna-be-author father's fragile ego. On the other hand, Abram was blindsided when his tennis-loving, uber coach father died; he and his mother had no idea there was another woman. Abram's depression means he's snacking and sleeping his days away in a Paxil fog.

They meet in the CVS and tentative politeness turns into an actual friendship. Maybe the only way to get past this grief, anger, and embarrassment is with someone who truly understands.

I loved these broken, real characters and their life-raft friendship. They each recognize a way to help the other heal, even though they feel helpless to do the same for themselves. And the budding romance is sweet and also very realistic.

The book is very well written and completely consuming. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen, hoping the whole way that love might win over in the end.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Vintage by Susan Gloss

This book is a sweet bonbon filled with fluffy nougat - three heartbroken women bond through a vintage clothing store. Men are the worst. Fashion! Love?

If you swoon at tales of women in love and hardship but need to know that it all comes out roses in the end, you'll love this book. This is not my usual fare, but we chose it as a book discussion title.

There's great character development, and the story's got a good arch - there are even a few surprises! I most enjoyed the older Indian woman, Amithi, and her intercultural perspective (she's much less a trope than the others).

The author is from Madison WI and the book is set there, also. Actually, a minor criticism is just how stridently the author places this book in Madison - every single thing is anthemically M-A-D-I-S-O-N! The story could have been in any medium-sized city with a liberal university presence, but she works 300% harder to make sure you can plot everything on a map and Google View the buildings if you wish.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

This Swedish satire will have you pondering your own External Happiness score and the price due for the universe's pleasures.

A young man receives an extraordinarily large bill from a vaguely governmental-sounding agency. Of course, it's junk mail and he ignores it. Until the next bill comes with an additional service charge added.

He soon strikes up a strange friendship - maybe even flirtation - with the woman at the agency who's assigned to his remediation call. But the more they talk, the higher and higher his bill total climbs.

It's an odd, intense little book (pocket-sized and just 200 pages). I wanted to know what would happen, but I was at the same time off-put by the seriousness of the story's oppressive bureaucracy. It's a nightmare: he can't escape an enormous government bill despite the fact he knew nothing about it. Will they kill him? What is the punishment for exceeding the threshold?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Love is on everyone's minds this hot, steamy summer in Brooklyn: there's old love, new love, infatuation, blind devotion, friendship and more, all smoldering within this tight-knit neighborhood.

Before they got married, Elizabeth and Andrew were in a college band, along with Zoe who lives down the block. Now, there's a film in development about the fourth band member (a sterotypical rock star comet who flared then burned out), and each is emotional about reliving their youth on the big screen. Meanwhile, the two family's teenagers are filled with raging hormones, which puts a whole new wrinkle in the neighborhood's soap opera drama.

I liked the book a lot - as I'd also liked the author's The Vacationers earlier this year. The characters aren't simple cookie cutters - Elizabeth is a perfect real estate agent and a devoted mother, but she's also a flawed friend and prone to fits of drama when faced with something unexpected. I actually found her a bit of a pill and couldn't wait for her to get karma-slapped for her self-absorption.

My only criticism is that the book wraps up with a tie-it-up-in-a-big-bow chapter that's just scrapbook tidbits telling you what path each character took. The book could have been stronger with a more ambiguous ending that finished with summer's end.

I listened to this one in audio narrated by Jen Tullock, who was awesome.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

I love funny, true, heart-tugging literary fiction about small towns and the people you meet who live in them. Every town's unique, yet there's a commonality in all of them.

Sully's a crusty geezer with a short life expectancy due to a bad heart. Rub is Sully's needy best friend - Rub's also the name of Sully's mangy little dog because he loves barking orders and seeing which of them responds. Then there's Sully's former lover Ruth, who owns the diner, and her husband the junk man. Get the picture?

The other part of the story lies with police chief Doug Raymer, who's coming unraveled faster by the minute as the story goes on. He starts out by obsessing over his dead wife while standing at attention in the sun in uniform during a funeral, where he eventually faints and lands in the fresh-dug hole. That's just the start of his problems.

I loved, loved, LOVED this book. I adored this book. It's smart and funny, and the audiobook narration by Mark Bramhall was stellar. That's not to say I couldn't see through the plot in several places (I right away knew the identity of Becca's lover), but I was willing to overlook that for the startling turns the plot made elsewhere.

There are a few loose ends not wrapped up at the end, but I'm also OK with that. This was the second time Russo has presented us with life from North Bath, New York, so perhaps we can hope for more someday (but I won't hold my breath: there were 22 years between "Nobody's Fool" and this one).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

I think the hallmark of a good nonfiction book is that you get completely engrossed in something you previously had little to no interest in. Therefore you'll understand when I say this is a fantastic book about shoes, track athletes and international business relations.

Phil Knight comes off as the kind of guy you want to have a drink with, but probably don't want to marry or have as a boss. He was a driven entrepreneur who played fast and loose with a lot of money (and not all his own) in the early days, and he almost lost it all multiple times.

But he believed in what he was doing, and he built an amazing "family" of dedicated professionals who believed in the product, too. He talks about Nike's partnership with college and professional athletes without this turning into a name-dropping celebrity memoir, which it easily could have been.

It's probably a great guide for what-not-to-do in business; it's also a stunning example of success despite breaking all the rules. In all, I thoroughly enjoyed the book in every way. I laughed out loud at times, and I bit my fingers along with their strife (even though I knew it would come out).

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pogue's Basics: Life, Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Day by David Pogue

This book is a compendium of those so-called "hacks" they're always click-baiting you with on Facebook. Read the book! Don't click the ambiguous links!

Actually, I learned a lot reading this book. Yes, I knew to use a piece of uncooked spaghetti as a long matchstick. But I didn't know how to make shortcut keystrokes in my iPhone for my email address or my phone number - very helpful when you fill in a lot of online forms.

This is a pick-up-and-put-down kind of book; best to dip in and read a bit, rather than try to read all the way through. But I guarantee there's something here you didn't know - and you'll be simply STUNNED when you discover it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Maestra by L.S. Hilton

A chance encounter with a former classmate on the London train platform is the spark that leads to murder, thievery, and a life of luxury on the lam for art specialist Judith Rashleigh.

