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We have moved our blog to the new CHB website! Check us out over there to find our latest stories and reviews!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Introducing Blue Orange Games

We have been slowly expanding our sideline items at the store as we discover gifts and games that we really love. One of the newest additions comes from a company called Blue Orange Games. Blue Orange's line of Spot It and Tell Tale games are exactly the type of fun items we like to recommend.

Spot It is a flash card game for players young and old. Each card has a series of images with one image repeating on the succeeding card. It is the player's job to spot the image. I absolutely love this game, but the best thing about it is how great it is for families. It is meant to be all ages, but eagle eyed children typically have a leg up on their parents making it all the more fun and competitive.

Tell Tales takes the flash card premise of Spot It but moves the focus away from competition and turns it to creativity. The goal of Tell Tales is to tell a story with the cards, with each card you flip a new element must be draw in to the story. This is another great game for families and works as a great alternative to movie night – make your own stories!

These both games are endlessly fun to play at home or while traveling. They also work well in the classroom. We have been so happy with them in the store and I can't wait to see what games Blue Orange comes out with next.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Victoria Reviews: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I don't normally spend my time reading lifelike stories, so John Green books are something new to me. Most of the time, I prefer to read about magic and aliens rather than regular kids in high school, and I actively avoid novels that portray ordinary life. However, I've been hearing glowing recommendations for John Green for quite a while now, so when Michelle asked me to read one of his books, I quickly accepted. That night, I curled up with a copy of Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

I was a bit surprised by the book and the way it was written. The story follows the points of view of two different boys, both named Will Grayson, and the events that lead up to their meeting point as well as the repercussions that follow. Each chapter alternates between their narration. The first Will Grayson seems to be a decently normal, shy kid, and the oddest thing about him is his best friend. Will Grayson #1 is best friends with a flamboyantly homosexual boy named Tiny, ironically nicknamed for his very large size. Will Grayson #2 seems depressed and angry, and he's harboring a deep secret that he hasn't yet shared with the world. The writing of his point of view differs from Will Grayson #1 because it doesn't use any capital letters and often leaves out punctuation as well (something which annoyed the Grammarian in me at first but which was surprisingly easy to get used to).

The oddest thing about this book, to me, was that the main story wasn't even about either of the Will Graysons. The actual plot revolved around Will #1's best friend, Tiny Cooper. The Will Graysons were just the vehicles for Tiny's story to be told. They were almost minor characters, in their own way, and their own personal journeys only seemed important because of how they affected Tiny. It was an interesting way to read a story.

John Green and his contributor, David Levithan, did an excellent job on characterization. The characters are normal, flawed people just like anyone you'd meet on the street. They have doubts, fears, and awkward moments, and they make mistakes just like the rest of us. At the same time, their ordinariness does not make the story uninteresting. Contrariwise, the story is interesting in part because they are ordinary. The characters embody the traits of the kind of people that everyone knows. Everybody knows someone who is always at the center of attention. Everyone knows a shy kid. Everyone knows the guy who treats everyone else with contempt. We all have that friend who we love even though they frequently embarrass us in public. The story is an easy one to like because there's something for everyone to identify with. It's also a rather emotional read because the realness of the characters makes them easy to care about.

I think Will Grayson, Will Grayson was a good start for me on John Green. I'll definitely be picking up his other books in the near future. I recommend you do the same.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

After reading and loving Steve Martin’s Shopgirl, I decided to keep up with his novels, so it was with great excitement that I finally picked up An Object of Beauty. It becomes clear almost immediately that this is going to be a very different novel. The main character, Lacey Yeager, is basically a predator. She lacks the soft, shy, loneliness of Martin’s previous characters (though the narrator, who we learn very little about, has it in spades). The predatory Lacey begins the novel as a recent college graduate looking to make her place in the art world of New York through whatever means necessary. Now, if this were merely the story of a beautiful young social climber it would hold no interest for me, but it is so much more than that.

Essentially, An Object of Beauty is the story of the New York art scene over the past twenty years. Steve Martin uses Lacey and her story to tell that much broader history; from the rise in popularity (and price) of modern artworks in the mid 90s to the economic collapse of 2008 and the subsequent collapse of the art market, the book was a fascinating look into a world I knew nothing about. Martin described the fluctuations of the market in terms that I could understand, as he did when describing the rise in prices of contemporary works following Andy Warhol’s steady rise in price:

“When Warhol started to achieve newsworthy prices, the value of contemporary art, including art that was yet to be created, was pushed up from behind. Warhol’s presence was so vivid, so recent, that he was identified not with the dead, but as the first nugget from Sutter’s Mill. The rush was on.”

The feeling of being in on this art world esoterica was good enough, but Martin combined it with an interesting, if immoral, character in Lacey. The novel also holds an element of mystery, as very early on the reader is made aware that Lacey has done something that was not exactly on the level. This is entirely true to her character, but what exactly she has done goes unexplained until the end when it comes to light as the art market crashes in on itself.

Steve Martin has written a very good novel with a slow, natural tone that will be familiar to the fans of his other books even if the significantly less endearing characters are not. The book itself is beautiful, as it contains illustrations of various works of art alongside the discussions about them in the text.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower made high school a little easier for me. It was something that I could point to that said I was not alone. A touchstone of the awkward loneliness of the lost and confused. And I was afraid to reread it. It had been something greater than ten years since I read and loved Perks, what if I had changed while the novel had not? Books have great power and I was afraid that this one would lose its place for me as an adult reader.

It didn't.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie, who is slowly learning to be an active participant in life. Charlie begins his first year of high school scared and alone. To cope, he writes letters to a stranger. This is someone he's been told will listen and understand. Someone Charlie can trust because they “didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though (they) could have.” The format of the novel in letters so suits this books as it affords an intimacy that would have been lacking from a more straight forward telling.

Charlie's letters, addressed simply to “friend,” follow him through his freshman year. From the lonely first day, to his first party, first kiss, all of the wonderful lessons learned from books, teachers, and new friends, and finally to the end of year departure of those who are graduating and moving on. The book is about learning to navigate the complex relationships that come postchildhood, especially a childhood that ends as abruptly as Charlie's.

Charlie has been stuck between the innocence of childhood and the harsh realities of the adult world for most of his life. He was forced into situations he was not yet capable of understanding which led to a series of mental breaks. This instability is what led Charlie to his life as a wallflower; he was too trapped in his own mind to participate in life. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the narration of his breaking free of that incapacity through friendship and books and music all leading up to actions. Because actions can make life feel infinite.

