Archive for the ‘Booklists’ Category

hardyIn Ten Years in the Tub Nick Hornby mentioned a number of books that sounded like ones that I would like. First on that list was Claire Tomalin’s biography of Thomas Hardy. WRL had a copy, so I took it home and dove in. While Hardy is known to most readers as a great novelist, I am more partial to his poems. In either case, readers will come away from Tomalin’s superb book with a better understanding of Hardy’s life and writing.

It is always interesting to see how much a writer’s personal life is evidenced in his or her fiction. Tomalin does an excellent job of pointing out both how Hardy’s relationships with his family, his friends, and his geographic circumstances not only informed his writing, but sometimes appeared directly in the stories and poems. It is often the case when reading a biography of an artist whose work you enjoy that you run the risk of disappointment in their personal life. Does it really matter to your enjoyment of his writing that Hardy and his wife had a difficult relationship, and that he was hardly blameless for their problems? I think that the further away in time that you get from the person the easier it is to separate out the personal and the artistic lives. So for me, the revelations about Hardy’s prickly personality set the poems and novels in a new context, but did not reduce my pleasure in them.

Thomas Hardy’s life and his creative work were both shaped by the Dorset countryside that he loved. Tomalin is an excellent biographer of place as well as of person and she leaves the reader with a clear picture of the villages, farms, and wild places that Hardy enjoyed. She also easily kept my attention from wandering throughout a long (Hardy lived from 1840 to 1928) and character-filled story. Anyone who loves Hardy’s novels or poetry, or who is interested in the writing life, will find a great deal to enjoy in this delightful biography. As a sample, here is how Tomalin ends her book:

[Hardy's poems] remind us that he was a fiddler’s son, with music in his blood and bone, who danced to his father’s playing before he learnt to write. This is how I like to think of him, a boy dancing on the stone cottage floor, outside time, oblivious, ecstatic, with his future greatness as unimaginable as the sorrows that came with it.

Check the WRL catalog for Thomas Hardy

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hornbyI am feeling very meta-…, writing about a book that is about writing about books, some of which are about writing. I have a great affection for essays and my library at home has lots of examples from Montaigne to Abbey to McPhee to the Whites (E.B and Katherine) and many more. When I came across this collection of Nick Hornby’s essays on books he has read, written originally for The Believer magazine, on the new book cart, I checked it out, immediately realized I needed to own it, and went to the bookstore and bought a copy.  Hornby’s column, “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” has been running more or less monthly since 2003 and covers just that–books that Hornby has read in the past month. Each essay begins with a list of books purchased that month and then a second list of books read. Hornby then proceeds to discuss those two lists and anything else that comes into his agile, inventive, and always entertaining mind.

There are two ways to read books like this. First, you can look at the lists the author offers, and count how many titles you have read, or at least heard of, reveling in your superior literary tastes. This is the competitive, ego-driven option. Or, you can step back, read the essays, and start making your own lists of titles mentioned that you ought to go right out and get and read. This is, of course, the more mature way to read the book. OK, I did both.

Hornby is a font of great ideas for books to read as his interests, his own protests to the contrary, go beyond football (by which he means soccer) and rock-and-roll. From all types of fiction to a fascinating array of nonfiction, Hornby’s descriptions of his monthly reading are filled with titles I want to read right now. As The Believer‘s “About” page indicates: “We will focus on writers and books we like. We will give people and books the benefit of the doubt.” So the reviews here are generally positive, and that is great. I would much rather hear about why I should be interested in a particular book or writer than why I shouldn’t.

This is also a book about what it is to be a reader, and Hornby captures all the ups and downs of the reading life–those times when you just cannot get through a book and the times when you start a book and the next thing you know it is 3 a.m. and you are still reading. Hornby understands and conveys with humor the times when life gets in the way of reading. Spouses, children, deadlines, one’s own work, and, yes, the Arsenal vs. Manchester United match, all have a way of derailing our reading time. That being the case, it is great to have a guide as thoughtful, eloquent, and passionate as Nick Hornby to offer some possible titles to get you back on the road to reading.

Check the WLR catalog for Ten Years in the Tub

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wrinkleThe 1963 Newberry-award winning novel, A Wrinkle in Time, was a favorite of mine as a child. There was something so gently compelling about the storyline and I could relate so deeply to main character. Teenager Meg Murry doesn’t fit in, in school or seemingly anywhere else. She’s smart but stubborn, and fiercely protective of her family, even with its complete lack of normalcy. She is especially combative when anyone speaks badly about Charles Wallace, her youngest brother, who is definitely an odd child. Their father is missing, and his unexplained disappearance haunts the family, and leads Meg to be even more belligerent as she struggles to deal with the loss and the emptiness of not knowing what happened to him.

Although it has been many years since I last read A Wrinkle in Time, I was immediately swept back into the adventures had by Meg, Charles, their neighbor Calvin, with the Misses Whatsit, Who, and Which guiding them along their journey throughout the universe to save Mr. Murry from the terrible blackness that envelops him. The story, to use the words of Mrs. Murry, requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but the relationship between Meg and her brother Charles Wallace is poignant, and the storyline flows smoothly and quickly.