Working for a famous art auction house isn't as posh as Judith had hoped. When her corrupt boss throws her into a couple of intentionally bad situations, she's not only smart enough to get herself out of the jam, she also makes a pivot move that puts her ahead. It's the start of a high-society life hiding in plain sight.

This book is quick and thrilling. Judith doesn't know how long she can make the scam work, but she's willing to bet it all. It's about looking right (high fashion, gorgeous and thin), acting right (smart, but acquiescent) and making "friends" with the most advantageous rich men.

In addition to being a lightning fast scam story, it's also a fashion buyer's guide and a steamy erotic party-hop. You were warned!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Karl's a nice enough guy, but maybe a little lonely. When he discovers a wormhole that allows him to drop into and out of the time continuum, he builds a side business transporting people to seminal rock concerts. See Hendrix at Monterey Pop! Watch the Ramones at CBGB!

When he bumbles a date and accidentally sends a friend to 980, Karl is forced to enlist the help of an astrophysicist to work the science end of getting him back. Lena's a socially awkward genius in punk goddess guise. Of course, there are sparks. Of course, there are complications.

It's a fun, light book full of 1990s music references and the kind of characters to whom you can relate. The time travel begins to make things a little sticky - not everybody is as diligent as Karl about not altering the past - but even at its twistiest the story never gets super sci-fi complicated.

I read it in a single sitting, and it was a welcome departure from more serious topics I'd been pondering. Plus, now I keep trying to decide what my ultimate concert experience would be ...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson has spent his career working for the poor, the mentally ill, for youth tried as adults, and for other people somehow disadvantaged and lost in the American justice system. It's hard work, and it doesn't pay well. Every day he's faced with horrible stories of lives lost and damaged - yet he keeps at it with grace and diligence and perseverance.

In this book, Stevenson discusses his legal cases, uses notable individual stories to exemplify his points, and outlines the cultural need for compassion.

The book is heartbreaking, yet optimistic. The plight of some of their clients is truly upsetting - innocent people on death row, children abused in all ways and incarcerated with adults, mentally ill individuals without medical treatment. Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative staff have made great strides in cases argued and won with the Supreme Court.

It's the kind of book that forces you to look around you and wonder how you can make some difference. I can't argue a case before the Supreme Court. But I could lend a hand to the homeless. I could try to be a role model for disadvantaged kids. I could ... do something. And that's where it starts.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman

When Alex decides to move forward in life as a girl, her mother doesn't take it well - she throws a crying, screaming tantrum wailing about how could he do this to her?

Readers learn early in the book that Alex was born intersexed, purposefully named in a gender-neutral manner, and raised in a scientifically notated experiment avoiding gender-stereotyped toys and biases. Yet despite that, her mother was sure all along Alex was a boy. Alex doesn't know this, and for her it's a more traditional transgender teen experience.

It's an interesting look at the two-sides-to-every-story idea, but I found the book fell flat with me. Too much comes too easy: a lawyer who helps for free, a new school willing to overlook a lapse in paperwork, money that falls into her lap. Alex is sort of a brat - and yet not anywhere near as bratty as her parents' actions would indicate. Alternate chapters are blog posts from Mom's point of view - which are every bit as bratty and self-consumed (even the commenters carry on their own dramas and turmoil).

This one's OK, but I've certainly read better in the same genre and for the same audience.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Unicorn vs. Goblins: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson

Who am I kidding: either you've loved the first two books in this series and you're gaga about this one too, or you tapped out early and have moved on to something else.

Because this book is totally awesome in the same way that Phoebe and Her Unicorn and Unicorn on a Roll are totally awesome.

School's out and Marigold and Phoebe are up to their usual adventures. This year, there's summer camp - but making new friends is easy when you've packed a unicorn! Phoebe's frenemy Dakota and her magic hair make an appearance, too, and this time Phoebe has to help her get out of a spot of goblin trouble.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The action starts on page one, where our hero has woken up in a coffin after being kidnapped in Hawaii. And it just gets better from there.

This is the latest saga in the Fox & O'Hare novels, where international con man Nicholas Fox has teamed up with FBI phenom Kate O'Hare to help bring down some of the biggest criminals in the world.

This run, the pair are working from within a Serbian gang that wants to break into a lab and steal a deadly virus they plan to use as a terrorist threat. The scheme involves the Paris underground: tunnels, sewers, catacombs. We get a return for a bunch of popular characters and the introduction of a few new faces too.

Yes, there's sexual tension. Yes, there's even sex. Sure, it's probably a bad decision in the long run, but hell yes does it work for now!

I read it in one giant gulp on one of the hottest days of the summer. Perfect escape!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill

When a popular, sexy 18 year old gets wild at a party, even the national news media agree that whatever happened later, she was definitely asking for it.

The book doesn't really require any more plot synopsis than that, and it's certainly not a unique topic for a teen book. There are the usual parental recriminations, the viral internet pictures, the self-doubt and shame, the high school social gauntlet.

But two things set this book apart: it takes place in Ireland, and its ambiguous ending.

The legal process in Ireland is different than in the US, and that's an interesting twist to the story. Plus, of course, they try to blame this burgeoning problem on Americanization of kids.

Additionally, our main character Emma doesn't really know how she feels about everything. She's humiliated and embarrassed, but she's not sure it's worth wrecking the boys' reputations over. She doesn't remember anything from later at the party, but she did certainly go (and dress) for a hookup that night.

The book doesn't tie everything up in a bow. it ends with a decision by Emma, but before any action is taken upon the decision. A lot of readers will howl at Emma's thoughts and actions, but I think it's a fair look at the confusion and twisted logic of the teen mind.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Zietoun by Dave Eggers

It's easy for the rest of the world to forget the utter devastation that Hurrican Katrina brought to New Orleans in 2005, but for those who experienced it first hand it's unforgettable. For those affected by the inadequate supplies, ineffective government response, and inexcusable military force in the wake of the incredible storm, it's still a part of their lives even a decade later.

