Monday, December 31, 2018

Introducing Read Like a Pirate 2019!

Inspired by some major life changes, this blog is getting a makeover and shakeup for 2019. We're kicking things up a notch with a new collaborator, additional book review content, a Facebook discussion group, and for the first time ever we'll be adding actual, active content to this blog, too!

First off, we're introducing a reading challenge list for 2019. Read Like a Pirate 2019 offers 52 prompts for you to consider in selecting reading choices.

Conveniently, we've designed a printable version to use as a checklist.

How you use the list, though, will be up to you:
  • Do you want to read a book a week this year? Great, here are 52 prompts. 
  • Does that sound like a lot and you want fewer? Decide to read 26 books this year, or 12 books this year, or 3 books this year. Then pick and choose from the prompts.
  • Do you hate goal setting but really want to stretch your reading list? Great, pick some prompts and give something new a go.
  • Use the list in order, or shuffle it at will.
One of the things Trish pondered when creating the list was its flexibility - we're not here to make rigid, shameful rules you literally MUST follow.

Instead, use this list as a tool to rekindle your enjoyment of books. Read whatever you want, and love it. Only read nonfiction? Fine - you'll find you can twist most of these prompts and they'll still fit. Have you committed to only reading YA this year? Again, you'll find you can overlay this list to your constraints and still make it work.
Also, many of the prompts are a little vague. Feel free to spin them as you wish, because nobody really cares. But as a guide (and as a reason to post regularly), beginning January 2, 2019, Trish will create a series of weekly posts. She'll explain what she was thinking (which may be worth the price of admission), and she'll also make suggestions on titles to consider for the prompt. You're under no obligation to comply, however.
Please invite your friends, and use the hashtag #readlikeapirate2019 when posting on social media and join us on the Facebook group for discussion and support!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

A truly unusual happening - the creation of a sorcerer - has set the magic and wizards of the Disc all aflutter. The youngster doesn't really understand his own power, plus, he's being controlled by a not-quite-dead wizard father in the form of a staff. Things will never be the same again.

Rincewind is once again called on, as the worst wizard in the world, to be the hero. He meets up with the daughter of Cohen the Barbarian and together they're forced with the company of a very rich, very bored seriph with literary aspirations.

There's quite a bit of bickering between the crew during their quest, which I found more annoying than smart. I was much more interested in the machinations of the Librarian trying to save the living, magic books of Unseen University. And, in the magic war reforming the Disc.

It ends with things a few things unresolved - but there are 36 more books in the series.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

An Irish Country Love Story by Patrick Taylor

When the doctor's house is damaged in an accident, politics become a big part of the Ballybucklebo story when Fingal is faced with demolition of the house he loves to make a safer roadway. It makes Kitty's desire for new curtains seem quaint.

Also in this 11th episode of the series, Barry is pining for his fiance who's teaching abroad in France. He keeps himself busy with model shipbuilding, along with looking for a cottage the pair can buy to begin their married life. We also get a new young lady doctor in the practice, but it's not smooth sailing with the new addition. And brother Lars is spending a LOT of time with the Lady Myrna.

I love this series, and I especially adore the audiobooks. This gentle, consuming community narrative came at a perfect time for me, as John Keating's lilting delivery is always a soothing, captivating experience.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Jazz Owls by Margarita Engle

A novel told in verse, this story bounces between multiple Los Angeles civilians during World War II who deal with shortages, soldiers, and working for the war.

Two teen girls who have dropped out of school work at the cannery during the day and dance with the soldiers in the evenings. Their younger brother acts as "chaperone" as he continues in school and seaches for his own place in the world. Their parents worry about all four of their children - the three here, plus an older son enlisted and deployed. Through their eyes, we learn about the real-life race riots between soldiers and Mexican-Americans.
It's a quick read - I read it in an evening. I'd heard good things about the book, which is why I picked it up, and I didn't realize it was poetry until it arrived. Each chapter is a different voice, and each is just a page or two. The changing viewpoints offer an interesting perspective on a complex subject - a true historical event that I didn't know about before. 
It would be a good youth discussion title. The kids in the story are younger than you'd think, dealing with very adult problems and concerns, due to the escalating tensions of wartime. And the racism they encounter would be an interesting comparison for modern discrimination.

