I reviewed three books for Shelf Awareness’s holiday gift guide this year, and between the three of them, they cover about 80% of any gift-giving you may need to do for children in your life (assuming child in question already has The Phantom Tollbooth, which should always be the first gift given to any child who you wish to be a good citizen of the planet). For your consideration:
Young Frank, Architect by Frank Viva: It may be coincidence that many famous architects have been named Frank—Gehry, Lloyd Wright—but to that list we can now add Young Frank and Old Frank, at the heart of this delightful picture book. Young Frank’s expansive view of architecture includes whole cities and chairs, and his grandfather Old Frank insists that architects design single buildings and nothing else. After they visit the Museum of Modern Art and see that both are correct, they return home and make a bit of everything—even a chair for their dog, Eddie. Viva’s (Along a Long Road) lively art style makes a perfect match for the classics of architecture; his crisp lines and distinct palette will keep even the youngest readers engaged. Most importantly, the creativity of Old Frank and Young Frank is infectious, and will inspire kids to build their own towers and creations. Have empty boxes at the ready!
Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington: “I was only two when my mother filled the kitchen sink with water and tried to drown me,” begins the second chapter, and the voice of 12-year-old narrator Sarah Nelson grows only stronger. Sarah and her father have spent the past 10 years moving around and avoiding recognition. But this fateful summer, they’re staying put. As she finally tries to figure out the truth about her family, gets a crush and, most importantly, starts to decide who she wants to be, Sarah confides in her diaries and letters to her beloved Atticus Finch. This is not easy subject matter, but Sarah’s brave and genuine voice allows readers to live the rough patches of her summer alongside her. Karen Harrington’s (Janeology) funny, thoughtful writing softens the gravity of the material. Younger readers may not be ready for some of the situations Sarah faces, but those who are will find their hearts permanently changed by this beautiful book.
September Girls by Bennett Madison: Most people would prefer not to know anything about a teenage boy’s thoughts regarding gorgeous girls at the beach, but in this fantastic YA novel, those thoughts are irresistible. At first the premise of the book seems like a dream of the narrator, teenage Sam; when he goes with his brother and father to the beach, every beautiful blonde girl down the shore—and there are a lot of them—seems interested in him. But when it becomes clear that he’s not insane, it also becomes clear that there is much more to these girls than long hair and fun parties—something otherworldly. Madison’s writing is somehow both dreamy and razor-sharp, like the ocean that laps quietly in the background. Teens and adults alike will be spooked and intrigued in equal parts as the book works toward an ending as satisfying and heartbreaking as the end of a sleepy summer.
Stephanie’s book advice = essential book advice.
What We’re Reading This Week!
Rebecca says: I have been oh so delinquent in sharing what I’m reading lately—blame it on the holiday crazies—and there’s nothing like a pair of awesome books to get me back on the wagon.
I’m listening to Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You on audio right now, and man, do I wish I had read this book five years ago. It would have been life-changing. Newport’s central thesis is that “follow your passion” is actually terrible career advice. Rather than searching for jobs that fit our idealized notions of a dream career, Newport contends that we should work hard to become really good at whatever we’re doing. When we develop our ability and push through the hard and boring parts, we gain access to career options (creativity, control over our time, etc) that make us more likely to become passionate about our work. Newport presents research data and case studies from people with compelling careers to poke holes in what he calls “the passion hypothesis” and instead encourage us to focus on what we can bring to our jobs, no matter what they may be. This one is ringing a bunch of my bells and really resonates with my own career path. Highly recommended if you’re thinking about a career change.
Sarah MacLean’s “Rules of Scoundrels” series is what first convinced me that I could love romance novels, so I couldn’t be happier to have the third installment, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, in my hot little hands. It’s everything I’ve come to expect a MacLean novel to be—steamy, smart, suspenseful, and so very much fun.
What We’re Reading Now!
Jenn says: In addition to plugging away at the Yates (still a bit of a slog but after a lengthy conversation with bookavore about narrative voice in biographies I think I might actually make it through), I just started Life After Life byKate Atkinson because I saw it on my friend’s bookshelf when we were hanging out. Apparently it was just the right time? It’s reminding me a whole lot of the graphic novel Daytripper (which, if you haven’t read, GO READ IT) and also of Downtown Abbey. Daytripper meets Downtown Abbey, yes. The character keeps dying and then the story starts up again, NOT DEAD ANYMORE, and all I can think is, how is she going to pull this crazypants structure off?, which is excellent impetus to keep reading.
And then for yet another book club I am part of (how did I end up being part of so many book clubs?) we’re reading Rasl by Jeff Smith. I confess unto you, friends, that I have not read Bone. Don’t shun me, please. But Rasl so far is pretty great; means-well-criminal on the run via parallel universes pursued by weird lizard assassin, AWW YEAH. Although the fridging involved just in Vol. 1 is a leeeetttle disheartening. But then again I’m super-sensitive to fridging right now, probably because I have been watching too many procedurals (I do not recommend Netflix-binging on Lie to Me and Longmire, and then tipsily watching some Law and Order all in the same week. It’s a bad bad plan).
What We’re Reading Now!
Jenn says: I reread Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, which in retrospect is kind of a crazy idea for the fall because I tend to have NO TIME FOR BIG BOOKS. But regardless of the advisability of said project, I tore through it in just a few days and it was just as good as I remembered it being, which is really. really. really. good. Good enough that this one time in 2010 I made a video about how much I loved this book.
For one of the various book groups I’m in, I’m reading The Collected Stories of Richard Yates and A Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey. While I’m finding the stories a bit repetitive (I’ve read about a third of them), there were two in particular that have taken residence in my brain — Jody Rolled the Bones and A Really Good Jazz Piano. If you asked me based on just those two pieces what I thought of Richard Yates, I’d say he was a great writer. If you asked me based on the others and what I’m gleaning from A Tragic Honesty (which, can I just say, biographies are not my jam and if it wasn’t for a book group I probably wouldn’t be undertaking it), I would tell you the jury is still out.
