Fiction

Next to Love

Next to LoveBabe Huggins is one of those young women (my mother was one also) both lucky and unlucky enough to come of age at the start of World War II. She lives in a small New England town and because the men have left to fight overseas, she scores a department store job, and then later, interesting work at Western Union. She loves being the pulse of news in the town, but a big negative is that she is the first to discover which family has lost a young son or a new spouse.

Next to Love gives a vivid portrait of the war at home in America during WW II as lived by three friends who have known each other since first grade. Both Babe and Millie come from poor families on the wrong side of Sixth Street, whereas Grace's family lives in one of the town's mansions.

The novel chronicles the marriages of each of the three women, and shows how it either destroys or strengthens those unions. At the start of the war, there's one giddy summer when the number or marriages skyrockets--a combination of the men responding to the knowledge of their own mortality and the sheer lust for life-- seize this moment because no one knows how long it will last.
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Wonderstruck

I'm excited about the movie Hugo, opening this week, based on Brian Selznick's amazing book The Invention of Hugo Cabret (winner of the 2008 Caldecott Award). Selznick's newest title, Wonderstruck, is no less incredible. Alternatively told in pencil drawings (Rose's story, set in the late 1920s) and words (Ben's story, set 50 years later), the tales eventually intertwine in ways that are surprising and poignant. Even if you think you're not interested in the history of museums and dioramas, wolves, deafness and deaf culture, constellations, and silent movies, you'll find Selznick's blending of these elements creates a spellbinding read as well as a visual treat. Listen and watch Selznick tell us about his newest masterpiece at Scholastic's Wonderstruck website, and visit Selznick's website for some more insight into the man and his work and interests, including a list of his favorite "weird websites." Recommended for grades 4 and up.
 

When god was a Rabbit

When god was a RabbitThis debut novel by Sarah Winman, a British actress, is decidedly quirky, unusual and fresh. It's also tremendously well-written and involving, and captures as few novels do, the actual feelings and experiences of childhood. The title absolutely pulled me in. Don't for a moment think it's a metaphor. No way. Little Elly, the narrator, receives a Belgian hare for Christmas and, in a family of nonbelievers, what could be more logical than naming her pet god (lower case, of course)?

When her school hosts a Christmas pageant, Elly receives audition instructions from her gay thespian aunt. The little girl secures a role but not Mary, Joseph, or the Baby Jesus. No, instead Elly plays the blind innkeeper. Unfortunately, in a horrible fiasco, she knocks over another child and sends him to the hospital.

Elly has a best friend named Jenny Penny. Her mom is a single parent with lots of visiting boyfriends. Because she has a drinking problem, Jenny joins Elly's kind but eccentric family.
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The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

Lock ArtistRecently I decided to read a mystery that was either nominated for or won an Edgar Award. I chose The Lock Artist, 2010 Best Novel winner, because it sounded interesting. I was not disappointed. The story is narrated by Mike, a "boxman"- someone who can open any lock without a key whether it's on a safe, a door, a window or a padlock. We know this talent has landed him in prison at the age of 18 and that from there he writes his life story. We also know Mike is known as "Miracle Boy" because he survived a family tragedy that is hinted at throughout the book. This tragedy rendered him unable to speak, which brings an interesting facet to the tale. When he falls in love he is only able to communicate with the object of his desire through his other talent- drawing. The Lock Artist is not just one mystery, but many within the life of Mike- which job finally landed him in prison, what happened to the girl he loves, who is the dangerous and mysterious man who employs him, what happened to him as a child? Each chapter jumps to a different point in time in Mike's life with many ending as cliffhangers.

Man Booker Prize

Sense of an EndingJulian Barnes was awarded the Man Booker prize this week for his recent short novel, The Sense of an Ending. Reviews of the book include key words like "compelling", "memorable" and "dexterously crafted".
Barnes is well known in Britain, and has made the Booker short list three times in the past. He was the front runner going into the final days of the Booker, a prize awarded to British authors and authors from the Commonwealth. Usually considered one of the more prestigious literary awards, the Booker prize wasn't without it's own controversy this year. Critics complained that the short list was less literary in an effort to be more accessible and reward popular titles.
Can a book be accessible and popular while also being literary? Color me intrigued - I've just added this to my to-read list.

Dead End in Norvelt

Jack Gantos is one of my favorite authors, especially when I'm in the mood for a quirky, darkly funny read. Dead End in Norvelt is no exception - in fact, it had me laughing out loud in several places about the (fictional?) escapades of the protagonist, also named Jack Gantos! I wish I'd been witness to the real-life childhood of Gantos, to see exactly which of the characters and situations in this novel occurred exactly as he describes. So many favorite scenes - one where Jack is enlisted to dress as the Grim Reaper to determine whether an old person is dead or not, another when his nose bleeds AND he faints after seeing what he thinks is a woman stripping the skin off her arm with her teeth.

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22 Britannia Road

22 Britannia RoadMany novels dwell on the horrors of war, but few deal with the dislocation and tremendous adjustments that occur afterwards. Amanda Hodgkinson's wise debut novel does exactly that for a Polish family separated during World War ll and later reunited in England.

A year before Poland was invaded, Silvana, a movie projectionist, and Janusz, a country boy meet and marry. They have a son Aurek. War comes and Janusz is called to defend his country. Before even reaching his unit, German bombs halt Janusz's train and he is injured during his first battle. He watches as an old woman herding her sheep is shot down.

After the planes disappear, the young Polish soldier decides that he must care for these animals and give this old woman a proper burial. Meanwhile Silvana takes Aurek to the city but as the Germans invade it, she is separated from her son. A woman helps her to reclaim him. Later, a German tries to rape her in an abandoned apartment that she has taken over in search of food and shelter. She and Aurek flee to the woods where they spend the next three or four years.
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Slightly Creepy Stories for Fall

The nights are growing chilly and the leaves are starting to turn. All of the apple and pumpkin books have been checked out at least once and soon the Halloween shelves will be bare. If you are looking for something slightly creepy to fit the season, you may have to dig a little deeper. We have two booklists to help you suss out books that will give you the shivers. Preschool and early elementary book lovers will enjoy selections from
The Not-Too-Scary Stories booklist. Older readers who have a high tolerance for terror should look for the Horror display and
booklist.
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Half Broke Horses: a True Life Novel

Half Broke HorsesThis Sunday in our Booksplus program (Library Room 2B at 2p.m.) we will be discussing Jeannette Walls' rousing true fiction story Half Broke Horses about her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, a feisty woman who grew up in the still wild west of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the early years of the last century. You may be familiar with the author's first book The Glass Castle; it made many best books of the year lists when it came out in 2005 and still has a wide readership.

What a gripping opening. A flash flood rips through the family ranch one evening and Lily her brother and sister hear a loud rumbling as the earth shakes beneath them. Lily grabs the youngest and runs for the only tree in the field. They spend a harrowing night hanging on to branches as massive flood waters drown the field. Although Lily is only ten at the time, she keeps both children awake by making them say their math tables, the names of the states, and any other long list she can remember.
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The Hunger Games

Hunger GamesIf you have not heard of Suzanne Collins' trilogy, The Hunger Games, I must ask what rock you've been sleeping under? The 2008 Young Adult Bestseller has exploded in classrooms, libraries, bookstores, and on the tongues of everyone I come in contact with (or so it seems). Well after being dogged for not reading this book, I finally gave in and read it, determined not to like it to spite all those people who gawked at me for not yet reading it. Unfortunately, my mission backfired on me. I loved it.
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