I identified completely with this novel as a young adult, my review may be biased, but I think that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an important book. I feel that it is too cliché to refer to something as “the new” anything, but if it must be said then Perks is the new Catcher in the Rye. It is a novel that gives friends to the friendless and a place to go for anyone who doesn't understand or isn't understood.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Is it fair to call any novel the “Greatest Novel Ever Written” - it does not seem to be so, but I can't help it. Anna Karenina is quite simply the greatest novel ever written and not just the best novel I've read. I cannot imagine any other novel matching this one as it possesses everything one wants from a novel – it is gripping, philosophical, enthralling, long, and utterly timeless. Long seems to be strange praise but I use it to say that I would have stayed with Tolstoy for as many pages as he needed to tell his story.

What struck me most about this 100+ year old novel was how timeless it is. When an author like Tolstoy sets out to tell a human story the setting is almost irrelevant because what makes us human is universal. The love, betrayal, and fear described are all never changing, it is our emotions that make us human, so that was not surprising but even on the philosophical level things are the same. We are having the same debates about social order, education, gender, and relationships that we were having all those years ago. However, to say that setting is irrelevant is maybe a bit flip because another element of the novel that amazed me was how clearly defined the social conventions were. Tolstoy made me feel late 19th century Russia. I felt that I could really see into this hidden world; it was so fully realized that I was immersed within it.

To get into a discussion about the characters makes me feel as though this is more of a book report than a review of my impressions because there are so many characters and they are all so connected no matter how tenuously. I guess this is because I feel that the novel is bigger than the sum of its parts. No amount of discussion of the romance between Anna and Vronsky or the moralizing of Karenin to Anna or even the subtle awesomeness of Levin will lead you to read this book and it will only serve to spoil you of the virgin delights I experienced upon first encountering the novel. With a novel as “Important” as Anna Karenina I find it best to go in blind, work my way out of the material, wrestle with themes, and then surrender to academia. Upon the completion of a great novel I like to do a little research, discovering all the things I missed within the novel and praising myself over all that I did observe.

The characters within Anna Karenina are both real and not. They are real in that they are full of selfishness, beauty, and contradiction just like the rest of us, yet they stand apart in that they are the vehicles of Tolstoy's ideas. They are there to represent both what is and what is not possible, and the ultimate goal of the tragedy is to expose an unyielding society whose fear of change and difference, seen as depravity, may sink not only one person but a nation. The novel definitely speaks to the changing society in Russia that came to fruition in the years after the novel was published.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi is the story of a boy trapped on a life boat with a Bengal tiger, but of course (as with every simple summary) there is so much more than that. Pi is about religion, storytelling, and understanding oneself. The highest compliment I can pay this novel is that it reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five. In the way that the earlier novel is about WWII and aliens, Life of Pi is about life and tigers, with all the same leanings toward PTSD.

The novel begins in India, where we learn that Pi Patel is a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim. Basically, Pi is a searcher finding meaning where he needs it. The novel is so chock full of symbolism that immediately upon finishing it I wished to go back to the beginning in order to see what would be revealed. Pi's religious leanings and pliant character detailed in the beginning of the story will color the rest of the novel. Once the inevitable shipwreck occurs and he is alone with the animals on the raft it is his adaptable nature that saves him.

Life of Pi is ostensibly a novel that can make someone believe in God. We are introduced to that concept of the story's function in the beginning. But it is not a God that can be named or found easily. Mantel and his characters are interested in a God that is beyond tradition. The young writer transcribing Pi's tale finds God through story, Pi himself found God through curiosity, and the reader is expected to encounter God through the novel in any way they choose – everything is left open to interpretation. With that, I feel it is important to note that Life of Pi is not a religious novel nor even a spiritual one. The idea of God to Mantel seems, to me at least, to be whatever you want it to be. God is what is holy to you, if that is a God of a religious nature then so be it but if it is not then Mantel allows for that as well. This openness is the beauty of Life of Pi.

When I wrote about The Things They Carried, one of the big ideas I was interested in was O'Brien's distinction between story truth and happening truth. Well, Yann Martel took that idea and threw a tiger at it. And it was awesome. I have never read a book quite like Life of Pi and I doubt I will ever read another. Martel works a sort of literary magic with this novel transforming not only the novel but life itself from everything it is to everything it can be.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series about the life and times of Greg Heffley is an international bestseller. Seriously, these books have sold millions of copies and if you are not familiar with them ask any kid you know and I guarantee they will be able to clue you in. The publication of the newest Wimpy Kid book has gotten me curious about this entire phenomenon. Curious enough to go back to the first book in the series and see just what it is all about.

The seminal book the Wimpy Kid series titled Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the introduction into Greg's world. It is immediately clear to the adult reader just what it is that resonates with kids, Greg's world is our world thus their world. It's full of awkwardness with girls, homework, chores, and parents who just don't understand. My sister and I recently had a conversation about middle school and her claim that the middle school years are even more horrifying and cringe worthy than the high schools years really struck me. Middle school is a weird time. You've got sixth graders mingling with eighth graders and between those two is the onset of puberty. It's a veritable breeding ground for awkwardness, misunderstanding, and bullies.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid definitely gets the first two right. Greg is awkward, he thinks he knows much more than he does, and he has trouble relating to those around him because he is so wrapped up in himself. The honesty of Kinney's book might just be what I didn't like about it. Greg is described as being a real kid to the T and that includes all of the selfishness of kids at this difficult age. Greg writes in his diary about the bullies at school and how everyone else gets it wrong all the while the reader (at least the adult reader) perceives him as the biggest bully in the story.

The Wimpy Kid series and its popularity certainly aren't an anomaly. Kids latch on to certain characters for any number of reasons and Jeff Kinney's books are the most recent to really hit home. The fact that they are not really my cup of tea (judging by the first book at least) stems solely from the fact that I did not like Greg. It may be a tad too idealistic of me but I like the kids in children's literature to be role models. Flaws are necessary to building a realistic character, but I see little value in a character like Greg who has little to no redeeming qualities.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a cute book and the honesty about how kids navigate this difficult age is an obvious appeal; it just isn't for me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

It's time to talk about Cloud Atlas, which I have been putting off not for lack of something to say but because I want to say everything. The first thing I've got to tell you is that this novel is staggeringly ambitious. Essentially what David Mitchell has done is written six novellas that work together as variations upon a theme but also tell a greater story. What is most impressive about Cloud Atlas is not the story or the message or the themes but the writing, the language, and the technical skill. Mitchell's craft is so finely honed that he has conquered the voice of not only his characters, but six entirely different authors. Each story nestled within the sextet could be the work of a different writer, yet they are all sprung from the same pen, same mind.

