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Archive for the ‘Quirky characters’ Category

amazing mauriceNancy from Circulation Services concludes the week with this review:

Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents focuses on a group of rats led by a sly, conniving cat.. Oh, and let us not forget, the animals have gained the ability to speak to humans, think for themselves, reason, and gain a conscience. Pratchett allows his reader to contemplate the possibility of a society where animals, namely rodents, can not only live in peace and harmony with humans, but the two can help each other in the process.

In the town of Bad Blinitz Maurice the cat and his cohorts decide to pull their “Pied Piper” con. Little did they know that the town was fighting a food shortage thought to be brought on by the current rat population, and thus have hired rat catchers and deployed menacing traps throughout the city both above and below.

The fear of a plague from these rats caused scam artists of all kinds to attempt to capitalize on the growing fear of famine. Enter a small boy playing a magical rat pipe, who for a tidy sum would rid the town of rodents. Add in a know-it-all and somewhat bratty, young girl named Malicia, and the mayhem begins.

Pratchett’s sarcastic wit comes out in the actions and words of Maurice, the streetwise alley cat, while his fantasy and adventurous side is enjoyed through the antics of rat characters such as Hamnpork, Darktan, Dangerous Beans, and Sardines.

While reading this I found myself forgetting the main characters were simply animals for their wit, anxiety, emotional expressions, and snide comments fit many humans I know. Pratchett also adds an interesting aspect to the story in the form of quotes from another book introducing each chapter. The rats revere what is later discovered as a children’s book, “Mr. Bunnsy has an Adventure;” treating it as wisdom to live by.

Enjoy!

Check the WRL catalog for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

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jacket (1)Amber Appleton, at seventeen years old, is a busy girl – visiting the elderly at the local nursing home, swapping haikus with a Vietnam veteran, teaching English through R&B at a Korean Catholic church, and looking out for the socially-struggling guys of the “Franks Freak Force Federation.” She is an optimist, a Catholic, and homeless – sleeping in the school bus her single mother drives all day before barhopping at night for Mr. Right Now. Amber makes up for the lack of stability in her life with the diversion she finds in helping and connecting with others. Readers will question whether her pluck, happiness, and faith are in spite of her situation or because of it. Amber’s voice is funny, snarky, and authentic (her language likely influenced by Quick’s former years teaching high school). In the hands of a less skilled author, this could be a gag-inducing after-school special about unlikely triumph, but Quick gives us a real story about relationships, hardship, joy, and emotional survival.

Quick’s novels are engaging because of the authenticity of his characters and interactions among his diverse casts, and Sorta Like A Rock Star is no exception. The characters draw empathy and laughter because they are so carefully crafted to be genuine. Although Quick does not leave out any detail of characterization, the story isn’t bogged down in prose. It is perfectly tuned to a young adult audience, as young adults in my experience seem to have a radar for detecting falseness, and are less patient with wordiness. Young adult readers of realistic fiction will appreciate the funny yet complex characters in realistic circumstances, both humorous and dire.

The audio version of this book was fine, but the adult narration of the story did not always capture the accurate inflection of some of the slang terms, which could be a turnoff for teens. I would recommend the print version of this book to the next reader. Fans of tough and funny lead characters — Catcher’s Holden Caulfield or Whale Talk’s TJ — will enjoy this book, and despite the somewhat cheesy ending, my heart was singing because of my love of the characters. Feel good about Sorta Like a Rock Star.

Check the WRL catalog for Sorta Like a Rock Star

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jacketThis volume of collected webcomics from Jillian Tamaki was a no-brainer purchase for the Young Adult Graphic Novel collection–it is centered on teen protagonists at an X-Men/Hogwarts-type boarding school, and is written and illustrated by the illustrator of the Printz Award-winning This One Summer. Upon receipt, it was cataloged for the Adult Collection, and when I sat down to reconsider its classification, I was hooked, and honestly doubtful as to just where this quirky volume should reside.

From page one, I compared the smart, sadly existential, darkly humorous tone to that of the late great Charles Addams, whose out-of-print collected works I own (as does the library) and cherish. I have no idea if the young Tamaki is influenced by his work at all, but I was thrilled to discover this texting, blogging, Dungeons & Dragons-playing fictional world that offers the same unpretentious and masterful mix of the sophisticated and the absurd for a new generation. You’ll meet Everlasting Boy, unable to die and doomed to live a teenaged life over and over; lizard-headed Trixie, obsessed with her looks and boys; the optimistic and shape-shifting Wendy; and her cynical friend Marsha, who is secretly in love with her; the laser-shooting Trevor who is dying to fit in; and Cheddar, the popular jock who defies stereotypes in secret. Don’t let me forget the cigarette-smoking performance artist Frances. The teens vary in form from dinosaur-faced, to feline, to human, and range in abilities from physical regeneration to object conjuring, but these aspects of this cleverly created world are second to the teen high-jinks and angst, making it both bittersweet and fun.