Elevation by Stephen King

When a man starts losing weight (but not getting any smaller), he uses the strange situation to subtly affect change in his small town.

When we meet Scott, he's embroiled in a nasty disagreement with his lesbian restauranteur neighbors about their dogs pooping in his yard. He's super-busy with a big project for his website development business, but unhappily divorced and lacking human connections. He visits with a retired doctor about the weight problem, not because he thinks there's a cure but because he wants someone to confide in.

As his health problem becomes more extreme, Scott takes on "fixing" things with his neighbors as a project. A sort of quest, as you may.

I had a hard time starting this book - I actually read the first 30 pages twice, because I'd set it down for quite a while and had to begin again. But once I got into it, I was hooked. It's a modern parable about the "weight" of one person on a community. Bonus: I had no idea what would happen in the end!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

The ones you'd least suspect are the worst.

In this series of short stories, an elderly spinster moves about eliminating annoyances in her life by way of brutal murders. Of course, no one suspects the infirm, confused little old lady with the walker!

Packed into 170 pages, we learn about Maud's family pre- and post-war and how she ended up alone in the expansive, luxurious apartment. We learn about her career and her travels, and how over time she squirreled away the money to live freely through her 90s.

It's a very funny, tiny little book (about the size of my iPhone) and the perfect escapism - what could be happier than scot-free, sweeping revenge? Maud is my new literary hero.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Sixth grade was supposed to be different. But AJ's still short, still boring, and still invisible to the girl of his dreams. When he's paired with the lovely Nia for a class project, he begins adopting various characteristics of pop culture vampires to draw her attention.

I really enjoyed this middle-grade graphic novel with its mish-mash of vampire lore and all the angst 11-year-olds can inhabit. It wasn't as predictable as I'd feared, and I quite enjoyed the twists.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

While watching The Magnificent Seven at the local cinema, a young woman is struck by an idea. Nayeli and three friends set off on a quest (like all epic stories) to America to find seven men to return to their village and begin life there anew.

It's a fun, entertaining "road story" as the group encounters big cities, bus travel, new experiences, love and lust, illegal border crossing, American tourists, and much more.

While written in 2009, the story has some very timely elements. The Mexicans in the book have many, many opinions about migration from the south (and control of their southern border) along with simultaneous, opposing opinions about migration to the north and control of the northern border.

I'd highly recommend listening to this one: The book is an interesting blend of English and Mexican-Spanish - some translated, some left to inference - which made it a fantastic audiobook full of language and nuance and local flavor.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery by Mary Amato

An illegal ash-burying brings a new, modern soul into a closed, historic cemetery - the famous Baltimore Hall and Burying Ground where Edgar Allan Poe's remains reside. Once Lacy adjusts to what's happened, she's determined to make the most of her afterlife.

This is a fun book intended for teens, but it has cross-over appeal. Lacy's a modern poetry-loving dramatic teen and her adjustment to the mostly Victorian-era spirit society adds to the fish-out-of-water story. There's an unusual "mean girl" twist to the story, and the main drama is in winning over and conquering the clique that is the ruling class of the cemetery.

The book is structured like a play, and I think it could actually almost be performed as such, with a few dramatic special effects. If you don't know much about Poe you'll learn it, but the more you know the more laughs you'll find. The Raven is a great silent narrator - the only character that can cross over to communicate with both the living to the dead.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

The Disc's first female wizard was created nine years ago, accidentally, and now Granny Weatherwax is fighting to get Esk the instruction necessary to control her magic. With untrained magic, anything can (and does) happen.

This one's prime Pratchett, as he knocks tradition sideways with a new world order built around a strong, determined girl wizard and her tenacious witch mentor. Esk also befriends Simon, another wizard-to-be who's also got special talents.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

On his way to visit his father in the Canadian oil fields, the small plane carrying 13-year-old Brian veers off course and crashes. Up until that point, his parents' divorce was the biggest problem the "city slicker" boy had endured. Now, he must figure out how to survive.

I chose this one off The Great American Read list for the library's book discussion group. I'd never read it, and I had to do the audiobook because HELLO PETER COYOTE!

It's short - it's a juvenile book that checks in at about 200 pages and 3 hours of audio - but I was surprised by how quickly the ending snuck up on me. I got so used to survival mode that, like Brian, I maybe forgot that rescue was an option.

