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Archive for the ‘Melissa’s Picks’ Category

marcelointherealworldMarcelo is a seventeen-year-old who hears music in his head as a result of mild autism.  His dad, Arturo, is a lawyer. Despite Marcelo’s plans to work at Paterson, the special school he attends, and help with the stables, his father pressures him to spend the summer at his law firm in order to experience the “real world.” The deal is that after spending the summer in the law firm, Marcelo can spend his senior year at his special school or he can choose to go to the regular high school.  Arturo is betting Marcelo will want to go to the regular high school after seeing all that the world has to offer.

Marcelo understands that his parents want him to be more self-sufficient, but he is very concerned about what the “real world” involves. To him it means engaging in small talk with other people, refraining from talking about his special interests, shaking hands and looking people in the eye, doing things that have not been scheduled in advance.

The book shows Marcelo overcoming the challenges of the summer job, his friendships with Jasmine, his coworker in the mail room, and Wendell, the obnoxious, privileged son of another lawyer in his dad’s firm.  Most interestingly, though, it addresses how Marcelo responds when he realizes the law firm is protecting a shady business that has been sued due to a faulty product.

I also really enjoyed the discussions Marcelo had with his rabbi friend about various aspects of religion.  Lots of food for thought, especially as Marcelo struggles with doing the right thing once he uncovers information about his dad’s law firm. I loved how the ending really opened my eyes to what it meant for Marcelo to be a part of the “real world.”

I would recommend this book for a discussion group.  There is a lot here to consider and talk about.

My colleague Nancy recommended I listen to the audiobook.  Hearing Marcelo’s voice as he talks about himself in the third person really brought his character to life for me.

Check the WRL catalog for Marcelo in the Real World

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Marcelo in the Real World

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virtuefallsLooking for some fast-paced suspense?  Pick up the latest from best-selling author Christina Dodd.

Elizabeth Banner has returned to her hometown of Virtue Falls to study the geology of the area.  It was difficult for her to return home, what with everyone’s conviction that her father, once a respected scientist-now a convicted felon, murdered her mother 20 years ago in a jealous rage. Elizabeth copes with the whispers and speculation by relying on logic and facts, both in her work and her personal life.

The everyday routine of life in Virtue Falls is literally shaken up when a large-scale earthquake hits the area.  Lives are lost; secrets are uncovered. And Elizabeth finds herself investigating her mother’s murder with the help of her ex-husband, Garik, a suspended FBI agent.

The book has short chapters, a lot of action, and plenty of secondary characters to keep it interesting. I particularly liked how Elizabeth developed a relationship with her father, and through his descriptions began to understand the truth about her parents’ relationship. I’m also a sucker for a love story, and I enjoyed seeing Elizabeth and her ex-husband rekindle their romance.

Fans of James Patterson or Nora Roberts should pick up Virtue Falls.  Looks like this is the first in a new series–can’t wait for the next story!

Check the WRL catalog for Virtue Falls

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enchantedI’ll end the week with an entertaining retelling of the Frog Prince fairytale.

You know the story, right? A lovely girl befriends a frog.  She kisses the frog; he turns into a prince; and they all live happily ever after.

Not in this version. Yes, the beautiful and smart girl, Sunday Woodcutter, meets a talking frog by a pond in the woods.  They become friends.  And yes, she kisses him to see what would happen.  Hours later, when the frog finally turns into a man, Rumbold realizes he is the one person Sunday would never want to see again.  He is the Crown Prince of Arilland, the man responsible for her beloved brother’s death.

Prince Rumbold can’t stop thinking about Sunday, though.  He decides to hold three balls and invite all the women in the country to attend so he has a chance to woo Sunday as a man.  But the balls don’t go exactly as planned.  Spells and secrets need to be revealed before the story can end in the expected happily ever after.

The author cleverly weaves glimpses of other fairy tales throughout the book–one sister has a story similar to Cinderella, another tragically dies from magical dancing shoes, her brother trades a cow for some beans, and there is a giant–it was worth turning the pages just to see who would turn up next and how the “real” story would unfold.