Unlike a collected volume of subsequent comic issues or a traditional graphic novel, this a collection of individual webcomic strips which, though ordered, may disappoint readers who like segues and seamless plot sequences. The series also poses more questions than it answers, so that this will appeal to a more literary older teen or adult reader.

In conclusion, I think this volume may live most happily in the adult Graphic Novel collection, as many young webcomics fans to whom this style of work would appeal have already read the run of this series online, and because enough of our teen readership already knows to cross into the Adult Graphic collection for more mature reading. This collected edition will appeal to sophisticated young adult, new adult, and other adult readers of more thoughtful graphic works. I recommend for fans of An Age of License, The World of Chas Addams, and I Kill Giants.

Check the WRL catalog for Super Mutant Magic Academy

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jacketAs a fan of David O. Russell’s film adaptation of The Silver Linings Playbook, I picked up Matthew Quick’s latest young adult novel, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, fell in love with it, and went on a Matthew Quick reading frenzy. In his latest novel, due out June 16th, Quick looks at a woman ready to trade a comfortable but unfulfilling life for the one her high school English teacher made her believe she could attain.

Portia Kane married a slick young film director whose charm and opulent lifestyle wooed her after she dropped out of college, uninspired yet desperate to leave her unsatisfying home life. Mid-thirties, her gilded cage built, she finds herself finally unhappy enough to confront her long-philandering husband about his dalliances with his barely-eighteen string of “film” talent. (Those kinds of films.) Portia returns home to suburban Philadelphia to stay with her mother long enough to reconnect with her adored high school English teacher, become newly inspired, and engage with the world as a contributing member. Portia knows to expect the decrepit state of her hoarding mother’s home, the roughness of the old neighborhood, and the adult versions of the classmates who still hang around the neighborhood bars; but she is shocked by what has happened to her beloved teacher Mr. Vernon.

As in several of his other novels, Quick’s world is set within the working-class neighborhoods around Philly – think Billy Joel’s “Allentown” – and focuses on the lives of regular people trying to do their best, flaws and all, repairing themselves through bad times, after bad choices, and with old friends. The authenticity of Quick’s characters transports you to a barstool or to an elderly mother’s kitchen table. This novel is lighter than most of his work – anyone into hair metal in the 80s will appreciate the references – but still explores the personal work of people trying to reinvent themselves and find happiness despite wrongs that can’t be righted, only survived. I found myself disappointed in some of the characters, as I felt they didn’t learn or recover from the depths as much as I wish they had, but perhaps this is one reason the characters feel authentic, as people don’t always in the real world either. Quick’s fully-realized characters connect the reader to what might otherwise be a lukewarm slice-of-life story.

For a novel about the struggle of regular people trying better themselves with characters you can’t help but connect to, read Love May Fail. I recommend this title to fans of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry and Jodi Picoult.

Check the WRL catalog for Love May Fail

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GodGotaDog

Recommended to me by a children’s librarian who was making a display of children’s books that adults love to read, this little book provided some unexpected moments of grace in a grumpy day.

Prolific Newbery award-winning author Cynthia Rylant has produced a book that all ages could find quirky, thought-provoking and beguiling. It may not be for everyone, since the basic premise is that God is visiting earth in various everyday situations to see what living on earth is like. Written in verse, it includes some startling moments such as when God opens a shop called “Nails by Jim,” an idea I find surprising, but oddly beautiful:
“He got into nails, of course,
Because He’d always loved
Hands ——
Hands were some of the best things
He’d ever done”

God Got a Dog portrays God personally with human failings and doubts:
“He knew He WAS
invincible
but he didn’t
always feel that way. Not every day).”

Like Cynthia Rylant’s other books it is idiosyncratic, unconventional and gently effervescent, and made me look at the world in a slightly different way. Reading it was a small break from the day.

These poems were previously published as part of a longer teen book called God Went to Beauty School. To appeal to a younger audience, in God Got a Dog each poem has a lovely, calm and muted illustration, with a wide viewpoint that gives a sense of large scale.

God Got a Dog will suit adult readers who are interested in children’s books and it will also appeal to anyone who is eager to explore quirky ideas about religion.

Check the WRL catalog for God Got a Dog.

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JacketI don’t know anyone who doesn’t long for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle: record company execs throwing cash at you, the weeks on the road, the camaraderie formed under the pressure of creativity, the worshipful fans throwing onesies onto the stage. Wait a minute—onesies?

Yep. And that’s what the Wonderkids face on their climb to the top of the charts. Fronted by Blake Lear (his stage name), Wonderkids ride his mix of poppy music and bizarre lyrics to million-selling albums, memorabilia, and fans, fans, fans. Billed as “your kid’s first rock band,” the music appeals to—or at least doesn’t drive mad—the parents, and the lyrics, which are based on Lewis Carroll’s imagery, William Blake’s innocence, and Edward Lear’s whimsy, grab childrens’ attention.