South of the Big Four by Don Kurtz

Arthur was an Indiana farm kid turned Great Lakes sailor, now grounded by a shipping slump. There's a deafening indifference to his hometown return, but he finds a job - then a mentor and friend - when he's hired by grain farmer Gerry Maars.

This novel reminded me of Kent Haruf's books - small stories under a big sky, where tough men work the earth. The continuity of fieldwork keeps Arthur in perpetual motion: picking, planting, plowing. But he's going nowhere, working the same spots over and over. The rest of his life is just as small.

Gerry's a gentleman farmer, councilman, community do-er and general man about town. But he's maybe not as important as he thinks he is (a big fish in a very small pond), and he's maybe not as smart as he believes, either. In Arthur, he finds solid help and an easy listener. Somebody to nod along and let him rant.

It's a story about the contrast between the two men, neither exactly what you expect at first glance. I enjoyed the gentle rhythm of the story and the beautiful writing. The bit of drama at the end surprised me, in a good way.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

An Irish Doctor in Love and At Sea by Patrick Taylor

I'm ten books into this series, but this one is my favorite in a while. 

While we revisit some of the same old haunts, in this book we get our first real look at the wartime love story of young Dr. Fingal O'Reilly and his nurse Diedre. We learn a lot about why the old doctor sometimes acts the way he does, and also that it may still be possible for personal growth.

There's a lot of the war in this book, and I didn't mind it at all. I always think it's interesting to get a non-American view of the European action, and the HMS Warspite sees some action that keeps the doctor hopping.

In the modern story arc, brother Lars gets a job that seems to be leaning into a fresh angle for future books, and there's a new Donald Donnelly dog scheme (and as they would say, it's a real corker!). Barry spends most of the book lurking darkly about the periphery, stewing about his absent fiance.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor

Since I just read Reservoir 13, I had to check this one out too - it's a continuation of the story, in the form of chapters interviewing specific community members about what they remember.

These are mostly characters we met in the novel, but now they each get to stretch out over an entire chapter each, telling their stories. Each is a stand-alone, but together they link up and tell us more about the community and the girl that went missing.

Without having read Reservoir 13, I think you can enjoy this as a series of short stories. With the previous book, it acts as an expansion and enhancement of a place you already know.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Mort by Terry Pratchett

Death takes an assistant: a bumbling kid from nowheresville with no real talent. When he's given a to-do list and a bit of responsibility, things don't go quite right because Mort falls for the supposed-to-die princess and alters the plan. But destiny isn't joking around.

It's a Shakespearean-style story with lots of twists, and fate, and love (or not). Pratchett is always very funny, but giving Death his own story - and mid-life crisis - allows a special kind of dark comedy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved by Kate Bowler

When a professor of religion gets cancer, there's some introspection. You may enjoy that, or not.

But the main reason to read this, anyway, are two appendices at the back: "Absolutely Never Say This to People Experiencing Terrible Times: A Short List" and "Give This a Go, See How It Works: A Short List."

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Every action in a small town issues ripples that reverberate farther and longer than one might imagine; in this book, the disappearance of a teenage girl affects the next 13 years of the village's seasonal cycles.

We've become accustomed to every event in a book leading to the next big reveal, which gives this book a strange, eerie electricity because nothing ever happens. Chapters are years, and paragraphs are generally months. It's a stream-of-conscious retelling of things, with no real emphasis put on more or less important events: the birds migrate, trees bud, the well gets decorated, kids go to school (or not), dogs are walked, marriages begin and end, and sex is had.

Which isn't to say it it's boring - I really enjoyed the ebb and flow of life in this small English village. It's a peaceful read, and I found it a relaxing wind-down at the end of my day.

This book was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2017 (which eventually went to Lincoln in the Bardo).

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente

You see lots of strange things at Comic-Con, and typically all the blood and gore are stagecraft. When a publishing exec dies dramatically in a bloody slide down the front staircase, however, the San Diego con kicks off like no other.

Our hero, fading comics artist Mike M, is a suspect (although he's innocent) and it looks like if he doesn't try to solve this, he may get railroaded. But he's also interested in networking (drinking) and drawing (making money) while he's in town. There's a lot to do, while avoiding trouble at every turn.

The con's like a circus come to town, and it both amplifies and exacerbates the drama of the story: When everyone's a monster or a hero, who can you trust?

