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As the World Slowly Turns

As the World Slowly Turns

posted by:
June 25, 2012 - 7:30am

The Age of MiraclesWho among us hasn’t wished for more hours in a day?  In The Age of Miracles, debut author Karen Thompson Walker presents a world in which having more time is taken to the extreme. For no apparent reason, the earth has slowed its daily rotation, lengthening the day by a few minutes. This “slowing” continues to grow incrementally, and the days and nights grow longer. Society divides itself into two groups: “real-timers” who follow the sun, sleeping whenever it is dark and staying awake when there is light, and “clock-timers” who live by the standard 24-hours-in-a-day system and adhere to a regular schedule for school, work, and sleep. As time goes on and on, real-timers are bullied and eventually forced to move into communes. 

 

People soon begin to realize how disastrous the consequences of more time can be. Power outages, food shortages, environmental changes, behavioral problems and physical and mental illnesses plague people worldwide. Both societal groups eventually suffer from the seemingly endless days and nights as the struggle to be right becomes the struggle to survive.

 

The Age of Miracles is told from a young girl’s point of view, though this is not a children’s story. Julia experiences all of the catastrophic environmental changes through the filter of her own life, which is filled with the everyday challenges of growing up.  Julia comes to realize that no one is perfect as she watches her friends, family members and community deal with the slowing in very different ways. Readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction such as Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer or On the Beach by Nevil Shute will enjoy this title, which has excellent teen-crossover appeal.

Sam

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Rambling Man

My Cross to BearMy Cross to Bear has all the usual trappings that we’ve come to expect from a rock biography. There are the standard stories of groupies, squabbling with other band members, chemical excess and failed marriages. Beyond the basic musician biography ingredients though, there’s also a fascinating life story that remains very Southern throughout.

 

Gregg Allman begins his life in Nashville, Tennessee, eventually travels all over the world and currently lives in Savannah, Georgia. Throughout his fame, fortune and travels, he never ventured far from his roots in his outlook and tone. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book is “hearing” the voice of Gregg Allman and his Southern phrasings. One fine example: he loses his virginity and declares the experience to be "the best thing since black-eyed peas.”

 

My Cross to Bear opens at the Allman Brothers’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. At this point, Gregg Allman is a severe alcoholic. He sincerely tries to stay sober for the ceremony but fails miserably. This was one of the lowest points in his life. He embarrassed his family, the rest of the band and most of all, himself. This seems to be a turning point and at that moment, he decides to turn his life around.

 

Like many musician biographies, much of the story is about Allman’s struggles with various addictions throughout his life. The real story here is that of the Allman brothers themselves (Gregg and Duane). Their story is one of humble beginnings, unimaginable fame, wasted fortunes and incalculable loss, including the tragic death of both Berry Oakley and Duane Allman. Duane Allman’s spirit is really the guiding force in the book. Older brother Duane could be credited with starting the Allman Brothers Band; his guitar work was a key element in the Allman brothers’ distinct sound. One gets the feeling that Gregg never felt that he quite measured up to big brother, Duane.

 

My Cross to Bear is satisfying, entertaining read from beginning to end. Quite simply, it is a Southern-fried version of the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” story. What’s not to love about that?

Zeke

 
 

One Man’s Journey, One Family’s Saga, One Country’s History

Wish You Were HereReflection can sometimes tell the whole story.  In Graham Swift’s Wish You Were Here, there are few characters, even less action, but plenty about how memory and evaluation of past choices occupy our present-day lives. 

 

The story revolves around Jack, who came from a Devonshire farming family but was forced to abandon his family’s profession after fear of mad-cow disease forced them to put the herd down.  As the story begins, the majority of the family members once close to Jack, those who helped define him, have passed.  He is reliant solely on his wife Ellie, with whom he has co-owned a campground and vacation resort for several years.  This has afforded them a more luxurious lifestyle than farming, but has set them adrift from the family and community connections of their childhood. 

