Why I Picked It Up: Had a lovely fifteen minute conversation with the author at NCTE a few years ago, without having any idea who he was. After he left my friend said, "he won the National Book Award." Decided to check out what he'd written.
Why I Finished It: The homages to Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, et al. are hilarious to me and my wife, but my children think it's funny without knowing who any of those characters are. We went on to read the entire series, which just gets better and better.
@bookblrb: Three plucky teen heroes uncover an evil plot involving whales with exoskeletons.
A boy with a severe stutter takes over a friend’s paper route for the hot Memphis summer of 1959. His stutter is so severe that he will not say his own name, and will usually stick to short sentences and avoiding certain sounds. The route gives him the opportunity to meet people like TV Boy, a kid who sits really close to the television but is unresponsive when spoken to, Mrs. Worthington, a pretty Southern belle who appears to has problems with whiskey and her husband, and Mr. Spiro, a retired merchant marine with hundreds of books who takes a genuine interest in the boy and rewards their collection-night conversations with pieces of a dollar bill inscribed with single words. The boy’s family’s maidservant, an African American woman called Mam, warns him away from the local junk collector, Ara T., but the boy has already given him his knife for sharpening, which leads to a confrontation.
Why I picked it up: Every year a local middle school librarian creates a challenge list of fifty books for her students to read, and I like to keep up. I picked this up thinking it would be a good historical novel.
Why I finished it: It was. I loved the slow summer pace as the boy learned his job, dealt with his stutter, and met some really unusual people. Like the boy, I didn’t know what to think of Mrs. Worthington, but Mr. Spiro intrigued me, too. And the mysterious relationship between Mam and Ara T. fueled the conflict growing throughout the book.
Readalikes: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, because the narrator also feels lonely, in this case because her mother ran away and her father moved her to a new town. And both she and Paperboy’s protagonist grow up in Southern towns full of unforgettable characters.
@bookblrb: A boy with a severe stutter takes over a friend’s paper route in Memphis in the summer of 1959.
From the author of stunning debut The Mourning Hours comes a powerful new novel that explores every parent’s worst nightmare…
The Kaufmans have always considered themselves a normal, happy family. Curtis is a physics teacher at a local high school. His wife, Kathleen, restores furniture for upscale boutiques. Daniel is away at college on a prestigious music scholarship, and twelve-year-old Olivia is a happy-go-lucky kid whose biggest concern is passing her next math test.
And then comes the middle-of-the-night phone call that changes everything. Daniel has been killed in what the police are calling a “freak” road accident, and the remaining Kaufmans are left to flounder in their grief.
The anguish of Daniel’s death is isolating, and it’s not long before this once-perfect family finds itself falling apart. As time passes and the wound refuses to heal, Curtis becomes obsessed with the idea of revenge, a growing mania that leads him to pack up his life and his anxious teenage daughter and set out on a collision course to right a wrong.
An emotionally charged novel, The Fragile World is a journey through America’s heartland and a family’s brightest and darkest moments, exploring the devastating pain of losing a child and the beauty of finding the way back to hope.
Melody is the new girl in town. She hasn’t made any real life friends, but finds comfort in her dreams where she plays with a giant, bow-tie-wearing monster.
Why I picked it up: The cover of this book shows a small girl riding on a huge beast as they fly over a lake of flowers. I was totally drawn in by this soft, inviting world and couldn't wait to find out what was going on there.
Why I finished it: Melody has a consistent and memorable dream life she returns to every night. And better yet that she is able to share it with another person when a school friend sleeps over.
It's perfect for: Isabelle, who had a hard time at school until she found a way to express herself, and would be inspired by the colors (they seem to glow) to make cool drawings of her own.
@bookblrb: Melody finds comfort in her dreams where she plays with a giant, bow-tie-wearing monster.
From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a masterfully written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.
Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of a dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the ‘70s, to the crack wars in ‘80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the ‘90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.??
“An amazing novel of power, corruption and lies. I can’t think of a better one I’ve read this century.”—Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting
“James is masterful at inhabiting a variety of voices and dialects, and he writes unflinchingly about the violence, drug-fueled and coldblooded, that runs through [Jamaica’s] ghettos....James’ fiction thus far is forming a remarkable portrait of Jamaica in the 19th and 20th centuries.”—Kirkus Reviews
The fraternity system at Dartmouth college was the inspiration for the movie Animal House. According to Lohse’s memoir, things have not changed much. Lohse spent his freshman year there trying to be accepted into a fraternity, a year full of hazing that would disgust almost anyone. Lohse remembers wondering whether he had made a mistake the night he became a brother in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) house. He was confused enough that he even helped manage pledges for the next year, which soon was out of control, mean-spirited, and utterly depraved.
