Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Best Book Bets - 3/26/2013

Spring has sprung, the crocuses croaked (they are presently peeking their little green heads out of the snow.)  Sorry about that. The Bookie didn't see a shadow weeks ago, thus four more weeks of Winter. Instead the prognosticator of sure-bet books was busy perusing new titles you can feel confident dropping some cold, hard cash on. 6 fiction, 2 non-fiction, 2 young adult, 2 independent reader, even 2 titles to fill your holiday baskets!
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards - Kristopher Jansma
(FICTION/CLOTH) This debut is a grand rights of passage story of an aspiring writer that takes us across the world enriching our lives as much as it does our protagonist who searches for the meaning of his life. Kristopher has always wanted the literary fame his schoolmate Julian has acquired; the bestseller, the notoriety. He also has always had eyes on Julian's friend Evelyn. Emotions clash and the friendship of the three ends. Kristopher attempts to use this life experience to influence his art but in turn his words have profound impact on the very life he attempts to chronicle. He seraches the world for the answer, a journey that brings him back to his best friend, now in seclusion. A funny, brash, self-aware work of literary tomfoolery that concludes with a wry be-careful-what-you-wish-for.

(Random House)
The Burgess Boys  - Elizabeth Strout
(FICTION/CLOTH) How do you followup a lauded and successful book like Olive Kittridge? Strout knows the answer is all in developing a character you will care about and a story to motivate them. Brothers Jim and Bob lost their father early in life. They both left rural Maine soon after to acquire success in the big city. Jim became a corporate lawyer while Bob dedicated himself to being an attorney for the people. Their sister never left. Now the child she has raised is in big trouble and she reaches out to her brothers. What proceeds is a test to the strength of their family bond in spite of all the dark history they left behind. Strout's impeccable word craft is a joy to read and she gives us glimpses into each characters pathos that is bare bones and honest. How do you followup a Pulitzer prize winning novel? Follow it up with one even better than the last.

Ordinary Grace - William Kent Krueger
(FICTION/CLOTH) 1961, the sunset of the age of innoscence in our country, all soda jerks with crew cuts and doo wop instead of rock. Frank Drum was about to grow up fast when his sister is murdered. Nothing could possibly be the same; not for the young boy barely in his teens, not for his family led by his minister father or the congregation he led. In order to solve the murder the small town's secrets are revealed and nothing is as it once seemed the day before she passed. This novel is a devastating rites-of-passage story cloaked in a murder mystery. The real mystery is how these characters can move on in life without being indeligibley affected by such a profound event.

The End of the Point -  Elizabeth Graver
(FICTION/CLOTH)  The New England coastline is such an evocative setting to cast people searching for meaning in their lives. The coast as a family focus point is a classic but Graver breathes life into the setup by letting the jetty point of buzzard's bay be the looming metaphor for where the Porter family members are, at the end and looking forward. Its starts in 1942. The family has an estate at Ashaunt Point. It is the American Dream until the Army base arrives and with it temptations and diversions for the family. We visit the family again and again through the years, each time the family summer home can't shelter the family from the events that are continually shaping the country. The novel speaks of our yearning for what in hindsight was the simplicity of the past while finding the strength in what we have in life to face the challenges of the present. This may be this year's first solid beach read.
(St. Martins)
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald Therese Anne Fowler (FICTION/CLOTH)  There are many that would think that to even pitch the premise of this novel would be literary blamsphamy. After all The Great Gatsby has become one of the benchmarks with which great American literature is measured. Zelda's early years takes a lot of guts and while this isn't the caliber of Fitzgerald (little is) it is a solid story that takes the word novel literally. She is only 17 when she meets Francis. We watch the glitz of prohibition design her into a scandlous piece of eye-candy to accompany her husband's racy novels. She embraces the role and goes for the ride rubbing elbows with the likes of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The time comes when she has to be herself, but just who is that and can she embrace it in time to help her husband and herself break the downward spiral of opalescence? Only this take on history will tell.

Frozen Solid - James M. Tabor 
(FICTION/CLOTH) Have you ever read Who Goes There by John W. Cambell. You certaining have seen the films based on it The Thing From Another World or John Carpenter's remake. There is something about the desolation of the Arctic that evokes claustrophobic terror. Tabor brings that dread full force by setting this thriller on the South Pole where intrepid scientists known as Triage research under the ice for the one thing that could save our planet. Hallie Leland joins the team only to realize that Triage has more nefarious intentions for their discovery. They believe the cause of Earth's woes is overpopulation and only by using the new microbe as a carrier for a controllable epidemic can they save the world. Enter the effects of light deprivation, extreme weather, and paranoia and the race to save the world is on.

