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Fiction

News of the World: a novel, by Paulette Jiles

News of the World: a novel, by Paulette Jiles

News of the World has been a really popular book, and after reading it, I can see why.  Paulette Jiles did meticulous research in order to take us on a post-Civil War journey from northern to southern Texas.  Captain Kidd, an elderly veteran and widower, has reluctantly agreed to take a young girl (Johanna) to near San Antonio to be reunited with her aunt and uncle.  She was taken captive by the Kiowa Indians, and her parents killed, four years previously.  The Captain has made a life from traveling around the towns of Texas, getting paid to read newspapers from faraway places to people who have little other communication with the rest of the world.  It appears he's made a mistake in agreeing to make the journey with Johanna--she only speaks Kiowa, has completely abandoned the ways of white people, and having been once again wrenched away from the only life she knows, is by turns difficult, sullen, and terrified.  Also, Texas at this time is largely lawless, not every stranger along the way proves to be a friend, and the elements themselves, such as flooded rivers, all combine to make for a perilous journey indeed.

I was struck by Jiles' skill in showing the clash between cultures, the difficulties of communicating for the two main characters, and yet what's possible with Johanna's young mind being able to make new connections as well as reach back into the past, and with the Captain's experience and patience. Along the way, the Captain and Johanna find solace in each other's company, fight together to survive, and show that the concept of "family" is not dicated by one's blood.

Number of Pages: 
213

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder

Every year a group of men convene in a middle tier hotel in an unnamed town to recreate the famous football play that resulted in Giants player Joe Theismann breaking his leg in two places on Monday Night Football in 1985. I would never have picked this book up if it weren't for the Morning News Tournament of Books. Football? Not in my interest sphere. I am so glad that I read this book. Bachelder is witty and funny and delves right into the psyche of all of these dudes in a way that is hilarious without mockery. Two nights unfold in the book. We start to learn their stories as they arrive at the hotel. The lottery system for choosing who plays which player on the field creates space for Bachelder to play with the reason behind who wants to play the lead actor or the extras. The weekend ends as quickly as it begins and it's not a book you would read for any startling plot twists. But I definitely have Bachelder on my radar now. He is a clever writer and I look forward to reading more by him.

Number of Pages: 
213

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

The Sport of Kings is a contender in this year's Morning News Tournament of Books. (This won't be the last time I mention this fabulous tournament.) Morgan tackles the legacy of slavery in Kentucky by way of the Kentucky Derby. First we meet the Forge family and a young Henry Forge on his plantation. He wants to break from his father's farm. He becomes obsessed with horses and horse racing, a thing his father finds despicable and would disown him for. I found it hard to pin this book down in time. It felt like Henry's youth was taking place in the 1860s when it was more like the 1960s in reality. I hope this was intentional. Then we are introduced to Henry's daughter as she is a grown woman being groomed to take over the business. Until she falls for Allmon Shaughnessy, a groomer she hires. We get Allmon's background as well. His ancestors crossed the river to escape to Ohio while slavery was an institution in Kentucky. Now Allmon finds himself on the wrong side of the river, trying to grab hold of his future. This is a dense and lyrical book yet I found it hard to break through the  pages of description and natural history at times. Darwin is huge in this book. But the human drama was nicely told. Allmon's story is much more sympathetic than the Family Forge's, though Allmon and Henrietta Forge both remain victims of their past and we are left with the question of when will history stop repeating itself?

Number of Pages: 
545

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

James Watson is a descendant of the great John Watson, partner to Sherlock Holmes and recorder of all their mysteries. But really, Jamie is just a teenage boy, sent from London to attend a boarding school in Connecticut on a rugby scholarship. Jamie's only hope is that he can meet Charlotte Holmes, the many times great granddaughter of his ancestor's counterpart. His mother warned him that all Holmes are trouble, and to stay away, but Jamie can't help wondering about the mysterious Charlotte. When Jamie awkwardly introduces himself and then fights another boy over something said about Charlotte, their relationship is off to a rocky start. Unfortunately, the boy turns up dead, and suspicion immediately falls on the pair. Charlotte is determined to clear their names, and Jamie, still fascinated, is dragged along in Charlotte's investigation.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fun, light-hearted YA mystery. It had the right amount of drama to drag me in, but not so much to be a thriller, or ridiculous. The two main characters are very fully developed, neither being shown as entirely flawless.

Number of Pages: 
321

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

It was an absolute joy to re-read One Crazy Summer this month along with my wonderful Brentwood Bookworms. This first book in the Gaither Sisters trilogy introduces us to Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. They live with their father and grandmother in New York City, but this one crazy summer, their father decides to send them to Oakland, CA, to be with their estranged mother, Cecile. It's 1968, and tensions are as high in the little stucco house as they are across America. Cecile wants only to work on her poetry, and the girls are sent to the neighborhood community center for meals and summer camp with the local Black Panther chapter. Throughout the turmoil, Delphine will struggle to keep her sisters together, better understand race relations in the U.S., and attempt to forge a bond with her seemingly cold mother. This lovely novel is poignant, funny, and a great discussion-starter for upper-grade school children and tweens!

