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Megan

Gold Fame Citrus: What They Thought

posted by: December 21, 2015 - 7:00am

Gold Fame CitrusLeah:
Claire Vaye Watkins’ novel Gold Fame Citrus prophesizes apocalypse by desertification. When part of the United States is engulfed by sand and declared uninhabitable, it becomes a refuge for those looking to escape from the lives they’ve made for themselves. To some, threats of dehydration and starvation are worth the risk to avoid returning to civilization.
 

Luz and Ray are surviving: after drought choked the West Coast and sand spread to the seas, it’s all anyone can do. California has shrunk into itself as golden kestrels encroached and devoured the landscape. Most have fled to military refuge zones to the north and east, but for some, that is a less desirable option than wandering the wasteland as a newly branded “Mojav.” After rescuing Ig, a malnourished child born into a gang of abusive Mojavs, Luz and Ray depart from the derelict McMansion they’ve been squatting in, hoping to find an old contact who can expunge their pasts and allow them passage into sanctuary.
 

During their journey across an ever-evolving frontier of shifting sands, Luz and Ray struggle to suppress nostalgia as they teach Ig about what their world has become. After losing the main road when the sand swallows the tire tracks, Ray leaves Luz and Ig to find gasoline for the car and fades from man to apparition on the horizon and alters the course of their new lives.
 

Readers who enjoyed Watkins’ short story collection Battleborn: Stories will recognize her beautiful prose style and wonderfully creative imaginings. Perhaps the best part of Gold Fame Citrus is the extended description of the desert itself, likening its fluid motions to those of the oceans.
 

Megan:
Watkin’s new novel about a frighteningly realistic, drought-stricken California is so clearly and crisply described that readers are immediately sucked into this unnerving story. The writing is as blindingly brilliant as the landscape. The book is at once beautiful and brutal.
 

Californians are portrayed as a group of people always searching for something better, buried gold for the taking, legendary status or even year-round citrus. The dunes destroy that California, and most flee. However, some continue to be drawn by an almost supernatural magnetism to the wasteland left behind. These “Mojavs” carve out an existence, forming strange new communities with few and fluctuating rules.
 

Watkin’s characters are made more tangible by their flaws and readers can’t resist the urge to protect them from themselves as well as their ruthless environment.
 

When Ray has to strike out and look for help, Luz and Ig are rescued by a seemingly peaceful society existing in refuge on the very edge of the habitable world. The leader of this group becomes an increasingly menacing character, and the group sheltering Luz and Ig begins to look more and more like a cult. This is an interesting twist in the story given Watkin’s own personal history. The father she never really knew was Charles Manson’s trusted assistant, often in charge of recruiting young women. Though she didn’t really know him, she does explore the topic of cults in her first collection of short stories, Battleborn. Readers will also enjoy Margaret Atwood’s new apocalyptic novel The Heart Goes Last.
 


 
 

Above the Waterfall

posted by: December 17, 2015 - 7:00am

Above the WaterfallRon Rash’s new novel Above the Waterfall is a reflective story about Appalachia today — the juxtaposition of beautiful mountains and solitude with crime, poverty and meth addiction. Rash knows those mountains, those people, their language and their world and manages to portray it in a way that never condescends, but shows the complexity and the beauty.
 

Les is just a few short weeks from retirement. His replacement as sheriff in their rural North Carolina community has begun taking over most of the daily tasks, and Les is pondering how he will fill his days. One more meth raid, then all he has left to do is choose the flavor of his retirement cake. He has grown up in this town, and in his own way he has tried to make it a better place.
 

His plans of quiet transition to painting watercolors on his porch are scrapped when tensions rise between a wealthy fishing resort owner and Gerald, the neighboring mountain man who can’t quite give up fishing for speckled trout in the streams he has fished since boyhood. Gerald’s unlawful fishing includes the resort’s catch-and-release stream, and the owner wants him charged for poaching the rare trout. When the pool is poisoned, Gerald becomes the main suspect, though he insists he would never harm the stream. This story shows readers some of the many ethical dilemmas a small town sheriff faces in trying to do what is right.
 

