Category Archives: book review

Adult Fiction Review: The Silver Star

I was telling a patron the other day that the thing I miss most about having summer vacation is being able to sit and read all day.  Well, it turns out I can do that on my day off, too.  At the expense of housework, I read The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls cover to cover yesterday.

Image from:  goodreads.com

Image from: goodreads.com

I was familiar with this writer’s memoir, The Glass Castle, but have never read any of her fiction.  I was not disappointed.  Even though the novel lacks the shock value of “wow, these are true stories!” Walls is an exceptional writer with a talent for bringing unlikely situations to life in a believable way.

Liz, 15, and Bean, 12, live with their often absent mother.  When she loses her grip on reality they are forced to fend for themselves and make their way across the country to reunite with relatives.  The girls react differently to this sudden change.  They grow up quickly, trying adapt to small town Virginia, learning about their pasts, and navigating their way through the working world and an unsegregated high school (in 1970).

I would highly recommend this book to any teen or adult who is a fan of Walls’ work or any reader who loves a well-written story.

Recommendation:  5 out of 5 lupines.

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YA Book Review: Wintergirls

Cover of "Wintergirls"

Cover of Wintergirls

I usually don’t read two books in a row by the same author, but after recently “discovering” the genius of Laurie Halse Anderson, I read Speak and Wintergirls back to back.  I was pretty sure I would like anything by her, so that was a plus, but both of these books deal with serious issues, and it was kind of difficult to read two “heavy” books in a row.

Wintergirls is one of those books that is hard to read but harder to put down.  As Lia, an 18 year old who suffers from anorexia, tells her story, you can’t help but get sucked into her world.  I have always heard anorexia described as a control issue, and this book supports that theory, but Lia’s first person account of what it’s like inside her mind gave me a new perspective on the issue.

Lia’s eating disorder seems to have a multitude of origins:  a pack she made with her best friend, her parents’ divorce, her mother’s need to control her, and her own quest for a warped ideal.  In the end, however,  she is the only one who can make the choice to get better.

Laurie Halse Anderson has crafted a gripping story and the reader feels for Lia’s inability to cope with her situation.  I would recommend it for older teens and adults–it’s definitely a memorable read.

Recommendation:  4.5 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: The Age of Miracles

Image from: goodreads.com

How do you think the world will end?  Giant tsunamis?  Earthquakes?  Meteors?  Alien Invasions?  In her debut novel, Karen Thompson Walker takes a different approach to the apocalypse.  What if the world started to slow down?  Days and nights would get longer and the entire ecosystem would be thrown out of whack.  How would humans react to this shift?  Could we adapt successfully?

This book brings up a lot of questions about the future of Earth.  How much control do we really have over the world’s fate?  Some would argue that humans are responsible for most of the climate changes we are experiencing today, while others claim that it would have happened anyway.  It is inevitable that people are going to have different reactions to such a catastrophic change in the environment and in the book characters act according to their beliefs.  Some believe that humans should do everything possible to restore society to what it once was, and others think “the slowing” is a sign that humans should go with the flow.  Other characters become so overwhelmed they shut down and can barely function.

The story is told from the point of view of Julia, and 11 year old only child living in California.  Her life changes dramatically after “the slowing” and not only because there are now more than 24 hours in a day.  She must deal with losing her best friend to the popular crowd, bullies at the bus stop, and her parents’ difficult relationship.  She also meets someone who will change the way she sees the world.  As she navigates her way through adolescence it becomes clear that for Julia, her personal relationships and blossoming self-awareness take center stage over the ever-changing environment.

This book made me wonder what it would be like to live in Julia’s world.  Would the slowing of the planet (and all of the repercussions) change my priorities?  Would I still worry about the little things or fume over an argument?  I would like to think I would let those things go and focus on the time I had left with the people I love, but I can’t be sure.  I feel that we are programmed to care about “the little things” in life and it takes a personal decision to change that, not something external, no matter how extreme the external forces could be.

If you are looking for a thought-provoking read, I would definitely recommend this book.

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 lupines.

 

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Adult Book Review: Bitter in the Mouth

Image from frisbeebookjournal.wordpress.com

I read this book for the 48 HBC challenge, and it is amazing.  I will keep this a spoiler-free review because this is one of those books that has a lot of secrets to reveal, and discovering them is part of what makes this book so good.

The book features beautifully (and in some cases, painfully) flawed, realistic characters.  Linda, the main character, has a rare condition called synesthesia.  It’s almost like wires have crossed in her brain, causing her to taste something when she hears words spoken aloud.  The story is told from Linda’s point of view, and therefore the reader gets to see the world from her unique perspective.  During dialogue, the author attaches the taste associated with each word so we can get an idea of how Linda processes conversation (for example, “Linda” is written “Lindamint” indicating that the taste of mint leaves accompanies the sound of her name).  As you can imagine, reading tastes at the end of most words in a conversation is a little jarring (especially due to the fact that the tastes seem to have little to do with the words).  However, I thought this was a brilliant way to explain Linda’s condition.  It must be jarring for her to have to process a random sequence of tastes everytime she has a simple interaction with someone.

The book also focuses on the topic of family and how we interact with the people who are closest to us.  This book reminded me of The Solace of Leaving Early.  The two books are very different, but both are well-written and focus on characters instead of plot.  By using a character who processes the world in such an interesting way, the book asks questions about the contradictions of human perception.  On the one hand, we all experience life in our own specific way, but on the other hand we all exist in the same world. I have to admit that it took me a while to finish this one, mostly because I wanted to savor the words on the page (no pun intended).

Recommended by:  my Mom 🙂

Recommended for:  Anyone who appreciates a good book focused on character development and family dynamics.

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Legos @ the Library: Let’s build something together!

Working together to build something great!

