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Archive for the ‘Readers’ advisory’ Category

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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21490991Matt Miller is a modern day teen in Brooklyn whose mother has passed away from cancer. Partly to start helping his father and partly to distract himself from the fact that everyone seems to pity him, Matt visits the “Cluck Bucket” to try apply for a job, when a emergency cleanup he witnesses convinces him food service is not for him. The local funeral director, Mr. Ray, who coincidentally oversaw his mother’s arrangements, offers him $30 a day to help out around the funeral home when they run into each other this fateful day at the chicken joint. The next day Matt reports after school and helps Mr. Ray set up flowers, receptions, and handle basic arrangements. As Matt’s father descends into drink, Matt becomes both more independent and connected to more people in his community through his work at the home.

The novel chronicles Matt’s coming of age through his work, mentoring by Mr. Ray, and a new friend. This is also a satisfying story about how a young man grows up as a part of his community by opening himself up to new experiences and responsibilities, strengthening himself and, in small ways, his community. In this book we see not only the Brooklyn that challenges, but also the Brooklyn that supports–a refreshing change from the often one-sided negative portrayals in urban fiction of city neighborhoods.

The Boy in the Black Suit moves along at a leisurely pace, and is written with some great descriptions and unique turns of phrase (were I not listening to the audiobook in my car, I’d have written them down). Without dragging, Reynolds lovingly details his characters and the neighborhood, making them real.  An added layer of authenticity comes from the very natural narration by Corey Allen on audio. Some of the coincidences and the neatly-tied ending were the only pieces of the story that did not feel realistic, but these are small criticisms in comparison to the quality of the work overall. This is a novel version of the male coming-of-age story that had me caring about the characters and invested in the story.

I recommend The Boy in the Black Suit to fans of Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk, and Walter Dean Myers’ young adult fiction. This book will be enjoyed by the more thoughtful young adult reader of realistic fiction, and by all ages of readers who enjoy character-driven stories with a strong sense of place.

Check the WRL catalog for The Boy in the Black Suit as an audiobook on CD

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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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maronReaders who enjoy police procedurals and are looking for stories of justice in the New South will find a lot to enjoy in Margaret Maron’s Judge Deborah Knott series. Maron sets her books in contemporary North Carolina (like fellow writer Michael Malone). Over the course of the series, Judge Knott has to address the same problems and concerns—racial and social divides, economic inequality, etc.—that face Malone’s Police Chief Cuddy Mangum. Maron does not shy away from addressing challenging issues in contemporary society.

The problems that Judge Knott faces are often rooted in the evils of the past. Family and community play important roles in both the life of Judge Knott and in the stories. Maron’s novels are straight ahead mysteries, with engaging characters and interesting plots. This is an excellent series for readers interested in contemporary crime writing, issues in the New South, or police procedurals. Start with Bootlegger’s Daughter.

Check the WRL catalog for Bootlegger’s Daughter.

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firebirds

If you were a bird, would you prefer to live in a lush, green forest or one that was blackened and burnt by a recent wildfire? Surprisingly, as we learn in this slim, fully-illustrated, children’s non-fiction book, several bird species actually prefer to live in burnt forests. Sneed B. Collard III discusses work done by University of Montana biologist Dick Hutto, who set out to learn about the natural environment of areas blackened by wildfires. Hutto and his wife Sue counted more than 100 species of birds in several dozen burn areas in 1988, a year where more than 72,000 separate wildfires burned more than five million acres of land in the United States.

Hutto’s research found that some birds, including American Robins, Chipping Sparrows, Mountain Bluebirds, several species of woodpeckers, and others, find abundant food and shelter in burnt areas, often more so than in what we would normally consider healthier, richer environments. It isn’t just birds that thrive; insects, wildflowers, shrubs and other life also flourish in areas that have been recently burned. Instead of trying to suppress more wildfires, perhaps we should allow more of them to burn naturally.

Hutto also questions the current practice of loggers going into a forest after a wildfire and removing the remaining trees for industry. His reasoning is that wildfires are part of nature, and such “salvaging” disturbs the natural burnt environment and can do damage to the wildlife that thrives in those areas. However, Dr. Steve Arno, considered to be a world expert in fire and forest management, believes that logging after a burn can be helpful in making sure a more severe fire does not occur after the first “because you have all that dead fuel on the ground.” Dr. Vicki Saab, a wildlife biologist working with the U.S. Forest Service, is also featured in the book. She and her team have come up with scientific models that show what logging can be done in a burned area to balance the needs of some woodpecker species with industry’s desire to log the still-standing trees. The author shows that where industry, politics and nature meet, answers are not always easy or clear.

Although this 47-page book was written for children ages 8-14, I thought it was a good distillation for adults, too, of the complex issues surrounding wildfire. Those of us who grew up hearing Smokey Bear’s admonition, “Only you can prevent forest fires!” may start looking at wildfires a little differently.

The book is illustrated with many beautiful photographs of birds and burn areas. Scattered throughout the text are ten “Featured Fire Birds.” A photo of the bird is accompanied by a box of short text about the bird and how it survives in a burned area. This book focuses on Western bird species, since that is where most of the wildfires take place and where much of the scientific work is being done, but Virginia readers may recognize American Robins, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Northern Flickers, Hairy Woodpeckers and House Wrens.

Check the WRL catalog for Fire Birds

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jacketDespite being abandoned by her Danish mother when she was an infant and her Chilean immigrant father’s absence working as an international airline pilot, Maya was raised by her grandparents with spirited enlightenment and fiercely bolstering love. She was propped to have sound character, and her future held so much promise, until her Popo died when she was fifteen. Popo was her Nini’s second husband, but his presence meant the world to Maya. He had promised, “I swear I’ll always be with you.” Popo was a remarkably attentive surrogate parent to Maya, but following his death, whatever threads held her in check were unraveling at an alarming rate. The trio formed with her two girlfriends styled themselves as the “Vampires” and challenged each other to commit increasingly risky criminal acts and venture into dangerous sexual territory. By the time Maya is nineteen and living on the streets of Las Vegas, by the time she phones home, she’s on the run from criminals and the law. As she’s ushered onto a plane to exit the country and ride out the danger, her grandmother hands her a notebook for writing out her troubles as a tool for recovery, or as her Nini says it,

take advantage of it to write down the monumental stupidities you’ve committed, see if you can come to grips with them.

In the audiobook version I enjoyed, as the narrator began speaking in the voice of the 19-year-old female main character in Maya’s Notebook, she sounded far too mature, using unrealistic vocabulary and sounding too worldly. Soon, however, that didn’t matter because I was spellbound by Maya Vidal’s troubled past. She’d experienced complex problems and was running from drug lords, international criminals, and the FBI, and she comes from a highly unusual family; clearly her life was more complicated than an average teen girl’s. She was sent by her Chilean grandmother, her Nini, to Chiloé Island, perfect as a place for banishment or exile, to ride out the danger with an old friend of Nini’s, Manuel Arias. Manuel is a man with a mysterious and painful past as well. The narrative floats easily between Maya’s present in Chiloé and her past in Berkeley, California, then a rehab academy in Oregon, then in Las Vegas where she reaches the darkest pit of her degradation and suffering. Just when you think her story has been told already, it just gets deeper and more layered.

Maya’s Notebook is an Adult Fiction title which would likely appeal to many older teens, but the book contains very graphic scenes of criminality, violence (both sexual and drug-related), sexuality, and extreme drug use. It’s available in the WRL collection via regular print, audiobook on CD, e-audiobook, and in large print.

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