Kontis has written a second in the Woodcutter sisters series, Hero, about the adventures of Saturday.  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in this delightful, magical world.

Check the WRL catalog for Enchanted

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ivanLaura and I have been exploring different types of heroes this week.  Today’s selection features Ivan, a silverback gorilla.

I saw a new book in the library the other day – Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate.  While flipping through the colorful picture book, I was reminded of how much I had enjoyed Applegate’s Newberry winner, The One and Only Ivan.

Ivan is one of the animal attractions at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  In fact, he is one of the featured attractions on the billboard that he can see outside the window of his small enclosure.  He spends his time watching TV; talking with his friends Bob, a stray dog, and Stella, an older elephant; and painting pictures.  Ivan chooses not to remember what life was like prior to coming to the shopping mall.

When the shopping mall owner buys a younger elephant to bring excitement – and more paying customers – to the Big Top Show, Ivan makes a promise to Stella to help Ruby find a safe place to grow up. That promise leads Ivan to remember what it was like before he was caught and put in the cage.  That promise leads Ivan to figure out a creative way to send a message to the Julia and George, the humans he trusts.  That promise leads not only to Ruby finding a good home in a zoo, but Ivan finding a home with other gorillas and lots of open sky.

The story is told in simple sentences through the unique perspective of Ivan.  Of course, the story is the author’s imaging of what Ivan was thinking and going through, but I forgot that part as I rooted for Ivan’s friends to understand what he was trying to say.

Publisher’s Weekly recommends the title for ages 8-12. But I think it was well worth taking an hour or so to read the story. It is also available as an audiobook, well-read by Adam Grupper, if you would prefer that format.

Check the WRL catalog for The One and Only Ivan

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook for The One and Only Ivan

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firstphonecallMitch Albom, author of the best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie, continues to write inspirational books exploring faith and humanity.  I find his books easy to read with simple plots and sympathetic characters, but each also has a message that lingers.

The First Phone Call from Heaven takes place in a small Michigan town. One morning three different people receive phone calls from family members who have passed away. A short conversation–maybe just a phrase–but sending the message that they were communicating from heaven.

That same day Sullivan Harding is released from prison.

The plot jumps from the history of the telephone to Sully’s story of why he went to prison to the growing interest in these heavenly phone calls.

Sully is is trying to carve out a normal life–a life shared with his young son, Julian, but without his beloved wife; a life as an ex-convict, not a respected Navy pilot. The calls intersect directly with Sully when Julian starts questioning when he is going to get a message from his mom. Julian doesn’t see the difference between Sully going away to prison and coming back, and his mom dying and not coming back. Sully determines to get to the bottom of where these calls are really coming from so his son doesn’t hold out false hope for his mom’s return.

Meanwhile the calls themselves are gaining national attention.  A small-time reporter gets the first interview with a women who received a call from her deceased sister. The video goes viral, throwing the small town into chaos as more and more people come to witness the miracle phone calls.

The plot reminds me a little bit about the movie Heaven is for Real, which Chris reviewed a few weeks ago. The phone calls are either real or a complete hoax depending on what you believe. Albom explores the ramifications from many different angles–the individuals receiving the calls, the religious community, the news outlets, the believers, the unbelievers, the  curious. And like I said, it will leave you thinking long after you finish the book.

Check with WRL catalog for The First Phone Call from Heaven

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omensOmens is a fast-paced book with a nice mix of mystery and paranormal plot.

Olivia Taylor-Jones grew up in a privileged family.  She attends the right type of charity functions, works as a volunteer at a shelter, and is engaged to be married to a handsome, proper CEO with political ambitions.  Her life couldn’t be more perfect, until everything falls apart.

Reporters uncover that she was adopted and her birth parents are serving time for several heinous murders.  Everyone has heard of the serial killers Pamela and Todd Larsen.  Olivia just had no idea that she was their daughter.

