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ABC Animals

ABC Animals

posted by:
November 7, 2012 - 9:11am

A is for Musk OxAll the Awake Animals Are Almost AsleepTwo new picture books use animals to teach the alphabet. In A is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan, readers learn why every letter in the alphabet is for “musk ox.” This hysterical take on the classic ABC book begins with Joseph the Musk Ox ruining Zebra’s alphabet book by eating the apple. Claiming it would have been boring to start ANOTHER book with “A is for Apple”, Joseph takes this opportunity to describe the greatness of musk oxen. Not sure what musk oxen are? Read this book and you will discover numerous tidbits like “Eskimos call musk oxen Omingmak” and “the soft underwool of a musk ox is called Qiviut.” Hilarious illustrations by Matthew Myers will have readers giggling non-stop as they watch what happens to the original subject of each letter after Joseph is done.

 

All the Awake Animals Are Almost Asleep by Crescent Dragonwagon takes a more gentle approach to the topic. The mother in this book uses alliteration to describe sleeping animals while tucking her young child into bed. Inclusion of less common animals, such as an Ibex who “inches his way up the icy incline toward a good day’s nap” adds to the charm of the story. Starting and ending the story in a lyrical rhyme, the soothing text calms the restless child and lulls the animals into a peaceful sleep. The soft watercolor illustrations by David McPhail match the tone of the story perfectly. This is a wonderful bedtime story and will quickly become a favorite.

Diane

 
 

Myth No More

Myth No More

posted by:
November 7, 2012 - 9:01am

LarfDon't Squish the Sasquatch!Who would have thought that Bigfoot would make such an engaging picture book protagonist? Two recent tales put this elusive hairy man-beast at the forefront of literature for young readers. In Ashley Spires’ charming Larf, the title character leads a solitary but fulfilling life in a cabin in the woods, save for his pet bunny Eric. He worries that if people found out he was real, he would attract the wrong kind of prying attention. But one morning’s newspaper article proves life changing when he finds out he may not be the only sasquatch in the world. Larf knows he must travel to town to find out. But what if the other sasquatch doesn’t like him? What if he eats meat instead of vegetables? And worst of all, what if he is a she? Spires’ watercolor and ink illustrations lend a gentle, quirky and humorous tone to a story that ultimately explores what it means to open yourself to the possibilities of friendship.

 

Kent Redeker’s Don’t Squish the Sasquatch! is a raucous ride on a city bus where the first passenger to be picked up is Señor Sasquatch. Boldly colored digital art with a retro feel by illustrator/graphic designer Bob Staake completes a picture book chock full of absurd creatures and sly humor. Each new rider to enter the bus (including Mr. Octo-Rhino) receives the same direction from the driver, Mr. Blobule. “Don’t Squish the Sasquatch!” Of course, the bow-tied bright green Sasquatch, all gangly spiky arms and long legs, can’t avoid being crowded out, which leads to a horrible crash and a surprise ending. Expect this winning read aloud to become a family and storytime favorite.

Paula G.

 
 

Departures and Arrivals

Departures and Arrivals

posted by:
November 6, 2012 - 9:11am

Ask the PassengersAsk the Passengers, by A.S. King, is a unique, yet highly relatable coming-of-age story set in a small Pennsylvania town. Astrid Jones’ life is complicated, to say the least. She may very well be the most responsible member of a household that includes a dad with substance abuse issues, an overbearing mom who only sees things her way, and a popular younger sister who teeters on the edge of perfect. Astrid’s holding down a job at the local Mexican restaurant, while navigating the demands of high school academia and the social scene as defined by her particular group of friends. She’s trying to come to terms with her own secret--she is increasingly attracted to a girl at work. She keeps her clandestine encounters with Dee hidden from everyone.

 

Who can Astrid open up to? As strange as it may seem, she sends her thoughts and love to the people on the airplanes that pass over. Surely they won’t share the same small-minded attitudes of everyone around her. Astrid lies on the picnic table in her yard in an almost meditative state, telepathically communicating with the passengers. King intersperses their stories throughout the narrative, making this novel an especially intriguing read. Teens will be instantly drawn to the acerbic Astrid, an immensely likable character surrounded by more than her share of drama. Known for her Printz- honor book Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and the critically-acclaimed Everybody Sees the Ants, King has become a favorite go-to author for well written, insightful realistic teen fiction.

Paula G.

 
 

Is Anything More Important than Being Popular?

SpeechlessChelsea Knot is superficial and selfish, a major gossip and a snob. There is actually very little to like about the main character in Hannah Harrington’s novel, Speechless. After lying to her parents to attend a party, and blackmailing a classmate for a fake ID, she drunkenly stumbles into a room where two guys are making out. In typical Chelsea fashion, she runs to tell her best friend, but this time spreading a rumor leads to horrific ramifications and one of the boys ends up in a coma, the result of a severe beating.

 

Against the wishes of her friend, Chelsea reports the jocks responsible for this act of violence, sacrificing her status in the popular crowd by turning in their peers. After reflecting how her words have been responsible for almost getting a classmate killed, Chelsea takes a vow of silence in order to refrain from hurting anyone else. At school she finds herself ostracized and bullied by those she once considered her friends. She endures the constant ridicule and abuse with the assistance of an unlikely support system.

