Buck Schatz is a retired homicide detective in Memphis. He leads a normal life, taking a bunch of medication in the morning with his coffee and visiting the Jewish community center when he doesn't have anything else to do. Most of his time is spent at home with his sensible wife, Rose.
One day Rose gets a phone call from Emily, Buck's friend’s daughter. Buck doesn’t want to talk to her, but Rose bullies him into it. He visits Emily's dying father, Jim, in a geriatric intensive care unit. Jim tells Buck about the Nazi who had tortured Buck when they were in the service. Buck assumed the man was dead, but Jim has a deathbed confession to make: he let the man slip through a roadblock he was guarding because the Nazi handed him a gold bar, and he never said anything to anyone.
Buck and his grandson, Tequila, go for the Nazi and his gold. Soon after they start, people around them start dying.
Why I picked it up: I love old people. I think they are hilarious, and I love listening to their stories. When I read the title, I was instantly pissy. Was it just another story badmouthing old people?
Why I finished it: It wasn’t, and it made me laugh. Buck is completely unpredictable. When Jim’s daughter drives him home from visiting her father, she’s visibly upset. Buck thinks she needs a hug, but decides against it because her watery eyes and runny nose make him worry about catching cold. He thinks, “Any illness might send me right back to where I just left.”
One beautiful thing in the story is Buck and Rose's marriage. She is the one who makes him appear normal to the world. She is the one who makes him do the things people should do despite the fact you don't want to -- attending funerals, accepting dinner invitations, etc. He resists, but always gives in. I thought it was very cute the way she could convince him to do the right thing with one special look.
It's perfect for: Those like me who love upbeat, character-driven TV shows about cops. This starts with a case which is gradually complicated by more and more people getting involved, like many shows do. As Buck starts putting clues together, he and his family come under threat, and just as things are about to get super ugly everything is cleared up and the problem is solved. There was a reward at the end not only for Buck but for me as a reader as well.
@bookblrb: A retired detective goes after the Nazi who once tortured him.
A haunting coming-of-age story about a young outcast as she sets out on a journey to find her long-lost father, who can tell her why she does the bad thing she does.
Maren Yearly is a young woman who wants the same things we all do. She wants to be someone people admire and respect. She wants to be loved. But her secret, shameful needs have forced her into exile. She hates herself for the bad thing she does, for what it’s done to her family and her sense of identity; for how it dictates her place in the world and how people see her--how they judge her. She didn’t choose to be this way.
Because Maren Yearly doesn’t just break hearts, she devours them. Ever since her mother found Penny Wilson’s eardrum in her mouth when Maren was just two years old, she knew life would never be normal for either of them. Love may come in many shapes and sizes, but for Maren, it always ends the same—with her hiding the evidence and her mother packing up the car.
But when her mother abandons her the day after her sixteenth birthday, Maren goes looking for the father she has never known, and finds much more than she bargained for along the way.
Faced with a world of fellow eaters, potential enemies, and the prospect of love, Maren realizes she isn’t only looking for her father, she’s looking for herself.
Camille DeAngelis has written an astonishingly original coming-of-age tale that is at once a gorgeously written horror story as well as a mesmerizing meditation on female power and sexuality.
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One evening Ellie’s mother brings a guest home. It is Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin Herbert Sagarsky, PhD, a research scientist. But he is no longer the old man who nitpicked his daughter about her house, clothes, and career. Now he is a long-haired teenager. Melvin has discovered the secret to reversing the aging process. He has the Nobel prize in the bag if he can get back to his laboratory and reproduce the results. The problem is no one there recognizes him, so they won’t let him in.
In the meantime, Melvin attends Ellie’s middle school. As they spend their days together, she becomes fascinated with science. Melvin shows her the passion with which he investigates the world. He tells her, “Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible.”
Why I picked it up: The book’s subtitle is “Believe in the Possible”, which made me hope that for once there would be a YA book rooted firmly in reality without mythological creatures such as vampires, zombies, or rigidly defined high school cliques.
Why I finished it: The fun interactions between Melvin and Ellie. He is cantankerous and constantly hungry, and also constantly piquing her interest about science. Ellie is a girl who loves puzzles and experimental pancake recipes, so she takes to it naturally. She ends up researching Jonas Salk, Robert Oppenheimer, and Marie Curie.
Readalikes: This made me reminisce about the Danny Dunn books I read as a kid. Danny lived with Professor Bullfinch, who was always inventing things like invisibility machines and shrink rays, leading to crazy adventures. There were fifteen books written from the 50’s to the 70’s, and sadly they are now all out of print.
@bookblrb: Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin, reversed aging and turned himself into a teenager but can’t get into his lab.
A brilliant, debut coming-of-age novel about a misanthropic young man learning to love, trust and truly be alive in an absurd world
This is the story of Billy Kinsey, heir to a lottery fortune, part genius, part philosopher and social critic, full time insomniac and closeted rock drummer. Billy has decided that the best way to deal with an absurd world is to stay away from it. Do not volunteer. Do not join in. Billy will be the first to tell you it doesn’t always work— not when your twin sister, Dorie, has died, not when your unhappy parents are at war with one another, not when frazzled soccer moms in two ton SUVs are more dangerous than atom bombs, and not when your guidance counselor keeps asking why you haven’t applied to college.