This nonfiction narrative novel follows the dramatic story of one Syrian immigrant man separated from his family and called to help where he could during the aftermath. Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife, Kathy, own several rental buildings in New Orleans and a successful, well-known painting and contracting company. Kathy and their four children evacuate before the storm hits, but her husband stays behind to manage their buildings and minimize damage.

For days after the storm, Zeitoun travels the neighborhood in a canoe, helping residents who did not evacuate, feeding pets left behind, and helping wherever possible. He's proud of the work he's doing, believing that maybe God called for him to be there. And then he's arrested.

This story is interesting, informative, and horrifying - but also, I found  the narrative drags a bit in the middle section (I listened to the audiobook on CD and it took a very long time for me to get through that section of the book). 

We chose this title as a book discussion at the library, and the group talked quite a bit about how they viewed Zeitoun after reading the book, and then again in light of more recent news stories concerning him. After you read the book, research a bit to determine for yourself.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

An alternative to the epic, sweeping historical World War II sagas, this award-winning literary novel makes history much smaller and very personal - as seen through the perspective of a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy.

When you understand that no one is completely good and no one is completely bad - that life is much more nuanced and impacted by perspective - it's easier to see that WWII wasn't simply the Evil Nazis versus the Free World.

Werner's early aptitude for science and math are his salvation from working the coal mines that entombed his father. The conformity and cruelty of his instructors and schoolmates in the elite Nazi Wehrmacht school are tough for the boy to handle, yet he doesn't dare to rebel and destroy his chance for a future.

Marie-Laure goes blind as a young child, and her locksmith father finds fabulous ways to empower his daughter to independence. When they're forced to flee Paris upon invasion, the pair settle with her mentally fragile great-uncle in a towering house on the coast in Saint-Malo.

Many have been critical of the super-short chapters and constantly switching perspectives and timeframes, but I thought it allowed the book to move briskly without my attention flagging. It's not a book that's tied up in a neat bow at the end - some things remain a mystery - again, much like real life.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and understand why it won both the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Also, it made me want to read Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota

When Penny's forced to move out of her apartment, the solution to her homelessness comes via a friend's storage unit - for $100 a month, it's the cheapest rent around! Also, she's out of work - but the same friend's parents own a laundromat and they're hiring.

Things are less than ideal, though. She sweet-talks the receptionist at a local gym so she can use the showers, there's a gang of preteens bent on making trouble, the laundromat is being run by a tyrannical eleven-year-old, and she's got no love life. Good thing she has gran's bodice-ripper romance novels to keep her entertained.

This is a great graphic novel about that "early adult" period when you're our of school and trying to find your way as a newly-minted adult. While the topic could be heavy, it's dealt with in a light manner so it's realistic but not depressing. Penny's overactive imagination lends great comic relief, as she imagines her challenges vanquished by imaginary romantic hero Alistair Lionpride.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

In a house full-to-overflowing with four boys, there's always something going on: one's got soccer practice, another's got a friendship problem, the third is working on a science project, and the littlest just wants somebody to play with him. And that's the basis of this new series about the Family Fletcher (the second title was just released).

Each boy has a plotline, giving multiple narratives through a school year from age 12 to age 6. An overarching story concerns the new neighbor, who is always at odds with the rambunctious, fun-loving Fletchers no matter how hard they're trying to make friends with him.

It's not even a major plot point that there are 2 dads for the 4 boys - it ends up being a bigger deal that they're a mix of skin colors.

I loved this book, and have already placed a hold on the next one, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. Look for a review soon!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

A year after his wife's death, while making an attempt to clean out her closet, Arthur discovers a fancy charm bracelet he's never seen.  Why did Miriam keep this hidden? Do the charms mean something?

This is a cute, thoughtful book in the same genre as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or A Man Called Ove; Arthur has become stuck in a rut, because if he eats breakfast at EXACTLY the same time every day and if he obsesses about watering the fern then maybe he won't have to deal with the fact that his wife is never coming back and his whole world is different.

The charms lead Arthur on an unexpected journey - true travels, yes, but also an emotional journey through and out of the grief that's been crippling him. He reconnects with the world and his family, and finds a purpose in moving forward.

I've already recommended it once, and it will be popular with library readers. A good, quaint find!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

There's a point in life when roles flip between parents and their children - when adult children become guardians for infirm older adults. It's a time fraught with anger, indignation, and sadness ... but if you're lucky, it's also filled with joy, laughter, and reminiscence.

The Bergman family is in just this situation. Father Aaron has dementia and his wife Joy is determined to keep him at home and care for him herself. Son Daniel makes weekly visits for dinner to keep an eye on them, but he's also got a young family to tend. Daughter Molly lives in far away California but feels the pull of guilt and obligation.

This is an amazing, funny and heartwarming book about the universality of families. Nobody's perfect, but they're all doing their best. You'll recognize yourself and your relatives in these characters and the love they share, along with the frustration.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Just a book about a lonely guy and his dog with a brain tumor - a little light reading for your enjoyment!

Actually, it's a fantastic book and not as depressing as I thought it might be. Ted's a guy who loves his dog a whole lot. One day he notices something different about Lily (with whom he has entire 2-way conversations) - there seems to be an octopus on Lily's head. Eventually the "octopus" gets bigger, talks to Ted also, and impairs Lily's quality of life.

So Ted does what any sane guy would do: He goes on an octopus hunt! First he tortures the octopus with a visit to the fishmonger, then he rents a boat and goes on an epic Moby Dick quest for revenge. It can't save Lily, but maybe it will help Ted deal with his inevitable loss.

This novel is actually quite funny, and has moments of magical realism (Can the octopus really talk? Can Lily really talk?) I did cry at the end, but it wasn't the big ugly cry I'd expected - more a sweet sad cry about the end of a true friendship.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Lifeboat Clique by Kathy Park

When an earthquake and tsunami hit an illegal high school party in Malibu, it decimates the house and the attendees. Later, a few kids cling to a chunk of debris floating in the ocean - including one very unpopular girl. What's worse: being lost at sea, or being shunned by the cool kids WHILE you're lost at sea?