 

The author crafts an amazingly heartfelt story about the true meaning of friendship and how kindness and generosity can help heal. With an authentic voice, Harrington depicts the metamorphosis of a self-centered teen as she discovers how it feels to care about others. Without saying a word, Chelsea is able to forge honest relationships while learning to forgive herself. What will it take for her to start talking again? Will it result in the old Chelsea returning? Will her new friends still like her? This story is one of soul searching, personal growth, and courage. Speechless compellingly represents the advantages of being your own person.

Jeanne

 
 

Sand in the Wound

Sand in the Wound

posted by:
November 5, 2012 - 9:30am

A Hologram for the KingRecession-weary businessman Alan Clay lives in a maelstrom of uncertainty brought about by his own self-doubt and poor decisions in A Hologram for the King, the trenchant new novel by National Book Award finalist Dave Eggers. Divorced, broke, and obsessed with a lump on his neck, the fifty-four-year-old arrives in Saudi Arabia with an opportunity to redeem his mundane self in a ruthless global economy. He is greeted by a strangely out of place vinyl party tent where he and his team wait, and wait some more, for their one chance to impress the elusive King Abdullah and his newly built city of the future. 

 

As far as mirages go, there are plenty here. King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC)  is referred to as the "city to be in the desert by the sea"  when Clay and his team of young techies from Reliant Systems Corporation show up to demonstrate holographic teleconference systems. At stake is a citywide technology contract for their company and an emotional and financial turn-around for Clay. When Clay is not getting drunk, the former bicycle salesman is worrying about his daughter's fractured relationship with his ex-wife and how he will pay her next college tuition bill. He spends his free time writing her in a heartfelt voice several unfinished letters that he never mails.

 

Social commentary is nothing new for the multi-accomplished Eggers whose previous books include Zeitoun and What is the What. In the complex, somber Alan Clay, Eggers has created a wry character whose attempts to remain relevant and connected mirror America's own efforts to stem a decline of its own making. A pitch-perfect capture of the repercussions of today's international economic climate and the chicanery of the manufacturing industry, this solid and spare, quote-less novel is a reflection on how we live and work in a changing world.

 

Cynthia

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Mr. Rich or Mr. Right?

Mr. Rich or Mr. Right?

posted by:
November 5, 2012 - 8:45am

The Jane Austen Marriage ManualKate Shaw is broke, single, and approaching forty, but she is happy with her job as a freelance magazine writer and her circle of supportive friends. Unfortunately, Kate’s happiness is short lived in The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo, when she loses her job and her beloved grandmother dies. Still mourning that loss, Kate learns that the home she shared with her grandmother will have to be sold. Kate finds herself camped out in her sister’s living room, sleeping on a couch when she resolves to take a page from the lives of so many women in her favorite Jane Austen novels and find a rich husband. After all, it’s hard to live on love, but diamonds and Dom Perignon make everything a little brighter.

 

Her friends rally round by connecting her to other freelance jobs and presenting her with a unique birthday gift – a Scottish title! This title comes in handy for the newly named Lady Kate of Loch Broom. Her first job is to test the theory that to stay afloat in tough economic times a woman should find herself a wealthy man. Kate begins her research in earnest in London, Palm Beach, and St. Moritz where she rubs shoulders with the rich and richer. She is wooed by one wealthy man, but it is the charming bed and breakfast owner who keeps popping up at events and in her head.

  

Kate’s search for love is an age-old odyssey, but Izzo manages to freshen it up with a memorable cast of supporting characters and some hilariously embarrassing moments. The descriptions of lavish, spectacular parties and couture clothing read like something from The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and add pizzazz to Kate’s quest. Ultimately, underneath the fun and frivolity, this is an honest story of one sympathetic woman looking for money, but finding love instead. 

Maureen

 
 

Ill-Gotten Gains

Ill-Gotten Gains

posted by:
November 2, 2012 - 7:03am

 

Live by NightPhantomFor best-selling authors like Jo Nesbo and Dennis Lehane, even if the adage “crime doesn’t pay” is true, writing about it most certainly does. Nesbo offers up Phantom, the ninth book in his police detective series, while Lehane continues his Boston-based Coughlin family saga with Live by Night. Joe is the baby boy of the Coughlin brothers, introduced to us in The Given Day. All grown up and despite coming from a line of Boston Irish policemen, Joe chooses the gangster life of the Prohibition-era 1920s. Moving between rival mobs with bloody street wars and after a stint in Boston’s infamous Charlestown prison, Joe ends up with a promotion to expand Maso Pescatore’s “family” businesses in Florida, including hooch distillation and prostitution. Cuban immigration, evangelical tent revivals, the love of women both good and bad, and some rather snappy dialogue (along with a plethora of weaponry) illuminate Joe’s struggle to balance his humanity against his choices. Better known for the psychological thrillers  Mystic River and Shutter Island, Lehane shows his versatility as an author in Live by Night.