But that's enough gushing about the bones, you're curious about the meat, right? Cloud Atlas begins and ends in the eighteenth century but along the way it traverses the near and distant past and future from seafaring Adam Ewing to intrepid reporter Luisa Rey to clone/model/servant/rebel Sonmi-451. There is something here for everyone and quite a lot for anyone to digest. I know it seems unfair to say this, but I do not want to tell you what Cloud Atlas is about in the sense of the plot. I could hash it out for you, but that's not really what the novel is about anyway and it would take away from your own discoveries.

Instead, I'd rather talk about what the novel is actually about in a “what it all means” sense or at least what it means to me. Cloud Atlas is about freedom and slavery in all of their mental, physical, and spiritual forms. It's about connectivity between people and time and history and stories. It's about the pain we can cause and the healing we can affect. It is about humanity and everything good, bad, and downright scary that it entails. Essentially, what I am saying is that this book is about, in the words of Douglas Adams, life, the universe, and everything.

There are things that I did not love about Cloud Atlas (in particular, the ending is heavy handed and overblown in regards to Mitchell's message). And while I may have enjoyed the construction even more than the stories, because puzzling through the text and finding the connections was such a joy, the themes will stick with me. Mitchell's novel has given me pause to think about the way I perceive my fellow humans in all of their forms, colors, shapes, and sizes. Cloud Atlas is worth reading for Mitchell's ambition and technical skill alone, but those aspects coupled with the warning of our penchant toward evils and praise of our capacities toward good make for an enthralling experience.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: The Girl who Fell Beneath Fairylandand Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente

One of the biggest challenges of the second book in a series is the lack of surprise. Catherynne Valente's The Girl who Fell Beneath Fairylandand Led the Revels There did suffer somewhat in my estimation because I was not surprised by how good it was – I simply expected it to be so. I had been so charmed by Valente's first Fairyland book that the experience could not be duplicated. I knew what to expect; however, this is still a very satisfying sequel. The world Valente created is so vibrant that there is plenty of room for many more stories.

Here we are taken beneath Fairyland to Fairyland Below where a new ruler (Halloween, the Hollow Queen) has taken over and has her minions out stealing the shadows of the dwellers of Fairyland. The only person to stop this reign of terror and halt the progression that is leading to the destruction of Fairyland is September herself, our hero who circumnavigated Fairyland. Halloween is after all September's shadow, which she surrendered in a plea to save the life of another on her previous journey into Fairyland.

If the first Fairyland book was about growing up then this one is definitely about what you lose in the struggle. This is a darker Fairyland wherein the lessons are stronger, the truth more fluid, and the consequences to our hero's actions are more clearly drawn out. It is more grown up, but that makes sense. Time has past for both September and Valente's readers. They've experienced new troubles and joys. The have grown regardless of how much they wished they had not.

That Valente is working in the realm of fairy tales is simply perfect. Everything falls in line, from the fantasies to the realities highlighted by them. The fairy tale is meant to explain life through fantasy. The trials and tribulations of September are there to help explain why people sometimes lie or lash out when they get angry and many other valuable lessons hard taught in reality. Valente has proven how it is possible to be honest with children about darkness and light, actions and consequences without being dull or overbearing.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There has all of the charm of its predecessor and I'm definitely looking forward to encountering September and her friends again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry's The Giver has long been one of my favorite books. I read it during the greatest reading year of my life – the fifth grade. I was a reader before fifth grade, but the books I read that year and my amazing teacher really opened me up to what books could be. You know, beyond The Boxcar Children. I reread The Giver and its sequels in anticipation of Lowry's conclusion to the Quartet, Son. I've probably read The Giver four or five times (and it amazes me each time), but this was my first encounter with the other books of the series.

The Giver is the story of Jonas who lives in a Community where he never has to make any decisions and all responsibilities are assigned. Everything is orderly and controlled – perfect. Until Jonas is assigned the role of Receiver, the one person who holds the Community's collected memories of true pleasure and pain. Once he realizes what life can be and the mockery of life that the leaders of the Community have created Jonas risks everything to save those he has just learned to love. I have never quite been able to put my finger on what it is that makes The Giver so powerful. Is it the warning Lowry gives us? Is it that this book was my first real brush with the darkness of the world that can lie just beneath the surface? To this day I can't be sure. What I do know is that this novel amazed me as a kid and it continues to do so to this day.

Reading Gathering Blue and Messenger for the first time as an adult took away something of their power. I hate to say it that way because the books are still great and worth reading, but I can only imagine how moved I would have been to encounter Kira, the heroine of Gathering Blue, as a preteen. Kira, a physically disabled orphan living in a cruel and medieval world. Seriously, medieval. There is no electricity, plumbing, or running water. Brute strength is favored above all. It is a fallen world and in the beginning I interpreted this fallen state as a consequence to Jonas' actions in The Giver. It turns out I was wrong and Kira's world in Gathering Blue is close in both proximity and time to that of The Giver. Looking at the communities side by side is a fascinating comparison. Jonas' world is made up of secrets and order – the horrible lengths to which the leaders and citizens of the Community will go to keep everything uniform and perfect are hidden. The suspense comes from and unknown menace as the reader is slowly shown how bad things are. In Kira's world the horrors are more outright. She lives in a place where there is never quite enough to go around and the weak are cast aside. Both stories are about conforming to
the norm and what happens when you can no longer conform. 
Messenger is my least favorite book in the series. The menace in this story is supernatural rather than human and it just doesn't pack the same punch. Messenger takes the theme of conformity from the first two books and spins it in a different direction. Instead of taking place in a society that enforces conformity, the novel creates a world that celebrates difference. It is an outside force that causes strife in the village and because of it Lowry's message was not as strong.