Raffi’s sincere goody-two-shoeism is not yet on the scene and parents are tired of “Octopus’s Garden” and “Yellow Submarine,” so when a record company executive’s 5-year-old son picks a demo at random and listens to it over and over again on a long drive, Dad knows he’s on to something. From a basement practice band and menial jobs, the newly-minted Wonderkids is on the road in England and soon to the United States.

Wonderkids’ real appeal is the live show, especially since Blake is happy to sit with every kid for pictures, tell jokes, talk with parents and give each person a real personal experience. It also sells tons of t-shirts and other memorabilia, which is where the Wonderkid of the title comes in.  Sweet is a young teen in a foster home when he and Blake meet. Before long, he becomes the guy who takes money for the swag and keeps an eye on the promoter. Tour life is his chance to make the transition from childhood to adulthood, which he does under the tutelage of a bizarre mix of characters. When the band heads for the U.S., Sweet becomes our eyewitness to Wonderkids’ spectacular rise and the excesses it leads to.

Any band aimed at the children’s audience had better be squeaky clean. When those excesses (some of which aren’t even excessive) start to catch up to them, things go sour. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, the band splits, but its life doesn’t end. Which makes the last portion of the story both poignant and whimsical as anything Blake Lear ever wrote.

Check the WRL catalog for Wonderkid.

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The Antagonist, by Lynn Coady

Gordon “Rank” Rankin, Jr., is incensed when he starts to read a novel by a college friend, Adam Grix, whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years, and finds himself unmistakably but very imperfectly portrayed in the novel. He sits down at his computer and fires off email after angry email to his old friend, over a three month period, trying to set the record straight, trying to put into words the events of his life that led to the fateful night in their second year of college when Rank left their circle of friends and never went back.

Rank is particularly incensed that Adam mentions, in the early part of his novel, that the character’s mother had died. “It did nothing,” Rank writes to Adam. “[i]t was just a thing that had happened to this guy – his mom died, by the way. Background information. It’s mentioned once and never again.” Rank is furious that his mother’s death could be portrayed as no big deal.

Rank was always big. His size led those around him to see him more as an intimidating physical presence than as a deeply thinking, caring soul. When he was young, everyone perceived him to be older. Inside the body of a man, his teenage self hadn’t matured into someone who could stand up to those who wanted to use his bulk for their own purposes. His “tiny screaming lunatic” father, hopping around and complaining about the “punks” who frequented his Icy Dream ice cream parlor, got Rank to intimidate older classmates who would, simply by being teenagers, scare off family type clientele.

One of Rank’s punches in the Icy Dream parking lot, when Rank was fifteen, resulted in brain damage to a “smart-ass town punk” he’d known all his life. That moment, when Rank heard the sound of Mike Croft’s head crack against the pavement, was the beginning, he realized later, when the gods started messing with him. His life became like the board game from the seventies, Mouse Trap, where a “series of random plastic doodads” were “set up to interact with one another in frankly stupid and unlikely ways (the boot kicks the bucket, out of which falls the ball, which rolls down the ramp), and at the end of this rickety and dubious process, down comes the mousetrap.”

Rank’s emails to Adam are at times hilarious, but often, and in the long run, downright heart-breaking. Rank can’t escape his body and can’t escape how people react to his bulk. He gets a hockey scholarship to college – based on his bulk and on a letter from his high school coach and social worker, Owen Findlay, the social worker assigned to him after he busted Mike Croft’s head – and still his life seems scripted by uncaring gods playing around to see what he would do. He feels forced to give up that scholarship when he’s asked to butt heads with the opposing team; he will not relive the experience with Croft. He falls in with a group of friends — geeky, frail Adam in particular — with whom he shares stories from his life. He tells Adam about Mike Croft, about his mean little father, about his mother and about her death. He now writes to Adam: “I pulled off hank after bloody hank of flesh and just handed them over and you were so coy, you averted your eyes and pretended to be embarrassed like the rest of them when really you were squirreling away all those hanks and secretly stitching them together and building Frankenstein’s monster.”

We never read what Adam writes back to Rank, but we know he stops replying soon after Rank starts. It’s okay, though. We let Rank write his life’s story to his once-friend, and read the “bloody hanks of flesh” that make up his life. Rank gets it all out, all the anger, all the history. It’s tempered with love, but you don’t notice it until you’re finished and you sit there stunned and almost in tears.

I listened to this book as an audiobook download. The narrator, Macleod Andrews, is a perfect reader for the book. The book itself lacks some of the normal punctuation one would normally expect in a novel, but this is a series of emails – relatively well-punctuated and correctly-spelled emails — but still emails where the tense and voice may change depending on the tone. On second listening, and in skimming the text, I have to say this has become one of my favorite books of all time. It’s probably one of the most entertaining and raw portrayals of a character I’ve ever encountered.

Check the WRL catalog for The Antagonist (Book) and OneClickDigital The Antagonist (Downloadable Audiobook).

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