Denver and Abigail used to be best friends, but now Abigail's popular and Denver is a pariah (we don't find out why until later, but it's easy to see it's the typical high school falling out). While the group drifts at sea, it's Denver's practical skills that allow their survival, but even that isn't enough to win over Abigail. It's hard to ignore someone in such a small space and under such harsh conditions, but Abigail's sure making the most of it.

It's a good book, and it moves quickly despite the harrowing situation. There's a bit of a "moral" but it's not too preachy. The characters are recognizable as the typical high school clique but still have depth and interest.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Two Chinese teens sent to be "re-educated" during the communist Cultural Revolution gain a whole different kind of enlightenment through a suitcase of elicit Western literature.

Through film and novels, the boys learn storytelling and gain experiences they can't otherwise obtain in their limited, censored lives. They, in turn, offer this same cultural broadening to a new friend, the tailor's daughter,

I didn't expect this book to be funny and sweet, but that's the first thing that comes to mind when trying to summarize this book. Of course, it's also expectedly horrifying at the work and conditions in which the villagers live ... but the real story is in the friendship, hijinx, and loves.

I loved this novella - it's another book about loving books - and the story is told briskly in a series of short chapters and vignettes about their lives. It's rich with details: you can perfectly visualize the coats they're wearing, and the fine suitcase leather is almost real to the touch.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

Three teens ditch out of jazz camp to hit the road and try their luck as a band: Wes and Corey are enthusiastic but merely average players on bass and drums - Ash, on the other hand, is exceptional as a blues fusion guitarist and songwriter and singer and instigator and dream girl ...

It's a fantastic road trip book with relatable characters and the kind of accidents and happenstance that occur on an ill-planned youth odyssey. The gang's on-going banter about band names especially rings so, so true.

This book's been getting a lot of press as a hot summer teen fiction release, and it's well worth the time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

An Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer

This audio compilation of short stories, songs, poetry and more from pop culture's favorite superstar couple was bundled from a series of events on tour in 2011.

I don't usually review "not-books" but this one's hard to classify (it's not in print, but it's more than an audiobook and not quite a music CD and is actually something all-together different) and I think it deserves a blog post.

This would be worth a listen just to hear Neil Gaiman read some of his own work. It's always a treat. But then to get some of Amanda Palmer's songs, and some banter between the two of them ... well, it's well worth the time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

Working in the sea deep below a Canadian oil rig, welder Jack Joseph knows his job: focus on the weld, hold a steady hand. But one day he sees something from the corner of his mask and everything begins to unravel.

He's brought up to the surface, revived, and sent home early from his stint aboard the rig. Going home should be a blessing because Jack's wife Susie is on the verge of giving birth, but Jack's restless to discover what he saw in the deep water outweighs his impending fatherhood.

This black-and-white graphic novel shows through flashbacks and some time travel trickery how Jack's grief for his missing father is affecting his joy for the birth of his own son. In the introduction there's reference to the TV show the Twilight Zone - which is really how this story feels.

It's bleak and sad, but also told very well.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

Genevieve and Stephanie become friends online through their mutual love for a television show. It's a fast friendship, accelerated by a fan convention trip where they meet in real life and find they really do enjoy one another's company.

They're both young women (18 and 22) with complicated lives - Gena's about to begin college (if she finishes her exams and papers), has absent and disconnected parents, and has a history of mental instability; Finn is looking for her first "real" job, has just moved in with her boyfriend, and is contemplating future options (marriage? kids?).

The book is formatted as blog posts and comment chains, direct messaging, text messages, emails, notes, diary entries, and more.

While there's a lot of back-and-forth chats that are quick to read, I can't say it's easy: the part that you instinctually want to ignore (the header, subject line, date and time) holds information that helps you work through the conversation. I found myself doing a lot of backtracking and rereading those headers - for example, some emails are drafts that were never sent.

I almost gave up on this book about 15 pages in, but decided to give it another go. I'm glad I did, too, because I really enjoyed it once I got to know the characters better. And it wasn't nearly as formulaic as I'd feared a modern-novel-in-messaging might be - the storyline went in a couple directions I hadn't anticipated. Hooray!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner

David Kushner grew up with a hole in his life - the empty spot where his next-oldest brother should have been. And while the Kushner family moved forward, its surviving members living and achieving, they all carried the grief of losing 11-year-old Jon.

David was four years old when his brother died. He was too young to really understand what was going on, but certainly not too young to miss the brother he'd worshipped. His memory wiped clean most of it away, and throughout his life David remained mostly naieve to the details of Jon's death.

In bits and pieces, he eventually opens up to the story - but mostly, it's the death and funeral of their father (36 years after Jon's death) that compels David to turn his journalism skills to this tragic story and research, read, and interview his way into a full account of Jon's demise.

The book's well written and honest, though a bit emotionless even though it's personal. It's Kushner's factual, journalistic style that makes it so shocking then, later, when he coldly lays bare the facts of the murder.

To carry the weight of that information must be crushing - what was done to the child - and for me it made things even more stunning how the family members each dealt with the knowledge yet led fulfilling lives.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

I will be talking about this book for a long time to come - after listening to the library's audiobook (not simply read but PERFORMED by the author) I bought a paper copy so I can post-it note and highlight parts that will bear heavy repetition for their deep resonance.

The book is about her life as a performance artist and indie rock star, and the book is about her successful, ground-breaking crowdfunding via social media. It's about her marriage to writer Neil Gaiman, and it's about her life-long friend and guru Anthony.

But mostly, this book is about the give-and-take of  all relationships: drop a dollar in the living statue's bucket, get a flower; open your heart and mind, receive love. She looks at her art in the way it's building a relationship with her fans - not just as the number of units sold in the usual corporate commercial model.

She's got some fantastic perspective for artists of all types concerning self-worth, doubt, and dealing with criticism. The lesson to glean from Henry David Thoreau: take the donuts. The analogy of "blender setting" for how real-life experiences get chopped up and changed in the art blender.