It is a character-driven story that illustrates how everyone in a remote community is connected in one way or another. Les has a complicated relationship with Becky, a park ranger who has retreated to the mountains to find solace after the traumatic events from her past. Becky is also the only person checking in on Gerald, and she is convinced he couldn’t have committed this crime. Through Rash’s lyrical writing, the mountain itself becomes a character, impacting the lives of those in the story in profound ways. It is a thing which some find comfort in as much as others want to flee from its grasp. As Les tries to find the real culprit, the author lets readers see the inner workings and dark secrets of this small, guarded community.
 


 
 

Wide Eyed World View

posted by: December 10, 2015 - 7:00am

Publishers seem to be making a real effort to create informative books for kids that are beautifully crafted and truly spark imagination. Wide Eyed Editions are among the best, and they have recently released two atlases that are great for aspiring explorers.

 

Cover art for Atlas of AdventuresRachel Williams’ Atlas of Adventures takes readers around the world to experience different places, cultures and events. Giant illustrations done by Lucy Letherland invite readers to dive into exotic locales while interesting captions give facts and short descriptions of each unique experience. Every full-page spread offers a tantalizing peek into another culture. Choose from pages such as “Go to sleep under the Northern Lights”, “Learn to steer a gondola in Venice,” “River raft down the Grand Canyon” or “Set the world aglow at Hong Kong’s Lantern Festival.” The editors have captured some of the most fascinating events around the globe and made them wonderfully accessible. The adventures are organized by continent, and each section begins with a map of the continent showing important places as well as each adventurous destination. Readers can leisurely explore one continent at a time or jump from Paris to the Great Pyramids with a flip of the page. At the end, there is a collection of things and people to go back and search for in the illustrations.Cover art for The 50 States

 

The 50 States by Gabrielle Balkan is another wonderful atlas for children from the same publisher.  This book shows children “the story” of each state and is fascinating even for readers who aren’t usually drawn to history or geography. It is a perfect balance of fun and fundamental kinds of facts accompanied by eye-catching illustrations. Maps include geographic information like borders and bodies of water, but they also include inspiring people, landmarks, “regional spotlights” for things you just don’t find anywhere else and historical moments that made each state what it is today. The book inspires an interest in the natural world by highlighting state parks, battlefields, reservations and national forests. It is easily accessible but still manages to give readers an idea of the personality of each state.

 

Readers who enjoy these will like other Wide Eyed Editions, such as Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska or This Is the World: A Global Treasury by Mirosalv Sasek.
 


 
 

Carry On

posted by: December 4, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Carry OnCarry On is Rainbow Rowell’s much anticipated new book about Simon and Baz, two teenage magicians first introduced to us in another one of her novels. In Fangirl, the main character spends much of her time writing fanfiction about Simon Snow’s adventures at Watford School of Magicks and his turbulent relationship with his vampire roommate Baz. Though intended to be a parody of Harry Potter fanfiction, the short excerpts about these two boys captured the hearts and imaginations of readers as well as the author. We needed an entire book devoted to Simon and Baz, and Rowell does not disappoint. You may be thinking a book based on fanfiction in another book sounds a little too meta, but have no fear. Rowell has created a fresh story that stands firmly on its own. It's the author’s first fantasy book, but it's also part murder mystery, part love story, and absolutely the kind of compulsively readable book we expect from Rowell.

 

Unlike other heroes in noteworthy fantasy books, Simon is “the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.” It is prophesied that he will save the World of Mages, but he can’t even control his power well enough to use his wand most of the time. He is constantly reminded of his shortcomings by his nemesis Baz. As their final year of school begins, Baz goes missing, and Simon can’t focus on anything but where Baz is and what he might be up to. When Baz finally appears, things have changed. The boys decide to strike up a truce in order to solve a decades old murder and destroy the monster threatening their magical world.

