Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler 230 pages

Poor folk have poor ways.  Don't I know it?  As someone who is always looking for ways to re-purpose about anything I can get my hands on, this book really resonated with me.  It was the ultimate one man's trash is another man's treasure kind of story.  Young Auggie Jones is so excited to start her new school, even though she knows she will miss her old Montgomery.  Everyone in her neighborhood ooohs and aaahs over Auggie and her friends getting to go to Dickerson, the best school there is by most accounts.  Her excitement falls flat when she meets Victoria, a girl who can barely see anything beyond the end of her nose, but sure doesn't like Auggie's let-down jeans and her grandpa picking her up in his salvage truck.  When the city's House Beautification Committee starts targeting Auggie's neighborhood as "eyesores", it's Auggie's mission to prove that poor doesn't mean ugly, it doesn't mean stupid and it sure doesn't mean weak.  I loved Auggie's spirit and the joy you feel through all of her triumphs and letdowns.  Not once did Auggie wish she had money, she only wished that others could see the simple beauty in making do, and experience how rich a community can be when it's filled with people who care about each other.  This book by a Missouri native takes place in Willow Grove, MO which gave it an extra nice touch to being on the Mark Twain nominee list this year.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio, 282 pages

The person who recommended I read "Goodnight June" warned me that Sara Jio is a romance author.  Romance is not my favorite genre, I think I burned myself out on it when I was younger by graduating to Harlequins and Kathleen Woodiwiss from Judy Blume.

However, "Goodnight June" can also be classified in one of my favorite sub-genres, "books about books" so I wanted to give it a shot.  It was a little too much of a pat romance for me to truly enjoy, but I also really liked the "book about a book" part.  The novel is a fictionalized account about how the book "Goodnight Moon" came about.

June Andersen is an unhappy banker in New York when she finds out that her great-aunt Ruby left her a children's bookstore in Seattle called Bluebird Books.  June travels to Seattle to completely close out the bookstore and discovers her aunt was a good friend of Margaret Wise Brown, the author of the beloved children's book "Goodnight Moon."  June also rediscovers her own connection with the bookstore and ends up trying to find a way to keep it open. (Notice how I am not evening mentioning that pesky romance part?)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Demolition Angel by Robert Crais 386 pages

Carol Starkey is truly a Demolition Angel.  She worked on the LAPD bomb squad, until she died trying to disarm one.  She was resuscitated, but her partner (and lover) Sugar Boudreaux, did not make it.  For 3 years, she has been living on gin, cigarettes, altoids, and Tagamet.  As a Detective for the LAPD Criminal Conspiracy Section, she is investigating the death of another member of the Bomb Squad, killed while on duty, trying to disarm a bomb.  The case turns into a murder investigation and what Starkey discovers will rock her world and the LAPD.  That is, if she can stay one step ahead of Mr. Red, a bomb maker who is building one especially for Starkey. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Find Her by Lisa Gardner 400 pages

This was a dark and disturbing novel, the kind of book that will give you nightmares.  In fact, it will be the last Lisa Gardner book I read.  Flora is a happy, young college student on spring break when she is snatched from the beach and held captive for 472 days, most of it in a pine box. Her captor,  an over the road truck driver makes her write out post cards to her mother that he sends to torture her, as if having a daughter go missing is not torture enough.  Flora eventually escapes, but the Flora who returns home has been changed...forever, as has her mother and her brother.  Some may say this is the story of overcoming adversity and being stronger.  May be, but it is also a nightmare. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget 242 pages