She's controversial, and there's a strong wave of haters. But it ain't me, man.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

In the finale of the Red Rising trilogy, Darrow and the Sons of Ares rise to battle for control of Mars - and other planets in the modern system too. Their goal is the end of government based upon class distinction and birth caste. The battle is mighty.

While Red Rising was about character development and Golden Son was about political positioning, Morning Star is completely about the war: battles, fighting, blood, death, strategy and survival. Who can you trust, and who must you kill? But also, is it all worth it?

This book has twists and heartbreaking betrayals, and just when you think you know how it will end, it twists again. Oh!

What a great series, overall. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

In a mid-life crisis meltdown mode (after not quite shooting her philandering husband), Portia Kane returns to her childhood home to figure out her next step - little knowing it will lead her on an epic journey of discovery and disappointment.

Author Matthew Quick has become famous for his fair, honest depiction of human frailties and mental disorder, and this novel is well within that wheelhouse. Every character in the book has his or her issues, but they're not presented as a problem to be solved, just a thing to be experienced.

Portia's quest to "save" her beloved high school English teacher leads her down nostalgia's path in many ways, and the book is full of 1980s-vintage metal and hard rock lyrics, puns, and references. It's also full of strange coincidences, chance meetings, and what may be divine inspiration.

My only quibble is that I found the character Danielle Bass flat. She's a means to move the story along, but I don't feel that we really get her perspective or struggles in any real way like we do every other character in the novel.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family by Constance Novis and Helen Fester

Books by the Dorling Kindersley (DK) company are always rich with photos and illustration with text broken into digestible bits - and this book is a stellar example of the style they do so well. It's a coffee table style book with 250 pages packed with information and vivid photography.

I learned a ton about European history and even more about the 20th-century monarchs and world events; I was fascinated with the progression of the monarchy from Queen Victoria to the current Queen Elizabeth and into the future with the line of succession.

I also liked that scandal isn't swept under the rug - it's mentioned, but not dwelt upon. The modern royals have endured a lot of media scrutiny through infidelities, divorces, youthful indiscretions, and momentary lapse of judgement and those are presented without judgement.

I spent a lot of time hopping away from the book and online to learn more about someone or something. It's re-fired an interest in history and a desire to read more.

I had this book checked out so long the library's automated system started threatening me with the replacement cost of $54 if I didn't return it. It's a phenomenal book, but certainly a lot to wade through.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

And Again by Jessica Chiarella

Four end-life patients participate in a clinical trial to transplant part of their brain and all their memories into new, cloned, biologically cleansed versions of their own body.

The point to be made is this: how much of our personality/humanity is in our head and how much is body-centric? Are habits part of your brain or in your muscles? Is love in your limbic system or in your heart?

This was a unique audiobook that utilized four narrators - one for each character. The book is told chronologically, but switches from person to person to give multiple perspectives. Each character struggles with the idea of "self" in their new bodies, and they work through some of their concerns in group-therapy sessions. But each also holds secrets - thoughts or actions they can't even share with these few people who might understand.

It's a fantastic story, mostly about internal struggles of self - the author mercifully leaves the science part rather vague and mostly out of the action. My favorite character is the young painter who can no longer make magic with her hands; when you've defined yourself by a talent, who are you when that's gone? I also enjoyed the way each character weighs out the despoiling of their new body: sex, alcohol, cigarettes, food, tattoos, scars and more.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

A chronically bored boy goes on a fantastical adventure in a land of words and numbers.

This 1961 children's novel makes a lot of "best of" lists of children's literature, so I decided to see what I'd been missing. It's a little odd, in that it's a fable about grammar, spelling, logic and math.

In some ways, it reminds me of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll in that there's a lot for an adult reader to comprehend that may be lost on kids. (I'm thinking, for example, the caucus race in Alice, and the Which's tale of the banishment of Rhyme and Reason in Tollbooth). They're both the kind of books that gain new appreciations with rereading - especially if you've aged, learned, matured, or experienced more in the intervening time.

I listened to the first half of the book as an audiobook, then read the second half in paper. I enjoyed both forms, but you miss out on Jules Feiffer's renowned illustrations if you don't have the book. Of course, with the book you miss out on dramatic characterization (my audio version was with Norman Dietz, but there's also a version ready by David Hyde Pierce). Either way you win some and lose some.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

Mental illness isn't funny ... unless maybe when it's Jenny Lawson writing about it.

Lawson is the internet-famous The Bloggess - a profane, hilarious, honest bright spot in the world. This is her second book, and I believe it's less autobiographical and more inspirational than her first. In the first book, Lawson told about growing up, about her marriage, and about their struggle to have a family. In this one, she discusses her medical records and what the myriad diagnoses mean to her everyday life. She talks about the dark times where creating physical pain is the only way to tamp down the emotional pain. She talks about the events she cannot attend due to her extreme anxiety.

And while that sounds dark and sad, this is still Lawson's typically laugh-out-loud, snorting kind of funny, too.

She tells about experiencing Australia as an official tourism visitor - and how you can't just go around hugging koala, apparently. And boomerangs don't always come back, so it's not really stealing if you throw one from the gift shop door and it doesn't return - you're just helping to weed out the defective products.

This book is truly a rollercoaster of emotions that gets to the heart of human existence - we're all just trying to get by. But what a wonderful world it is with Jenny Lawson in it.

And here I note that I listened to the audiobook READ BY THE AUTHOR and it does not not not get any better than this. Period.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Two week's vacation with family - or even friends - can be a lot of time together, and the fractured relationships in the Post family make their big Spanish adventure to the island of Mallorca a memory they'll never forget.

Everyone on this trip is at some turning point in their lives: Jim has been unceremoniously "retired" from his job, Franny isn't ready to forgive Jim his sins against their marriage, daughter Sylvia is about to leave for college, older son Bobby is in a serious financial crisis - and Bobby's girlfriend has doubts about their whole relationship, plus Franny's life-long best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence are awaiting the call to start a family.

