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The Misadventures Of The Family Fletcher

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by rosie tagged coming of age

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@bookblurb A mixed family's attempts at diplomacy with their grumpy neighbor go very wrong.

Punk Farm

Link to this review by emilyjones tagged picture book

At the end of a long work day, Farmer Joe is ready to call it quits, but the night is just beginning for cow, sheep, pig, goat, and chicken. They’ve got a punk rock show to perform, and need to tune their instruments and rehearse before the rest of the animals arrive. Once the lights go down, sheep asks the crowd, “Who’s ready to rock?!” The crowd goes wild.

Why I picked it up: May is New Zealand Music Month, and this was part of the display promoting participation at my local library in Auckland. Farm animals in shades, plus the cow’s cowbell on a chain necklace, looked too fun to resist.

Why I finished it: The variations on Old MacDonald add new life to the traditional verses, and I can imagine how much kids would enjoy a chicken saying “beep beep.”  The author also includes details that grownups will enjoy, like the horse giving hand stamps at the barn door, a mosh pit, and scrapbook style end-pages featuring ticket stubs and scribbled lyrics.

It’s perfect for: Marcy, who occasionally has to step in for last-minute story times at her library. This is a great go-to because the pictures will appeal to everyone, and the unexpected lyrics will encourage children to think of other silly things animals on Old MacDonald’s farm might say.

@bookblurb Cow, sheep, pig, goat, and chicken rock out after a long day on the farm.

The Other Typist

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged historical fictionmystery

Rose, an orphan raised by strict nuns in the early 20th century, is justly proud of her position as a typist in a New York City police precinct where she transcribes confessions and interrogations. Careful and judgmental, Rose is at first put off by the glamorous new girl at work, Odalie. Soon enough, however, Rose is drawn into Odalie’s world of speakeasies, hotel living, and flapper-girl glamour, with consequences a good girl should have learned to avoid.

Why I picked it up: It looked like the love child of The Great Gatsby and Gone Girl.

Why I finished it: Though the story starts a bit slowly, Rose’s trip down the primrose path picks up steam in short order, and by two-thirds in, it’s unputdownable. Packed with intrigue, betrayal, and maybe even murder, the story left me — and its unreliable narrator, Rose — wondering exactly what was true.

It’s perfect for: My friend Sue, who likes her beach reads with a little meat on them. Rose’s story could be pulp fiction, but the historical setting and the way Odalie messes with her head, making her believe things that aren’t true, give it a literary air.

@bookblurb A police typist is drawn into a co-worker's world of speakeasies, hotel living, and flapper-girl glamour.

My Sister's Stalker

Link to this review by robert tagged mysterycoming of age

Ringgold “Rig” Ebro and his older sister Karma were split between their parents after the divorce. Rig went to live with their artist mother in the big city, while Karma stayed with their CEO father in the small town where they grew up. Karma has since gone to college, and Rig wants to reconnect, but since Karma’s not picking up his phone calls, he decides to Google her. On page two of the search results, after minor community theater notices and violin recital pictures, Rig comes across a tribute page full of unsettling pictures, not just candid shots but photos of his sister taken with a hidden camera. When Rig brings this to his mother’s attention, she dismisses it as a romantic secret admirer, not a possessive and obsessed stalker. Rig takes the bus and surprises his take-charge father. He is as alarmed as Rig; he gets the police involved and even charters a plane to get himself and Rig to Karma. In the end it’s Rig who, to his own surprise, takes charge of a stake-out, and later gets an adult to help him follow up a slender lead as his sister’s situation grows more dire.

Why I picked it up: I’ve recently read several books by Nancy Springer and enjoyed them, but they were period pieces with female protagonists. I wanted to see how she handled a contemporary setting with a teen boy in the lead.

Why I finished it: Springer handles it all with verve, skill, and insight. The dialog is strong, and the characters, even such seeming stereotypes as Rig’s masculine, domineering father and his optimistic New Age mother, all develop and grow. The pacing is taut, the plot engrossing, and the situation eventually reaches maximum creepiness.

It’s perfect for: My youngest nephew and oldest niece. They’d appreciate how Rig bests his poor self-esteem by repeatedly proving his worth to the only judges he really cares about, his family.