The scandal and zealous publicity hounds are a bit too much for her adopted mother and fiance – so Olivia flees.  At first she tries to find an apartment in Chicago, but because of her reluctance to tap into her mother’s money, she has very limited resources. After a particularly unsettling experience in a cheap, but unsafe, neighborhood she takes the advice of an older man and heads to Cainsville, a small town just outside of the city.

Cainsville is an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past. And Olivia feels strangely connected to the place.  She lands a job as a waitress at the local diner and begins a rocky relationship with her birth mother’s lawyer, Gabriel Walsh.  Walsh would like Olivia to help mend his professional relationship with Pamela Larsen – and Olivia wants to meet Pamela to find out about her past.

In the course of investigating her parents’ alleged crimes, Olivia stumbles upon the truth about one of the murders.  Poking around in the past puts Olivia and Gabriel in danger – but also brings the two unlikely partners closer.

I appreciated that this one murder mystery was solved and I wasn’t left completely hanging at the end, though I know the story has many other issues to resolve. I’ll keep reading the series because I care about the characters and love the hints about there being something more than what meets the eye.

If you are just now starting the series — lucky you! — the second book just came out. Visions provides additional material as to what is so special about Cainsville’s residents.

I would definitely recommend picking up the book if you enjoyed Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever series (Gabriel and Barron have similar personalities) or Richelle Mead’s Gameboard of the Gods.

Check the WRL catalog for Omens

Check the WRL catalog for Visions

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whistlingHere’s another fantastic book I read based on my colleague Nancy’s suggestion.  Like her last recommendation, The Supreme’s at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, this one takes a look at friendships and race relations in the South.

Starla Claudelle is an impetuous, spunky 9-year-old kid who learns a lot about the world during a two-week adventure in the summer of 1963.

Her mother moved to Nashville to be a country music star when Starla was just 3 years old.  She has vague memories of a beautiful woman with a lovely voice, and her most prized possession is a demo record her mama sent her a few years ago.

Starla rarely sees her dad who works on an oil rig in Biloxi. She is growing up under the care of her grandmother, Mamie, who doesn’t have a lot of patience with Starla.  Maybe Mamie is just worried that Starla won’t grow up into a proper young lady without the restrictions and high demands, or maybe she’s just got a mean streak…

After losing the privilege of attending her favorite holiday festivities because she was defending a younger girl against a bully, Starla decides to sneak out for the 4th-of-July parade and get her share of candy. When she is caught by one of Mamie’s friends, Starla reasons that she might as well run away to Nashville and live with her famous mother instead of staying in Cayuga Springs and being sent to reform school.

There aren’t many cars on the road on the holiday, and Starla is beginning to rethink her impulsive action when a black woman pulls up and offers her a ride.  You know from the start that Eula doesn’t believe Starla’s story about why she’s on the road alone, but Eula takes her home anyway and eventually helps her get to Nashville to find her mother.

Through the course of the story Starla learns about kindness and meanness, justice and injustice, truth and lies. And the reader learns it, too, through her eyes.

I loved the way the reader, Amy Rubinate, handled the narration of the audiobook.  I particularly enjoyed Eula’s voice – soothing and calm. I looked forward to hearing what she had to say, especially after hearing Starla go on about something she was upset about. Rubinate received AudioFile’s Golden Earphones Award for her work on this book.

When I got nervous that Starla was going to get in a heap of trouble, what Starla referred to as getting a “red rage,” I had to turn off the CD and pick up the book.  It sounds silly, but I cared about the characters too much to listen to something bad happen to her or Eula.  And no, I won’t spoil the story by telling you whether my fears were unfounded.

I’d recommend this one to book groups looking for a something like The Help or as Nancy suggested, The Sweet By and By. There is a lot to discuss about friendship, family and racial tensions. A reading group guide is available online at the publisher’s website.

Check the WRL catalog for Whistling Past the Graveyard

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Whistling Past the Graveyard

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