This is a great vacation book filled with sun and lots of beaches ... and way too many people, in way too little space, with way too much drama in their lives. I loved it, and I really enjoyed the various storylines - the fact they're all at different places in their lives, but everyone's experiencing change.

Actually, I can imagine this novel as a fantastic movie, too!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle

With 160 (or more) recorded sniper kills, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle became the epitome of post-9/11 American heroism. What makes a guy like that tick?

It takes all kinds to make the world go around, and I'm glad I don't have to do Kyle's job (also - glad not to be his wife). It boils down to this: Kyle seems like a pretty regular guy who thinks differently than I do. I found it an interesting story - quite captivating.

We chose this book for the library's book discussion because it was OverDrive's "Big Library Read" and for a limited time they made it available as an immediate download with no holds waiting. Also, it seemed like a genre we hadn't touched on much in the past.

Despite the fact it's all about war, this isn't an overly graphic book. He's pretty matter-of-fact about his work and the things he's seen; while he's proud of his talents, the book doesn't come off as braggadocious or self-serving. It's also uniquely apolitical.

Since the book was published, Kyle died in a tragic civilian incident, his wife wrote her own book, and Clint Eastwood directed an Oscar-nominated film starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle. I'm curious to know more, and I will be checking into Taya's book and the film.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Paula Vauss is a tough-as-nails divorce lawyer with no time for personal relations. So when a didn't-know-he-existed college-aged half-brother appears in her office one day, it sets off a chain of events that lead Paula to redemption, love, and more family than she'd ever thought possible,

I absolutely adore Joshilyn Jackson's writing and will greedily snatch up anything she publishes. Like her other novels, this is a contemporary fiction with a slightly broken female protagonist: Paula's had a rough life, and her tough exterior hides a scared, lonely little girl. She pushes off all forms of personal relations because she's scared to get hurt.

There's a lot of Hindu mysticism mixed in - Paula's mother was a storyteller who twisted tales to her own needs. But as Paula researches the past 25 years of history she thought she knew, she discovers Kai's stories had more subtext woven in than she'd ever suspected.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

When their mother takes sick, three adult sisters return to the roost. But each has ulterior motives for her stay - pregnancy, thievery, insecurity - which make their challenging familial relationships even more fraught.

I enjoyed the story - it's about self-discovery and how we limit and define ourselves based on our family - but it's pretty much contemporary chick-lit for the literate.

The "weird sisters" of the title refers to Macbeth's witches, rather than any real oddity in the novel's main trio. That said, you'd best be familiar with Shakespeare's life works to be comfortable in this novel - it's overflowing with people named after characters and conversations filled with quotes. Additionally, the story contains layer upon layer of references and analogies to the bard's work.

Also of note: the story is told from a very unusual point of view. The omniscient narrator speaks singularly as all three sisters collectively (first-person plural). Everything is "we" even when talking about one sister's secrets that she's keeping from the others. It's workable, but a little awkward sometimes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

It's not often I give up, but this is one of the big FAILS.

Perhaps I could have liked the book if it weren't for the horrible inflection and rhythm of the audiobook reader, Angela Goethals. It annoyed me from the start - her faux dramatic, hokey, hitching delivery - but I thought I could get used to it or get past it. But after 2 discs (somewhere about 2 hours of listening), I decided this was an aggravation I could do without and quit.

The book's about fake mysticism in turn-of-the-century America and a teenager's struggle to survive in a country turned upside-down by war and rampant racism. I kept waiting for the story to really grab me and ultimately I failed to find a hook.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: The Interconnectedness of All Kings by Chris Ryall nad Tony Akins

Everything's related, and if you just wait a minute you'll probably see how. At least, that's what "holistic detective" Dirk Gently believes. The answers will fall right into your lap, if only you let them. Do what you want, it will all come around.

This is a new graphic novel series based on the character created by the late, great Douglas Adams. I discovered Dirk years ago after devouring the Hitchhiker's Guide books, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a new addition to the series in this graphic format.

This Dirk is a little different - leaner, younger, hipper - but that's fine because even Adams was known for contradicting himself and revising, revamping, and otherwise swapping up known characters and settings for new formats and versions.

The time-travelling ancient Egyptian part of the storyline felt a little bit like an episode of Scooby Doo to me, but overall didn't detract from my enjoyment. Other threads - the teashop owners, the murderous tourists, the homeless and their cell phones - wind around in typically absurd ways until they all merge (through interconnectedness) in the end.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

In a primitive world changed by a flu pandemic, a band of minstrels and actors wander the American midwest performing Shakespeare to the survivors. As the novel's timeline flashes back and forth - before and after the Georgia Flu - we see the interconnectedness of the survivors, whose stories link back to a celebrity actor, Arthur Leander.

This book was on a lot of best of 2015 lists and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The author went on record saying she doesn't consider it sci-fi because there's no technology and gadgets involved. She says it's literary fiction.

While the "no technology" is technically accurate and the traveling symphony-and-Shakespeare troupe offers a bit of high-brow flair, I think it's cutting a pretty fine line to say this post-apocalypse novel isn't really in the sci-fi genre. The book is at heart a look at the invisible links between people, man's ability to adapt to survive, and a look at what the world could be like without "modern technology."

I enjoyed the book. The shifting perspectives keep the narrative moving along without getting bogged down in the minutia of survival, plus allow some dramatic tension as story threads cut out and return again later. I was pleasantly surprised a couple times as the connections back to Arthur were revealed.

Plus, now I know that living in the airport may be the best option, post-plague.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore

The horror of discovering her downstairs neighbor's bludgeoned body soon turns to curiosity as a young urban hipster strives to learn about the woman who was more acquaintance than friend - and uncovers a musical mystery that may lead to the real killer.

With a few minor tweaks, this could have been a teen book - as it is, I think it's targeted at the new "young adult" category that's become trendy in publishing: intended for those out of school, but still early in their careers and adulthood.