Son is the conclusion to the series, the final book in the quartet, and it is a much more adult novel. Son puts us back in the Community of The Giver at the same time that the events of Jonas' tale are taking place. This is the story of Claire, a birthmother in the Community and her search for her son. Each of the books is about love in some way, but Son anchors the series in love by telling the story of a bond that cannot be broken by time or distance. Son is not exactly the conclusion I wanted for the series, but it feels like the book Lowry needed to write about the loss of her own son.
Lois Lowry is my favorite type of children's writer. She trusts children to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions and, more importantly, she trusts them with the truth. There is no sugar coating here. These books are raw and honest and that is why kids respond to them. It is certainly why I did.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a bookseller’s dream, even ending in the mantra “the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.” The novel is a bookish mystery involving a literary cult, Google hackers, and code breaking – what’s not to love?

This is the story of Clay Jannon, a jobless postgrad who happens into a night clerk position at Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. He never sells anything (is chastised for even attempting to make the store profitable), but is encouraged to take extremely detailed notes of the members of a secret club who come to the bookstore in order to borrow centuries old encrypted tomes. Out of sheer boredom, Clay creates a model of the store and stumbles upon a method to what he supposed was the madness of Penumbra’s customers. That discovery sends him spiraling down a rabbit hole of mysteries with a hunt for immortality at its core.

The plot may sound more silly than charming, but this is a great novel full of wit and charm. There is also a lot here to think about as Sloan takes turns skewering both the old guard and the new of literature and technology. People have been bemoaning the death of literature as we know it for as long as they have been decrying the end of the world. It was nice to read a novel that poked fun at the overblown idea, especially as it merged past and future. Not only is a physical bookstore (that supposed relic of the 20th century) literally recreated in the virtual realm, but the creators, Clay’s friends Kat and Mat, are each ensconced on one end of this spectrum. Mat creates effects for the movies the old fashioned way; he uses real materials instead of computer generated images. Kat works at Google and longs for a time wherein man is one with machine –
the ultimate dream of the technological age.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a comic literary adventure, but if you can take a breath and think about what Sloan is attempting to convey, it becomes obvious that this is more than a “high brow beach read.” Sloan has written a novel that deals with the cultural schizophrenia of our fast moving technological age with a wink and a smile at both stalwarts of old and new knowledge. Great read with a wonderful tone; definitely recommended.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O'Connor

Sheila O'Connor's Keeping Safe the Stars feels destined to become a classic on par with Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia. It is the story of three orphan children who must fend for themselves when their grandfather (their only caretaker) is taken to a hospital far from their home. Pride, Nightingale, and Baby have been raised to be fiercely independent and loyal to each other above all else, so when things get tough, Pride, the oldest, starts coming up with ideas to keep her siblings safe. This is not the easiest thing to do, especially when neighbors, a traveling journalist, and a truly loathsome tourist begin asking questions.

Keeping Safe the Stars is really a perfect middle grade novel. It takes place in 1974, a time that will seem like ancient history to kids, but will be remembered by their parents and grandparents. The material is rife for family and classroom discussion. All of the actions in the story take place against the backdrop of that colorful era: long haired hippies, Nixon's resignation, and a fearful and angry political climate. Yet O'Connor handles these heady topics with aplomb. The children, even without iphones and a wifi connection, can be related to by modern kids. They are real people who are frightened and curious and sometimes a little desperate.

The three Stars are the type of children that stand out in children's fiction - they are different than their readers only in as much as their story demands it; at their core the Stars are the kind of kids readers want to really know. The best childrens’ books serve as friends and companions of their young readers. I feel that my battered, old copies of some of the classics can really atest to that. Sheila O'Connor's Keeping Safe the Stars seems ready for that type of relationship. It is a book that is ready to be read, reread, carried around and shared, discussed, and loved.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

If you followed my advice and read Cathrynne Valente's Fairyland books (and I know you did) or if you are a fan of Neil Gaiman's fantasies, I mus impress upon you the importance of reading Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull. It is a perfect sort of fantasy filled with adventure, love, and danger.

Summer and Bird is the story of two sisters whose parents have gone missing overnight. Summer, the older sister, is very like their father. She is practical both in life and the way she interacts with nature. The much younger Bird favors their mother. She lives with the spirit of nature, spending her time becoming a part of the natural world around her rather than observing and attempting to understand it. The relationship between the sisters is so wonderful; they are so different and so similar - they are real sisters.

As the girls travel through the forest looking for their parents, they begin to discover the magic that has been hidden from them their whole lives. Their mother is the queen of birds, but her mantle was stolen by an evil puppeteer who longed to be a bird herself. Now, their mother is trapped and Summer and Bird must work to free her before the false queen destroys all of the birds of the forest.

What sets this novel apart from any other middle grade fantasy is the writing. The author has a way of taking the norm and making it otherworldly, as in the description of falling asleep that has stayed with me: "sleep opened its dark mouth and swallowed her." Haven't you felt that same way when falling asleep into a nightmare? Catmull's voice is pitch perfect for the genre - it is a blend of magic, fairytale, and authentic young characters. Summer and Bird is a wonderful novel that has been beautifully illustrated, and I want to hand it out to every twelve year old I know - and their sister.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

All the King's Men is definitely one of "those books." The books you always find on best of lists and must read lists, especially if you are from Louisiana (the state that brought you both Robert Penn Warren and Huey Long). I've heard about this book practically my entire reading life and while I never fully dismissed it, I often judged it as being too Southern or too political for my tastes. I will admit to you now - I was way off base.

The story centers around Willie Stark (sometimes Talos) and his right hand man, narrator, Jack Burden. Everyone knows that Stark is a depiction of Louisiana governor Huey Long, but that fact becomes irrelevant once you enter the story. Personally, I know little about Long's career, but I think this served to enhance my appreciation of the novel. I wasn't constantly questioning which actions were historical and which were fictional. I was absorbed in the world of the characters, which is exactly what a good novel should do for you.

The novel is driven by a cast of characters that evolve continually until all are virtually unrecognizable as the people encountered in the beginning of the story, and that is not to say that the changes are not believable. The absolute best thing about this book is how true it is to the characters and the pressures they have. You cannot say that these are black and white / good or bad people as most of the characters come in varying shades of grey.