I'm not going to lie, this book made me cry like a baby.  It was a really great book that plucked on every heartstring I own!  Poppy has always lived with her Grandma Beth.  Her parents died when she was only one year old.  She and her grandmother have their own little rituals, their favorite activities, even their own way of communicating, but then Grandma Beth has a stroke and ends up in a hospital.  Poppy is forced to stay at the children's shelter with a brute of a roommate until she can get her grandma back home.  When she finds that her grandma has been moved to a nursing home, Poppy can't wait until the next day to go visit.  She sneaks out and grabs a bus.  Unfortunately, she doesn't really know where the nursing home is.  Poppy ends up at a gas station where a violent robbery is committed and she's the only one who sees the robber's face.  Worse is that he has seen hers, too.  Now she is the one and only witness.  The detective in charge of the case comes up with a way to keep her hidden, one which, as a side benefit, involves Poppy being able to volunteer at the animal shelter.  There she meets a beautiful dog with a future as uncertain as her own.  This was a very engaging story that had believable characters and a satisfying ending.  I highly recommend this Mark Twain Award nominee to 4th - 8th grade readers.

Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O'Malley Cerra 299 pages (2016-2017 Truman Award Nominee)

Jake Green is an 8th grader, a cross country runner, the best friend of Sam, just your everyday middle-school age boy.  He really does not like cross country, is more of a sprinter, a lover of the track. But his coach makes them run cross country to prepare them for track, so he and Sam run and run and run.  But things change the fall of 2001. First of all, there is a new boy in school, Kirk, and he threatens to take Jake's place as captain of the cross country team.  Jake and the class bully keep clashing, and then, 9/11.  Kirk's father is killed at the Pentagon, Sam and his family are Muslims, and one of the plane's pilots are from their town in Florida. 
This is the story of trusting in yourself no matter what everyone else says and finding it within yourself to be a hero. 
I think it is interesting that the target audience for this book was probably not born when 9/11 happened.  They do not have the 1st hand perspective.  This is a thought provoking debut novel.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

After You by Jojo Moyes, 352 pages

"After You" is the sequel to "Me Before You" and picks up about 18 months after the first book ended.

Louisa Clark now lives in London and is struggling with life.  She has few friends and a tedious job at an airport bar. Something and someone happens and life gets more interesting and complicated.

This is one of those humorous, heart wrenching and uplifting chick lit books that I tend to love.  And I did.  Oh, I did.  Jojo Moyes knows how tell a modern tale.  I can't wait for her next one.

The Body in the Woods by April Henry 263 pages (2016-2017 Truman Nominee)

I have to confess this is my 1st April Henry book.  It seems that recently we have had a lot of requests for her books, so I decided to see what the buzz was all about.  I have to admit I liked this book.  Three somewhat misfits teens have volunteered for a Search and Rescue Unit. As fate would have it, while searching for a lost hiker, they discover a dead body, a teen girl, strangled.  Ruby loves, okay, is obsessed with solving crimes.  Not only that, but she has near perfect recall.  She and her team, Alexis, who lives with her bi-polar mother and is almost homeless, and Nick, whose father was killed in Iraq, set out to solve the crime.  Meanwhile, the murders continue.  Will the police believe their theory, or will they have to save one of their own?  

This is the 1st in a series so expect more good mysteries!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter is the last book of the 4 1/2 part young adult science-fiction series that features different fairy-tale inspired heroines.

Winter is the step-daughter of Levana, the quite nasty queen of Luna (the moon.)  Winter is more beautiful and much kinder than Queen Levana, but she is going insane because she refuses to use the power most Lunar's have, mind control.

Queen Levana orders Winter's prince charming Jacin, a  palace guard, to kill Winter.  Ah, Sleeping Beauty!  We also still have the other fairy tale heroines introduced in the earlier books, Cinder the cyborg who is the true Queen of Luna, Scarlett (Red Riding Hood) and Cress (Rapunzel.)  Each of the princesses also have their Prince Charmings.  All are working together to overthrow the tyrant Queen Levana and get Cinder on the throne.