Lohse eventually ended up suspended from Dartmoth for using cocaine. At home a crisis of the soul ensued and Lohse, a reporter for a campus paper, decided to write about his experiences to try to change things. After that article ended up in Rolling Stone, Lohse received threats and insults from quite a few people who were sure he was trying to bring down the Greek system.
Why I picked it up: I have been a sucker for yellow journalism since I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I love the exposés where the author pulls back a curtain for the reader.
Why I finished it: The juicy tidbits about hazing. Pledges had to drink beer that had been poured down the butt crack of another pledge. Throwing up and then continuing to drink was expected. One day pledges were told to be at the thirteenth hole of the golf course at a certain time with lubricated condoms, a large uncooked vegetable, women's underwear, and other items. They were careful to choose veggies that were "non-assable" because they knew what they might be in for. On another occasion they each had to drink a gallon of milk, vomit on one another, bury the clothes they were wearing, and dig them up a week later and wear them again.
It's perfect for: My son Stephen, who is going off to college in the fall of 2014. He has chosen (so far) not to drink or participate in any heavy partying. I think this memoir would be an eye-opener for him.
@bookblrb: Lohse’s memoir of the out of control, mean-spirited, depraved hazing required to get into a frat at Dartmouth.
From the author of The Summer Prince, a novel set at an elite Washington D.C. prep school.
Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC's elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.
Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus--something about her parents' top secret scientific work--something she shouldn't know.
The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.
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Queen Victoria is too hot! She's weighed down by petticoats, and the weather is sweltering, but it just wouldn't do to go for a swim. What if one of her subjects saw her knees? Her loving husband and a swarm of their enthusiastic children build a contraption to allow her to change and swim in privacy.
Why I picked it up: I love the crazy ingenuity in the service of modesty that created the Victorian era bathing machine, a changing room you could wheel right into the sea!
Why I finished it: The royal family was chaotic and loving and busy in the very homey Osborne House. It was the opposite of the pink perfect sparkly princesses in majestic castles that fill other books about royalty. They seemed like they would be fun to vacation with.
It's perfect for: My list of picture books based on real historical research, though this one is a pretty loose and fun interpretation of the truth. I use them to inspire students preparing for their History Day projects. There are notes at the end of this book about the Queen, her family, and her homes along with a list of recommended books about her life for kids and adults and a link to Queen Victoria’s extensive diaries!
@bookblrb: Queen Victoria can’t simply go for a swim. So her husband builds her a contraption to give her some privacy.
Bird and Squirrel are back and ready for adventure!
After Bird and Squirrel crash land in the South Pole during a raging blizzard, a penguin named Sakari thinks Bird has come to rid her village of a hungry Killer Whale. But when Squirrel finds out that Bird will actually be fed to the Killer Whale as a sacrifice, they hatch a crazy plan to escape. With a good timing, a little luck, and help from Sakari, they just might make it out alive. Or they might end up as whale food!
As a young actor, Cary Elwes got a chance to work with director Rob Reiner for one of his first big roles, Westley in The Princess Bride. It was a bonus that the movie was based on one of his favorite books. This is the story of how the movie came together with serendipitous casting, a fantastic location, a screenplay that several career actors said was their all-time favorite, and a director who had just the right touch.
Why I picked it up: I fell under the spell of The Princess Bride when I watched it on VHS. There are numerous quotable lines in the movie, my favorite of which is still: "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
Why I finished it: It was full of the kind of behind-the-scenes anecdotes I was hoping for. Elwes talks quite a bit about the gentle Andre the Giant. Yes, he could drink 100 beers a night, and he used a pitcher for a glass -- because of his acromegaly, he weighed 540 pounds and stood 7'4" tall -- but that information can be found elsewhere. Only here could I find out about the plus-sized fart Andre loosed on the actors and crew on the set. The soundman had to hurriedly remove his headphones, lest his listening gear hurt his ears. In a scene where Elwes is knocked out with the pommel of a sword, the anxious stuntman conked him so hard he really did black out. And I’m sure all directors struggle to bring films in on time and on budget, but Rob Reiner was particularly distressed when he learned that his English crew had two contractual breaks for tea time each day.
It's perfect for: My niece Lily, who loves the movie’s sword fights. Elwes broke his big toe right before one of the scenes (he was riding Andre the Giant’s four-wheeler). After she reads this book, Lily will look for Elwes’ limp, and that will make watching this film even more fun for her.