As you can tell from the photo above, today’s Legos @ the Library session was all about teamwork.  Many kids collaborated in groups of three or four to create some awesome structures.

For example, here’s a challenging course that Evil Knievel would have to be crazy to try:

Here are a couple more creations from today:

This is the latest design for the boat that a couple of Lego builders have been working on for a few months.

Are you looking for a great book about Legos?  Look no further!  The LEGOS Ideas Book is the ultimate guide for builders of all skill-sets.  The book includes photographs of hundreds of different Lego creations constructed by professional designers.  Have you ever seen a complex Lego creation and wonder to yourself “how did they build that?”  You can find the answer in the interviews with the builders included in the book.  Some of the Lego creations featured do use specialized pieces, but a lot of them seem to use pieces that you might already own in an innovative way.  This is a non-fiction book, but the Lego characters seem to have an opinion about everything and make sure to get their two cents in via cartoon talk bubbles.  You’ll want to flip through this book to read all of the funny comments and marvel at the complex creations.  A definite must for any die-hard Lego fan.

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Book Review: Bossypants

 ImageBossypants by Tina Fey

I was a little startled by the cover of this book when I picked it up, because although I had seen a thumbnail of the cover countless times on Amazon, I had failed to realize that Tina Fey’s head is photo-shopped onto the man’s body. It’s a funny image, especially considering that the comedian talks about what men think is funny vs. what women think is funny, trying to make a name for herself in a male-dominated world, and the pros and cons of photo-shop. One could say that the cover sums the book up perfectly.

In Bossypants, Tina Fey tells the world the true story behind her growing up years (including how she got the scar on her face), her time as head writer at SNL, creating and starring in 30 Rock, and her much talked about portrayal of Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign.

I found myself carving extra time out of my schedule to read this book and finished it in a couple of days. For me, it was very interesting to hear the stories about backstage life at SNL circa during the late 90s and early 2000s because that is when I watched the show. The best thing about this book isn’t Fey’s musings on whether or not a restaurant with toilets for seats would be a viable business venture (pg. 193) but rather her insightful comments on gender roles in show business.

During her first week at SNL, Fey remembers Cheri Oteri “being past over for [Chris] Kataan-in-drag” for the part of Adrian (Sylvester Stallone’s character’s wife). As head writer during her time at the show, Fey changed the way people viewed women in comedy. She writes “By the time I left nine years later…nobody would have thought for a second that a dude in drag would be funnier than Amy [Poehler], Maya [Rudolph], or Kristen [Wiig].” For an example of how things are changing in the world of comedy, take a look at funny movies over the last couple of years. Bridesmaids, for example, features an almost exclusively female cast. Can you think of a popular “all female cast comedy” from ten years ago?

Tina Fey tells her story in an effortless way. As I read it, I could imagine her taking few minutes each day (because between working on 30 Rock and raising a toddler, a few minutes is probably all she would be lucky to get) to write a couple of pages of this memoir. When she was finished, I could see her emailing it to her publisher, and it coming out in book form, sans editing. I know that the likelihood of this is not great, but her style is so conversational and laid back, she makes it seem easy, like writing a book is just another item to check off on her impressive to-do list (which would also include writing a scene for an upcoming guest star for 30 Rock and trimming her daughter’s fingernails).

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 lupines

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Book Review: The Secret Society of Demolition Writers

The Secret Society of Demolition Writers edited by Marc Parent

12 short stories by 12 well-known writers. The question is: who wrote what? In this eclectic collection, 12 writers had the chance to write whatever their hearts desired without fear of ruining their reputation or disappointing readers who have them pigeonholed. The lack of a byline creates some wonderful, quirky, fearless writing. The collection features anonymous stories from:

Cover of "The Secret Society of Demolitio...

Cover via Amazon

Aimee Bender

Benjamin Cheever

Michael Connelly

Sebastian Junger

Elizabeth McCraken

Rosie O’Donnell

Chris Offutt

Marc Parent

Anna Quindlen

John Burnham Schwartz

Alice Sebold

Lauren Slater

This book can be read a couple of different ways. If you have no idea who the authors are, you can simply enjoy each story for what it is. If you are familiar with all of the authors, you can try to make an educated guess at who wrote what, but be careful because as Marc Parent writes in his introduction: “many writers have gone to great lengths to steer you from the path to their discovery…”

I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I am very familiar with three of the writers (Aimee Bender, Lauren Slater, and Alice Sebold) have heard of others but never read their work (Michael Connelly, Rosie O’Donnell, and Anna Quindlen) and had never heard of the rest (Benjamin Cheever, Sebastian Junger, Elizabeth McCraken, Chris Offutt, Marc Parent, and John Burnham Schwartz).

So, needless to say, I am at a loss in the guessing game, although one story cobbled together the writers’ names to form major and minor characters’ names (Rosie Slater, for example). Perhaps if I went back and re-read that story, paying closer attention to the names, they would serve as a sort of code (such as, the one name that is missing from the story actually wrote it). I have an idea of who wrote a couple of the stories, but it’s more fun to leave it a mystery. That said, if I happen to come across a helpful guide online to unmasking these authors, I’m certainly not above reading it.

Guessing games aside, I thought this was an excellent collection of short stories. I noticed that many of them had a dark tone, but the violence or disturbing themes present played a central role in the stories; none of it seemed gratuitous. I tend to find one writer whom I adore and then proceed to read everything he/she has ever published. I can be hesitant to try new writers because I’m afraid that they won’t be as good as my favorites, and therefore reading their work will be a waste of time. This collection was a good way to explore different types of writing without the commitment that comes with a novel. I had no prejudices because most of the time I was completely in the dark about whose work I was reading. This is a good read for fans of any of the writers included in the collection, or for readers like me, who love to read short stories.

Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5 lupines

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