 

The real shift in the story comes when Jack belatedly learns of the death of his brother Tom, a soldier who has been killed in Iraq.  Tom was already long estranged from the family, but going to retrieve his body and bring him home for burial proves a catalyst for Jack to reflect back on his life and choices.  More overarching is the theme of the impact of war not just on his family but on the country of England as a whole, going back many generations. 

 

Swift, who previously won the Booker Prize for Last Orders, spins a slow tale, bereft of suspense or much action. Yet the story he tells is beautiful and poignant.  Readers will want to know how Jack reached his present state, and what the near future holds for him.  Fans of The Shipping News or Olive Kitteridge will appreciate this understated tale about connections to home and family. 

 

Melanie

 
 

Puppy Love

Puppy Love

posted by:
June 22, 2012 - 7:00am

The Lucky Dog Matchmaking ServiceIn The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service by Beth Kendrick, readers will soon fall for Lara Madigan and all of her furry friends. Lara has a special talent for placing the right pup with the right owner and she and her best friend founded the Lucky Dog Rescue Group which has already saved dozens of dogs. They try to find the perfect dog for the perfect family, and until that placement, the dogs live with Lara and her boyfriend, Evan Walker. Between the rescuing, training, and matching, Lara is consumed by all things four-legged, and she and Evan start a pattern of fighting over canine-related issues. Finally, Evan erupts over all of the damage and drool and drops a bombshell on her: he’s not a dog person!

 

Horrified, Lara moves out and is forced to her mother’s home with all the rescue dogs (8 at this point) in tow. That home is a mansion with state of the art appliances and priceless interior design details. Lara’s mother is everything Lara isn’t, and is quick to point out Lara’s failures. When Lara’s excellent reputation spreads among her mother’s wealthy neighbors, she finds herself overwhelmed with demands for her training services. Lara’s hard work is finally paying off, her relationship with her mother is improving, and maybe, just maybe, one of her rescue dogs will lead her to the perfect guy! Even the most ardent cat lovers will enjoy Lara’s journey in this funny, romantic story filled with the most delightful doggies.

 

Maureen

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Jen’s Life Lessons for Reluctant Adults

Jeneration XIn Jeneration X, humor writer Jen Lancaster takes on growing up and acting her age. She tackles important challenges like buying a house, getting a mammogram, and hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in typical Jen style. Her wickedly funny writing and short essays make this book the perfect accompaniment to a hot summer afternoon at the pool.

 

As with her previous bestselling memoirs, she writes Jeneration X in a series of related anecdotes rather than a chronological story.  Jen provides readers with commentary and snarky footnotes to explain her Gladys Kravitz-like compulsion to spy on her neighbors and the problem with swimsuits with skirts.  Jen’s readers are already familiar with her husband Fletch, her friends and family, and her menagerie of pets, so reading a new book always feels like catching up with an old friend over cocktails. To learn more about all things Jen, visit her blog, Jennsylvania.

 

Jeneration X features several appearances by Jen’s best friend and partner in crime Stacey Ballis, whose new novel Off the Menu will be published this summer. The novel follows Alana Ostermann, an assistant to a celebrity chef. She’s happy with her life until she meets RJ, who makes her realize that it is time to reassess her life. To celebrate the book’s release, Stacey is holding a contest to win a lunch date with Stacey and Jen (aka Stennifer). The deadline for entry is July 1; contest details can be found here.

Beth

 
 

Naturalist, Hunter, Inventor, Millionaire

BirdseyeAlthough the name Clarence Birdseye immediately conjures up images of frozen vegetables, the subject of historian Mark Kurlansky’s Birdseye:The Adventures of a Curious Man accomplished so much more. This fascinating biography shows the man as a curious problem solver and opportunist, always quick to devise inventive solutions while making money along the way. Birdseye was a naturalist from an early age, as well as an avid hunter. At the age of ten, young Clarence earned his first shotgun with the profits he made by shipping live muskrat to an English aristocrat who was stocking an estate. He promptly taught himself the art of taxidermy, even attempting to teach others for money.