I enjoyed this book - it's a fluffy bit of pop culture with a decent mystery element. There's a fun mix of real and fake comics, and true fans will have fun sorting out which is which.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Two outlaw brothers set off to gold-rush California in search of a man they're contracted to kill. But nothing's ever as easy as it seems.

Eli and Charlie Sisters are "brand-name" famous for their work; all they have to do is introduce themselves, and people blanch. But Eli has had enough, and is considering what his next life could look like: husband, shopkeep?

In the meantime, they're hunting down a man with a chemical formula that makes panning streams for gold child's play.

This is a dark comedy, that contrasts with flashes of shocking, stark violence. It's a remarkable, unforgettable novel and one of the best I've read in quite a while.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

There There by Tommy Orange

As the Big Oakland Powwow approaches, Native Americans of all kinds begin journeys to the event. Some travel only a few blocks, some come from across the country - and many have distances to cover that can't be measured in miles.

The multiple characters of this novel have their own stories (in separate chapters) but the closer we move toward the powwow's start, the more we see the lives are blended, woven, and interconnected: the local center's janitor, the event's emcee, a kid nervous for his first participation, an alcoholic on her way back home, local thugs with a plan.

From so many character's perspectives, the book gives an interesting look at what "being native" means in the 21st Century: some feel strongly about history and culture, and others are disconnected either purposely or through no fault of their own. There are rez Indians and urban Indians, some who immerse themselves in their ancestry, and some who can't identify with it at all. And while there are many familiar characters here, none feels cliched.

The story draws you right in, but it's not a light read; there's a melancholy and an impending doom to the whole thing. It's a fantastic, gripping read.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell

We're used to dark, sinister, slightly twisted fairy tales from Neil Gaiman. And the man never fails to delight.

This one's got a sleeping beauty sheltered by homicidal foliage, dwarves, crones, and a warrior queen along with amazing illustrations by Chris Riddell ... and a hell of a twist. It's short - at less than 75 pages - and wonderfully compact. Perfection.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

What if the fate of humankind rested on the skinny shoulders of a washed-up pop star?

When the rest of the galaxy discovers that Earth exists, we're forced to defend our sentience: Are we people, or are we meat? Based on a horrific past war and its time-tested truce agreement, the pre-ordained litmus test is, of course, an intergalactic singing-and-entertainment contest. Like Eurovision, but weirder.

This book a hilarious pop culture fest in the best kind of way.

It's also written in elaborate similes and Vegas-showgirl feathered headdress adjectives and expressively convoluted sentences that take lux vacations to exotic locales for up to half a page at a time and twist themselves inside out and backwards in a primitive mating ritual before they bleed out fuschia glitter and then expire. You'll either like that or hate it.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

In a return to modern Salem, Brunonia Barry's latest starts with a Halloween death, which sets afire rumors and speculation about witchcraft and occult. Callie, the daughter of a woman murdered 25 years earlier, returns to town amidst the media coverage connecting the tragedies.

Everybody's obsessed all over again with the "Goddess Murders" from 25 years ago: Three women died violently, a child was orphaned, and a respected local scholar required institutionalization for years due to mental upset. The crime was never solved, and it seems to be related to the current death.

Add in a love story or two, some strong personal demons to conquer, and a maybe-mystical-or-maybe-bunk storyline and this is a rich, complex story.

You don't have to have read Barry's other books to enjoy this one - although if you've read The Lace Reader or The Map of True Places you'll recognize the local citizenry.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

A gang of tough boys form their own kind of family in a world that doesn't accept them. Conflicts with the popular kids, avoidance of the law, and general poverty conspire to make life tough for a 14-year-old boy and his gang.

This is the book that's widely celebrated as introducing the genre of teen literature - before this, books were either for children or adults with nothing in between. I picked this one for the library's book discussion from The Great American Read's list because somehow I missed this as a teen. Stranger yet, I'd also never seen the movie. Got 'em both out of the way now!

I enjoyed the book, but it's dated. There's still plenty to talk about, and there are universal thoughts and discoveries to be found within ... but it's a piece of historical fiction since the kinds of discrimination and the conflicts in the book are downright quaint when compared with modern problems.