Billy’s life changes when two people enter his life. Twom Twomey is a charismatic renegade who believes that truly living means going a little outlaw. Twom and Billy become one another’s mutual benefactor and friend. At the same time, Billy is reintroduced to Gretchen Quinn, an old and adored friend of Dorie’s. It is Gretchen who suggests to Billy that the world can be transformed by creative acts of the soul.
With Twom, Billy visits the dark side. And with Gretchen, Billy experiences possibilities.
Billy knows that one path is leading him toward disaster and the other toward happiness. The problem is—Billy doesn’t trust happiness. It's the age he's at. The tragic age.
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Make no mistake, Shady Characters is not a usage manual. It features neither staid nor shrill examples of how to punctuate or not punctuate. It is not comprehensive, although the breadth of coverage is breathtaking. What is in this book are the wide-ranging stories of how these symbols were born, and how they developed in form and usage over time. Each chapter focuses on an individual symbol or a set of them, including the pilcrow (¶) (whose absence became the indent at the start of paragraphs), the born-in-1962 interrobang (?), the oddly named octothorpe (#), and two types of ampersand (&). There's even a tripartite chapter on the ongoing efforts to denote irony and sarcasm, despite the fact that attempts to do so go back about four centuries. Houston's judgment is so acute hyphens and dashes (there are many types) have their own chapters!
The conversational, yet erudite text is accompanied by heavily footnoted references. (Houston wrote a chapter on asterisks (*) and daggers (†), and he clearly knows how to use them.) There’s a short, annotated bibliography and an astounding sixty-eight pages of citations and examples for those wanting to follow up.
Why I picked it up: The red cover and the title screamed out to me as I cruised by the Books For Writers shelf at Mysterious Galaxy.
Why I finished it: Houston writes with joy and deep understanding. He integrates the stories of the scholars, writers, printers, and readers who used, modified, adopted, or created these symbols. Technological changes and practical issues of the day also show: the asterisk and octothorpe made their way onto telephone keypads because they, unlike the Bell System's original choice of symbols, were also on typewriter keyboards, which made writing instructions that much easier. The pilcrow's renaissance from its retreat into legal documents comes from being an oft-revealed “hidden character” in modern word processing programs. It even decorates the “button” I'd press in the software I write with to reveal the hidden characters! WEVECOMEALONGWAYFROMWRITINGINALLCAPSWITHNOSPACES.
It's perfect for: The Training and Volunteer Coordinators at a non-profit where I volunteer, because they are always being asked to create attractive and distinctive documents and signs. They'd be thrilled by the example of one scholar who used an octopus instead of a pointing hand in place of a manicule.
@bookblrb: Stories of how punctuation symbols were born and developed.
A young dream walker must save the world from certain destruction one dream at a time, in this riveting debut from an exciting new talent in young adult fiction.
Unlike most 17-year-olds, Joshlyn Weaver has a sacred duty. She's the celebrated daughter of the dream walkers, a secret society whose members enter the Dream universe we all share and battle nightmares. If they fail, the emotional turmoil in the Dream could boil over and release nightmares into the World.
Despite Josh's reputation as a dream walking prodigy, she's haunted by her mistakes. A lapse in judgment and the death of someone she loved have shaken her confidence. Now she's been assigned an apprentice, a boy whose steady gaze sees right through her, and she's almost as afraid of getting close to him as she is of getting him killed.
But when strangers with impossible powers begin appearing in the Dream, it isn't just Will that Josh has to protect--it's the whole World.
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Crankee Doodle is bored. “We could go to town,” suggests Pony. Crankee Doodle is not about to engage in any such frivolities. He hates going to town! One by one, all of Pony’s suggestions (“We could go shopping!” “You could buy a feather for your hat!” “You could call it macaroni.”) are rejected in a series of foot-stamping, arm-waving tirades dismissing the people in the town, the junk in the stores, feathers, macaroni, and ugly hats.
Why I picked it up: It was recommended by a fellow librarian who thought that a book filled with tantrums and petulance sounded like my kind of read-aloud.
Why I finished it: The rationale behind calling a feather in one’s cap “macaroni” was finally revealed, and met with what I assume to be the funniest pasta-based rant in the history of picture books. It concludes with a charming twist, plus there are endnotes about the song “Yankee Doodle” voiced by the extremely enthusiastic pony (“That’s me! I’m a pony!”) which add historical context.
Readalikes: For more history-based giggles in tricorne hats, pair this with John, Paul, George and Ben by Lane Smith. The outbursts in The Duckling Gets A Cookie!? by Mo Willems are also comically overblown.
@bookblrb: Pony tries to suggest things to do, but the extremely bored Crankee Doodle rejects all of his ideas.
In Jane Casey's second YA mystery, 16-year-old Jess Tennant gets in over her head when she decides to find out who beat her classmate almost to death, and what he did to deserve such retribution.
