Monday, October 8, 2012

Best Book Bets - 10/09/2012

Put another log on the fire!

A week without blockbusters is a great excuse to focus on some superb titles who's subtlety can be easily dismissed when perusing the stacks. I am fascinated that, quite by coincidence, many of the following titles share thematic attributes. Take a deep breath of the mulled-cider before you and prepare to be moved.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
CLOTH.  How would you reconnect with a parent who is only month away from hospice. Embrace their bucket list, maybe. How about a literary bucket list? Will does just that with his mother Mary after she is diagnosed with a fatal cancer. She shares her world view through her selections and he offers up some contemporary chestnuts as the two embrace life through the pages of books. The result is a triumphant testament to the power of the written word as it illustrates how our relationship with reading shares the same spiritual bonds as those between parent and child . “What are you reading and what does that say about you?” To share a book is to share something that helped sculpt your soul.

Love Anthony  by Lisa Genova 
CLOTH. I can't tell you how many people who's family has been effected by Alzheimer's disease whom I have recommended Genova's Still Alice. I was taken by its emotional honesty as it put into words conflicting emotions. Her latest effort presents another delicate subject with the same unflinching style; grief and how healing can come from the least expected places in your life. Set in Nantucket (I always love a good New England setting) Olivia mourns the passing of her young autistic child while Beth is trying to move ahead with her life after a marriage of infidelity. Beth uses writing as therapy and discovers the voice of her protagonist just may be autistic. The two women support each other in their emotional rescue guided by a wide-eyed child who may have never left. The paranormal suggestion makes for a  great device to allow both women to move on.
The Forgiven  by Lawrence Osborne
CLOTH. The clash of Western opulence and destitute survival is the underlying theme of this disturbing personal thriller eloquently written by journalist Osborne who obviously walked the sands of Morocco where this novel is set. A member of the privileged 3%, David, and his friend Jo accept an invitation to a three day party at a desert villa. During the weekend they go on a drunken road trip where David kills a local in an accident. He returns to the party with the body, the identity of the murderous infidel is discovered, and a fatwa of sorts is cast on him. What follows is a power keg on tension as the revelers continue partying on in spite of the tragedy and the help, the grieving father and the surrounding community seek accountability and revenge. The novel reads like a Moroccan Bonfire of the Vanities. As other-worldly as the locale reads the underlying political tension couldn't feel more like home in the land of the haves and have-nots.

(St Martins)
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend  by Matthew Dicks
CLOTH. There are so many hues in the spectrum of autism and Asperger’s it proves difficult to identify and manage the children who are differently challenged. Also, behavioral conditions aside, how many people had an invisible friend at one point in their lives to help them through some difficult times. Most eventually move on relying on things grounded in the here and now. Not so with Max who clings on to his imaginary pal Budo longer than most. What follows is an adventure of sorts as adults try to do what's best for Max, Max himself tries to defend the existence of his friend in the cruel world of childhood and learn to survive in a world without imagination. Did I mention that the book is written in the perspective of Budo? Now you have to read it, right? You'll be glad you did. To quote Budo, "Just believe."

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
CLOTH. The setting of this inventive, I guess you could say, work of speculative fiction rather than traditional science fiction, reminds me of a high tech version of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. The title is where Clay finds himself working after jettisoning himself from the hungry do eat dog world of tech design. The store is not what it seems it is and Clay becomes obsessed on learning the truth behind the idiomatic store and its mysterious owner. What follows is the literary equivalent of The Matrix, a tale worthy of Vonnegut. Sloan has fabricated a novel that is not only a celebration of high tech tom-foolery, but a testament to the transformative powers of print.

 (St. Martin’s Griffin)
A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
ANTHOLOGY, CLOTH. 'Tis the season with Halloween just around the corner! In a day when practically every anthology in horror and sci-fi has a theme or sub-genre (or just a general regurgitation of reprinted classics) it is refreshing to find a new compendium of stories by a cross section of contemporary masters. Yes Stephen is King and a new short story from him is always welcomed and trust me when I say the tale The Little Green God of Agony does not disappoint. Add veteran Ramsey Campbell, the incomparable Caitlin R. Kiernan (her Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint one of this book's highlights) and horror master Richard Matheson's progeny Richard Christian Matheson (like King's son, Joe Hill) and you are building quite an ensemble of macabre. A welcome addition to any horror lover's library.

Young Adult Hot Picks of the Week!

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh
INDEPENDENT READER, CLOTH. This existential fairy tale has everything I love in a classic children's tales. The consummate underdog, Jepp, a dwarf who has been denigrated as a court jester, an insurmountable Goliath of oppression, in this case the Spanish Infanta, and a cast of star-crossed characters with enough heart to make the impossible possible. Marsh's research of the time and place coupled with the magic of being awestruck by a night sky and perhaps by the limitless potential in life delivers a slap dash plot that fulfills the promise of the best children's classics. This book is as destined as is characters for greatness.
The Peculiar by  Stefan Bachmann
INDEPENDENT READER, CLOTH. 'Do robotic owls dream of electric mice?' Just askin'. Take classic fairy tales and add a steam punk aesthetic and you get this fresh debut by 18-year-old Bachmann (who was a mere teen when he started writing) who's rich writing style belies his age. Like suggesting children read Paoli's Eragon because he was near their age when he wrote it is just one of many reasons to suggest this book to children of all ages. Everything old is new again as peculiars Bart and Hettie are takes on the Irish legend changelings, babies taken in infancy and switched with inhuman doppelgangers. Neither human, nor fairy, they are shunned by society when discovered. When the two investigate some very odd goings-on they quickly wish to be ignored. This wind-up Gothic tale adds a humorous slant to fairy tale conventions as characters like Jack Box, Raggedy Man (all composites of classic characters) and the changeling children get swept into a murderous mystery that could only occur in the mind of the young.

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