Friday, July 13, 2018

King Maybe by Timothy Hallinan

You don't double-cross a double-crosser, and nobody gets away with setting up thief Junior Bender. It's a good thing he's such a quick thinker, because this is a rare Bender book where he's not on his "A" game: he's targeted, burgles are bungled, and he's about to take a big fall. Plus, there are problems in paradise as his lady love, Ronnie, isn't speaking to Junior for much of the book.

I was prepared to say I didn't like this book, and then I actually really did love it. I thought maybe I was growing bored with Junior ... and then I loved the way this story twisted, turned and came around.

Hallinan does a great job with all the ancillary characters in his stories. I love the teenage wiz team of Anime and Lilli, and there's a whole high school drama substory to this book with Junior's daughter Rina. You'll love to hate the bad guys (or gals) in a story where some of the good guys are kind of bad guys.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin

Mona is 24, slightly unstable, bored, depressed, and adrift. Cleaning houses is the only thing she really knows how to do, but she doesn't mind the work because it offers lots of time to dream, imagine and think. Plus, she loves to vacuum.

After a brief affair with a man she meets volunteering at the needle exchange, she pulls a "geographic" and moves in search of a fresh start. Her transcendental neighbors try to help, and she finds diversion in the homes and lives of her customers.

I loved this book. Mona's hilarious, and she's got a rich, twisted inner life. You're rooting for her to get ahead, while also hoping she doesn't change because she's awesome (if a little fucked up).

A wonderful piece of contemporary fiction for those who don't have to have everything tied up in a bow at the end.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Arthur Less is a man who stumbles through his own life. He's a semi-successful writer with friends and lovers, but he's a bumbler more than a planner.

When an ex announces his wedding, Arthur decides to run away rather than deal with the pain. He agrees to every offer away from home: a lecture, an award ceremony, teaching, a sabbatical, an article, and more. Circumnavigation of the world (on someone else's dime) to avoid one small ceremony.

Every kind of travel mishap occurs - missed connections, miscommunications, illness, injury, near-death experiences - and yet Less keeps moving, keeps going, deals with it and moves on. Nothing really phases him, and nothing really ruffles him. Along the way, he attracts friends, lovers, and even quaint, harmless rivals.

I'm surprised by how under-the-radar this book has been, despite its Pulitzer Prize. It's engaging, both silly and heartwarming at the same time. I read it within just a few (busy) days because I was so engaged with the story. It's funny and smart, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

A teen with autism investigates the murder of a neighbor's poodle and learns way, way more.

We chose this for the library's book discussion group. I read this in 2003 when it came out - and I remembered that I loved it - but on reread I discovered that I remembered NOTHING about this book. So it was pleasantly like the first time all over again!

Since the book came out, there have been a lot of depictions of Aspergers and autism in books and TV and film, and I think the general public has a better understanding today. But I know that when I first read this book, Christopher's thoughts and perceptions were groundbreaking. I'm always fascinated by how other people's brains work, and this book gives amazing insight.

I loved it just as much the second time around, and now I'll even remember why I'm recommending it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris

Unlucky in love, on a chance hiking encounter Nora finally meets Mr. Wonderful ... except, he's an actual black bear.

Every relationship has its challenges, and this one is exactly like that. They work through the issues, work around the conflicts, and work together to make it fit. Her family is wary, and one friend disapproves while another becomes Bear's football-and-beer buddy.

This is a cute, funny, and totally relatable story (weird, right?). I want a sequel!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Summer of Jodi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

Fashion-obsessed teen Abby Ives is excited to start her summer internship at a trendy vintage-inspired boutique. Even though things are a little rocky at home right now, it's going to be a great summer.

And it will be ... but not in any of the ways she may have expected.

I absolutely LOVED this book! It's funny and realistic, and I had a hard time putting it down - I just wanted to spend more time with Abby and the gang.

Abby gets wrapped up in a friend-of-a-friend's quest to load a new app with the "best burger" info for Los Angeles - and ends up with a new buddy, along with a great way to avoid her mom's weird food. She also finds her first girlfriend, worries too much about how the world sees her, and learns a lot about fashion.

Highly, highly recommended. My favorite book of recent history.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Monkeys by Susan Minot

Balancing the all-seeing perspective yet limited understanding of youth, this novel (in the form of short stories) show us a New England family through the eyes of its seven children.

Each story moves us forward in time, eventually covering about 15 years. The stories mostly center around small, relatively commonplace occurrences - monumental life events happen outside the stories, though we see their impact through the changing interactions of the family.