 

 Nesbo is the Norwegian author of the Harry Hole (pronounced Hool-eh) books. In Phantom, Hole, having been dismissed from Oslo’s force, is working independently to prove Oleg Rauke, the drug running son of Hole’s former lover, innocent of murder. Nesbo has a “sins of the father” theme running through this book; as he is dying, the victim addresses his dad as part of the ongoing narration while Hole’s motivation stems in part from his guilt at abandoning his paternal role in Oleg’s upbringing. The Harry Hole series is tightly written and often weaves politics and institutional corruption into its intricate plots. Fans of Stieg Larsson and Nelson DeMille won’t want to miss Jo Nesbo and Phantom.

Lori

 
 

Through the Eyes of a Child

Through the Eyes of a Child

posted by:
November 2, 2012 - 7:01am

 

What I DidIt all begins with a boy, a father and a busy street. Christopher Wakling’s latest book, What I Did, shows how one small incident can become a case study in multiple viewpoints, having a much greater impact on people as a result. Billy runs into the road ahead of his father on an outing to the park. His father reacts with the typical fury of an overworked parent, cursing and roughly handling his son. What takes this incident from minor to major is a woman who sees him disciplining the boy and calls child protective services, who launch an investigation. What is equally intriguing and at times baffling for the reader is trying to determine the details of what actually happened, since the story is told by an unreliable narrator--six-year-old Billy.

 

Despite the serious plotline, the narration is often laugh-out-loud funny. Billy’s voice is similar to the young narrators of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Emma Donoghue’s Room. Lacking in social skills, he is imaginative and has a unique perspective of the world around him. He also has a fascination with animals and science, and his commentary is interspersed with random bits of trivia. Still, the reader only has Billy’s perspective, and his actions are steered by a six-year-old’s intellectual capacity for understanding what to do and say in order to bring this incident into proper perspective. A few sections read like a “Who’s on First” routine, when Billy misinterprets what is being asked by social workers and doctors. Wakling has an interesting background, and mentioning on his website that this book was in part inspired by his own experience with fatherhood and the character flaws it has exposed in him. This is a unique, engaging read where the reader roots for Billy and his parents, despite their flaws.

 

 

Melanie

 
 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit

 

The Mansion of HappinessAnyone who has ever played Milton Bradley's The Game of Life knows that, whether you are winning or losing, players inexorably move in one direction. Fresh faced college graduates turn into employees who become parents and eventually, if all goes well, age gracefully into retirement. But real life doesn't really end (or start) that way.  Jill Lepore, Pultizer Prize finalist and frequent essayist for The New Yorker, challenges our understanding of the origins and rules of the modern game of life in her recent book, The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death

 

Lepore uses Bradley's game and its antecedents (one which carries the name of the book) to frame her humorous and often biting discourse on such disparate topics as abortion, cryogenics, time management, and children's libraries. Each chapter explores an aspect of a different stage of life, starting with before birth and ending after death along with nearly everything in between. In every section, Lepore features an eccentric, influential, and often morally ambiguous cast of characters who have all shaped how we view our lives and our society.  She draws these wide-ranging people and subjects into a fluid and accessible narrative that is, though not historically comprehensive, certainly thought provoking and resonant for a modern audience. And for those who are especially inquisitive Lepore provides a wealth of footnotes and a well-developed index, which the more casual reader can safely avoid. Like many of the best histories, The Mansion of Happiness uncovers insights into our twenty-first century lives in the decisions, coincidences, and consequences of the past. Fans of American history and the intellectually curious will both be satisfied with this engaging and compelling journey through the game of life. 

Rachael

 
 

What Are You Reading?

What Are You Reading?

posted by:
November 1, 2012 - 7:01am

 

The End of Your Life Book ClubA wonderful accolade to literature and a memorial to his incredibly gifted and generous mother, Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club combines the two gracefully. From the title, it is clear that this book club eventually comes to a close. However, this is not a maudlin tale, but instead a celebration of a mother and son’s love.The book’s table of contents gives an immediate impression of some of what the book club covered; each chapter carries the title of the book that was discussed between the group’s two members. Schwalbe, a former editor at Hyperion, immediately sets the stage in the Sloan-Kettering care center where his mother, Mary Anne, receives chemotherapy for her advanced pancreatic cancer, and where many of their book discussions took place. Mary Anne has always been a dynamo, from her teaching days to doing aid work overseas (her passion is getting a national library built in Afghanistan), to the uncanny way she remembers everything. Each family member is well-described, from his younger sister, torn about moving to Geneva when she learns of her mother’s diagnosis, to Will’s older brother, a rock of support for the family. While the family has the means that many others may not, their situation, suffering, and grief is universal.

 

Books certainly play a major role in the text, and while there are many discussions about fictional works (titles by Wallace Stegner, Steig Larsson, and Alice Munro, among others), the most memorable passages come from books of poetry, self-help, and spirituality. Mary Anne and Will have differing views on matters of faith, but it is clear that each of them respects the other. This is a title that will resonate with many readers, especially those who were moved by memoirs such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home

 

Todd