Jett and her neighbor KitKat live in a super trendy part of Brooklyn where neighbors hardly use cash and instead barter services and goods. Jett's scraping by, working only as a temp but living cheap in her honeymooning grandmother's rent-controlled apartment. Her passion for vintage vinyl means she's shopping the dollar bins and debating whether 1990's solo Sting is hot or not while drinking Two Buck Chuck with her friend-not-boyfriend Sid.

For all its ironic pop culture and snarky musical references, I really enjoyed this book. The mystery at its heart is twisty and dark without an obvious end, and the will-they/won't-they tension with Sid adds a bit of salty-sweet. Super-short chapters keep the action clipping along briskly, and you'll probably burn up iTunes hunting down the lesser-know lyrics and bands spread liberally through the story.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Audio version read by Jayne Entwistle

Think of all the atrocities you've heard from WWII.  Now imagine someone whose life actually improved because of that war.  Seems a little far-fetched, doesn't it?

Ada has been scorned by her mother since the day of her birth.  For ten years, she's never left their one-room apartment in London.  Still, she's a smart young lady, and knows she must evacuate when the other children do.  Her daring move to leave the city with her younger brother leads her to Kent and a woman named Susan.

For the first time in her life, she's seen as more than a child with a twisted foot. Suddenly, Ada and Jamie are part of a community.  There are many things to learn, including how to ride a pony, and watch for German spies. While Jamie is young enough to still love unconditionally, Ada and Susan both must learn lessons of love and trust. These things allow Ada to believe in herself even more than she did while hidden away in London.

Can Ada see her self-worth even through the shroud of shame that cloaked her for a decade? Can this makeshift family endure the tragedies of war and the constant wonder about Ada and James returning to their cruel mother?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

While many have tried to simplify Elon Musk down to a real-life Tony Stark (Iron Man), this biography shows that there's more to the man than "playboy millionare who will save the world" ... although that is certainly a goal of his.

Musk's got extraordinary vision and dreams way larger than most - and thanks to early investment in tech startups that paid off, he's also got the money to give it a go. While SpaceX may be the first commercial company to take payloads to the International Space Station, that's just a lilypad in the leapfrog to Mars.

But I feel very sorry for his employees, who must be willing to give 110% on everything at the expense of their personal lives. He's the kind of guy who leads by example - but ill health, crappy diet, extreme stress, work-a-holic tendances, and lack of empathy aren't something to which you should aspire.

I'll nitpick that the book's not truly a biography of Musk - there's great info about his early days, then once we get into his big businesses there's not much detail about his personal life anymore. For example, there's a minor aside dismissed quickly like, "And then he married his second wife again." I'd like to have known more about that decision and the change-of-heart one or both experienced; that's a pretty big reversal for a guy who's always moving forward. And what is he REALLY like as a dad to 5 young boys with 4-day-a-week custody, a private plane, and an overbooked schedule? How does he parent?

This book fired in me a personal obsession with Tesla cars (how will I find the kind of money to buy one?!), and Musk's drive to make green energies more affordable is interesting and commendable. I was fascinated by the subject and enjoyed this book immensely - and thankfully I don't have to like the guy all that much to have loved the book.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Even in a marriage, there are two sides to every story. But unlike other books that tell two sides of hardly-the-same-marriage, in this novel it's not about twisting the scene or misrepresenting a shared experience - it's all about the secrets and lies of omission.

Lotto lives a blessed life - his family has money, he's a true lover of the ladies, and he's got a charisma people just can't deny. When he meets and marries the ethereal Mathilde, it looks like his charmed life is on it's way through the stratosphere.

The first half of the book (fates) tells Lotto's story: about his family, his marriage, his successful career. The second half (furies) reveals Mathilde's origin story, plus her life with and without Lotto.

It's a fantastic story, absolutely captivating - I listened to the audiobook while I quilted, and I was really taken by the characters, the friendships, and the story of their lives. And even knowing there was a twist in the unfolding of the story, I was still surprised at the end! A truly remarkable novel.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell

Dove Carnahan has done pretty well for herself despite staying in the town where she grew up - she overcame the shame of her bloodlines, made sure her siblings survived after their mother was murdered, and has become the liked-if-not-always-respected chief of police.

The horrific murder of a local teenager is stirring up all kinds of emotions and memories in Dove, but it's not just the job that's causing her turmoil: the man who went to prison for her mom's murder is back from prison, and her long-lost brother returns with a surprise. A lot of the things she's been trying to forget are springing up right in front of her face.

I've read several of O'Dell's books - she gives great voice to interesting characters with profound struggles in modern-day Appalachia - and I was excited to take this one home. I read it in about 2 sittings, and I really enjoyed the shifts in the story from the modern murder investigation to Dove's teen years.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson's childhood was full of questionable roadkill and home taxidermy - which fully explains how she became that kind of crazy we do so love to make "internet famous."

I've followed Lawson (The Bloggess) online for years, and I adore her. You may know her too, because her story of Beyonce the chicken is a widely distributed fable on the irrationality of arguments between spouses.

When this book was published in 2012, I immediately ordered an autographed copy and added it to my teetering, never-ending to-be-read stack. And I never got to it.

Why read it now, then? We've been looking at shaking up the book discussions at the library, and when I saw I could get my hands on a stack of this book, I jumped at the chance. Now THIS will shake things up!

Lawson's nuts, but in a hilarious, harmless way. You don't want her as a neighbor, and you truly feel for Victor, her ever-beleaguered husband. But you definitely want her in your social circle so you can hear the next chapter in the "Guess what just happened" saga.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dark Knight: A True Batman Story by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso

When a comics-industry professional writes his memoirs, there's probably a law that it has to be in graphic novel form. But unlike the common awkward kid's story of how comics saved me, Paul Dini's is an adult tale of how comics pulled him from the brink. 

Dini was already an acclaimed writer when he was brutally attacked and nearly killed in a mugging. His injuries weren't just physical - in addition to his skull broken in multiple places, he was deeply traumatized by the attack and spiraled into a frightening depression.

But Batman understands because he's got a dark side, too, and he doesn't let it rule him. He's still on the side of good, and Batman helps Dini see that he can beat back the nightmares by doing what he's always done: writing good stories for great characters.

