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Holly

Wishing Day

posted by: July 18, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Wishing DayIn Willow Hill, on the third night of the third month after a girl’s 13th birthday, she makes three wishes: an impossible wish, a wish she can make come true herself and the deepest wish of her secret heart in Lauren Myracle’s new children’s book Wishing Day.

 

Natasha Blok isn’t sure that she believes in magic (even though it’s rumored that the women in her family have more than most), but on her Wishing Day she dutifully hikes up Willow Hill to make her three wishes under the ancient willow tree. Should she wish for a kiss from the cutest boy in school or would that be a waste of a wish? Should she wish for her mother to come back? But if her mother’s dead, would she come back as a zombie? And if she isn’t dead, where has she been for the past eight years?

 

After Natasha makes her wishes, she begins to receive encouraging notes from an unknown person. She hopes they’re coming from her crush, Benton, but she fears it could be the fantastically weird and mysterious Bird Lady that she keeps running into.
It’s too bad Natasha doesn’t have anyone around to help her figure things out. Her father is disengaged, her aunts hold tightly to their secrets and her sisters and best friend don’t quite get her.

 

Natasha’s life is big on mystery and short on answers in this first book of a planned trilogy. The sequels will presumably focus on the Wishing Days of Natasha’s two younger sisters, who were all born one year apart, and reveal the mystery of their mother’s disappearance.

 

Readers who enjoy magical realism or books by Ingrid Law and Rebecca Stead will want to check this one out.


 
 

The Way Back to You

posted by: July 11, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Way Back to You Six months after Ashlyn Montiel dies in a bicycling accident, her best friend Cloudy and her boyfriend Kyle are still reeling in The Way Back to You by Michelle Andreani and Mindi Scott. Kyle copes with his grief by quitting the baseball team and adopting a feral kitten that he maybe suspects might be Ashlyn reincarnated. Cloudy copes with her grief by not coping with it.

 

Cloudy learns that Ashlyn’s parents have been in contact with a few of the recipients of Ashlyn’s donated organs. When her parents go out of town for winter break, she takes advantage of their absence and embarks on a top secret road trip to visit them and somehow make sense of her friend’s tragic death. And who better to invite on the road trip than Kyle — the one person who understands exactly how much she misses Ashlyn?

 

To complicate things, Cloudy had a crush on Kyle for months before she knew Ashlyn was interested in him. And after she made a fool of herself in front of Kyle when he and Ashlyn were together, things have been awkward. Hours and hours alone together in a car? Definitely going to be awkward.

 

Beginning with a little boy’s play and ending with a young woman’s Las Vegas wedding, with detours to visit family and friends who know them better than anyone (or at least should know them from a stranger on the street), Cloudy and Kyle confront their feelings — about Ashlyn’s death and about each other.

 

Scott is the author of two previous novels including Freefall and contributed to the collection Violent Ends, while this is Andreani’s debut. The duo met in an online writing class and exchanged thousands of emails, texts and Tweets while co-writing The Way Back to You. They chronicled their experiences over the past four years on their website.   


 
 

Born for This

posted by: June 7, 2016 - 7:00am

Born for ThisChris Guillebeau makes a living traveling (he visited every country in the world before his 35th birthday), writing (his blog and several New York Times bestselling books) and only pursuing work that is personally meaningful to him. He has definitely hit the career lottery, and in his new book Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do, he explains how you can also find the work you were born to do.

 

Hitting the career lottery is not a far-fetched dream like matching all six Powerball numbers. It’s not a matter of luck but a matter of knowing yourself and engineering the right set of circumstances. Guillebeau points out that this is not a book designed to tell you how to quit your job and become your own boss (he already wrote that book — The $100 Startup). Whether you want to become an entrepreneur or find meaningful work within an established company, Guillebeau will help you identify your own personal intersection of joy, money and flow. Joy is what you love to do, money supports you and flow is the Zen-like state you experience when working on something you are exceptionally good at. The work you were born to do will hit all three targets.