 

As a student at Amherst studying the sciences, Birdseye spent his free time “wandering the fields with a shotgun on his shoulder.” He was forced to drop out due to lack of money.  His job as an assistant naturalist with the U.S. Biological Survey stoked his interest in cooking such exotic meats as chipmunk, mice, and rattlesnake. A later job with the Department of Agriculture sent him packing to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana as part of a group looking to study Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Birdseye put his hunting skills and enthusiasm to good use, killing a variety of mammals that host the carrier of the disease, the wood tick. His contribution to the study was notable.

 

Luckily his wife, Eleanor, was a patient woman who didn’t seem to mind her husband’s frequent absences. A later adventure saw him in the frozen land of Labrador where his interests turned to fox farming. His journal and letters to his family (which eventually included six children) were full of descriptions of food, especially recipes featuring unusual provisions like seal meat and porcupine.A deep interest in food preservation led him to begin experimenting with various freezing techniques, beginning with snow pack. Birdseye realized that freezing food is far from a straightforward process if one desires a palatable thawed product. Eventually his determination and sharp sense of observation paid off, leading to innovations that revolutionized the way people eat.

 

Birdseye:The Adventures of a Curious Man, holds wide appeal for anyone who enjoys intriguing nonfiction. The self-made man comes alive through Kurlansky’s evocative descriptions and choice details. Readers who enjoyed his previous classic titles (which included mentions of Birdseye) Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, and Salt: A World History, will find much to like here.

 

 

Paula G.

 
 

Portrait of the Artist as a Graphic Novelist

A Zoo in WinterThe graphic novel A Zoo in Winter by Jiro Taniguchi follows a young man named Hamaguchi, who is working for a fabric printing factory in 1966. He is unsettled there; he wants to design his own fabric but is thwarted by the boss, and needs to find more creative employment. Hamaguchi heads to Tokyo and becomes an assistant at a magazine that publishes manga, then a new art form. So begins his journey as an artist.

 

The story offers quiet realism. Black and white illustrations are beautifully drawn and the characters take on a life of their own. Quiet and thoughtful, Hamaguchi struggles to find his place in the world. Suddenly he’s thrust into an urban setting with quirky “artist types” who work odd hours and drink too much. Taniguchi captures them visually, each drawn expression conveying abundant emotion.  The story is gentle but at the same time compelling. You want to know more about Hamaguchi’s life and his art.  You want to see him succeed.

 

The work also offers a look into the history of manga and a bit of Japanese culture. These are nicely woven into the story and become a backdrop for the tale without becoming overwhelming. Regular graphic novel readers will be interested to see more from this artist, but even those who only casually approach the genre will enjoy an engrossing biographical story about an extremely likeable character. A Zoo in Winter is a terrific graphic novel, destined to become a classic.  

Doug

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Never Trust a Marmot

Never Trust a Marmot

posted by:
June 20, 2012 - 8:19am

Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives ExtraordinaireMadeline is used to being the responsible one in her small family. She cooks, cleans, sews, repairs the plumbing and even holds down a part time job as a waitress. So when her hippie parents are kidnapped during Hornby Island’s celebration of lights, it’s only natural that she head up the effort to locate them. Enter Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, lagomorph sleuths Madeline employs to solve the case. Polly Horvath’s quirky, wryly funny novel Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire! follows the trio as they attempt to decipher an instruction note left by The Enemy.

 

Now that their brood of twelve has moved away, The Bunnys have moved to a new hutch, and are settling in. Mrs. Bunny knits, while Mr. Bunny reads aloud from The Scientific Bunny magazine. Why not become detectives? All they need are proper fedoras with earholes, of course.

 

Fans of Roald Dahl’s Matilda will welcome Madeline, another take-charge heroine superior in intelligence (and common sense) to her clueless parents.  Through Madeline’s interactions with the Bunny couple, she discovers that conversing in animal languages is one of her hidden talents.