And for my commute and falling-asleep-reading, I’ve got Karen McLeod’s In Search of the Missing Eyelash (thanks to Bookseller Crow’s Flight Club) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Missing Eyelash follows Lizzie, whose girlfriend has left her and who she is more or less stalking, as she tries to figure out how life works without the person you are in love with. It’s a bit Helen Fielding in its bite but with a more tragic bent to it, and I’m enjoying it hugely. And I figured with the amount of brainpower I spend obsessing about Elementary, it was high time to revisit the source material. So many lines directly woven in! Good work, Elementary staff writers. GOOD WORK.
In the medieval era, it was considered a turn-on for a woman to peel an apple and coddle it in her armpit until infused with her body odor, at which point she’d present the love apple to her lover.
Adam Leith Gollner, THE FRUIT HUNTERS
Armpit apples, you guys!(via jjchristie)
Bookrageous Favorites Out This Week!
Get ‘em while they’re hot.
What We’re Reading This Week!
Jenn says: I think I am giving up on The Name of the Rose. According to Oyster I am 55% of my way through and while there have been some good moments, I have no patience right now for the intensity of detail Eco is throwing down. It happens sometimes — there are moments when I want to get lost in sentences, and moments when I just really want some good plot, and this Fall is one of the latter. (Fall also happens to be Crazy Busy Time at work which probably has something do with it.)
Which is why YA is so great! Particularly Laurie Halse Anderson’s brand of YA, which is Issues-Related Plot, which is absolutely my jam. Her new book, The Impossible Knife of Memory (coming out in January), will stab you in the heart. In the good way. Main character Hayley Kincaid and her veteran father are struggling to hold their lives together, and it’s not going so well. There are so many things I loved about this book: Hayley regularly threatens her crush with physical violence as a way of coping with her conflicted feelings (WEIRDLY ADORABLE); her friends are all also dealing with family dysfunction, because reminder PRETTY MUCH EVERY FAMILY IS DYSFUNCTIONAL IN SOME WAY and there is no such thing as perfect, hallelujah and amen; and the sentences, all the sentences, Anderson is a fantastic writer.
And then I was surfing Oyster (yes I’m reading a lot on Oyster now, it’s a thing of great beauty) for some other YA because as soon as I finished Impossible Knife there was a teen-novel-shaped hole in my soul, and stumbled across Outcast by Adrienne Kress. Riley lives in a town where “angels” take townsfolk once a year, exact same day every year, and the question of whether or not this is really something to be excited about is a big one. Then an “angel” tries to come and take her and she shoots it in the face with a shotgun. Hijinks ensue. It’s pretty goofy and pretty fun so far.
And now let me tell you a story about Craig Johnson. Once upon a time I was a bookseller in Utah, and there was this guy who wrote these mysteries, and he was doing an event at our store as part of his cross-country motorcycle tour, and I thought hell, this guy is pretty cool, I should read one of his books. So I read Death Without Company and then a bunch of the others and they were great — murder and small-town intrigue with a Western feel. (Plus I’ve got a soft spot for gruff, damaged detectives.) And THEN just the other day I was noodling around on Netflix and found Longmire, which has Katee Sackhoff in it, so obviously I had to watch it, and lo and behold, I knew these folks! (Yeah it took me a while to put things together, shut up.) What I’m saying is, you should read the Walt Longmire mysteries and also watch the show because (while it’s still finding its pacing) it’s very good. Robert Taylor makes an excellent gruff, damaged detective, and Katee Sackhoff is in it, plus that guy who played Graham of The Initiative on Buffy, PLUS Lou Diamond Phillips, and if you are not convinced by now we do not speak the same pop-culture language.
What We’re Reading This Week!
Rebecca says: I love a good inside look at a fringe religion, and Lawrence Wright’s uber-comprehensive Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Believe is ringing all my bells. I now know way more about L. Ron Hubbard’s undiagnosed psychoses, masturbatory habits, and masterminding skills than I ever wanted to or even knew was possible, and I’m only a third of the way through the thing! There’s an evil genius, conspiracies out the wazoo, treachery, religion, aliens from outer space, and so much goodness. Highly recommended.
What We’re Reading This Week!
Jenn says: YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy comes out tomorrrrowwwwwww!!!!! I am pretty sure you all know of my love for Saint Bridget, our Lady of No Emotional Fuckwittage, but if you weren’t aware — Bridget is my girl. And this new installment, HOO BOY. Helen Fielding pulled no punches, and this book is just as sad and hilarious and awesomely cringe-inducing as Diary and Edge of Reason. (It also maintains the strategically-drenched-men tradition, in case you were wondering.)
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is my “read in bed until I fall asleep” and/or “read on the train until the next stop” book, which I’m reading on Oyster. I’m really digging the app — the subscription model is great for delving into books I’m not sure I’ll love, as well as finding classics that I’ve never gotten around to like Eco. And while sometimes I could do with a little less detail (the “laundry lists” in this book are off the charts) the medieval history nerd in me is completely in love with Name of the Rose. I also didn’t realize until I started it that it’s a closed-room mystery with monks, which is just IRRESISTIBLE. Murderous monks! Come on!
I finally read Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and it is so incredibly funny. Everyone who told me to read it back when it came out was absolutely right. Semple pulls of the trick of making a patchwork narrative structure feel seamless, as well as making some seriously unlikeable characters evolve into sympathetic people. I will now join the chorus of folks telling you: if you haven’t picked it up already, do so immediately!