Most fascinating is Stark himself, who begins as an idealistic young man that grew up on a small family farm and is virtually without vices. He moves from idealistic dupe to charismatic leader to political slime in short order. The beginning of this transformation, and one of my favorite parts of the novel, comes when Stark is being pushed to change his speeches. His staff has to explain that no one wants to hear about his plans for tax reform; they just want to feel something:
They don't give a damn about that. Hell, make 'em cry, or make 'em laugh, make 'em think you're their weak and erring pal, or make 'em think you're God-a-Mighty. Or make 'em mad. Even mad at you. Just stir 'em up.
And soon there after the Stark we know was born. I think it's poignant, especially in today's political climate, to note that politics has most assuredly always been theater. This is the theater of a well oiled machine that churns people out and eats them up and very often its leavings are dead or broken. In Warren's novel absolutely everyone is broken, either they were from the start or they fell prey to the machine.

All the King's Men is a great novel and it is not too Southern or too political. It is without place or time, a novel about people and humanity, our follies and foibles.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse’s new novel Safekeeping is called “a novel of tomorrow” and the future is bleak. Hesse imagines a world in which the suspicion and distrust roiling in the United States today boils over into a chaotic state of martial law and suppression. Her novel follows a young girl making her way to safety as she traverses this new world.

Radley Parker-Hughes has travelled to Haiti to volunteer in an orphanage in a disaster ridden area. Shortly after her arrival the president of the United States is assassinated. After days of worry and no communication with her parents, she makes it home to Vermont only to find that her parents are not there waiting for her. Radley quickly realizes that staying alone in her own home is no longer safe, as the government has authorized roving bands of looters as their muscle in a battle to terrify and subdue the populous. Radley makes the decision to head north to Canada so that she may live there in exile until peace and normalcy are restored and she can reach her parents.

Radley’s story is told in very short chapters, each with its own photograph to illustrate the bleakness that has become her life. The story is a sad one, but ultimately it is full of hope and will give its teenage audience plenty to think about. Even young people, who often tend to not be very politically aware, are feeling the dissent and divisiveness currently manifest in our nation. Books like Hesse’s can provide a way to work through those feelings and help the youth decide where they stand. This is an important type of story to tell in a disheartening time in the history of our nation. The ultimate message of Safekeeping is one that bears repeating: we need only to be good to one another and understanding, happiness, and prosperity will come.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock

I am not a crier, but I must tell you Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock made me cry. I read this wonderful middle grade novel in one sitting, one late night actually, because no matter how late it got I could not put it down to go to sleep. This is a very sweet novel about adoption; it is never trite, often both sad and inspiring, and it tells the truth about adoption, especially adoption of older children.

Wen is an eleven year old girl who has spent most of her life in a Chinese orphanage. She has waited for years to be adopted and when it finally happens she is overcome with ambivalence. The idea of leaving her home, the younger children she provides care and much needed affection for, and most of all her best friend Shu Ling, terrifies her. Shu Ling is not only an unwanted daughter, she is crippled. It is a simple and terrible truth to both girls that Shu Ling will not be adopted due to her physical disabilities.

What makes this book so special is the devotion the girls have to one another. When Wen makes it to America, she vows to get Shu Ling a family. As Wen struggles for her friend, she and her family are working to understand each other. The awkwardness, confusion, and missteps on both sides is described wonderfully by Peacock. As a reader, you ache for this family, but you also believe in their ability to meld into a loving family unit.

This is a fantastic book for middle readers. It is honest about the difficulties of adoption and the problems people often have relating to and communicating with one another. Peacock has written a novel about resiliency and hope, but even more importantly, about the undying strength that comes from the bonds of friendship.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Books at the Movies

I am smack in the middle of Anna Karenina, which is the best novel of all time. It is wonderful, beautiful, so sad, and utterly timeless. Lemme tell ya, in the 100+ years since Tolstoy wrote the novel, people have not changed. Relationships and emotional depths have been as turbulent as they are today since the dawn of time. Couple that with all of the discussion of the difficulties amongst the lower classes and you have a modern drama to please the 99%.

All of this is to say that I am ready to talk about the books that I am looking forward to reading before seeing their cinematic versions this fall. I wrote a few weeks ago about some of my old favorites that are being released as movies, but now it’s time to talk about the TBR list of movie-books.

Wuthering Heights

Life of Pi

Anna Karenina

Les Miserables

Cloud Atlas (a bit of a cheat because I actually did read this one a few weeks ago. Spoiler: it’s amazing)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

I typically do not read crime novels. I have covered this before, but in a nutshell – I’m a neurotic who is afraid of crime. Prior to receiving a copy of Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery, I was not aware of her fifteen book Inspector Gamache series. We have had Penny’s books in the store, but they were as foreign to me as most other mystery novels. I was encouraged to pick this novel up based on the strength of its setting; The Beautiful Mystery takes place within a cloistered monastery in Quebec. Then I found out that the title refers to ancient chants believed to be the literal voice of God on Earth and I was hooked.

The story centers around an aging police inspector, Gamache, and his young protege, Jean Guy. As I said, this is the fifteenth book in the series, so the two men have a long history, but it was not difficult to suss out their feelings for one another as a newcomer to the series. The admiration they feel is palpable and, when coupled with the fact that Jean Guy is engaged to Gamache’s daughter, the father-son dynamic is there without the necessity of fourteen books worth of character development.

The two men are called in to investigate a murder within a monastery. Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups happens to be a world famous monastery. After releasing a recording of its divine chants, the world has taken notice of the small group of monks studying ancient music in the Canadian wilderness. It quickly comes to light that the murder has to do with this sudden fame. There is a rift amongst the monks between those who wish to be more open to the world and share their music and those that believe they should remain cloistered, serving in solitude. The turmoil amongst the monks is wonderfully countered by Jean Guy’s jaded religious views.

Things become very tense near the end of the novel when Gamache’s superior, with whom Gamache has a difficult relationship, shows up at the monastery in order to cause friction between our dynamic duo. The mystery itself begins to play second fiddle to the characters, as is likely to happen in a series that is propelled by its characters, but like all good detectives Gamache gets his man. Everything wraps up satisfactorily if a little quickly with just the right amount of strings left dangling for the next installment.

As I read more mystery novels, I am beginning to realize patterns within them. There are certain techniques that authors employ and audiences expect – it is a whole new way of looking at the material I am reading. I’ve been enjoying getting to know the genre and definitely look forward to more forays into other authors as well as more of Penny’s Gamache series. As long as we can maintain a low body count and keep the violence to a minimum, I should be okay.