The Drunken Botanist - Amy Stewart 
(NON-FICTION/CLOTH)  Every alcoholic drink is derived from a planet. Distilling and cultivating a delicate dance with their very toxins and nectar. This book will make you the most knowledgeable person to have bellied up to the bar as Stewart documents the origins and the science behind each elixir. Not only do you get the discovery and evolution of over 150 liquors so get delicious factoids to impress your friends. Did you know the American revolution was ignited more from the British insisting on the colonists buying their molasses rather than the superior French which made for an inferior rum rather than a mere tea tax? That ergot infected Rye may have accounted for the Salem witch seizures and visions? Tell me more! Another round bartender... do go on.

(Random House)
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us -  Michael Moss  
(NON-FICTION/CLOTH)  Writing for the NY Times Moss won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing hamburger contamination in 2010. Now he connects the corrupt food processing industry to the national obesity issue by presenting in exhaustive detail how they use and promote the cheapest and worst food for continued profit. Not unlike the tobacco industry they learned long ago that products heavy laden with fat and empty carbs has an addictive quality. That's why they are called comfort foods, right? The numbers of national consumption will stagger you, the intent of the industry to not change even as they market themselves as doing so (Lite products are not Light products and so on) This book is Fast Food Nation on testosterone, an indictment to the industry and a wake up call to the nation. His narrative style makes this read like a conspiracy thriller but, trust me, his facts are not sugar-coated.

Let The Sky Fall -  Shannon Messenger
(YOUNG ADULT/CLOTH)  A lot of ethereal beings have shown up in young adult novels as of late, fairies, mermaids, goddesses and now a sylph. Audra is one an air elemental and after a massive tornado devestates teen Vane (as in weather?) she appears to him, perhaps to comfort him for the loss of his parents due to an atmospherical occurance she may be tied to. Awkward. Audra can read the wind, control it to some effect and after witnessing its destructive side has sworn herself to be Vane's guardian. Let fine by Vane, he becoming infatuated with her. But Vane has his own secrets, his own powers that Audra has to awaken him to before the destructive warrior power of the wind returns.
 An inventive variation on the paranormal romance that should entertain teens looking for something a little different (but only a little.)

You Know What You Have To Do - Bonnie Shimko
(YOUNG ADULT/CLOTH)  Spoiler alert: Do you think Dexter's sister has the sociopath gene like her brother? If she does then perhaps this could be a prequel of sort, her backstory. Maggie is a young teen who has a killer in her head always goating her to take a life. Nice set-up, huh? The voice however is like her inner-Dexter; he only wants her to kill people who have done wrong to the ones she loves. Is she a lovable antihero or just a troubled teen? Reading about her struggles is chilling, hearing killer-self's dark humor delivery gives you a guilty grin and the questions of who will win and what is right and wrong will drive you quickly to the last page.

(Roaring Brook)
Marco Impossible - Hannah Moskowitz
(INDEPENDENT READER) Junior high amateur criminals extrordinaire devise a plot where they will break into the high school prom. Granted it isn't Fort Knox but to them it is just as impermeable. The reason for the break-in is so that Marco can profess his love for Benji who will be playing at the prom. (like that's going to end nicely.) The highly implausible series of events makes for good fun that should play well for the tween crowd. After all, why can't their plans work when they are powered by love? Read and see.

Hold Fast - Blue Balliett
(INDEPENDENT READER) Early live in Chicago. Her Dad is gone but that's not like him. He's not one of those dads. A life threatening event moves them to a shelter. Her family is desparate. Still her questions remain as to the whereabouts of her father and she sets out to find him before more bad catches up with them. Balliett has a keen sense of combining motive with motion and with an economy of words she gets to the heart of both her characters and her readers. What I love is Early's inquisitive nature causes her to do research and where does that begin, in a library, a hub of a community's information.

The Matchbox Diary - Paul Fleischman, illust. Bagram Ibatoulline
(CHILDREN)  This is a celebration not only of the tradition of story telling but of the trans-formative powers it has when it is becomes a part of the family tradition. A little girl's grand-dad has a cigar box full of memories; little pieces of ephemera, each with a tale to tell. The girl chooses one item at a time and with each a story is woven of the man's early years, from the little girl's age on up, each a little treasure of life he can recall and share with her. The story is just them talking, letting the warm illustrations of Ibatouline bathed in the sepia of yesteryear to fuel our own imaginations.
Dream Friends - You Byun
(CHILDREN)  More because of the development of their brains than anything else children are pre-wired with a dislike of sleep. That's while intuitive classics like Goodnight Moon as such a godsend. Well here is another sleeping aid that is sure to be a land-of-Nod favorite. When Melody sleeps she visits her closest friend. In the real world, awake, she has none. Through the power of her dreams however she is shown how to find a real life friend. Just like with adults answers can be found when you sleep. The delicate illustrations are soothing and welcoming (plus who wouldn't want to dream of riding a house cat like a horse?)

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