This work, adapted and illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Hope Larson, is the first time the iconic story has been presented in a graphic novel format. The illustrations are deceptively simple, and use a limited color palette of black, white, and sky blue. The blue hue serves to soften the starkness of the images, giving a dreamlike mood to the rapidly shifting number of worlds that they visit. Night and day have no definition here, as fighting the darkness without losing yourself or those you love is the only thing that matters.

This book is appropriate for all ages, but is especially recommended to fantasy readers and anyone who wants to revisit an old favorite from their childhood.

Search the catalog for A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel

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sameDoes anyone get out of their high school years unscathed? Free from uncomfortable memories of interactions they mishandled due to their own unnerving awkwardness? If you did, then you will not be able to understand the brilliance of Same Difference. The action in this novel is not about the present existence of the two main characters, but rather of the juxtaposition between their past deeds, clumsy with the emotional over-eagerness of youth, and their current ability to reassess those actions and desires through the lens of their adult experiences and maturity.

Simon and Nancy are two early-to mid twenty-somethings living in Oakland. For Simon, it has been seven years since he graduated high school and he dreads each return to the town where he grew up due to the embarrassment and unease of constantly running into people he went to high school with. Though Nancy teases him, she is just as reserved about her high school experience and fights any invasion of her privacy related to those gawky years. They both know that when you are young you are stupid and lack the experience to deal with the flood of emotions you are faced with on a daily basis. Neither wants their present judged on the transgressions of their past.

Nancy’s meddlesome response to some letters meant for a previous tenant of her apartment serves as the vehicle for a road trip for her and Simon back to Simon’s hometown. There Simon must face people and situations he thought he had long put behind him. I was especially drawn to his conflicted feelings over his meeting Eddie and Jane, two married members of his high school class who used to torment him in their separate and devastating ways. Seeing them walking down the street with one baby in a stroller and another on the way left them toothless and oddly, ordinary. Would you want to hang out with someone who tormented you in high school and called you a nerd? It would seem not, but time is an antiseptic which, if not heals, certainly numbs old wounds.

A winner of the 2004 Eisner Award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition, 2004 winner of the Harvey Award for Best New Talent, and 2003 Ignatz Award, this title came to me with high expectations, but it far exceeded them. Recommended for readers of graphic novels and anyone who enjoys a coming of age story in all its painful clarity.

Search the catalog for Same Difference.

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All this week, Mindy reviews books about art theft, starting with two titles about some of the more sensational cases:

Museum of the Missing (2006) and Stolen (2008) are very similar booksboth have introductory material written by Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register, a tool used worldwide to authenticate artworks and aid in the recovery of stolen art. Some of the true crimes described in the earlier work are also in Stolen. Both include pages filled with color illustrations of lost art and the fascinating stories detailing what is known about their thefts. (Those who are tracking the fluctuating state of art theft cases may also want to follow current events. One way that I have been doing that is with a Google alert that sends newly published articles and blog posts to my email inbox daily.)

These art crime stories range from sad, disturbing, and shocking losses of our cultural heritage to hilarious and often audacious stupid-crook capers. The good news is that a number of stolen works of art have been recovered by art crime investigators, often working in undercover sting operations designed to thwart criminal schemes. It’s delicate work, often prioritized in favor of recovering works of art unharmed rather than on locking up the culprits who stole them. Appeals to the public are often made, with rewards offered, without fear of prosecution if involved.

The reality is that the high-priced art world often makes the headlines with record-breaking art sales. This attracts thieves who can’t seem to resist. What thieves unfortunately fail to calculate is the market for fencing their loot. Thus, they’re sometimes stuck with stolen art, and without backgrounds in art history or an acquired taste for fine art they seldom show any concern for its preservation. Thieves who couldn’t find a buyer have sometimes destroyed the stolen art in order to eliminate the evidence of their crime. Sculptures are stolen for their metal content and melted down for scrap.

Houpt and Webb each do an excellent job of storytelling about these intriguing art thefts. They also provide a great deal of insight into the history of art and what has made stealing it such an irresistible crime. A nice shelf to browse for more titles like these is located in the true crime area of 364.162.

Check the WRL catalog for Museum of the Missing

Check the catalog for Stolen

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YokotaOfficersClubThis compelling story of family, betrayal, and memory starts out in the late 1960s as 18-year-old Bernie is flying to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa to visit her family after her first year at college.  She grew up in an Air Force family, under the shadow of larger-than-life Major Mace Root, and popular and beautiful younger sister, Kit.  Now she has been “breathing civilian air” for a year and has joined a peace group, Damsels in Dissent.  Her large family are astonished at their first sight of her at the airport in tattered jeans with peace symbols and no bra.  She, in return, is astonished at how badly her family is dealing with their new assignment, from her teenage sister’s open rebellion to her younger sister’s anxiety to her mother’s cupboard full of Valium.

The story moves forwards and backwards in time from the 1960s to the 1940s, with poignant descriptions of the plight of Japanese civilians in the immediate aftermath of World War II when work, shelter, and food were in short supply. Slowly the picture is revealed of Bernie’s past and the book explores the nature of blame, responsibility, and human ties as Bernie comes to a wrenching realization about the triggers of her family’s disintegration eight years earlier during their posting to Yokota, Japan.