 

There will be no precise syllabus to follow because the work that you were born to do is a path that only you can chart. However, the book contains exercises to help you identify what you’re best at and what makes you happy, checklists and stories of real people who have found unconventional routes to their dream jobs.

 

Guillebeau is also the author of The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life and The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want and Change the World.


 
 

A Few Unbearably Entertaining Picture Books

posted by: May 2, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Shh! Bears SleepingCover art for A Beginner's Guide to Bear SpottingCover art for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous BearAfter a long and snowy winter, springtime is here...and so are the bears! If you like your picture books entertaining and educational, be sure to check out these three new books.

 

Shh! Bears Sleeping written by David Martin with pictures by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher opens with a mama bear and her two cubs awakening at the beginning of spring, and then follows the three American black bears through the year, all the way to the next winter when the bears again pile in their den to sleep. The oil painting illustrations depicting scenes throughout the four seasons are beautifully done, and readers will enjoy the short, fun rhyming text as well as the additional facts presented in a short section at the end.

 

In A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by David Roberts, the narrator guides you through a walk in the woods where you are lucky enough to encounter both a black bear and a brown bear. The narrator talks you through the encounter and explains a few differences between them. While the book is humorous, it is careful to let young readers know that the only bears you should snuggle are of the stuffed variety. The illustrations are gorgeous, quirky and sure to bring laughs.

 

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall tells the fascinating story behind the namesake of Winnie-the-Pooh. In 1914, a veterinarian and solider named Captain Harry Colebourn bought a bear cub for $20 at a train station. The cub traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade and became their mascot and companion as they trained in England. Named Winnipeg in honor of Colebourn’s hometown, the bear found a permanent home at the London Zoo when the soldiers shipped to France. Author Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Colebourn and frames the tale as a bedtime story to her young son, Cole. The story is fascinating, and the connection to A. A. Milne’s famous bear adds extra interest.


 
 

Far from Fair

posted by: April 13, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Far from FairLife is Far from Fair for Odette Zyskowski in Elana K. Arnold’s new novel. If it had been put to a vote, Odette would not have elected to sell her family home, move into an ugly RV and share one cell phone with her quarreling parents and volatile younger brother. But her father didn’t ask for Odette’s opinion before quitting his job and uprooting the family, and the list of unfair occurrences in her life has begun to pile up at a rapid pace as they travel to Grandma Sissy’s home. However, none of the problems and predicaments along the way compares to the unfairness Odette discovers when they arrive.

 

When Odette and Grandma Sissy are discussing how powerless Odette feels during this time of upheaval, Grandma Sissy reveals what Odette calls a “grownup truth” — those things grownups know to be true, but don’t typically share: Sometimes you are powerless. Sometimes, bad things happen and we can't stop them. This book contains many such grownup truths, but Arnold does not preach to or talk down to her readers. Hard subjects are confronted gently but directly.

 

The settings, all the way from suburban California to Washington’s Orcas Island, as well as the difficulties of living in an RV, are so superbly described it may leave you wondering if the author herself ever embarked on such a road trip. The book does indeed have true life beginnings: After Arnold’s husband was laid off, they sold their home and belongings and hit the open road. Meanwhile, Arnold pursued her dream of being a writer. Far from Fair is her sixth novel for teen and young readers.

 

For more well-written children’s fiction that confronts issues of family life and illness, check out So B. It by Sarah Weeks and Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.

 


 
 

The Creative Tarot

posted by: March 9, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Creative TarotFor writers, musicians or artists, Jessa Crispin (founder of bookslut.com) introduces a unique method of working through problems in your creative life: Consult the tarot. You will learn everything you need to know in her new book The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life.

 

Crispin begins by outlining the tarot’s murky origins as a card game and eventual transformation to a fortune-telling medium. She details her own experience with tarot readings and explains that, rather than predicting the future, the cards tell you a story about what is happening in your life. This story can differ from the story you’ve been telling yourself and help you gain a valuable perspective.