This was a fun series but would have been more fun if I was 15 and not 49.  I spent a fair amount of time rolling my eyes through this epic last book in the series.  I won't be recommending this series to my adult friends but think my younger self would have totally dug it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pope Francis: The Name of God is Mercy, A conversation with Andrea Tornielli 99 pages

This short little book is an excellent read for Lent.  Pope Francis has declared this year the Jubilee Year of Mercy and this book is a conversation with Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli about what mercy means, to Pope Francis, to the Church and to each of us.  It is an easy read, and should be very meaningful, not just for all Catholics, but to anyone interested in God's mercy.  There is nothing we can do, nothing at all, that as long as we are truly repentant, God will not forgive.  So, if you have been away from the Church, if you have not been to confession for years, run, do not walk, and ask for forgiveness.  God forgives, He is merciful.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier 370 pages

Molly and Kip have traveled from Ireland to work at the Windsor house, despite warnings from a local storyteller and many along the way. While working for the Windsors, Molly and Kip befriend Penny, the youngest Windsor. The longer Molly and Kip stay, they more danger they are in. Strange things happen at night and someone keeps leaving muddy footprints throughout the house. 

When Molly and Kip learn the true of the night gardener, they decide to leave the Windsor house. However, that is not as easy as they thought it would be. Can they save the Windsors as well as themselves?

This is a preliminary nominee for the Mark Twain Award. There is a bit of violence at the end and if you get scared easily, this might not be the book for you. 

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel 213 pages

Who knew that a couple of days can make a big difference is someone's life. On Friday, Lucy got kissed by her boyfriend, Tom Lemmings, in front of the entire 4th grade class. She also had a best friend named Becky. Three days later, she has no boyfriend and Becky won't talk to her. On top of that drama, Lucy's mother just gave birth to her younger sister, Molly. Lucy is excited to be a big sister, however, her parents are worried when Molly is born with Down Syndrome. 

Lucy must learn to navigate the 4th as an outsider. When she gets paired up with Sam, a quiet boy that everyone seems to forget about, for an animal project, Lucy learns that popularity was not all it was cracked up to be. Instead, Lucy and Sam decided to create their own pack, a pack of dorks with April and Sheldon. 

Beth Vrabel does a great job of handling tough topics like bullying, friendship, and disabilities. This is a Mark Twain Award Nominee for 2016-2017. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks 288 pages

Travis Parker has a good life. He has a great job working as a vet with his dad, best friends that has been around since they were little, and even a house on the water. The only thing that he doesn’t have is a stable relationship, which would tie him down.

Gabby Holland’s life is a bit different from Travis’s. She works in a pediatric office with a boss who gets a little handsy. She doesn’t have any friends since she just moved to a new city and her relationship with her boyfriend of 4 years isn’t heading toward marriage like she hopes.

Due to some choices made, their lives will get turned upside down. And Travis will have to answer the question: How far will you go for love?

This was read by Holter Graham. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano 226 pages

Pram was not so much born as rescued into the world.  She has never been told, because her aunts wanted to protect her, but her mother took her own life.  She was pregnant with Pram at the time.  Having skirted this border between life and death, Pram has always been able to see and speak with ghosts.  Her best friend is Felix, a ghost that inhabits a tree on her aunts property.  Forced to go to public school at nearly 12 years of age, Pram faces the prospect of being more among the living.  Fortunately, she befriends Clarence.  Clarence was once a very popular boy with loads of friends.  However, the sudden death of his own mother in a car accident has led him to withdraw into his own world.  Pram and Clarence recognize and appreciate something in one another that most people don't even want to see.  When Clarence's search for his mother's spirit leads them to Lady Savant, Pram comes under unwanted scrutiny.  With plans to use Pram's talents for her own interests, Lady Savant lays a trap.  This was a really great book that I would recommend to children who like a bit of meat in their ghost stories, probably for 3rd graders and up.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead 289 pages