The Yokota Officers Club does a wonderful job at capturing a slice of military family life, especially the isolation of Bernie and all her siblings, except popular Kit.  A myriad of details of military life are scattered throughout, some of which are still pertinent for military families today, such as the frequent relocations. Bernie calls the souvenirs of bases where her family have lived “the spoils” of military life, particularly “the set of three framed fans that have hung of the wall in the hallways of all the houses we lived in since Fussa.”  My family lived in Europe rather than Asia so we lean more towards cuckoo clocks and wooden shoes than ornamental fans, although in North Dakota we had the same obscure brass Turkish camel wind chime as our neighbors.  Other details such as a family losing their jobs for not mowing the lawn are dated, as a base family will still get a notice about a messy yard, but the military is less strict.  And some things have completely changed: “Wives of majors who wish to make colonel wear heels and hose in public.”

In turns both funny and sad, The Yokota Officers Club is a story about loyalty – to family and to country, and to people who surround us.  It is based on Sarah Bird’s own childhood and she dedicates the book to her family – her Lieutenant Colonel father, nurse mother and three brothers and two sisters, just like Bernie’s family. But in the acknowledgements she adds, “to my family who… understood and accepted my capricious weaving of fiction through our shared past.”  Try The Yokota Officers Club for an emotional, character driven read about family relations.

Check the WRL catalog for The Yokota Officers Club.

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PurpleHeartMatt wakes up in a hospital bed in Iraq.  He remembers being on patrol, and he remembers an explosion, but he is blurry about what befell Ali, an orphaned Iraqi boy who had befriended him.  In the hospital he can’t remember what day of the week it is, forgets words like “trash,” and gets headaches that are a “bolt of pain.”  The medical staff tell him he has TBI (a Traumatic Brain Injury).  Usually mild cases get better on their own, and he’ll be back with his patrol in a few days. Matt struggles to remember what happened, but at the same time is terrified to recall, in case he remembers the unthinkable – that he purposely shot a child.

Purple Heart is marketed and classified as a teen book as Matt is only eighteen and enlisted straight from high school.  His hometown girlfriend writes him letters about school football games and pop quizzes.  She even says she is “sooo scared” of a bio pop quiz.  This highlights the divergence of their experiences and the disconnect between Matt’s old life and his new life.  Purple Heart is not a comfortable book and asks profound questions about war, as one of Matt’s buddies says, “We came over here to help these people and instead we’re killing them.”  And Matt thinks, “This is what war is all about.  It wasn’t about fighting the enemy.  It wasn’t about politics or oil or even about terrorists.  It was about your buddies; it was about fighting for the guy next to you.  And knowing he was fighting for you.”

Patricia McCormick says, “It isn’t an anti-war book. It isn’t a pro-war book. It’s an attempt to portray how three children ─ two eighteen-year-old Americans and a ten-year-old Iraqi boy ─ have been affected by war.”

Purple Heart asks (perhaps unanswerable) questions about the morality of war and how it changes people. I recommend it for readers of other Young Adult books about war, such as Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.

Check the WRL catalog for Purple Heart.

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TheRights of the ReaderReading should not be torture.

I’ll take a stab, and guess that you, today’s Gentle Readers, who are perusing a blog about books, created by a public library, are a special bunch. You, like your faithful librarians, are all enthusiastic and heavy readers. So, for all of us, it is difficult to imagine reading as torture. But, on the other hand, do we all remember that one book at high school that was cruel and unusual punishment? Maybe it was a book that you came to appreciate later, but wasn’t really suitable for school? I don’t know on which planet The Great Gatsby will excite middle schoolers, but I doubt it is this one.

Daniel Pennac is from France and I am not sure if French middle schoolers have The Great Gatsby forced on them, but  they obviously get similar treatment because the author dedicates his slim, humorous book with the admonition to “Parents, teachers, librarians, please on no account use these pages as an instrument of torture.”

The Rights of the Reader is divided into dozens of very short chapters, some only a few sentences long, interspersed with Quentin Blake’s quirky and appealing illustrations. This makes it great for dipping into. And “dipping in” is one of the rights Daniel Pennac assigns to readers in the last section of the book. He enumerates ten rights and I like them all, but they are not all universally acknowledged, even by librarians. For example, Number 4, “The Right to Read it Again.” I love to revisit old books, but sometimes we are encouraged to constantly read new books as life is short and so many great new books are being published.  But since life is short I want to keep the prerogative to go back to The Secret Garden simply “for the joy of being reunited with it.”

I recommend this book for everyone. In our library The Rights of the Reader is shelved in the “Parents Corner” with books for parents and other adults about raising children. It definitely has utility for parents, but is also a manifesto for all readers. There are many reasons to read, and sometimes we should read for information, or to learn, or to better ourselves, but as in many aspects of life everyone has to allow time to read for sheer pleasure. For today’s gentle blog readers, this may be obvious, but I don’t think it hurts to be reminded.

Check the WRL catalog for The Rights of the Reader.