 

Essential for any book on the tarot is a detailed description of each of the modern deck’s 78 cards. An intimate understanding of each card is necessary to interpret your own tarot spreads. Many books merely explain how the card might be interpreted, but Crispin takes it a step further and includes a short section entitled “Recommended Materials” for each card. This short list of writings, music recordings, films, works of art (and more!) can be studied to better understand the particular nature of each card. She often compares the cards to various people or situations to make them less theoretical and more relatable — for example, The Star is “The Ziggy Stardust card,” in honor of David Bowie’s outrageous alter ego, while the Five of Coins is compared to painter Leonor Fini, who felt alienated from the Surrealists in 1930s Paris because she was a woman.

 

The Creative Tarot includes everything you need to get started, except the cards themselves. But Crispin talks you through choosing a deck, explain how to set up a reading and gives examples of how to interpret various spreads in reference to your own creative projects.


 
 

My Father, the Pornographer

posted by: February 18, 2016 - 7:00am

My Father, the PornographerIn the small Kentucky town where the miner’s son grew up to be a miner and the bootlegger’s son grew up to be a bootlegger, no one was surprised when the writer’s son grew up to be a writer in Chris Offutt’s new memoir My Father, the Pornographer.

 

Imagine that your father dies and you, as the eldest son, are tasked with the responsibility of cleaning out his office. Now imagine discovering that your father, who passed himself off as a science fiction writer, also wrote hundreds of pornographic novels. After clearing out decades’ worth of garbage and searching the vents for hidden treasure that turns out to be nothing more than his father’s last practical joke, Offutt quickly realizes that his father’s writing career wasn’t merely supplemented by pornography — it was the bulk of it. In an attempt to understand his deceased father’s perverse obsessions, he packs and transports nearly two tons of his father’s work from his childhood home to his current residence in Mississippi.

 

But more than just a story of Andrew Offutt’s career as a pornographer, this is also the tale of Chris Offutt’s childhood and a meditation on his contentious relationship with his father. As Offutt acts as archeologist, reconstructing his father’s career and life, he realizes just how much they have in common. Offutt is struck by his father’s unique writing method: He kept a catalog of descriptions filed under various (frequently vulgar) categories and when writing a novel he plugged the passages in where needed. When the younger Offutt considered joining the military, he prepared for basic training by filling a notebook with amusing anecdotes pilfered from Reader’s Digest’s “Humor in Uniform,” divided into specific categories, that he could pass off as his own experiences in letters he wrote to his family back home. Although he himself is not a purveyor of pornography, Offutt is dismayed at the similarities he finds. He isn’t sure what he hopes to learn from immersing himself in his father’s “private and unfiltered fantasies,” but the deeper he digs, the harder it is to walk away.

 

For another memoir about the father/son relationship, check out Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.


 
 

The Big Rewind

posted by: February 11, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Big RewindIf you like your homicides with a side of vegan cupcakes and old school mix tapes, Libby Cudmore’s The Big Rewind is just the book for you. Set in a perfectly realized Brooklyn neighborhood populated by artists, musicians and other assorted hipsters, this debut novel offers an eclectic mix of mystery, love, social commentary and angst.

 

While attempting to deliver mail to her neighbor KitKat, Jett finds her dead on the kitchen floor, beaten to death with her own rolling pin. When KitKat’s innocent boyfriend Bronco is arrested for the crime, Jett vows to find the true killer. She believes the answer to the killer’s identity is contained within a mix tape that had been sent to KitKat anonymously — it sounds an awful lot like a breakup letter, from someone who was NOT Bronco. While immersing herself in KitKat’s love life, nostalgia takes hold and Jett begins reconnecting with ex-boyfriends who had loved her, deceived her and left her.

 

If Jett continues to follow the trail, will she find KitKat’s killer? And will she find her own romance worthy of mix tape exaltation?