Also, completely irrelevant, but is Armand Gamache not a fantastic name for a detective? For that, I commend you, Louise Penny.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I wrote recently about rereading some of my old favorites and seeing how they stack up against my memories. One of my favorite books from my early teens (and here I must admit that at this time in my life I was mostly reading Edgar Rice Burroughs) is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. When I read this novel all those years ago it stood in my mind as a testament against censorship and the people that were fighting to stop my questioning and cease the spread of knowledge. A funny thing happened when I reread the novel; I realized that it is not about censorship at all.

Bradbury wasn't writing about how the state is trying to keep us down. He wasn't arguing against "the Man." He was warning us about what we are in danger of doing to ourselves. Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a firefighter whose job it is to set fires, specifically to set fire to books. Guy doesn't have a problem with burning books; in fact, he's never really thought about it. He's just doing his job. Then he meets someone for whom life is more than just coming and going. Someone who questions and experiences life. Suddenly, Guy becomes curious about what is in those books. The trouble with books, Guy is told, is that they make people sad. Thinking is difficult, questioning leads to unanswerable conundrums. It is far easier to ignore problems and disappear into what Bradbury perceives as the ultimate enemy of intelligence - television.

I feel like now is the time for me to tell you that this novel begins with an attempted suicide. Guy's wife, Mildred, almost kills herself. She is neither happy nor unhappy. She is so complacent, so bored, that she takes one sleeping pill after another until she falls into sleep or a coma, whichever comes first. Mildred lives in such a hyper aware state that she is aware of nothing; in fact, she cannot even recall her near death experience the next morning. She is fed a steady diet of television and headlines, thus has never had to be bothered to think for herself or ask any questions. Consequently, she has never felt the unhappiness that can be caused by searching for answers that cannot be found.

As Guy begins to question the life he shares with Mildred, he becomes increasingly bemused by her behavior. At one point he is questioning her, demanding that she provide him answers to questions she cannot fathom. Finally, Mildred shouts "leave me alone" to which Guy replies, "that's all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be left alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?" And there it is. What Bradbury was saying, what I've been trying to say. The questioning, the bothering, the thinking, that gadfly upon us that Socrates so insisted we need - that is the way of life.

So no, Fahrenheit 451 is not about censorship. It is a story about willful ignorance. It warns of the dangers of not doing things because they are hard or ignoring the things that make us feel sad or confused. When I first read this book I loved it because it fought against censorship and some grand idea I held about "the Man." Now, I love this book because it reminds me why I am alive. To be alive is to be struggling. Books are the purveyors of ideas - our great weapon in this struggle.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

PseudoReview: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is the first in my grand effort to reread some of my all time favorite books this year. I have long referred to Gatsby as my favorite book despite the fact that, until very recently, I had not picked this slim volume up in over ten years. It was pure joy to be reacquainted with the novel and to find that it is still as wonderful as it was then. I am always so surprised when people confess that they do not enjoy this novel. The Great Gatsby is so good that it plays on your terms, whatever they may be. It never feels as complex as it is; the many metaphors are never overbearing. You may come to Gatsby as someone who studies literature or someone who simply enjoys it and the novel will deliver its ample gifts to you either way.

There are so many ways to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's master work that I am hesitant to review it. I am afraid I may alienate potential readers as many an English teacher has before. I feel that one of the reason I loved Gatsby so much in high school is that I read it without a guiding hand. I was allowed to take from it what I would and leave the read for discovering later. Going into the novel with such an attitude basically allowed the book to blow my mind. Finding the layers of meaning with each phrase and action on my own taught me that literature is a game played between reader and author. That game, that conversation, achieved between authors both living and dead is why I am a reader. Individuals that I have never met (or who have been dead for decades - centuries) are pushing at my mental boundaries with every new book I encounter.

Reading The Great Gatsby I realized for the first time how much books had to teach me - about history, life, myself. The experience is one that I value absolutely. So, I could tell you that the novel is a work of perfection, that every word was chosen with the utmost care, and I could explain that it is the embodiment of the diligence of the writing craft. But, I'd rather tell you that The Great Gatsby is my favorite book and F. Scott Fitzgerald moves me. I think that in this case those are the words you need to hear.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses is a stone of a novel, both hardened to the core and sharp around the edges. It is the story of John Grady Cole, a young man who travels to Mexico in hopes of working and one day owning a ranch. John Grady grew up on his grandfather's west Texas ranch and a life of working with land and horses was all he knew. When his grandfather dies, John Grady is faced with both losing his only family and his way of life forcing him to realize, at the tender age of sixteen, the true isolation of man. He then travels to Mexico in search of the connection he needs, not to man (though he does have a traveling companion) but to nature, the spirit of the world.

As John Grady settles into the life he is able to forge for himself in Mexico he returns to his commune with nature and spending his days working horses. These are the best passages in the novel. The spirit of the horses is so beautifully described; they are animals that we have tamed yet they are wholly wild and their own. It is obvious that McCarthy shares with his characters the respect he imbues upon them of the marvelous beasts. To McCarthy and John Grady horses are of a joined soul. Unhappy in isolation and thriving in communal groups, they are established as the opposite of humans. In every instance in this novel it is groups of humans that cause trouble for one another. Our lot is isolation because only alone are we free from the tyranny of others. Even John Grady's first love leads to the bleakest depths, loss of freedom, loss of innocence, and loss of life.

The novel depicts a world view of life in the nasty, brutish and short vein, as when an older character warns John Grady of trouble and loss saying: "In January I will be seventy-three years old. I have known a great many people in that time and few of them led lives that were satisfactory to them." My perception of John Grady is as a symbol of McCarthy's thoughts on isolation. Human interaction is a dangerous business, and characters like John Grady (those that are tied to nature or pursuits outside of society) are far better off away from others in a more natural state. One that understands isolation and feeds on it instead of fighting it. It is a dark view, but this is a dark novel. It is also a beautiful novel, fully realized and vividly described. Definitely worth the read.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: Chopsitcks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Are you looking for a reading experience that's more experience than reading? Man, have I got a book for you. Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral's Chopsticks is a story about a girl and a boy and why they can't be together. Through minimal text and a spectacular assortment of images the authors have crafted a visual novel that stimulates a creative questioning like nothing I've encountered since reading Nick Bantock's Giffin and Sabine Trilogy.