Rebecca Stead is one of my favorite authors of middle grade reading material and I'll tell you why.  She can work with various themes and make believable, touching stories and characters that pull you in and won't let go.  She has won the Newbery for When You Reach Me and I would love to see Goodbye, Stranger win any number of awards.  I was concerned that this book would be better housed in the teen area, because one of the characters is faced with a dilemma about whether to send a particular kind of photo to a boy at her school.  I read the book to determine if it was one that our younger audience would be okay with, without lots of negative feedback from parents and caregivers.  Truly, this was such a beautiful book.  It occasionally switches from character to character, but for the most part follows Bridge, a 7th grader who is navigating a new middle school world with her closest friends.  Unlike some of Stead's other works, this had no sci-fi subtext, no need for suspension of disbelief.  It was an honest look at children in that very difficult age range of nearly teen.  Every character was completely believable.  True to life, no one was completely one thing or another, there were no obvious bad guys, just people who made poor decisions sometimes.  I would recommend this to anyone.  Young people who want to be able to relate to characters in really meaningful ways, adults who want to understand the modern world and how it impacts young people.  It really gave me a lot of insight into what tweens are faced with and how amazing they are for being able to get through it all.  Yes, I began reading it to see if it belonged in the Children's collection, but I ended up not being able to put it down.

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie 256 pages

When young Gwen finds the home of her dreams, she is over the moon.  She and her husband are moving to England from New Zealand where she was raised by an aunt.  The house is everything she had hoped to find.  There is only one problem, she begins to suspect either she is clairvoyant or the house is haunted.  How could she know things about the house that were changed years ago?  And why did she have such a terrifying vision of a woman lying strangled in the hallway with a mystery man standing over her?  Lucky for her, Miss Jane Marple is the aunt of her friend Raymond.  This is indeed very fortunate, as Miss Marple may be the only one to figure out what has happened before and prevent it from happening again.  I enjoyed this as an audiobook.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie 191 pages

When the body of a young lady is found in the library of Colonel and Mrs. Bantry, the whole village is sure to be talking.  Fortunately, Mrs. Bantry is very good friends with Jane Marple.  Miss Marple, in her quiet, gentle way, may be the only one who can untangle this mess and clear her friends' names.  Along the way, she may also help some other people who didn't even know they needed her.  I listened to this audiobook and enjoyed it very much.

Petty, the Biography by Warren Zanes 323 pages

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers seem to have been the background music to my life for as long as I can remember.  I have always admired them and thought they were a fabulous band, even more so for the man himself, Tom Petty.  I guess I never gave much thought to what brought that voice, honest and subtle in its way, to the forefront.  So few bands can balance the egos like the Heartbreakers.  If you listen to their songs, everything is there doing exactly what it should.  There are no overbearing guitar riffs, no fancy drum work, and lying right on top is Petty's voice - smooth and full of character without forcing it down your throat.  I loved learning about the early years of Petty's life and the rise to fame.  I have even more respect for what Petty brought to American music.  I highly recommend this one for anyone who loves biographies, especially if they also love Tom Petty!

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton 307 pages

I have listened to this one before, but I like going back and getting to know Kinsey all over again.  You get glimpses of the character she will become, even though it's not fully there in the first installment of Grafton's Alphabet series.  When a woman who has just been released from prison after serving time for the murder of her husband approaches Kinsey with a job.  She wants Kinsey to find out who really killed her husband.  It was a long time ago, and it means opening old wounds, but Kinsey jumps in.  The real problem will be staying alive, the closer she gets to discovering the answer.  I listened to this audiobook and enjoyed it very much.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

American Gods, 10th Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman, 522 pages

Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller.  This proud-to-be-an-Englishman-thank-you-very-much wrote a rollicking tale about America.  The original text won several literary awards from Science Fiction to Fantasy to Horror.

Shadow has been in jail for three years and three days before he is supposed to be released gets tragic news that gets him released early.  Shadow is at loose ends and gets hired by the mysterious "Mr. Wednesday" who somehow knows him, even though they just met.

Shadow travels America with Mr. Wednesday gathering other mysterious figures for a potential epic battle.  Crossing, double crossing, gods and adventure ensues.  I'm not doing it justice but if you haven't read the book, read the 10th anniversary edition like I did, because it is expanded and is the author's preferred text.  If you like to listen to books - even better.  The audiobook features a full cast of different readers.