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Lost Connections

Lost Connections

posted by:
October 16, 2012 - 7:03am

The Distance Between UsWhile America continues to debate immigration reform, Mexican-born author Reyna Grande has placed a human face on her own family’s painful struggles to emerge from the shadows. In her moving memoir, The Distance Between Us, the physical journey of illegally emigrating from one of the poorest states in Mexico to a Los Angeles Latino neighborhood a quarter century ago extracts a high emotional cost in the quest for a better life. As a young child in Iguala, Mexico, Reyna Grande believed that the country on “the other side” gobbled up parents. When Reyna’s own parents leave for “el otro lado” to find work, she and her older siblings are left behind with a cruel grandmother. Reyna depends on her older sister, Mago, who becomes the “little mother”--understanding too well the breach in trust that has occurred. They ache helplessly for their absent alcoholic father and indifferent mother, who returns only to leave again.

 

The author never forgets her roots, nor does she make excuses in telling this coming of age story. She examines with sharp focus and a renewed compassion the actions of her flawed parents and the life-altering repercussions for all involved. Through the grim realities of her early life and the "broken beauty" of her native country, she captures her own voice as a young child with matter of fact clarity.  When her father finally returns for her and her siblings, the border crossing on foot is perilous. "We became lizards, rubbing our bellies against the cold, damp earth, trying to find a place to hide," she recalls. Sadly, entry into the U.S. brings its own hardships, brought on by living with an explosive father. Readers of Angela’s Ashes and The Glass Castle will recognize the familiar, true theme of a family's breakdown, and the resilience and tenuous steps that lead to understanding and forgiveness. Teen readers of memoir will benefit from gleaning a perspective on a modern immigrant experience so close to home.

Cynthia

 
 

Imagine All the People

Imagine All the People

posted by:
October 15, 2012 - 8:45am

Memoirs of an Imaginary FriendBudo and Max are best friends. Budo is five with many friends, but he is second-grader Max’s only friend. Max is “on the spectrum,” living someplace undefined in the lands of autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Budo, too, has his challenges, not the least of which is that he is imaginary. In Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks, Budo not only draws us into Max’s world but into his own rich life as well.

 

For Max, elementary school is fraught with peril; between bullies in the bathroom, playtime politics at recess, and mainstreaming in the classroom, he views his time with the resource center aide Mrs. Patterson as a respite from the confusing challenges that other people present. Budo spends his time guiding Max through his day but when Max is sleeping or intently playing with his Legos and soldiers, Budo is free to explore. Making trips to a convenience store, hanging out in the school office, and mentoring other pretend friends—he is ancient in terms of imaginaries’ longevity—Budo is an engaging mix of child and sage. One afternoon, Max disappears from school. When the teachers, police, and Max’s parents are unable to find him, Budo springs into action to find his friend. When Budo uncovers what he calls “the actual devil in the actual pale moonlight,” he is forced to decide between his love and sense of responsibility for Max or his own very existence.

 

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has been compared to bestsellers Room and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime for its uncanny representation of little boys’ thought processes and understanding of the adult world, as well as its accurate depiction of a child on the autism spectrum. Dicks writes this surprising story with tenderness, compassion, and humor.

 

Lori

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Family Secrets and Country Stars

Miss Me When I'm GoneGretchen Waters had an exciting life, one tragically cut short by a fall down an icy set of library stairs. In Miss Me When I’m Gone by Emily Arsenault, her accidental death turns out to be much more when her best friend, Jamie Madden, begins researching Gretchen’s papers and her past.

 

This story is a unique blend of southern honky-tonk country and New England mystery. Gretchen’s success had come via a book, Tammyland, which she wrote following her own divorce. A travel memoir of sorts, Gretchen toured the southern states, visiting sites of famous female country music stars and writing about their lives while reflecting on her own. A second book was in the works, and Jamie soon discovers that it is an even more personal investigation into Gretchen’s own life and childhood. As she talks with more people, Jamie senses that Gretchen’s death may not have been simply an accident. 

 

Although a mystery, this book has elements of fun and quirkiness, especially the interspersed biographies on country music singers which are excerpted from the fictitious Tammyland. It’s hard to imagine how one chapter about Tammy Wynette could lead seamlessly into another chapter about a quest to find one’s biological father, but Arsenault makes it work and keeps the story fresh and engaging. This book is an enjoyable read; it may even provide inspiration to visit some country music sites, or at least sing along to a few Dolly Parton tunes!

Melanie

 
 

Then and Now

Then and Now

posted by:
October 15, 2012 - 7:55am

Cold LightThings are intense at age fourteen, and our perceptions of events are not always entirely clear. Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth examines the friendship between Lola and Chloe, as well as the tragic aftermath of Chloe’s suicide. The reader meets Lola in the present day, now going by her given name Laura. She is watching a report on the news about the building of a memorial for Chloe next to the man-made lake where she died. When the shovel is pressed into the earth to break ground, something is struck and a body is uncovered. Lola is transfixed for she knows far too well who the victim is, and her story begins to unfold.