It's a story from the perspective of the kids, without it being a children's book. With such a range in age, it's interesting to ponder the ways each Vincent child processes events like mother's tears, father's alcohol abuse, or the addition of another baby.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson with art by Warren Pleece

In this thought-provoking, dramatic graphic novel, a light-skinned African-American goes undercover to report on KKK activity and lynchings.

Though he's chafing about the lack of fame his job requires, Zane Pinchback is making a difference by reporting on the horrors of racism. And then it all strikes too close to home, reminding him exactly WHY this dangerous, secret work matters.

This is a fascinating premise, and the author's note explains his own history and inspiration. It's not the kind of book you "enjoy" reading, but it's very well done and incredibly captivating.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Bread & Butter by Michelle Wildgen

If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes working of restaurants, you'll love this one.

Brothers Leo and Britt run a popular restaurant in their hometown. Their younger brother Harry has just returned with the plan to start his own restaurant - edgier, hipper, newer. He's looking for their help - but do they want to give it? Might his failure be their success?

It's a relatively light novel that deals a lot with relationships: between the brothers, with their love lives, and as a family.

But there's a ton of food and menu planning and chef talk to keep foodies interested. And if you were ever unclear on how much work it takes to run a restaurant, you'll understand by book's end.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

In this wartime New York novel, a girl's life intersects repeatedly with that of a gangster nightclub owner.

Anna Kerrigan first encounters Dexter Stiles as a child, with her father Eddie in one of his shady business meetings. Year later - with Eddie long gone - Anna has become a Navy yard worker and encounters Dexter again in one of his clubs. It's a captivating story of a woman forced to grow up early and her desire to work outside the bounds of what "girls" were allowed to do.

But the story isn't just Anna's - it's told in turns by Dexter, Eddie, and Anna. Therefore, you get the backstory of how crime pays, how shady deals happen, and what motivates each of the men. You also get a couple perspectives on the Kerrigan family, who are anchored by Anna's adored and severely disabled sister. Interestingly, the audiobook is a multi-cast recording with three narrators.

The ending was maybe a little too neatly tied for my taste, but overall I enjoyed the book immensely. It's always interesting to ponder the lives of women in the past and the struggles they faced, especially those offered a bit of unusual freedom during the wars.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Eight Days on Planet Earth by Cat Jordan

An unusual girl shows up in the field next to Matt's house, waiting for her ride home - a field still famous 50 years later as the crash site for a UFO. Her story can't be true, but Matty can't seem to write her off as just another nutcase.

He may be falling in love. It may be teenage hormones. Or it might be merely a distraction from all the other things going on in Matty's life. But in any event, Priya has somehow captured his interest ... along with the undying devotion of his dog, Ginger.

I loved this book, mostly because I was never sure where it was headed.

Matty's perspective on the world shifts as he explains things to Priya - it gives him a new reason to reconsider the mundane. It also brings him back to the stars, something he once shared with his dad but has left abandoned of late.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Dublin Student Doctor by Patrick Taylor

I'm back to reading this "Irish Country" series. I got a few behind.

This one is told mostly in flashback - the "modern" 1960s story (about knock on the noggin for a familiar regular) is mostly a framing device for the reminiscence about Fingal's days in med school and his first romance with the pretty young nursing student Kitty O'Halloran.

I liked that this one shifted less back and forth, and left me longer in the storyline. It also filled in a lot of backstories, not just on the romance with Kitty, but with Fingal's dislike of the doctor in the next town over and also how he decided to become a general practitioner.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

While the crown prince's parents are fully consumed by the mission to find him a proper princess, Sebastian is sidelined with other secret pursuits. His alter-ego, Lady Crystallia, is the talk of the town with her vibrant hair and dramatic custom gowns. But he's secretly terrified what may happen when his proud, royal family discovers the dresses.

This is also a story about friendship, and about encouraging and supporting others to do and be their best. About self-discovery, and about doing what's best for you.

Plus, it's fun! It's a well-drawn graphic novel, beautifully illustrated and lavishly colored.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live By from the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron & Brendan McDonald

Sometimes all it takes to get through something is to know you're not alone. To know that somebody else has been there, and they lived. They made it through, and so can you. That's what this book is about.