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UnapologeticFatGirlHanne Blank is most definitely “unapologetic.” One of her earlier books was Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them).  In The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts her premise is that “the culture we live in is so hateful and abusive to everybody and every body that doesn’t measure up to its constantly shifting targets for ‘perfect'” that many women are ashamed to be seen exercising, although “it doesn’t seem to matter what size someone is. The beneficial side effects movement has on the body’s ability to maintain a healthy physical equilibrium appear to be among the few things in the world that seem genuinely to be one-size-fits-all.”

Hanne Blank has a witty, irreverent, and conversational style. She refers to her readers as “my glorious plumpling” and advises us to “flail proudly.” She claims to be “as intrinsically athletic as an oyster” and entitles a chapter about unsolicited, mean-spirited comments about size “Chub, Sweat and Jeers.”

The book includes lots of practical advice on things like how to choose a gym, bearing in mind factors like size of toilets stalls and general concerns like parking, friendliness and hours. Also how to choose a form exercise that you will enjoy and therefore continue doing. She gives two sample workouts and practical advice for swimsuits such as Aquatards you can buy if you prefer more coverage than a traditional swimsuit, and includes a Resource Guide with more books, DVDs, exercise programs and equipment.

The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts is affirming whether you consider yourself “a fat girl” or not. Hanne Blank points out the simple truism that, “your body will inevitably change in shape and size, contour and proportion over the course of your life.” And as an antidote to the constant harping she has experienced throughout her life, she counsels that, “Hunger is not a moral issue. It is not your body’s way of trying to trick you into doing something that is bad for you” and significantly, “the number on the scale… does not measure virtue or goodness.”

I recommend this book for anyone who has ever curtailed any activity because they feared others judging their body. Read it alongside books like Fat! So? : Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size! by Marilyn Wann.  And always remember what Hanne Blank says in her introduction, “Apologizing for having a body is basically the same thing as apologizing for being alive. “

Check the WRL catalog for The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts.

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The Light Between Oceans is the story of the bonds between parents and children. It explores the implacable strength of these bonds, but also their possible destructive power, and the deep sorrow if these bonds are broken. It is about betrayal and forgiveness and people trying to do the right and moral thing, but inadvertently causing more suffering.

Tom has just returned to Australia from the trenches of World War I. He chooses the isolation of lighthouse keeping to have time to be quiet and not think about the wounds he carries on his soul. He expects to stay alone, but he meets bubbly Isabel who is happy to live with him on isolated Janus rock. They only see other people every three months when the boat brings supplies, and only get shore leave once every three years. Their life is happy until Isabel has three miscarriages. After a storm, a boat washes up on shore containing a dead man and a tiny baby. Isabel and Tom assume that both parents are dead and it seems to Isabel that God has brought them a gift to replace their dead children and that they will be able to keep the baby forever as their own daughter. Then with a Shakespearean sense of impending and unavoidable tragedy, the events unfold.

The calamitous shadow of World War I looms over the story, even in a small Western Australian town, and even in the late 1920s. Of his war experiences Tom will only say to Isabel, “Trying to describe it would be like passing on a disease.” Isabel is her parents’ only surviving child as both her brothers were killed, which was typical of Australia, even though it is so far from the battlefields of Europe.

The Light Between Oceans is a haunting and wrenching story filled with a pervasive sense of loss. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen as all the possible outcomes seemed to be flawed and tragic. Despite this, it is a moving portrait of family bonds (“There is no defending yourself from the love of a baby”) and a wonderful lesson in the power and necessity of forgiveness, when Tom says, “To have a future, you have to give up hope of changing the past.” Plunge in to this book if you like compelling, character-driven literary fiction such as The Orchardist or more fantastically, The Night Circus.

Check the WRL catalog for The Light Between Oceans.

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The Science of Good Cooking

Books are always the best gifts. Any bibliophile knows this, but for fancier volumes there is always the risk of gifting a  pricey doorstop. The Science of Good Cooking certainly qualifies as a doorstop at 486 pages and almost 11 by 9 inches. I decided to get it for my son’s sixteenth birthday to encourage his known interest in chemistry and a burgeoning interest in cooking. Happily, it has been a rewarding gift on many levels. It was worth every penny to come home one day to a scrumptious meal of fried chicken, creamed corn and salad that my son had cooked. And the book was an even better deal because, besides from my strong self-interest in getting my teenagers in the kitchen, I know I can always improve my own cooking skills.

I was paging through the book one evening looking for something to grab me, and I was instantly snaffled up by the section called “Cocoa Powder Delivers Big Flavor.” Since I am inclined to be smug about cooking from scratch I am embarrassed to admit that I have only ever made something approximating chocolate  mousse by the method of empty-powder-from-box-into-milk-and-whisk. So mousse it was! Whilst making the mousse, I discovered (or more accurately confirmed) that I am lazy. I knew that maximum volume in beaten egg whites requires a bowl completely free of oil. I only have one bowl for my stand mixer and I had just made it greasy with the previous ingredients, and making it clean for the egg whites hand involved washing a bowl, that although greasy, was safe to eat from. My first inclination was to put it in the dishwasher, but that would have taken too long, so the only answer was to use a dirty bowl and egg white volume be darned! The resulting mousse, although not at maximum volume, still tasted very good…

After my mousse adventure I still have plenty more to go. As I read in the section on eggs, subheading: “Starches at work – Quiche,” the proteins in raw egg whites and yolks are long chains of amino acids coiled up in balls (p 190). Who knew? When I was a vegetarian for 11 years, quiche was a significant part of my repertoire. Now it is greeted with a great deal less than enthusiasm when I present it to my unrepentantly carnivorous family. It did seem to get tougher and drier over the years, so I am looking forward to finding out the scientific secret to superb quiche.