 

Readers who enjoy this music-laden murder mystery may also like Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective. For a similar romantic plotline without the bloodshed, try Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. If you’re interested in a real life romance that ends in tragedy, check out Rob Sheffield’s memoir Love Is a Mix Tape
 


 
 

American Housewife

posted by: December 29, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover of American HousewifeHelen Ellis’ American Housewife is a satirical collection of 12 short stories featuring a group of enthralling, outrageous and disturbing women. There are humorous vignettes, such as “Southern Lady Code,” which offers biting translations of benign Southern phrases and “How to Be a Grown-Ass Lady,” which provides tips on how to do just that. There are fleshed-out stories full of characters and situations that are just a little too bizarre to be real — a relocation program for child beauty pageant contestants, an email exchange between neighbors that escalates into all-out war. In “Dumpster Diving with the Stars,” we meet a has-been writer who leads the competition in finding the best deals at yard sales and estate auctions, to the annoyance of the producers who would rather feature the Playboy bunny. “My Novel is Brought to You by Tampax” stars a writer working hard (or hardly working) on her next novel, sponsored by Tampax. A Tampax representative will do anything to make sure she meets her daily writing goal — starting with bribing her neighbors into bringing the writer meals in exchange for feminine hygiene products. The tales feel true enough to make readers uncomfortable even as they’re laughing at the absurdity. Don’t inane parodies of reality shows actually sound like plausible reality shows? And is it such a stretch that a tampon company could make the leap from sponsoring daytime television to sponsoring novels? 
 

These stories are a fictional alternative for people who enjoy humorists like Jenny Lawson and Laurie Notaro. Ellis even received a nod from Margaret Atwood as one of her favorite books of the year: “Surreal tales of American weirdness, with details that ring all too true.” You probably haven’t murdered your neighbor over the tacky décor in your common area…but maybe you’ve briefly considered it.
 


 
 

Find a Way

posted by: December 23, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Find a WayIn her new memoir Find a Way, long distance swimmer Diana Nyad tells of her epic swim from Cuba to Key West, which she completed at age 64 after failing to do so in her 20s.

 

The seeds for her extreme dream were sown when she was just a child. On his daughter’s 5th birthday, Aristotle Nyad opened the dictionary and pointed to their last name: Nyad (naiad), from Greek mythology, a girl or woman champion swimmer. Nyad doesn’t believe in fate, but she locked onto the word “champion” and knew that it would one day describe her.

 

She also became interested in Cuba as a child, when the Cuban Revolution brought an influx of refugees to her hometown, and her new friends introduced her to their culture. She recalls standing on the beach at age 9 with her mother and looking toward the horizon. Her mother told her that Cuba was so close that she could almost swim there.

 

After enjoying numerous other successes as a swimmer, Nyad began to plan and train for her Cuba swim when she was in her 20s. She made her first attempt from Cuba at age 28 utilizing a shark cage, but after swimming for 42 hours and covering 76 miles, strong winds and swells had knocked her so far off course that she was heading not for Florida, but for Texas. The following year, after training for a repeat swim but being denied entry to Cuba, she instead swam 102 miles from North Bimini Island, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Florida, this time without the shark cage.

 

At age 30, Nyad figured it was time to retire as a professional athlete and instead pursued a career as a sports broadcaster and journalist. Then at age 60, a Mary Oliver quote forced her to reevaluate her priorities: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” After pondering that question, the extreme dream was reborn. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy. She no longer had the body of a world-class athlete. There would be grueling hours of training. There would be complicated logistics to work through. She would need to sell her dream to a support team of 35 people. There would ultimately be setbacks and failures and nearly fatal encounters with jellyfish. But Nyad’s mantra was: Find a way.  

 

This isn’t just a story of an impressive athletic feat. Like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Andre Agassi’s Open, Nyad’s story also delves into her family history and personal struggles, and how they informed and shaped her future. Nyad is an impressive storyteller — here’s one of her several TED talks — and this book will leave you feeling inspired to pursue something amazing with your own wild and precious life.


 
 

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