Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September 2.0

Dear Fahrenheit 451A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence
Oh how I loved this sassy, sarcastic, heartfelt ode to libraries, librarians, and the world of books! Think Nancy Pearl, but with humor and some salty language, which suits me waaaay better. Annie Spence, a librarian in Michigan, gives us some wildly honest 'responses' to an eclectic collection of books as she writes letters to them that explain her love, frustration, bitterness, adoration, and yes, the need to break up sometimes. I laughed myself silly over her description of library patrons and Fifty Shades of Grey, experienced the exact same frustration with Russian 'classics' that I am sure I should read but just cannot get through, and realized that yes, Forever by Judy Blume was a girlhood cult book of mine that did not age well as I became the parent of a daughter. Spence divides her book logically and artfully, sticking to common threads so that even though the olio of books was varied, I didn't feel like I was getting yanked all over the place.  I particularly loved her 'pairings' of books (yes, just like wine and food, but books are more my style).  And the many excuses to use for social occasions when I would rather be reading?  Oh, those were money:)  For anyone who loves books and enjoys a fresh literary voice, do not miss this book; you will laugh out loud and feel so satisfied in the end, only wishing Spence would hurry up and write another one.

The Scarred Woman (Dept. Q #7) by Jussi Adler-Olsen
If you like the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, you will like this detective series by Danish writer Adler-Olsen. Do you have to read them in order? Nope. However, if you are into character development, you might want to as both the main and the peripheral recurring characters are complex and dynamic, showing tremendous growth throughout the series. In his latest mystery, a variety of threads become strung together under the stewardship of Department Q, where lost causes and old cases are solved: a grandfather with a disturbing Nazi past, a police assistant whose struggles with mental health overtakes Dept. Q, an angry social worker, some selfish young women with questionable values, and a police commission that wants to break up the department. Per usual, Head Detective Carl Morck is his usual curmudgeonly self as he teases and berates everyone around him. Syrian sidekick Assad provides levity with his constant misuse of language, while Gordon desperately tries to save Rose, the department secretary, from the demons of her childhood. It is definitely a page-turner, but give it about forty pages for all the threads to start to weave some sense together. This series is also a great listen for those long road trips as the narrator is money.

Invictus by Ryan Graudin
One of my very favorite YA authors (Walled City, Wolf by Wolf, Blood for Blood), Gaudin's latest is once again mind-blowing!  This time she takes us on a sci-fi, time travel, adventure through history.  Hundreds of years into Earth's future, time travel has become a 'thing,' with specially trained people who go back through time to get video and information for historical purposes only.  Warned not to ever disrupt time by being noticed, this of course creates ripe opportunity for literary license, as does the idea that wherever 'legal' is a must, a black market must of course exist.  Thus, the main character, a young man called Faraday McCarthy, fails his final exam to be a time traveler and goes to work for a shady character who pays him big bucks to steal antiquities across time.  Far puts together a ragtag group of compelling characters:  Priya, the med tech and love of his life, who is brave, smart, and compassionate; Imogene, his crazy-ass cousin who dyes her hair a different color every day and is a whip-smart historian; Gram, his best school chum and whiz kid at everything with numbers; and the new kid on the team, Eliot, a girl from another world who has no hair, writes messages in her eyebrows, and is a boss!  I could not put this book down - fabulous page turner, exciting until the very end, and truly appropriate for ages 14-100.

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton
Another excellent book by the author of Daisy in Chains, this one will keep you up late at night, reading until the very last page. Set in northern England, the story begins with a hot-air balloon ride filled with tourists, families, and two sisters, one a nun and the other a cop. When a crime is seen and disaster strikes the balloon, one sister is left behind to pick up all the pieces. Bolton does a fabulous job of keeping all the balls in the air, as she goes back and forth through time, developing not only the sisters' history, but some other extremely despicable crimes perpetrated by a Romany family involving Syrian refugees as well as the police. The rabbit holes are numerous and complex, as the mystery slowly unfolds, and the ending is a serious 'ah-ha' moment. Thrillers seem to be a dime a dozen these days, with numerous authors throwing thin stories into the publishing world, hoping something hits. I appreciate Sharon Bolton's ability to thoroughly develop her characters, and create a unique and complex plot line. If you need a great mystery for that beach vacation this winter or a gift for a person who loves English thrillers, you will not go wrong with this book - it's a winner.

Mr. 60% by Clete Smith
Let me preface this review with the fact that I taught English in our small PNW town with the author. To this day, he remains one of the funniest men I know, my daughter's favorite literature teacher, and a man with a great heart for kids. I could not wait to get my hands on his first YA book - he writes the middle reader series Aliens on Vacation, etc., which for the record are pee-your-pants funny.  His first venture into the world of teens is a winner for a few reasons.  One, as a former classroom teacher, I recognize his main protagonist, Matt, the kid who comes to school reluctantly, is perpetually absent or late, who is always yawning in class, and who does just enough to get by. Every teacher ever has had many "Matts" in their room. You see, Matt is caring for his dying Uncle Jack, with no financial help from the state or his family; this kid is just trying to survive but teachers and administrators expect him to care about completing worksheets. Second, this makes Mr. 60% a book that both teachers AND students should read.  It is a powerful reminder that none of us knows how life is impacting another human until we ask, until we take the time to sit down, until we care.  In Matt's life, that is a young woman named Amanda, an overweight, lonely girl who insinuates herself into Matt's life, whether he wants her there or not.  And last, this book speaks directly to kids just like Matt.  Clete Smith doesn't muck up the story with flowery description or $100 words; he writes a story that kids like Matt can read and understand, and can recognize themselves in the pages. So, to all my former teaching pals - put this book in a kid's hands and take a copy home for yourself - you'll be glad you did.

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
Nelson DeMille really never disappoints.  In the style of a Clive Cussler or Robert Ludlum, he always creates a great hero (okay, rather stereotypical but easy to root for), a complicated plot in an intriguing setting, and a solid page turner. This time around he has "Mac" MacCormick, a war veteran with a chest full of medals, quick-witted and humorous, and never afraid to take a few risks. This mystery involves a cargo coming out of Cuba to America, deeds to land taken during the revolution, and skulls and bones of Vietnam veterans, all things the Cuban government does not want seen by the rest of the world.  As the mystery unfolds, one sees the lack of trust within government, with everyone on the take; it definitely does not make one want to vacation in Cuba yet.  If you're looking for a strong thriller for the person in your life who loves this kind of book (it's one way to get my husband to pick up a novel), you won't go wrong with The Cuban Affair.

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