I recommend this book for any cookbook fan. It has a variety of great recipes, although I found the organisation idiosyncratic. And it is a great book for sneaky people like me who want to feel noble that I am doing something “scientific” when I really just want to eat chocolate mousse.

Check the WRL catalog for The Science of Good Cooking.

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I typically choose beach reads in the fall or wintertime.  As temperatures drop below 50°F, cover images with hammocks and cerulean blue seas become irresistible and I pick them up for escape purposes, to tide me over until I can reach a beach in a warmer clime. It’s like a chocolate indulgence or an extravagant café selection — a little me-time fantasy.  Ocean Beach fit the bill this time.

The author’s work caught my eye months ago when this sequel to Ten Beach Road came out so I’ve had it on my to-read list ever since (and enjoyed Ocean Beach without having read the first book in the Beach series).  Since then, I’ve learned that Wax was once honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award for her debut romance 7 Days and 7 Nights in 2003. Now I’ve just learned that Wendy Wax has joined the Downton Abbey craze — using her fandom as the source of inspiration for her latest novel, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

The scenario of Ocean Beach made me recall the 80’s television sitcom Designing Women.  A group of women friends, assembled in Wax’s typical ensemble-cast style, are collaborating on the renovation of an historic Art Deco home in the dreamy vicinity of Miami’s South Beach.  This project shows the promise of promoting the future success of their fledgling enterprise owing to the fact that their remodeling project is to be featured on a reality television show called Do Over.  However, they had not anticipated that such notoriety might stem from a camera focused much more on their private lives than their skills with refinishing and refurbishing old houses so they are soon wishing their dirty laundry wasn’t about to be broadcast for all to see.

Ocean Beach readers will find a little romance, troubling pasts and deeply hidden secrets, a bit of amateur detective work, and more than a few strained domestic relationships in this lively, dramatic novel. Fans of chick lit and romance are sure to enjoy turning its pages, preferably while relaxing on a sun-kissed beach.

Check the WRL catalog for Ocean Beach

If you’re interested in starting with Wendy Wax’s earlier books, try The Accidental Bestseller.

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A 2013 Alex Award winner (meaning its a book in the adult section found to be highly appealing to teen readers), Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a laughable and adventurous satire packed with hilarious characterization and witty dialogue mostly in the epistolary fashion using email correspondence, letters, police reports, report cards, and other documents.  Modest readers might find some strong language offensive yet very in-character when utilized.

You’ll find hilarious characters, some to love, some to hate, and some to drive everyone crazy!  Semple pokes fun at Seattle’s subcultures of anti-fashionable, pro-geek, tech-talking, community-oriented, hyper-diverse, ultra-green, alternative-lifestyle embracing citizens.  Semple herself is a transplant to the Seattle region from Los Angeles, as is the character Bernadette, where she wrote screenplays for “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Ellen,” “Mad About You” and “Arrested Development.”

Caution, spoilers (because the events are revealed asynchronously and non-chronologically): Bernadette Fox has escaped her failed career as a genius architect by isolating herself in a crumbling fortress of a home where she can’t sleep and torments herself with self-pity.  She’s become so anti-social that she’s hired a virtual assistant to handle even the most mundane logistics of her life.  For years, her precious 15-year old daughter Bee has been Bernadette’s only reason for living.  Bee’s been promised this trip to Antarctica as an award for her perfect report card (Her Microsoft-guru dad can afford it).  Now, she’s having a panic attack brought on by the prospect of accompanying Bee through the sea-sickening Drake passage, “the roughest and most feared water in the world,”  and this leads to a series of outrageous circumstances that culminate in a final resolution that just might restore Bernadette’s artistic passion.

The narration, and actual singing, by actress Kathleen Wilhoite, is extraordinarily energetic and adds much to the listening experience of the audiobook version, which I was whizzed through completely enraptured with joyous laughter.  When hearing her voicing the hysterics of the ‘gnats’ (aka the condescending moms of Bee’s classmates at Galer Street School), I was reminded of Tea Leoni’s over-the-top character in the movie Spanglish.

Check the WRL catalog for the print or large print versions, too.

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For the last review this week I am looking at a graphic novel. Refresh Refresh is by far the darkest and saddest of these stories. Like Operation Oleander, Refresh Refresh is set in recent history. Josh’s father and Cody’s father are Marine Reservists who are deployed to Iraq. They live in a small, unnamed Oregon town where a lot of the men have gone to war. For many of the families the men’s absence is a financial as well as practical burden. Cody’s power is cut off even though his mother has a job and his father is being paid by the military. His mother says that they are in financial trouble from losing his father’s overtime pay, although she works extra hours at the factory, so she is hardly ever home for him and his small brother.