@bookblrb: A behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Princess Bride, including lots of Andre the Giant anecdotes.
A.K. Summers’ graphic novel memoir about her time as a pregnant butch lesbian, originally serialized on ACT-I-VATE. After she’s made the decision to get pregnant, her world view changes -- she starts to see men as “buckets of semen...sloshing around.” A friend accepts the invitation to be the sperm donor, but he can’t get away fast enough after doing his business alone in the bathroom. Then it’s on to the pregnancy and everything it entails, such as having to come out to friends as pregnant, enduring questions and commentary (real and imagined) on her sexuality and masculinity, and the fact that folks on the subway treat her like she’s a fat guy (no one gives her a seat).
Why I picked it up: On the back cover, Summers draws herself as a pregnant Tintin wearing fuzzy slippers.
Why I finished it: In the introduction, it was clear that Summers was going to avoid all the Hallmark clichés and get right to the dirt on the whole experience. This resonated with my second-hand experience watching my wife endure the discomfort and pain of pregnancy. Summers ultimately shows that it’s all worth it, but it reminded me of everything my wife went through in such detail, including all the vomiting, the weight gain, and having our birth plan fall apart, so I’m not sure I’d recommend the book to my wife yet. (It’s only been twelve years. Maybe I’ll give it to her in another twelve.)
It was also a great window into a world beyond my own. Doctors’ standard questions don’t apply to everyone. (“What birth control do you use?”) The high cost of second parent adoption. The weirdness of being in a birth class with all of its clichéd gender rolls (and what her dream class would look like).
Readalikes: Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir, Fun Home, which also deals with gender identity and sexuality.
@bookblrb: A.K. Summers’ graphic novel memoir about when she was a pregnant butch dyke.
Ben Benjamin spent years as a househusband, but after a separation from his wife he knows he needs to pick up new skills to support himself. He enrolls in a class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving and finds a job as a caretaker for Trevor, a boy with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Trevor is angry about his condition and lashes out at everyone who wants to help, but Ben and Trevor manage to settle into a routine. When Trevor's father falls ill, he and Ben take a cross country road trip to see him.
Why I picked it up: My book group proposed it, and I was intrigued by the title.
Why I finished it: This book goes far beyond a road trip story or a book about family issues. It is funny and poignant. Its strange cast of characters, the mysterious car that follows them, the fist fight, and the birth of a baby all kept me reading long into the night. Trevor's horny comments about the TV weather reporters and girls at the mall ("look at the turd cutter on her!") along with his knowledge of sexual positions had me constantly running to Urban Dictionary and laughing out loud.
Readalikes: Evison's portrayal of a serious issue in a novel infused with humor reminded me of Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany. Owen Meany is sarcastic like Trev, but still endearing, and there are strong similarities in the narratives. The road trip in this book pulls the reader along to the inevitable reveal of the tragic accident at the heart of Ben's divorce. In Owen Meany, the compulsive need to practice a showy basketball dunk eventually reveals itself to be much more.
@bookblrb: Benjamin becomes a caretaker for a boy named Trevor and takes him on a cross country trip to see Trevor’s father.
A man in Chicago becomes friends with a homeless guy who lives in the doorway of a nearby abandoned building. He meets more of the street people in his neighborhood and starts hanging out with them, drinking and bullshitting.
Why I picked it up: I was looking around Lazy Fascist’s website after Ang reviewed Broken Piano For President. This was their newest release. Then a week later I came across a copy at AWP, and the woman at the booth told me how great it was.
Why I finished it: The conversations reminded me of one of my favorite parts of working in a library: talking with and overhearing people, particularly the drunk and mentally ill. Their words are sometimes slurred and difficult to understand.They talk about profound issues and nothing at all. They have a way of seeing the world where their lives and lifestyles make sense to them.
I know in the library we all have code names for our “favorite” patrons. And just like the folks in the library, Pink’s characters have weird nicknames. Spider-Man is my favorite; he not only loves superheroes, he makes up new ones. His poetic explanation of Ice Man captures some of the fun of listening in on his conversations: “Shing shing. Gotta be kiddin me. Got Ice powers. Shing shing. Boosh.”
It's perfect for: Rodney, one of my Judo teachers, who is always telling me how tougher Chicago is than Seattle. He’d agree with the narrator’s sentiment that “75% of conversations in Chicago seemed to involve whooped ass.”
@bookblrb: A Chicago man bullshits and drinks with the street people in his neighborhood.