Chopsticks begins with a breaking newscast alerting the reader/audience that Glory Fleming is missing. Glory is a world famous piano prodigy and her disappearance, quite obviously, shocks the nation. The novel quickly shifts into it's second section, the story of Glory's short life and rise to fame, but the real kickstarter of the book occurs when a young boy moves into the house next door. Frank and Glory fall into a quick and very serious relationship that worries Glory's father.

Glory's dependence on Frank deepens and begins to affect her abilities on the piano, thus putting a stop to her world tour. It is around this time that the details of the novel become increasingly odd. Images and words that had once been attributed to Frank now shift and belong to Glory. Where one character ends and the other begins becomes unclear. Soon Glory, the once great pianist, will only play variations of the simple piano piece "Chopsticks." Her life becomes a constant repetition of the notes F and G (the only two notes in Chopsticks) moving along the piano until finally Glory disappears.

This novel is an excellent portrayal of a girl's break from reality and the obsession that travels alongside it. I enjoyed trying to place all of the details and decide exactly what happened to Glory - the best part of the mystery is that the authors leave it up to the reader. You are presented with this beautiful collection of images and somewhat ambiguous text and then left to deduce what truly transpired. As I said in the intro, Chopsticks is an original and wonderful experience.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Re-reading

I am not a re-reader. There are simply too many books in the world for me to spend time reading the ones that I've already read. But I'm also getting older and the years between me and some of my favorite books are stretching pretty thin. It has been ten years since I read The Great Gatsby over ten since I encountered Fahrenheit 451. And The Hobbit, please don't even ask - it just makes me feel old. How can I suffer such time away from these greats of my life? There may be other Gatsbys or fantasy adventures that rival Bilbo's, and I want to read those too, but it may be time to start revisiting some old loves along with discovering the new ones.

The movies coming out this fall don't really help me either. I have no real interest in book trailers (there are so few good ones), but a good movie trailer makes me want to read a book quicker than even the best recommendation. That's what started this whole re-reading question.

It's flashy, it's decadent, it's expensive looking (and in 3D) - it's Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. I'm not sure what to think here. DiCaprio looks too old to be Gatsby who is only thirty and should look even younger. Other than that I'm experiencing cautious expectation.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was on of the few YA books on the market when I was a YA. It was also one of my favorite books ever in high school (back when I did read books several times). I am so happy to see a film version come out and will definitely be revisiting this book.

If I am approaching the Gatsby adaptation with cautious expectation consider my wait for The Hobbit unadulterated glee. I am so excited about this.

Let's not even talk about all the books I haven't yet read that are being turned into amazing looking movies due this fall. That's a separate post altogether.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review: Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn

I often feel stifled by technology. I love the access to information that the internet allows me, but I hate being tied to a computer. I admit it, I'm a luddite. That's why I am so pleased when I come across a book like Andrew Henry's Meadow. Doris Burn wrote this gem forty-seven years ago, and it is still a great read today. Burn passed away in the Spring of last year, which prompted a reissue of this, her most famous story, I can only hope that we will see new editions of her other works as well.

This is the story of Andrew Henry, a middle child. He has two older sisters and two younger brothers; each pair of siblings is always off doing their own thing. Andrew doesn't seem to mind that though. He is an inventor and always looking for new things to build, but after being pushed out of the kitchen, the living room, and his brothers' and sisters' bedrooms he decides to head off to a meadow outside of town. There Andrew builds himself a house that perfect and just for him. Soon other children from town begin coming to Andrew, asking that he create for them the perfect home away from home. The meadow soon becomes it's own town of curious and imaginative children all following their interests. It's a childhood heaven and reminds me very deeply of my own childhood off in the woods behind our house building forts from fallen palm fronds.

When I think if modern childhood I tend to think of electronics. Of Nintendo, Playstation, WiFi. But when I think of my own childhood I think of puppies, tree houses, and forts. My siblings and I stayed out until dark making up games and (though we didn't realize it then) just enjoying nature. Andrew Henry's Meadow reminded me so deeply of that (even if it did come out decades before I was born). Whether it is merely nostalgia or not, there was a charm to that time that I cannot deny. Modern childhood is so fast paced. I recommend that you grab your kids while you can and throw them outdoors until dark; when they come back inside and you all settle down for bed you should read this story. It will make them that much more hungry for tomorrow's adventures.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Recomendations for Suzy

Last week I posted a short film by Wes Anderson on Facebook; the short accompanies his new film, Moonrise Kingdom. It's a series of animated scenes from the six fictitious books that Suzy Bishop reads from and lugs around in a suitcase throughout the film. Suzy and I just happen to have similar reading tastes (we both like adventure stories featuring mostly female heroes), so after I bemoaned the fact that The Francine Odysseys does not exist I started thinking about what books I would recommend to Suzy if she came to my store.

Tony DiTerlizzi's The Search for WondLa is the story of Eva Nine's search for other humans like herself. The story begins as she is forced out of the subterranean home where she has spent the first twelve years of her life. Eva has never been above ground and never been contacted by any other humans, but she holds a small picture of a woman, a child, and a robot with the word "WondLa" printed across it as proof that they do exist and she is not alone.

My love for Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making knows no bounds. The title alone is one of my favorite things (the sequel: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is due out this fall!). Fairyland tells the story of September, a bored girl from Omaha, who absconds to Fairyland on the back of a Green Wind. Once in Fairyland she is made to do the bidding of a wicked Marquess but along the way September meets the most wonderful characters who help her restore Fairyland to its former greatness.

The scariest book on my list must be Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This is the story of an abandoned children's home that was once filled with dangerous children. Sixteen-year-old Jacob finds Miss Peregrine's after it has been quarantined and abandoned, but the Peculiar Children may still be alive. The novel is told between text and very creepy photographs; it is a reading experience that is perfectly peculiar.

Slightly less creepy, but with plenty of spook is Kathleen O'dell's The Aviary. Clara Dooley lives in the town's haunted mansion along with the much feared widow Glendoveer, but she does not see what the other kids find so scary. Her mother, who was hired to take care of the house and grounds, does not let Clara hear the stories about the house or the mystery that surrounds it, but one day a caged mynah speaks to her and the mystery begins to unravel.