The title, Refresh Refresh, comes from the action of refreshing the computer browser to see if any email has arrived and at the beginning both boys do this continuously, almost obsessively. As I said in my post on Operation Oleander, electronic communication is both a blessing and and a curse. In wrenching panels we see the boys repeatedly looking at their computer screens and seeing the cheerful but heartbreaking message, “Welcome! You have 0 unread messages.”

Refresh Refresh does a good job of portraying the complex feelings military service creates in the families left behind. Josh and Cody are about to graduate from high school, but in their small town there are not many opportunities open to them. Most of their friends feel they have to work in a local factory–“the plant”–or join the military. The boys resent that their fathers are gone and see the negatives of military service, but at the same time are proud of them, leading to ambivalence, “This is what we all wanted: to please our fathers, to make them proud–even thought they had left us.” Josh wants to go to university–a fact that he hides from his friends. His distant mother and stepfather are willing to pay for college, but if he gets bad news from Iraq what decision will he make?

The artwork reflects the dark subject matter, with severe lines and somber, drab colors, mostly in army green and grey. Try Refresh Refresh for a stark and uncompromising look at military family life, especially for reservists. Refresh Refresh is a violent and often disturbing graphic novel suitable for adults and older teens.

Check the WRL catalog for Refresh, Refresh.

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“Daddy does not know what it is like to have to be a father to your mother. “

It is always an adjustment when a parent is deployed, but what happens when a  family is held together by one parent and that parent leaves?  In Joseph by Shelia P. Moses, Joseph’s father is deployed to Iraq and his mother, a drug addict, cannot cope. In fact Joseph, a boy mature beyond his years, ends up looking after her. When they are evicted he gets a chance to go to a better school although he is terrified that his new friends will learn that he and his mother are living in a homeless shelter. Joseph is torn; he is a good student who wants to do well in school and wants to take up tennis again, but he also wants to protect his mother and is suspended for three days for fighting with boys at school who insult her. Joseph’s parents were estranged before his father went away but the deployment makes it impossible for his father to offer any support to Joseph, except financial support. And that goes wrong when his mother uses Joseph’s father’s money to buy drugs rather than food or utilities. Joseph’s father knew about his wife’s problems and was trying to get custody of Joseph, but had missed two court dates because he was deployed, so may never get custody.

Joseph is a gritty book, not holding back from Joseph’s mother’s degradation and the negative effects on Joseph. Joseph’s mother is not at all likable, while his father is physically distant and therefore unable to help. Joseph is all alone. When some of his old school mates pick another fight with him: “When they read me my rights they say I can make one phone call, but I have no one to call. Daddy is halfway around the world; Momma’s cell phone is off.” p75

Ultimately it is Joseph’s Aunt Shirley who saves him until his father returns, showing the importance of extended family in this sort of situation. When a military family are in crisis like this there are programs and people who are meant to help. I know that sometimes they are not as helpful as they are meant to be, especially in a case like this where Joseph and his mother live away from a military base. Isolated families face the same pressures in having a parent deployed but it is more likely that they will fall through the cracks and be missed by the  military assistance.

The author Shelia P. Moses was a National Book Award Finalist and a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Recipient for her 2004 novel The Legend of Buddy Bush.  In 2009, Joseph was nominated for the NAACP Image Award.

I recommend this book for adults and older teens who want a glimpse into the sordid life of addiction and the effects on children. It doesn’t talk a lot about what many people think of as a military lifestyle but does highlight that thousands of American children, far from military bases, have been affected by the recent wars as they have seen a parent leave.

Check the WRL catalog for Joseph

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OperationOleanderCoverThis is the newest of the books I am reviewing this week, published in 2013. I found it difficult to read, not because of the length of the book or the complexity of the language – because it is a short and quick read, but because it too realistically portrayed details of my husband’s recent deployment to Afghanistan, although he is now safely home.

Jess’s Dad is in Afghanistan and she lives with her mother and toddler sister at invented army base, Fort Spencer, in Florida. She and her friends Meriwether and Sam have set up an unofficial charity to raise money in Florida to donate supplies to a girls’ orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. Meriwether wants to stop working on the project and spend the rest of her summer sailing and swimming like usual. But Jess constantly looks at the photos and videos of the children they are helping and feels compelled to get more money for them.

A detail this book captures, that books set earlier miss, is the immediacy of electronic communication. Soldiers have always written letters home from war and letters from Civil War and World War I soldiers are now important and poignant historical documents. Will a transcript of a Skype session ever be seen as history? Can a Skype transcript even exist and can streaming video be saved? When you expect instant electronic communication from someone in a war zone at a certain time every day or at an expected frequency, if it doesn’t arrive, its absence carries a burden of worry. In the first few pages Jess says, “His email is there. I check the date and time of his note. As of this morning, Dad was still alive in Afghanistan.”

That turns out to be an ironic statement as they soon discover that a surge is underway and there have been several explosions in Kabul, including at the orphanage. The explosions over 7000 miles away in Kabul turn Jess’s life upside down. There are injuries and deaths and some people in her community blame her for the military being anywhere near the orphanage, endangering themselves and the orphans.