Jess Tennant has now been living in a tiny town on the English seaside for three months, and is just beginning to relax and think of it as home after the traumatic events of last summer. But in the small hours of Halloween night, a teenage boy is left for dead by the side of the road. Seb Dawson has a serious head injury and may not survive. Jess might not have liked Seb much, but surely he didn’t deserve this. The police don’t seem to be taking the attack very seriously, but Jess can’t just let it go, and she takes matters into her own hands.
As she investigates, Jess discovers that Seb was involved in some very dangerous games. A secret predator around girls, he would do whatever it took to abuse them, from lying and blackmail to spiking drinks. Could a group of vengeful victims be behind his attack? Or is there someone else with a grudge against Seb, who will stop at nothing to silence him?
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This picture book takes us on a trip with chef Alice Waters in her pursuit of fresh, locally grown ingredients and convivial culinary pursuits in her restaurant Chez Panisse and her school gardening and cooking programs. This is a story to inspire everyone to grow and enjoy more of our own foods.
Why I picked it up: I was not quite sure what was meant by a "Trip to Delicious," but was intrigued by Hayelin Choi's cover illustration of a red-haired explorer clutching a telescope and map, peering out from a green VW Beetle piled ridiculously high with fish, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
Why I finished it: As Jacqueline Briggs Martin tells it, Alice Waters has always been in search of “Delicious,” a tasty term for a satisfying combination of flavors and friends. At age three Alice dressed up in a vegetable-themed costume topped with a crown of asparagus. In college she traveled to France and studied food (not books) and learned that "wonderful food was like a symphony that woke people up, made them happier." Returning to the U.S. Alice prepared amazing meals with friends, leading her to start her restaurant. This in turn sent her in search of delicious local suppliers of the freshest seafood, vegetables, and fruits. Raising her own daughter to enjoy simple, fresh, and delicious food, Waters decided to inspire the joy of gardening, cooking, and sharing with school-aged kids. The growing interest in school gardens and cooking with kids provides a delicious ending to this story, which inspires me to continue gardening with students at my school.
Readalikes: Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s enthusiasm for gardening-as-community-nourishment is evident in Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, the story of pro basketball player turned urban farmer Will Allen putting down roots in Detroit.
@bookblrb: A trip with chef Alice Waters in her pursuit of fresh, local ingredients for her restaurant and her school programs.
A young ballet dancer finds her own way to dance with a deer in the forest.
Why I picked it up: Gene handed it to me. But I decided to read it because it reminded me of my days growing up in Montana and dancing in meadows when no one was watching (at least that I know of).
Why I finished it: It rang true. The girl loves dancing, but she’s worried that she doesn’t move like her teacher. This is exactly what dancers (like me) analyze every day of our training and strive to perfect.
It's perfect for: My youngest niece, Morgan. I made her a tutu for Christmas, and since then have received many photos of her dancing in the kitchen.
@bookblrb: A young ballet dancer doesn’t move like her teacher, but she finds her own way to dance.
Two four-limbed friends, one red and one blue, fight over a peanut (even though they don’t know what it is).
Why I picked it up: I love peanuts.
Why I finished it: This book is totally simple. There’s a photograph of a peanut and two cartoonish bits of color. But Rickerty gets a ton of character out of the creatures eyes and “legs,” the colors, and uses that peanut for all its worth. He even creates one of the easiest-to-draw villains ever.
@bookblrb: Two four-limbed, cartoonish bits of color fight over a peanut.
It's 2027, and Sally Mitchell is just one of millions of humans who has benefitted from the groundbreaking work of SymboGen. They created the Intestinal Bodyguard, a genetically modified parasite that lives inside the body and defends it against illness and disease. Sally’s tapeworm helped her survive an otherwise fatal car crash six years ago, making her SymboGen’s poster child despite her total amnesia following the accident. Getting sick is basically obsolete, until an unknown “sleeping sickness” starts to affect perfectly healthy bodies, turning them into violent walking dead-type creatures. Sally and her parasitologist boyfriend begin to question the true nature of the tapeworms, and whether SymboGen has something more sinister to hide.
Why I picked it up: Mira Grant is the pen name for Seanan McGuire, and I'm a huge fan of her October Daye audiobooks. I've been meaning to listen to some of her science fiction novels for some time.
Why I finished it: The horror is twofold: people are lost to the zombie-like sleeping sickness, but far more terrifying are the scientists and doctors who have been performing tests on unknowing subjects. I became increasingly unnerved by one of the good guys as her lab work crossed ethical boundaries for the sake of science. The narration is addictive, too, and Lakin does a fantastic job voicing one particular character, Tansy, who is delightfully childlike but will make your blood run cold.
It's perfect for: Megan, who loves novels that interweave fictional books into the plot (there's a great list of them on wikipedia). Grant has created a fictional children's book called Don’t Go Out Alone that plays a subtle, key role in figuring out the identity of one of the characters. Quotes from it introduce chapters and foreshadow plot twists. After reading bits and pieces, Megan will wish that it was an actual published story.
@bookblrb: A modified parasite protects humans against disease, but then turns healthy people into violent creatures.