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.