 

Rowell captures the confusing, thrilling struggle to become oneself perfectly once again, proving she is a master of the coming-of age story in any genre. Her characters are so carefully and realistically drawn even when they are blood-sucking vampires that it is impossible not to become engrossed in their lives and swept up in their relationships. Be warned, you will miss them when you finish the book. To help with the literary hangover that awaits, Rowell has created playlists for both Simon and Baz that are absolutely pitch perfect. Sigh, swoon, repeat.

 

Readers will also enjoy Rowell’s other works as well as The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness for another spin on a Chosen One story.


 
 

A Child’s Imagination Illustrated

posted by: November 20, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Floatcover art for This Is SadieSometimes the best way to tell a story is with no words at all, as Daniel Miyares has done with the picture book Float. This book uses imaginative panels to tell the story of a young boy, a paper boat and rainy day. We follow the boy and his boat on a grand adventure. Each seemingly simple picture perfectly captures the stormy weather and the boy’s thoughts and movements. Readers and aspiring readers will love this lovely little book, which includes instructions for making paper boats to occupy other adventurous souls on rainy afternoons.

 

A cardboard box is another fantastic vessel for great adventures, and this is where we begin in Sara O’Leary’s This Is Sadie. Sadie sails around the world before breakfast, but quietly “because old people need a lot of sleep.” She knows that adventure can be found in a book and has lived at the bottom of the sea and been the hero of every Cover art for The Dog That Nino Didn't Havefairy tale. While she loves playing with friends in the pool, she is equally content chatting with birds at the top of a good climbing tree. This sweet story is accompanied by Julie Morstad’s charming illustrations which invite readers into Sadie’s enchanted world.

 

Nino has a dog that dives into the deepest water, climbs trees and dares to jump into the lap of a formidable great-grandmother, though he doesn’t really have a dog. The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have by Edward van de Vendel is a story about a boy who imagines a dog to keep him company while his dad is away traveling the world as a pilot. Nino’s dog tromps through woods next to him and comforts him when he misses his father. One day, a package arrives and Nino gets an actual dog. Though it isn’t quite the same as his imaginary dog, he learns to love his real dog. He also realizes he can still have his imaginary dog and dream up any kind of imaginary pet he wants. With that sort of menagerie it is hard to be lonely. This story is told in a wonderfully original voice, and the stunning illustrations invite you to step directly into the book.


 
 

Why Not Me?

posted by: November 4, 2015 - 6:00am

Cover art for Why Not Me?Mindy Kaling has become a well-known leading lady, writer, director, fashionista and general force to be reckoned with. Because of her show The Mindy Project, we are now on a first name basis with her. Her new collection of essays, Why Not Me?, is just like catching up with an old friend who happens to be doing all of the talking, though we don’t even mind because she is truly that charming. Her essays are hilarious, insightful and even more personal than those in her first book.

 

She offers up plenty of celebrity stories with the likes of Bradley Cooper, Reese Witherspoon and even President Barack Obama. However, she is always completely relatable. Her response to fame, and the unique situations she finds herself in because of her fame, is exactly what you or I would think if we were suddenly “a little bit famous.”

 

In this collection, Kaling addresses questions she didn’t feel prepared to tackle before, like being asked how she maintains her confidence by a young woman who had lost her own. Kaling confesses that she didn’t have an answer at the time, but now she does. Her secret is hard work — 19-hour-day kind of hard work.

 

There is an entire essay in which the author imagines her alternate life as a Latin teacher at a private high school in New York, told to us through email correspondence. It was delightful. I would read an entire book about alternate Mindy. I also hope this potential book gets turned into a movie starring Mindy.

 

For die-hard fans, it's worth it to check out both the book and the audio book because each contain extras that the other does not. The book has many great pictures, including an entire “Day in the Life” segment. However, the essays truly come to life when delivered by the author in the audio version. She has perfect comedic timing and obviously the best delivery of her own jokes.