@bookblurb After Rig discovers his sister is being stalked at college, he takes charge to try to protect her.

The No World Concerto

Link to this review by wally tagged literary

An aging professor leaves his post in disgrace and takes up his former career as a screenwriter. Once he settles in and begins work on a new screenplay, he meets the girl whose presence in his life caused all the trouble. She is a talented concert pianist playing the experimental work of a brilliant composer, but she chafes at the demands of the composer, the young conductor, and her own business-minded mother. One night, she, the composer, the conductor, and the screenwriter visit a hypnotist who makes her believe she is a great novelist. She begins to write, but she must face her fear of being followed and her beliefs that there are no coincidences, life is a game, and nothing exists.

Why I picked it up: The blurb on the back declared this one of the top ten Spanish-language novels of the decade, and described it as a many-layered puzzle. 

Why I finished it: Just a few pages in, it becomes clear that none of the main characters are ever going to be named, that Wittgenstein’s philosophy permeates the characters, and that even the narrator’s identity is unclear as the viewpoint shifts back and forth between the screenwriter and the girl.

This novel was a challenge because it mesmerized me with its repetitions (the tapping of the screenwriter’s cane when he is upset, the re-appearance of peripheral characters), occasionally changed its point of view mid-paragraph, and sometimes because it completely surprised me.

It’s perfect for: Daniel, who loves Roberto Bolaño (the late, great Mexican experimentalist who wrote in partnership with Porta), and who would love how Porta pushes the limits of language by repeating a sentence word for word in utterly different contexts and introducing major elements offhandedly. The novel builds like a symphony and comes crashing down at the end.

@bookblurb An aging professor returns to screenwriting. A young pianist is hypnotized into believing she’s a novelist.

Harlan Ellison's Watching

Link to this review by lynn tagged nonfictionessays

On the surface Harlan Ellison’s Watching is a collection of essays on film that appeared in various publications between 1951 and 1989, plus some ancillary material on how he came to love, write, and criticize movies all in the same lifetime. If you know Ellison as the man who wrote the short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” the teleplay to The City on the Edge of Forever, and both the novel and the screenplay for A Boy and His Dog, you’ll realize that he can’t help but follow his mind wherever it leads. That’s why these essays are full of affectionate anecdotes about Hollywood alongside scathing criticisms, sometimes about the exact same people; ruminations on writing and the privileged places science fiction and fantasy hold in his particular canon; and always, always, rants against ignorance, disingenuousness, and dishonesty wherever they may appear. It’s a wild ride from The Day the Earth Stood Still to The Adventures of Baron Munchausen with some pretty strange, and incredibly articulate, stops in between.

Why I picked it up: Sometimes a collection of essays just scratches a particular itch for me. I want to read something engaging and thought-provoking that doesn’t necessarily require a long-term commitment; I can read a couple of entries and put the book down for a year, no harm, no foul. That I love movies and Harlan Ellison’s writing were just icing on the cake.

Why I finished it: I find it nearly impossible to resist the “What the hell is he going to say next?” appeal of Harlan Ellison. He writes nice things about movies I hate (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and mean things about movies I love (Star Wars). Then he throws a curve ball by first saying 2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t about anything at all (Right on, brother!) but, 150 pages later, calls it a monumental achievement! This book was just a runaway train I couldn’t climb down from. 

It’s perfect for: My former boss Dennis, who could never understand why my husband and I spent hours analyzing every film we saw, no matter how silly. Once he reads Ellison’s three-page analysis of just why Children of the Corn is so wretched, I’m sure he’ll come over to the dark side.

@bookblurb A collection of essays on film that are full of personal anecdotes, scathing criticism, and rants against ignorance.

Billion Dollar Painter The Triumph and Tragedy of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged artnonfiction

Thomas Kinkade, well known as the Painter of Light, was a complicated man. He was relentlessly positive and genuinely glad that his paintings of pastoral, peaceful cottages and flower-filled meadows filled with glowing light were pleasing so many people. He was also a conflict-avoider, a poor manager of his company, and an alcoholic who eventually died of his addiction. G. Eric Kuskey worked directly with Kinkade for sixteen years and was responsible for marketing and licensing Kinkade’s paintings. The business made over four billion dollars during Kinkade’s life, but reckless oversaturation of the market, complete with overbuilding of galleries for his work, caused it all to crash. As it did, lawsuits from gallery owners piled up and Kinkade’s personal reputation suffered because of a tell-all book, his divorce, and charges that he groped a woman while drunk.