I'm not a podcast listener, but I know a lot of my friends are. This book is culled from conversations on WTF with Marc Maron. Maron is a comedian and he interviews lots of other comedians, along with other pop culture celebrities like actors, writers, producers, musicians, and even a former president of the United States. And they open up about the most sensitive topics.

One look at the labels with which I tagged this post would lead you to believe it's a depressing book: childhood trauma, addiction, suicide. But it's actually a helpful, hopeful book with true stories and personal insights.

It would be a great book to dip into and out of, but I even found it hard to put down sometimes: I want to know more about what goes on in people's heads and how they've overcome their inner and outer demons.

You may just find the kernel of strength you didn't even know you were searching for.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

A clumsy 13-year-old gets a strange birthday gift from his long-gone parents, which is then stolen. That may be the last "normal" thing to ever happen to Al Smedry.

I picked this up on the recommendation of a former library employee - I'm not sure what he's trying to tell me here?!? Just kidding.

It's a fantasy sci-fi story which reveals to you that we're living in a world of limited information. Turns out the librarians have been holding us back through their throttling of available information, and there's actually a whole big world out there that's way more advanced than we are. And there's a war on to save us.

The book's intended for kids, but it's not written down to them and is just as enjoyable to an adult. It's funny and moves briskly. The omniscient narrator is the main character (just a few years more mature) and he's fond of popping in, breaking the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience, interrupting himself, and generally making a straight-forward battle story into a lively romp where you'll question your own prejudices and perspective.

I'm not sure I'll be reading the whole series, but I did enjoy the exposure to a whole new world.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon

I've already recommended this book to a TON of people, so you might as well just go out and get ahold of a copy now.

This book is chock full of short biographies, brief essays, interviews, quotes, and illustrated portraits. The women featured have all done amazing things, and none of them "made it" until they were well into adulthood (No child prodigy here! Some of them didn't even get started until they were 70+ years old). You'll know a bit about some of them, but you won't have heard of every woman featured (I spent a lot of time Googling while I was reading), and there's something in every story to fascinate.

And the takeaway is this: we regularly live to be 90+ in modern society, so what are you going to do with the 30+ years after "retirement"? Why are you waiting to start doing the things you really desire?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A Nigerian father's tyranny is robed in Catholic religious fervor, but how much right does it take to pardon what's wrong in this family?

I picked this book for our discussion group because it came up three times in a couple days in random conversations - it was like the universe was trying to tell me I needed to read it. So I did.

What an amazing book for discussion. There's the element of the unfamiliar: the foods and language and terms of Africa that are unexplained in the text (I spent time Googling while I was reading). The religious ideologies. Domestic and child abuse. The idea that the university's struggles mirror the government's issues.

It's a sad book, but very engaging. I read it in essentially one sitting, but have pondered it long after the final page.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dodgers by William Beverly

Four LA gang kids set off to kill a judge in Wisconsin, but that task is just the setup for a complex personal drama about gangs and personal growth. You can take the kid out of LA, but can you take the gang out of the kid?

East is a 15-year-old on a path to redeem himself to the kingpin after a raid and shootout at the drug house where he oversaw security. Making sure this hit goes perfectly would be proof of loyalty and trust, if only he could keep the rest of the team on task. The fact that the "gun" on this job is his estranged 13-year-old brother complicates things.

And complicate it does. I loved that there's no guessing what's going to happen next with this story - there's a twist at every turn. It's not a tough, violent gangsta story; it's more an internal story of East's evolving state of mind. He's got some decisions to make, and this roadtrip gives him some wide-open spaces to think.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben

It's the start of a revolution! When a protest against Walmart brings together a group of like-minded Vermonters, it's the start of a new movement toward secession and local decision making.

The merry band of rebels takes on small acts of rebellion against big government and big corporations, but find more trouble than they'd expected. The book mainly focuses on its fun group of radicals: a 19-year-old computer geek, a 72-year-old radio announcer and his 92-year-old mother, a former Olympian, and the very sexy Sylvia (who defies definition).

This book is for anyone frustrated by the current political climate and wishing for change. You can't really pull out of the United States, but the book will remind you there are smaller, local ways you can impact the greater good. For one: buy local beer!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Growing up mostly at his grandmother's house, J.D. Vance had a life similar to many others around him. It was only upon leaving (and in having the desire to leave) that he found out just how different his life in a poor Appalachian family was different from the rest of the United States.