 

Traveling back in time ten years, Lola relives the events that transpired when she was fourteen. She is the daughter of two older parents, Barbara and Donald. Donald is unusual, possibly manic-depressive, but his malady is never defined. He spends his time either hidden in his room or coming up with wildly implausible theories that then have to be publicly explored. Because of this, Lola is shunned at school until she makes the acquaintance of the beautiful Chloe who takes Lola as her confidant and friend. The young women’s friendship grows until Chloe meets her boyfriend Carl, who is several years older than her. At the same time, the town is thrown into unrest as an unknown man begins to attack young women.

 

Cold Light is a tragic tale told from the point of view of someone now older and wiser, looking back on events and trying to make sense of them. The story unfolds slowly and the reader is swept along as each new piece of information adds to the mystery and suspense. Whose body has been found by the memorial? How did it get there? And, ultimately, what does Lola know and how is she involved? Cold Light is a well-written suspense story that will thrill any mystery lover.

 

Doug

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The Blue Dream of Sky

The Blue Dream of Sky

posted by:
October 12, 2012 - 8:45am

A Once Crowded SkyWhat is the difference between a hero and a villain? How does a superhero know that he is doing good? What happens if there are no villains to fight anymore?  If superheroes lose their powers, what do they have to live for? Tom King, in his debut novel A Once Crowded Sky, takes a fresh look at these questions and turns traditional comic book superhero tropes inside out.

 

PenUltimate, former sidekick of the great superhero Ultimate, is the last hero standing after the rest of the world’s superheroes sacrifice their powers to stop the mysterious world-destroying force of the Blue. Considered a coward for refusing to relinquish his powers in the battle that Ultimate gave his life to win, Pen is an outcast among the newly powerless heroes. But soon a new threat arises and Pen is the only one who can face it.  Will he meet the challenge this time? Can he defeat this new threat? Will Pen sacrifice himself to restore the other superheroes’ powers? Has Ultimate returned from the Blue? Will the world, in usual comic book fashion, return to normal by the final page?

 

King deftly creates a world of superheroes and villains that are also real people, with deep emotional lives who may not always do the right thing or have all the answers. Yet he also maintains and meddles with typical superhero themes, like the hero’s sacrifice for the greater good, the interconnectedness of the hero and the villain, and the eventual return of the hero, no matter what. Peppered with illustrations by comic book artist Tom Fowler and imaginatively written, A Once Crowded Sky is a great pick for readers who enjoy edgy comic books and superhero movies like Watchmen and The Dark Knight.

Rachael

 
 

Going to the Chapel

Going to the Chapel

posted by:
October 12, 2012 - 8:15am

Happily Ever AfterThere Goes the BrideThe best laid plans often go awry and two new takes on the quest for wedded bliss illustrate that with romance and humor. Readers meet the delightful yet jaded Eleanor Bee at various junctures in her life in Harriet Evans’ Happily Ever After. Eleanor is certain that she wants to move to London, become a literary superstar, and be financially secure. She is equally convinced that happy endings don’t exist in real life. Eleanor saw what divorce did to her parents, especially her mum. At twenty-two, she starts ticking items off her checklist when she moves to London and gets a job at a small publishing house. But she also unexpectedly falls in love. Fast forward ten years and Elle’s life has changed completely. She lives in New York where she works as a highly successful editor, but is her belief about no happy endings really going to be her destiny?

 

Holly McQueen offers the stories of Polly, Bella, and Grace in There Goes the Bride. Polly calls off her wedding with only a week to spare and no explanation to her older sister, Bella or her best friend, Grace. Bella is bossy, but means well as she tries to fix Polly’s problems while dealing with her own frazzled life. Bella is unable to conceive and is starting the adoption process, but her boyfriend is decidedly less invested in the idea. Grace is beautiful and seems to have it all with a husband and two adorable children, but in reality her husband is absent and demeaning. When Grace meets her husband’s handsome boss, their instant attraction soon turns into a full-blown affair. As these three women deal with their respective issues, readers will relish the exploits, friendship, and growth of this dynamic trio.  

 

Maureen

 
 

Stop by and Set a Spell

 

Visiting TomVisiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace is a quirky biography of eighty-two-year old Tom Hartwig, who is equal parts Rube Goldberg and Hunter S. Thompson.  The only reason we are so fortunate to learn about the enduring spark and eccentricities of Tom is due to the many neighborly visits made by Michael Perry, author of Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting. Perry recognizes Tom’s uniqueness which embodies a rare and rustic Americana spirit that is seldom seen today.

 

The Hartwig resistance, a white clapboard farmhouse, is situated in rural Wisconsin. It has been Tom’s home since his birth in 1929. He admired the tranquil landscape with Arlene, his wife of sixty years, until President Eisenhower enacted the Federal -Aid Highway Act which ran a four lane interstate right past his kitchen window.  Although he is quick to shake his head at the ceaseless stream of cars that disfigured his farmland, Tom has his own ways to make known his charming yet anomalous independence.  From stationing an operable cannon on his front lawn, to leading a team of oxen through local parades, it is obvious that little in this life, not even a highway, can get in this man’s way. For readers who want an off the beaten path biography, Visiting Tom is the perfect collection of astute yet humble musings, and authentic snapshots from the life of one extraordinary man.