 

Readers who enjoy this book will love her first essay collection Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Yes Please by Amy Poehler and You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day.

 


 
 

My Cousin Momo and Nerdy Birdy

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

My Cousin Momo cover.Nerdy Birdy coverMy Cousin Momo is Zachariah OHora’s latest lovable picture book about a flying squirrel named Momo who is visiting relatives. His cousins have been anxiously awaiting his arrival, but he isn’t quite what they expected. In fact, Momo is a little weird. He doesn’t fly, his favorite superhero is Muffin Man, and he doesn’t even know how to play the simplest games, like Acorn-Pong! However, he manages to show them that being weird is cool and doing things differently is actually pretty awesome. Kids will relate to this delightful, simple story which encourages readers of all ages to look at the world a little differently. The quirky, fun illustrations are a big bonus as well.

 

In Aaron Reynolds new picture book, Nerdy Birdy doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere. With his giant glasses and odd allergies, he just isn’t cool enough to hang with Eagle, Robin and Cardinal. Just when he thinks he’s doomed to be friendless forever, he meets a group of birds just as nerdy as him. They even like to play World of Wormcraft! When a different kind of outsider wants to join their flock, Nerdy Birdy needs to persuade his new friends to accept misfits of all sorts. This is a great book about making friends and welcoming everyone. Reynolds manages to make this sometimes difficult topic truly giggle-worthy.

 


 
 

Lair of Dreams

posted by: October 20, 2015 - 7:00am

Lair of Dreams by Libba BrayIt takes a certain kind of writing magic to transport readers so completely into the past, but that is exactly what Libba Bray does in Lair of Dreams, her latest installment of The Diviners series. With careful attention to detail she brings to life New York City during the Roaring 20s with all its slang, speakeasies and the social issues bubbling just beneath the glossy surface. From this setting Bray weaves a spine-tingling ghost story that will keep readers up late into the night.

 

The Diviners introduced us to Evie O'Neill, a young girl heading to New York City in search of parties and good times. Beneath her flapper façade she hides a special ability, and she soon finds herself drawn into a much stranger circle of friends chasing down a paranormal serial killer tormenting the city.

 

In this sequel, a strange “sleeping sickness” is striking citizens in Chinatown, killing more victims each night and reaching out into the city. This group of gifted teens must face the terrifying and unknown world of dreams to stop a new ghostly killer. This time, they are joined by Ling Chan, a dream walker who can communicate with the dead. Meanwhile, Sam, a fellow Diviner, and Evie have uncovered some strange clues about why they have these powers, and how much danger they may be in because of them.

 

This engrossing book has a little of everything including horror, humor and history in perfect measure. 

 


 
 

Goodbye Stranger

posted by: October 5, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Goodbye StrangerRebecca Stead’s latest novel Goodbye Stranger is a shining example of how amazing children’s realistic fiction can be. Stead dares to believe children can grapple with big questions that secretly plague us about our place in the cosmos and that they will understand and relate to complex characters that can’t explain why they do things, like wear cat ears every day. What she creates is a beautiful story that will be loved by readers young and old.

 

The story is told from three different points of view and different perspectives in time. Much of the narrative focuses on Bridge and her best friends. They’re trying their best to hold fast to one another during the tumultuous times of seventh grade as they navigate their first forays in love and finding their place in the bigger world around them.

 

Bridge also becomes close with Sherm, the second narrator of the story, who speaks to us through unsent letters to the grandfather he isn’t speaking to. The final narrator is an unnamed high school student speaking from Valentine’s Day. Her story seems unrelated to the other characters except that it touches on the same themes of friendship and finding out who the person you are becoming really is. In the end, the stories fall perfectly together into an intricately crafted plot. This book is sure to appeal to fans of Stead’s other works as well as fans of Wonder by R.J. Palacio.


 
 

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