This is certainly the kind of book that makes you think, and it's a great one to discuss (whether you agree or not) - we chose this for the library's book discussion group. There were plenty of copies available because this book was previously a "Go Big Read" title, where the University of Wisconsin gets everybody reading and talking about the same book. 

While there's a lot of sociology here, it's at heart a memoir and a family history. You know from the first page how J.D. has done, but you also spend the book's length cheering for his successes and perseverance.

It's a quick read, and more than once I paused to ponder things like the effects of childhood trauma on adult behavior, and the role of religion (aside from belief) in a community. I recommend it, at least as exposure to a different life.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

A full-planet reality reset on the Disc causes major chaos, as magic makes sure a failed magician with an important spell stays alive long enough to use it.

This one's an epic quest kind of novel: the guys have a mission (even if they don't know it), and they meet characters and fight battles on their way to the final goal. And Luggage shows what he's really made of!

I'm just sort of getting into the Discworld way of thinking - I've decided to read my way through them in the order they were written. They're funny and smart, with a deep philosophy that bears lingering analysis.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

A classic quest through the fairy world in search of a fallen star - you know, the best kind of Neil Gaiman story!

Read by the author, the story is an epic yarn: A half-fairy boy(who doesn't know he's anything but human) whimsically takes off on a journey to win the hand of his love. There he meets trees, lords, witches, a unicorn, the broken human incarnation of a celestial body, and sky pirates. I listened to this audiobook while quilting, and I have to say I completely lost track of time.

But in looking online, I discover the book version is richly illustrated ... so off to the library to track that down, too. Oh! And there's a movie? The best adaptation of a Gaiman in film?

Friday, February 2, 2018

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

A true, gripping family drama - and the interconnection of two families, farming the same soil in the American Delta in the 1940s. I picked this book up because the new movie's been getting a lot of buzz, and I always like to try to read the book first if I can manage. Now, I can't wait to see the movie!

Laura was a spinster whose family had given up on finding her a beau - until Henry came along. But things change rapidly in their young marriage when Henry buys the farm he's always dreamed about and moves them "temporarily" into the shack on the property. Can this city girl adapt to no running water, an outhouse, and more mud than a body could imagine? She quickly learns the hard truths about sharecropping and the inequities of poor farming in the South.

The other family in the story is the Jacksons - a black preacher and his family working the cotton fields of the farm. Florence comes to work to help Laura in the house, and their son Ronsel returns from fighting overseas in a tank during WWII.

The audiobook is a multicast recording, a stellar choice for a story told in six parts and across two very different families.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely

Told in alternating voices (and written by two stellar authors), this book offers an intense, interesting dual-view of police and race issues straight from the news.

Both are good boys, one white and one black. The main conflict arises from an innocent exchange, but leads to a shakeup in the entire community's perspectives. It was awesome to hear from both sides of an issue, to feel the conflict within different families and as individuals process the events.

We picked this one for an all-aged discussion at the library, and I'm sorry I had to miss talking about it - it's really a book you want to discuss.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

No pressure - it's just Adam's first holiday with the whole big family since he got out of rehab. He probably won't disappoint them in any new and dramatic fashion, right?

Meanwhile, an exhausted flight attendant ponders her own impending Thanksgiving celebration with the insufferable in-laws. Marissa and her husband are already arguing and it's probably not going to get better over dinner. But spending the day with her own family would be even worse.

The intersection of these two characters makes for a funny, sad, and completely engrossing story. You'll relate if you've ever made a snowballing series of poor decisions. These are people trying to do right, failing, and then wondering if it might be easier to just quit.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Catalina by Liska Jacobs

Elsa's life is a slow-speed trainwreck. She got fired after an affair with her NYC boss, so she's returned to California to spend every severance penny while popping pills, swilling drinks, and dragging everyone along for the shitshow.

I enjoyed the tension created by the band of walking disasters that includes Elsa, her ex-husband and his girlfriend, best friend Charly and her husband, and a rich asshole friend Tom who owns a boat. The gang decides to sail to Catalina for the jazz fest.

You know Elsa's going down in flames ... or can she be saved? She'll probably take somebody down with her - but who? There are several likely candidates.

It was a quick read, and highly enjoyable: A flit from drunk to stoned, from smash to crash to bellyflop.