 

Eccentric Uncle Runyon, Canada’s only decoder scientist, could be of some help when it comes to the mysterious note, but he’s easily sidetracked. Throw in a meddling, overbearing neighbor bunny, the insidious Grand Poobah of foxes, and a marmot villain with an overbearing craving for garlic bread and you have the recipe for an over-the-top adventure. Sophie Blackall’s black-and-white paintings throughout add an old fashioned, whimsical charm to this middle-grade chapter novel.

Paula G.

 
 

What Little Boys Are Made Of

What Little Boys Are Made Of

posted by:
June 20, 2012 - 7:45am

Captain Awesome to the RescueCaptain Awesome Vs. Nacho Cheese ManI Don't Believe It, ArchieIn the case of two new books for young readers, it’s not slugs and snails, but superpowers and adventure! Captain Awesome bursts onto the early chapter book scene with two new titles in a promising series. Captain Awesome to the Rescue and Captain Awesome vs. Nacho Cheese Man by Stan Kirby introduce eight year old Eugene McGillicudy as the title character. Eugene is a huge fan of comic book hero Super Dude and embraces his mission of ridding the world of Supervillains. And there are plenty of Supervillains at Eugene’s new school. Meredith Mooney and Ms. Beasley are in cahoots to force Eugene to reveal his secret identity, while Principal Brick Foot wants to throw him in the Dungeon of Detention. Thankfully, Captain Awesome finds an ally in Nacho Cheese Man (fellow Super Dude fan, Charlie Thomas Jones). Kirby has created a loveable hero and O’Connor’s hilarious illustrations add to the appeal of these titles. Readers will fall for Eugene and will be anxiously awaiting further adventures of Captain Awesome.

 

In I Don’t Believe it, Archie by Andrew Norriss, strange things are always happening to Archie. Once he becomes friends with Cyd, these odd occurrences become more enjoyable. This funny title is perfect for readers who are ready for something a little harder than early chapter books, as the cartoon sketches by Shaw clearly depict the action and characters’ reactions. Each chapter is a day in Archie’s madcap week. On Monday he is the only witness as an occupied car gets buried beneath a load of gravel. On Tuesday he is accused of killing a dog that he was actually rescuing. And that’s just the first two days! Like Cyd, readers will be entertained by these excellent adventures. This is the American debut from British author and winner of England's Whitbread Award, but hopefully not the last we’ve heard of either Archie or Norriss.   

Maureen

 
 

Kagawa's Creations

Kagawa's Creations

posted by:
June 19, 2012 - 7:41am

The Iron KingThe Immortal RulesReaders who enjoy stories filled with magic and supernatural beings, action and adventure, will be thrilled to discover the novels created by Julie Kagawa. Her initial teen series, The Iron Fey, has a loyal and enthusiastic following. The novels chronicle the adventures of Meghan, who is half fairy and half human. She finds herself thrust into the ongoing clash between the Winter and Summer fairy realms. The factions are forced to unite in order to battle the threat of a mutual foe: the Iron fey. These are a malicious new breed of fairy born of the dreams of the information age and man’s quest for technological superiority. In addition to the constant action of the story, there is a tragic love triangle that will have people rooting for their favorite character. This riveting plot earned Kagawa’s story The Iron King the RITA Award in 2011 for Young Adult Romance.

 

After completing the final book in the Iron Fey series, Kagawa took on the challenge of another mythical creature, the vampire. Teen vampires are a topic authors have visited many times, but in the hands of Kagawa, she has crafted an original novel that is as captivating as it is exciting. The Immortal Rules is the first novel in The Blood of Eden series. This is not a fantasy world of flowers and bunnies, but rather of perilous journeys and vicious monsters. A virus threatens both vampires and humans alike, with those infected transforming into mutant-like creatures. The main character is a recently transformed vampire who struggles with self-loathing, but values her life too much to end it. Keeping her vampirism a secret, she joins a ragtag group of humans hunting for a cure to the virus.

 

According to Publisher’s Weekly: “Kagawa wraps excellent writing and skillful plotting around a well-developed concept and engaging characters, resulting in a fresh and imaginative thrill-ride that deserves a wide audience.”

Jeanne

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