Why I picked it up: While I never bought a Thomas Kinkade picture, I certainly noticed them and how prevalent they were during the 1990’s. Kinkade had a reputation as a Christian painter, which definitely augmented his sales, and I once went inside one of his signature galleries in an upscale mall in Bellevue, Washington.

Why I finished it: There’s the occasional scandal. A drunk Kinkade peed on a Winnie-the-Pooh statue at Disneyland and in an elevator at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He once ended a night of poker with the guys by pouring the leftovers of everyone’s drinks into a tall glass and guzzling it.

It’s perfect for: My friend Neal, who has a Kinkade painting in his house, complete with track lights aimed up at it. Neal has shown a liking for stories where Christian men with sterling reputations are shown in a realistic light. (He’s currently following the case of Mark Driscoll, a Seattle mega-church pastor.)

@bookblurb The rise and fall of Thomas Kinkade, the Painter of Light, whose work made over $4 billion during his lifetime.

Benson's Cuckoos

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelmysteryhumor

Richard is hired at Benson’s Cuckoos. It’s proving difficult to get a handle on his new job and the folks he works with: Christine is monumentally unhelpful, Sophie is given to crying fits, presentations make Alan pass out, and the boss, Benson, is simply insane and more than a little mean. And the mystery about what happened to the missing former accounts manager George McCall deepens as reality TV show Lost and Found continues to dig into the case.

The characters are all anthropomorphic animals who are drawn in a style reminiscent of Ricard’s children’s books, though the storyline is more NBC’s The Office with swearing.

Why I picked it up: Ricard’s Anna & Froga was delightfully odd. And that’s a beautifully drawn cuckoo clock on the cover.

Why I finished it: I hated my grandmother’s insane and irritating Bichon Frisé, Bungee. Richard’s boss looks just like her, though he lacks the raw patches of flesh she never stopped licking, and Bungee never wore a shirt or tie. As Richard’s boss gives him a tour of his new workplace at the beginning of the book, I just kept thinking that if Bungee had been able to talk, she would have made as little sense.

And then the secretary, a frog (I think), flashes Richard her underwear in the elevator after offering to sleep with him. The whole scene made me giggle.

It’s perfect for: High school students in media literacy classes. The reality TV show’s host interviews Richard and Sophie, and then edits their responses to make them seem as if they had something against the missing George McCall. It would form the basis for a good discussion, plus the “funny animals” juxtaposed with the adult language would keep them reading.

@bookblurb Richard tries to get a handle on his new job despite his insane officemates and a deepening mystery.

One Soul

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged literarygraphic novel

Each two-page spread of this graphic novel has eighteen panels of equal size. Each panel tells the story of a different person from conception to death (and beyond). The subjects are spread out in time from an ice age hunter to an angry, modern young woman. Their lives continue in the same positions every time a page is turned, and their juxtaposition shows that they have much more in common than one would expect.

Why I picked it up: I saw it on my friend Michele’s bookshelf last year. She told me it was fantastic and was surprised I’d never read it. Then I found it at the library last week.

Why I finished it: After page 52, when the subjects each experience a moment of extreme pain, I came unglued and stopped reading the panels in order. I started skipping around, trying to experience the stories at the same moment, as quickly as I could. The way the book was designed to support the stories (and the meta story) really came together for me when I realized the shift I’d made and that I was no longer reading eighteen separate tales, I was reading one.

It’s perfect for: My wife, Silver. I don’t believe in past lives or even an afterlife. When we watched The Cloud Atlas together, I was watching a science fiction movie, but she was watching something else entirely because of her beliefs (or at least her agnosticism) — it made her cry, and I think this beautiful book will have the same effect.

@bookblurb The stories of eighteen people in different eras show how interconnected all lives are.

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