Sarah Jane

 
 

You're My Boy, Blue

You're My Boy, Blue

posted by:
October 11, 2012 - 7:01am

Little Boy BlueIt started with a search on PetFinder.com for dogs available for adoption near Kim Kavin’s New Jersey home. That's where she found Blue, the dog who would inspire her to research and write Little Boy Blue: A Puppy's Rescue from Death Row and His Owner's Journey for the Truth. Kavin soon learned that Blue (named for a character in the movie Old School) was actually being brought to her local rescue organization from a shelter in Person County, North Carolina. Blue’s vet raised some questions about his previous care, so Kavin began to dig deeper into his past, finding that her puppy had been at a shelter where 95% of dogs who enter are euthanized and a gas chamber is regularly used.

 

Kavin’s search led her to find that Blue’s story isn’t at all unusual. There are volunteer organizations that work to ferry dogs from high-kill shelters to other parts of the country where they will be adopted. The harsh reality of those shelters and how many dogs are put to death there is both shocking and sad. Kavin was motivated to do what she could to help these dogs and began to foster rescued dogs in her home until permanent homes are found for them. To date, 12 foster dogs have had a temporary home with Kavin and Blue. She shares the ways that readers can get involved and help these animals. This is a heartbreaking but worthwhile read for animal lovers.

 

Unlike many of the dogs that Kavin learned about, Blue's story has a happy ending. He has a permanent home with Kavin in New Jersey where he revels in all varieties of peanut butter-flavored treats and enjoys long walks with her. He recently got a newly adopted canine sister named Ginger. Catch up with him on his Facebook page. A portion of the proceeds from Little Boy Blue will go to the Petfinder Foundation to help other dogs have long, happy lives like Blue's.

Beth

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Identity Theft

Identity Theft

posted by:
October 5, 2012 - 7:03am

The Hollow ManIn The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, we are introduced to London police detective Nick Belsey.  Even at the start of the novel, we know things are not going well for Nick.  He awakens on Hampstead Heath after having wrecked a squad car, he is still drunk, and has lost his I.D. and phone.  A detective on the skids, he must think fast in order to not lose his job. Back at the station, he sees a missing persons report for the reclusive millionaire Alex Devereaux.  It is easy to convince his bosses to let him investigate the crime, and when he enters the mansion he is able to find a fresh set of clothing to wear, a set of keys to the home, and plenty of food to eat.  Having no place to live of his own, Nick decides to stay at the Devereaux mansion and take his chances.  But what exactly did happen to Alex Devereaux?   Suddenly he begins to realize what sort of man he has decided to impersonate and how much trouble this man was in.  Soon Nick finds himself playing a dangerous game, swapping between the man he is, and the man that he is pretending to be. 

 

Oliver Harris has created a terrific thriller with The Hollow Man.  It is intricately plotted with enough twists and turns to satisfy the most die-hard thriller reader and the suspense builds and builds to a stunning conclusion.  Although Nick is a bit of a rake, he is a compelling and interesting character and the reader will enjoy having his company throughout the novel.  Harris has positioned himself among the great thriller writers of today, and will be a writer to watch to see what he comes up with in the future.

Doug

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Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

Loving Lady MarciaHere’s the story of three golden-haired sisters and their mother, and three handsome young men and their architect father who make up the House of Brady. Yes, USA Today best-selling author and RITA finalist Kieran Kramer tackles The Brady Bunch in her newest romance series, getting the ball rolling with the eldest daughter in the fabulous Loving Lady Marcia.

 

On her 16th birthday, Lady Marcia Sherwood was seduced by Finn Lattimore who then fled to America.  Believing his brother, Duncan, the Earl of Chadwick to be behind Finn’s sudden departure, Marcia swears off love and devotes herself to a life of teaching. Five years later Marcia has advanced to the position of Headmistress at Oak Hall Academy and is in London when she crosses paths with Duncan.  At the same time, Finn returns from America (one step ahead of a cuckolded husband) and both brothers are set on courting her.  Duncan is surprised at the independent and beautiful woman Marcia has become, and Finn is still handsome and charming, although his motives are questionable. When Marcia loses her position at Oak Hall, she returns to the comfort of her family who is delighted at this turn of events and hopeful that marriage is in her future.   

 

Marcia is initially pleased by the attentions of Finn, but startled by the growing and fierce attraction she feels for Duncan. However, her priority is to get her old job back. But is she really ready to forget her dreams of true love? This is a delightful tale featuring a strong heroine and a noble hero, a touch of humor, and of course a most interesting and loving family.  Devotees of the original TV series will be happy to see both Alice and Tiger, and thrill to the memory of the football hitting Marcia's nose.

Maureen