This is a fantastic way to tell this specific story - since most of the action takes place inside Dini's head, his thoughts and hallucinations are vividly depicted as appropriately twisted comic book characters. It's dark, but also hopeful and very well done.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Everybody drinks, but Sarah DRANK; she drank until blackout, and she did it a lot. So when she decides enough is enough, can she give it up? And who will she be without the bravery alcohol offers?

Hepola is the personal essays editor for and that experience shows in this book. It's serious and well written, honest and upfront without being maudlin or defensive or sickly sweet. It's also very funny in places.

I really enjoyed the book, and I learned a lot about the alcoholic blackout - Hepola gives some very interesting medical, scientific information about the brain and it's capacities. It's frightening to recognize what happens during a blackout, and how we probably don't even recognize it in others.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

by Kelly Jones

A young girl explores her new community while coming to terms with looking different than the majority of the population.  She's lucky to have a few unexpected chickens helping her bond with the local farm and 4-H interests. Unfortunately, the people in town are more than a little tight-lipped about those birds.  Some seem to want to get their hands on them, while others know exactly what makes them special, and are just holding out to see how "exceptional" the new farmer is.

This is a well-done story for upper-elementary readers.  Excitingly, it is presented in epistolary form. One of the truly fun parts is seeing a modern kid interact with greatly archaic technology.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

In this, the final bit of Terry Pratchett's writing (RIP good sir), we make a final visit to the Chalk for a visit with young witch Tiffany Aching - a fifth book in the young adult series set on Pratchett's Discworld.

There's a shift of power in the world as Granny Weatherwax passes from it, but she's made all the arrangements and has left detailed instructions on what she wants - including specifying Tiffany as the beneficiary of her steading, home and gardens.

Running two steadings quickly wears Tiffany thin, and the fairy world has noticed the barriers aren't guarded so well these days. Of course, they have to try and push their luck.

Luckily, Tiffany's just the kind of witch the world needs now - one who's not afraid to try something new, but she's also dedicated to doing what's right even if it's not fun. Along with a motley band of witches and my adored Nac Mac Feegles, Tiffany's determined to put the fairies back where they belong.

In the afterword, it is explained that this book was written and finished by Terry, but didn't get his customary, continuing tweaks and changes right up to publication. Honestly, I don't know that I missed them. It's a wonderful book, a delighting story, funny and sweet, and hits all the right notes.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

As the most-talked about book release of 2015, I have to admit I had reservations about this book. Over the years, there have been plenty of news stories about people trying to take advantage of Harper Lee, and I was pretty sure this was merely another blip on that radar.

Additionally - as this book was written and rejected by the publisher BEFORE "To Kill a Mockingbird" - I was afraid it would feel unfinished, like a rough draft, or incomplete in some way.

Gladly, I was delighted to find I was wrong, and I really enjoyed the book. While I have to admit it's not the masterpiece of Mockingbird, this is still a pretty satisfying novel in its own right.

While racism is again the theme of Lee's book, the personal issue for Scout is the discovery that her father, who she believes to be perfect and a god, is merely a man and simply human. The pedestal she's place him on doesn't just crack or wobble - it's swept away completely.

We discussed this book for the library's book club, and many people were off-put by the strong, seemingly disproportionate reaction Jean Louise has to her father's "citizen council" membership. That didn't bother me - instead, I wished Uncle Jack would just say what he meant instead of talking around and around in circles.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

How I managed 40+ years old without having read this book (or even seen the movie) is startling in itself. But when we decided to read "Go Set a Watchman" for book discussion at the library, I knew this was the perfect time to set that right.

I listened to the audiobook from our library, performed by Sissy Spacek - I hope I don't have to tell you how incredibly rich and wonderful it was to listen to her interpretation.

The book won a Pulitzer Prize, and until 2015 was the only book Harper Lee published. While the overall theme of the book is racism, it's also really about the first time kids discover the world is a cruel place. I won't go into synopsis or review - there have been more than 50 years of that already.

I did enjoy the book immensely, and reading this book may spur me to try out other "classics" that I somehow skipped previously.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sophia by Michael Bible

This brief 120-page novella is a stream-of-counsciousness rant - the loves. lust, and life of a unlikely, intoxicated minister of dubious ethics.

Rev. Maloney has sex dreams about the female Holy Spirit and makes a killing hustling his friend Eli in chess games. He's likely to light up a spliff in the confessional, and he just might be sleeping with several female parishoners.

It's a quick read, and I think best if consumed all in one gulp to make the most of the rapid-fire delivery and wildly careening plot. It's profane, but also thought provoking in that Maloney may be the most truthful guy you're likely to meet.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

An explosion, a pretty girl, and a painting of a tiny yellow bird - the triggers that kickstart a new life for New York youngster Theo Dekker. It all happened in just a minute or so, but the repercussions last a lifetime.

At a whopping 770 pages long, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel carries some heft. So instead, I did my shoulders a favor and listened to this one as an audiobook - all 32+ hours of it. Let's just say I got a lot of quilting time in while I enjoyed Theo's tale.

I don't know what I expected this book to be like (I'm embarrassed to say, more literary? boring?) but I was delighted to discover it's simply the tale of a boy growing up. So, maybe not SIMPLY - he's abandoned, orphaned, oblivious, neglected, saved, and endangered - but it's really a fantastic story about the event that changed Theo's life and the direction it took afterwards.

And I can't even say I wish there'd been less of it - it really was a fantastic story, captivating and engrossing even through 26 discs-worth of material.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold

What happens to imaginary friends when children lose their imagination? Unfortunately, Rudger is about to find out, but it's not just a case his "real" friend Emily growing up - there are evil things afoot for imaginaries.

This juvenile novel was illustrated by the amazingly talented Emily Gravett, whose moody art allows just the right amount of menace. It's a great book for kids just old enough to be abandoning their own imaginary friends, but still young enough to believe in the fantastical.

Personally, I adored the idea that abandoned imaginaries go to the library to hang out until they get a new assignment - it really is a place MADE of imagination, as one character explains to Rudger.