Operation Oleander is an up-to-date book that captures a slice of military child experience. A child with a deployed parent may be interested in the book’s perspective, although they may find it too raw and difficult to read, although it describes no graphic violence. And thankfully, most military children don’t have to deal with so much tragedy. It includes details about the expectations for extra responsibilities when a parent is away, such as Jess’s father teaching her specifically how to add gas to the lawn mower and turn off the water main before he goes away. For every reader Operation Oleander also asks profound questions about blame, accountability, unintended consequences and our obligation to each other as human beings.

Check the WRL catalog for Operation Oleander.

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All this week I am writing about a theme close to my heart – books featuring children of American military personnel. Some of the books I’m reviewing are up to date, talking about children with parents in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I am starting with an older book, with an even older setting.

Durable Goods is primarily a moving and beautiful coming of age story, written with a present tense immediacy. Katie is twelve and her friend Cherylanne is fourteen. They live next door to each other in a row of six connected houses on an army base in Texas around the 1960s. Katie’s mother recently died of cancer and most of Katie’s time and attention is taken up with navigating the changes of adolescence without her mother. Katie’s life is teasing Cherylanne’s older brother, worrying about shaving her legs, wanting her breasts to grow, and waiting for her first kiss.

Katie’s father’s military position holds a dominant position in their lives, and her Colonel father is inflexible, demanding and violent.  He is similar to, although not as colorful as, “Bull” Meecham in The Great Santini.  When I told a colleague at the library who grew up in a military family about my plans for my blog posts this week, she said she doesn’t like this sort of book because she is sick of military men being portrayed as thugs, as her father was stern but never violent. Author Elizabeth Berg said that Katie’s  father is based on her own father, but she adds that things have changed and violence is not acceptable in military families now.

Katie’s father clashes the most with Katie’s eighteen-year-old sister, Diane. “It’s not right, Katie. He’s not supposed to hit us like that. I’m going to tell someone, I swear. I’m going to get him into trouble.” Diane runs away and is brought back, but at eighteen she can leave, but will she?

Some of the details of military life are odd to civilians, “Our fathers’ names and ranks are posted outside our doors, above our mailboxes. We have look-alike bushes in the front and back.” Other details are well known, such as moving to a new base frequently, “‘We are not allowed to cry when we drive away–or any other time, either–about any place we leave behind. Sometimes it aches so hard, the thought of all you can’t have anymore, your desk the third in the third row, the place where you buy licorice, the familiarity of the freckles on your friends’ faces, the smell of your own good bedroom. You will be the new girl again, the one one always having to learn things.”

If you like the character-driven women’s fiction of Ann Hood or Anna Quindlen, try Durable Goods for its poignant coming of age story. I also recommend it for military children, either grown or older teenagers and current or retired military personnel. If you are interested in a longer list of books about military children check out my (now sadly dated looking but with updated content) website that I started for a class assignment in 2003. Things have changed a lot in ten years, not least the two wars that have lead to a resurgence of books about military children. I will review a sampling of four more of these books over the week ahead.

Check the WRL catalog for Durable Goods.

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The compilation of 180 sources is done, and the final version of the All the Best Books Compilation (ABBC) is ready for your download! In final tally, we found mentions of over 2700 books published in the United States in 2012.

You can download the ABBC spreadsheet here: Best2012. Librarians, booksellers, and others who work with readers are welcome to download the spreadsheet, re-sort the results by title, votes, or author and use it to identify great books, develop collections, build displays, or otherwise advise readers. If you re-publish any aspect of the ABBC, just make sure to credit Blogging for a Good Book, Williamsburg Regional Library, and chief compiler Neil Hollands.

Over the past weeks, I have annotated the leading books in each of the ABBC’s twelve categories, either here at BFGB or at my other blogging home, Book Group Buzz. Browse through past posts at both sites to find out more details about some of 2012’s most honored (the last of these posts, on the leading books in contemporary literary fiction, will appear April 1st, no fooling!) Don’t stop there! There are hundreds of fantastic books, many of which were less publicized and thus less frequently reviewed lurking further down in the lists.

Thanks again to Largehearted Boy and the Readers’ Advisor Online Blog for compiling links to many of the best-of-the-year lists. That head start makes compiling this resource, what I like to think of as the most thorough best-of-the-year list of all, much easier. Thanks to Williamsburg Regional Library and all of my colleagues here for the time and support needed to get this work done.