For a step away from fantasy (but not too far), I would recommend When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead's Newberry award winning novel  about a young girl receiving notes from the future - notes that tell her she must act to save her friend's life. This is one of the best middle grade mysteries I have ever read!

Darwen Arkwright moves from England to Atlanta, Georgia and his entire life is thrown into tumult in Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by A.J. Hartley. Not only does he have to contend with all of the troubles involved with moving to a new school in a new town in a new country but there's also the truth about his parents that he has difficulty admitting to himself. Oh, and Darwen has recently discovered that he can walk through mirrors into another world! He begins to escape so frequently into this other world that our world becomes threatened and Darwen and his new friends must figure out how to put things back to right again.

Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass and the other books in the His Dark Materials trilogy are not yet 20 years old, yet they have already achieved classic status. Commonly referred to as the anti-Narnia, Pullman's books about Lyra Belacqua's adventures are a standard in children's fantasy. Lyra's story begins in The Golden Compass when she spies on her uncle explaining the celestial phenomenon known as Dust to a group of scholars in the college where she has grown up. Lyra is then thrust into a story of witches, seafaring clans of gypsies, armored bears and much, much more.

In case you missed it:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

SIBA's 2012 Book Award Winners

I wrote about the SIBA awards last year, and I am happy to announce that the time has come again. These are the six best books in southern literature. One title is chosen from each category: Children's, Young Adult, Cooking, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry. The titles are nominated by southern, independent booksellers (like me) and their customers (like you).

Children’s Winner: Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond by Mary Quattlebaum
“A delightful riff on ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’” -- Books Plus

Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond
Blurp. Croak. Quack. What is making those sounds? Come along with Jo MacDonald and learn about the wild creatures at the pond on her grandfather's farm. You'll find fish, frogs, ducks - and a few surprises.  Author Mary Quattlebaum engages little ones with rhythm, repetition, wordplay, and onomatopoeia and illustrator Laura Bryant charms them with lively watercolors of a pond community. And check out the outdoor activities and games in the back, sure to encourage young naturalists at home and school.

Cooking Winner: The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle 

“This book helped me make the most of my vegetable garden!” --Quarter Moon Books and Gifts
The New Southern Garden Cookbook
In The New Southern Garden Cookbook, well-known food writer Sheri Castle aims to make "what's in season" the answer to "what's for dinner?" This timely cookbook, with dishes for omnivores and vegetarians alike, celebrates and promotes the delicious, healthful homemade meals centered on the diverse array of seasonal fruits and vegetables grown in the South, and in most of the rest of the nation as well.

Fiction Winner: Iron House by John Hart

Iron House
“I enjoyed Iron House because it had so much more to offer the reader than ‘whodunit.’  John Hart is southern mystery writing at its best.”  -- The Country Bookshop

A New York Times-bestselling author delivers his most devastating novel yet--the remarkable story of two orphaned brothers separated by violence at an early age. When a boy is brutally murdered in their orphanage, one brother runs and takes the blame with him. Twenty years later--a seasoned killer--he returns to North Carolina.

Nonfiction Winner:  Lions of the West by Robert Morgan

Lions of the West“I really appreciate Mr. Morgan's distinction that the historical figures through which he delves into the westward expansion weren't all ‘hero’, nor all ‘villain’, but usually a mixture of both.”  -- The Fountainhead Bookstore

From Thomas Jefferson's birth in 1743 to the California Gold rush in 1849, America's Manifest Destiny comes to life in Morgan 's skilled hands. Jefferson, a naturalist and visionary, dreamed that the U.S. would stretch across the continent. The account of how that dream became reality unfolds in the stories of Jefferson and nine other Americans whose adventurous spirits and lust for land pushed the westward boundaries.

Poetry Winner: Abandoned Quarry  by John Lane 
Abandoned Quarry

Lane's poetry is rich with love of place and environment.”  --City Lights Bookstore

Abandoned Quarry is a collection of poems by one of the South's most admired environmental writers. The collection makes available for the first time under one cover poems from a dozen full collections and chapbooks. The poems range in subject matter through relationships, nature, improvisational pieces, and rants about the strangeness of the modern condition.

Young Adult Winner: Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by A.J. Hartley

Darwen Arkwright andthe Peregrine Pact“Takes place in Atlanta Georgia, and incorporates fantasy along with the real struggles of being a teen in a new place, adjusting to a new school, and a new culture.” –Fountainhead Bookstore

Eleven-year-old Darwen Arkwright has spent his whole life in a tiny town in England. So when he is forced to move to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with his aunt, he knows things will be different - but what he finds there is beyond even his wildest imaginings!  Darwen discovers an enchanting world through the old mirror hanging in his closet - a world that holds as many dangers as it does wonders. Scrobblers on motorbikes with nets big enough to fit a human boy. Gnashers with no eyes, but monstrous mouths full of teeth. Flittercrakes with bat-like bodies and the faces of men! Along with his new friends Rich and Alexandra, Darwen becomes entangled in an adventure and a mystery that involves the safety of his entire school.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

World Book Night: The End

Finally, I'm ending on my final read of the inaugural thirty picks, The Stand by Stephen King. World Book Night has come and gone and this book took me over a month to read, but I soldiered through. The Stand is truly epic in both size (1400+ pages) and scope (it is about the death and resurrection of society). This one was a grand undertaking and I'd love to hear from some people who pitched it to non-readers. I had trouble with the size of the much more manageable 600+ page Irving book that I handed out, A Prayer for Owen Meany.

May I pause now to discuss that night for a bit? First of all, it was a lot of fun. You should follow the development here so that you will be ready to participate next year. I passed out all of my copies within two hours. Plus, I had some great conversations with people who had been looking for an excuse to get back into reading or enjoyed reading but never really found the books in which they were interested. There was one guy who admitted that he did not like to read but would give John Irving a try (I'm going to say that's a point for my own enthusiasm). Only two people turned me down flat and I'm just going to say they were having off days and hope that I run into them next year.

As for the thirty books themselves, I had such a great time reading them. There were those that I loved as well as those I did not particulary enjoy. I was reading way out of my comfort zone and got to enjoy several books that I never would have read. The experience of reading and sharing my thoughts on these books that so many people care about was invigorating. As people continue to bemoan the death of books I will point back to World Book Night and the wide community that supported it adn continue to feel good about what I do everyday. World Book Night giving was one of the most satisfying things I've ever done, and I am anxiously awaiting next year's batch of books.


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