Number of Pages: 
218

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton is my first Elizabeth Strout. I wonder if I should have started with Olive Kitteredge.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy MNILB, but I kept feeling that I was missing a piece of the puzzle. There is little dialogue throughout, it is more of an exploration of a woman's life from the viewpoint of her relationship with her mother. Lucy Barton is in the hospital for a non-specific illness and her mother comes to visit. She has not seen her mother in years and they never speak on the phone. It is an unexpected visit. I thought that the longing for connection between them was well written. The relationship that Lucy has with her own daughters is also explored a bit in the last part of the book. But this felt like a book where the main character has to create herself. She leaves her hometown in Illinois after school and never really returns. Her mother calls her Wizzle (interesting nickname that is never explained) and her husband calls her Button. There is an incident mentioned that is never specifically named. Lucy calls it the THING. It is certainly sexual in nature and has something to do with her father, but we never learn what it is. Talk about maddening! I feel this is intentional, yet it seems to create a wall rather than letting you understand the character.

I will say that I am glad that I read it. I am left with lots of questions around the book and I enjoyed Strout's writing a lot! So while it was not a wholly satisfying read, it was curious and interesting enough for me to want to read another book by her.

Number of Pages: 
193

Delicious! a novel, by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! a novel, by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is better known for memoirs and cookbooks, but this is her first novel.  Of course, food plays an important role here!  Main character Billie Breslin has just moved to New York and landed a job at food magazine Delicious!  She's a talented cook herself, but an experience from her past makes Billie extremely reluctant to let anyone see this side of her or get to know the details of her life.  However, she forges several new friendships at the magazine, and at Fontanari's, a famous Italian food shop where she helps out on the weekends.

The magazine is housed in a historic mansion, and staff are dismayed when the owner decides to shut down the operation and sell the place.  Billie alone is kept on temporarily to reply to correspondence from readers.  One day while exploring the mansion's library that has been locked for years, she stumbles on a secret room, full of old letters and files.  She finds a cache of letters from a young girl, Lulu Swan, who wrote regularly to James Beard during the second world war.  Something about this touching and revealing correspondence inspires Billie to start a new quest, to find out what happened to Lulu, and to start writing new chapters for her own life.  

Number of Pages: 
380

Ghost Girl in the Corner by Daniel José Older

Ghost Girl in the Corner by Daniel José Older

Things between Tee and Izzy have been becoming strained ever since Sierra initiated her friends into shadowshaping. Izzy's hip hop career is really starting to take off, and Tee's taking the reins of the Bed-Stuy Searchlight, which is currently based in a creepy church basement. To complicate matters, the ghost of a mysterious girl starts revealing herself just to Tee, and then a local teen baseball star goes missing. Izzy needs Tee to help the search party, and Tee needs Izzy to help her understand this haunting. Will they be able to salvage what's left of their relationship in time to get to the bottom of the abduction?

Ghost Girl in the Corner is a brand new (just released yesterday!) novella, set between the end of Shadowshaper and Shadowhouse Fall (due out next fall). I love, love, love the magical side of Brooklyn Daniel José Older has introduced, and this book satisfies the wait between his YA Shadowshaper series and his Bone Street Rumba trilogy for adults. His pacing is perfect for this short fiction, with lovable, flawed characters; on-point social commentary; and bad guys as bad as ever. It is such a joy to dip back into this world...I can't wait to return!

Number of Pages: 
109

Always Remember by Cece Meng; ill. by Jago

Always Remember by Cece Meng; ill. by Jago

Picture books about death and grief are important resources for children and adults alike during difficult times. Always Remember is a particular favorite of mine, relating the story of Old Turtle's passing and all the ocean animals' lives on which he had an impact. The animals miss him, but they also celebrate all the ways in which he taught them, played with them, and helped them. While it is always difficult to lose someone, it is important to remember how their lives have influenced ours and will continue to live on in our hearts. The beautiful message of this book is complemented by the lush, fluid, and altogether gorgeous illustrations of sea life. I highly recommend this book!

Number of Pages: 
32

An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni

An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni

Jessica the frog finds a magnificent rock one day only to be informed by know-it-all Marilyn that it is, in fact, an egg...a chicken egg! And so when it hatches, Jessica becomes friends with the chicken, and they proceed to go on many adventures together. Eventually, the chicken finds its mother and parts ways with the frogs, but you wouldn't believe what the mother called her baby...an alligator! Can you believe that?

An Extraordinary Egg is a sweet, funny classic and a joy to read out loud. If you can manage to read it with a straight face and act like the alligator really is a chicken, children will go crazy every time you refer to "the chicken" throughout the story. Leo Lionni is one of my favortie children's book author/artists, and his distinctive paper collage style is alive and well here. Maybe you can try your own at home!

Number of Pages: 
32