That said, here’s the quick version, the honor roll of the 95 books most frequently mentioned by 180 different authoritative sources: all of the books that were mentioned by at least ten different sources. Each listing provides, the title, author, the number of mentions the book received, and the category of the ABBC spreadsheet in which the book is listed.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (65 mentions, crime and thrillers)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (53 mentions, nonfiction)

This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz (52 mentions, short stories)

Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (49 mentions, historical fiction)

Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (44 mentions, bios and memoirs)

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain (42 mentions, general fiction)

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (40 mentions, young adult fiction)

Building Stories, by Chris Ware (36 mentions, graphic works)

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter (34 mentions, general fiction)

Passage of Power: the Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro (32 mentions, bios and memoirs)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (30 mentions, general fiction)

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (28 mentions, young adult fiction)

The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers (27 mentions, general fiction)

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (26 mentions, general fiction)

Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon (26 mentions, general fiction)

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker (25 mentions, speculative fiction)

Dear Life, by Alice Munro (25 mentions, short stories)

Canada, by Richard Ford (24 mentions, general fiction)

NW, by Zadie Smith (24 mentions, general fiction)

The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (24 mentions, historical fiction)

Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson (23 mentions, speculative fiction)

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (23 mentions, young adult fiction)

Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel (22 mentions, graphic works)

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan (22 mentions, historical fiction)

Arcadia, by Lauren Groff (21 mentions, general fiction)

Redshirts, by John Scalzi (20 mentions, speculative fiction)

Broken Harbor, by Tana French (19 mentions, crime and thrillers)

Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver (19 mentions, general fiction)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt (19 mentions, general fiction)

Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens (18 mentions, bios and memoirs)

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (18 mentions, nonfiction)

The Diviners, by Libba Bray (17 mentions, young adult fiction)

The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller (17 mentions, speculative fiction)

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: a Life of David Foster Wallace, by D. T. Max (17 mentions, bios and memoirs)

A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers (17 mentions, general fiction)

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan (17 mentions, speculative fiction)

Every Day, by David Levithan (16 mentions, young adult fiction)

Joseph Anton: a Memoir, by Salman Rushdie (16 mentions, bios and memoirs)

Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway (15 mentions, speculative fiction)

Battleborn, by Claire Vaye Watkins (15 mentions, short stories)

The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe (15 mentions, bios and memoirs)

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon (15 mentions, nonfiction)

2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (14 mentions, speculative fiction)

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss (14 mentions, bios and memoirs)

House of Stone: a Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, by Anthony Shadid (14 mentions, bios and memoirs)

Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, by Anne Applebaum (14 mentions, nonfiction)

The Killing Moon, by N. K. Jemisin (14 mentions, speculative fiction)

Railsea, by China Miéville (14 mentions, speculative fiction)

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater (14 mentions, young adult fiction)

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey (14 mentions, historical fiction)

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, by David Quammen (14 mentions, nonfiction)

Defending Jacob, by William Landay (13 mentions, crime and thrillers)

Gods without Men, by Hari Kunzru (13 mentions, general fiction)

Home, by Toni Morrison (13 mentions, historical fiction)

Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane (13 mentions, crime and thrillers)

May We Be Forgiven, by A. M. Homes (13 mentions, general fiction)

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin (13 mentions, historical fiction)

The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley (13 mentions, general fiction)

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed (13 mentions, speculative fiction)

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin (13 mentions, speculative fiction)

Why Be Happy when You Could Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson (13 mentions, bios and memoirs)

Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore (12 mentions, young adult fiction)

The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling (12 mentions, general fiction)

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers (12 mentions, young adult fiction)

HHhH, by Laurent Binet (12 mentions, historical fiction)

The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg (12 mentions, general fiction)

The People who Eat Darkness: the True Story of a Young Woman who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil that Swallowed Her Up, by Richard Lloyd Parry (12 mentions, nonfiction)

Red Country, by Joe Abercrombie (12 mentions, speculative fiction)

Thomas Jefferson: the Art of Power, by Jon Meacham (12 mentions, bios and memoirs)

The Cove, by Ron Rash (11 mentions, historical fiction)

Drama, by Raine Telgemaier & Gurihiru (11 mentions, graphic works)

The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye (11 mentions, crime and thrillers)

How Should a Person Be?, by Sheila Heti (11 mentions, general fiction)

Jerusalem: a Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (11 mentions, how-to)

The Light between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman (11 mentions, historical fiction)

Shine Shine Shine, by Lydia Netzer (11 mentions, speculative fiction)

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: the Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, by Timothy Egan (11 mentions, bios and memoirs)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce (11 mentions, general fiction)

At Last, by Edward St. Aubyn (10 mentions, general fiction)

Caliban’s War, by James S. A. Corey (10 mentions, speculative fiction)

Carry the One, by Carol Anshaw (10 mentions, general fiction)

Dare Me, by Megan Abbott (10 mentions, crime and thrillers)

Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (10 mentions, historical fiction)

How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran (10 mentions, bios and memoirs)

The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks (10 mentions, speculative fiction)

A Land More Kind than Home, by Wiley Cash (10 mentions, crime and thrillers)

The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters (10 mentions, crime and thrillers)

My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf (10 mentions, graphic works)

Patriarch: the Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, by David Nasaw (10 mentions, bios and memoirs)

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison (10 mentions, general fiction)

Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead (10 mentions, general fiction)

Shadow Ops: Control Point, by Myke Cole (10 mentions, speculative fiction)

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman (10 mentions, how-to)

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed (10 mentions, nonfiction)

The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett (10 mentions, speculative fiction)

Zona: a Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room, by Geoff Dyer (10 mentions, nonfiction)

I’ll be back next year, with another installment of the ABBC!

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