The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead

indexBook – The narrator of Ideas Are All Around–unnamed, but presumably author Stead himself–doesn’t feel like writing a book today.  Neither does his dog, Wednesday, so the two of them go for a walk instead, meeting old friends and taking in familiar sights with new eyes.

Not all picture books are written with children as their primary audiences.  Not that I think kids wouldn’t enjoy or benefit from Ideas Are All Around–I just expect that adults will like it even more. Caldecott Medal-winner Stead’s book reads like a down-to-earth zen koan, a quiet meditation on place, community and the small, everyday moments that make up a life.  That might sound pretentious in a picture book, but the solid imagery, the polaroid-style illustrations and the clear, simple language keep Ideas Are All Around grounded and real.  While the stream-of-consciousness format would quickly wear out its welcome in a novel, it suits perfectly for this 32-page wisp of story, which leaves a lovely sense of peace in its wake.

In addition to being a great choice to share with family, I would absolutely recommend this book for adult fans of poetry or literary fiction who are willing to step just a little outside of their comfort zones and give the children’s section a peek.

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

196560Book – Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby brings us thirteen-year-old Joey who lost her hearing at the age of six.  She can almost remember the sound of her mother’s voice, which is still the only voice in her family she is able to follow by reading lips.  Joey’s mother just wants her daughter to blend in to the hearing world, and refuses to let Joy learn sign language, fearing it will make her an outcast.  However, this only manages to make Joey feel even more left out and lonely.  Joey struggles to communicate with people in her daily life, like her stepfather whose bushy mustache makes lip-reading impossible.

Everything changes the day Joy meets Dr. Charles Mansell and his signing chimpanzee, Sukari.  Suddenly a whole world of possibilities opens up for young Joey, as she secretly begins to learn American Sign Language.  Struggling to keep her newfound friends private from her mother, Joey is torn between wanting to head her mother’s wishes and being able to communicate with the world around her.  When tragedy strikes and Sukari’s life hangs in the balance, Joey will stop at nothing to save her friend.

Having read, and enjoyed El Deafo by Cece Bell, I was excited and hopeful Hurt Go Happy would be just as good a read.  The second half of this novel was a bit darker than I anticipated, following Joey’s fight to save the chimpanzee, Sukari, but it was a really interesting read overall.

 

 

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

0544526708.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – Ruth and Nat are a couple of teenagers about to age out of the Love of Christ! foster home in upstate New York. Traumatized after her older sister aged out and never returned for her, Nat is the only person Ruth has left in the world. That is, until a mysterious stranger appears at the home and suggests a way out – they can exploit Nat’s purported ability to speak to the dead, and make a living for themselves.

Interwoven with this story is that of Cora, a young woman with a boring job, a new pregnancy, and a boyfriend – a married man she’s been carrying on an affair with – who wants nothing to do with a baby. Before she can decide what to do about anything, her long-lost, much-loved Aunt Ruth turns up at her house in the middle of the night, and Cora finds herself following Ruth on a shoeleather road trip, walking across the countryside to a destination Ruth won’t explain.

I picked up this book entirely based on the title – Mr. Splitfoot was the name the Fox sisters gave the spirit they claimed to be communicating with when they invented seances and Spiritualism in 1848 – and although it wasn’t the story I was expecting, I was totally blown away. Part ghost story, part mystery, partly a story about knowing who your family is and what you can rely on them for, this is going on my list of best books from 2016.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

player oneBook– In the year 2044, the aptly-named virtual reality game OASIS allows people an immersive experience that diverts them from the shambles that is the world around them.  Teenage Wade Watts has essentially been raised by OASIS–he learned to read from its educational software, goes to school in one of its virtual classrooms, and like many others, seeks to solve the puzzles, or Easter eggs, that are hidden in the game. The first to find the eggs will win OASIS creator James Halliday’s fortune and control of the OASIS. To this aim, puzzle solvers (who call themselves “gunters,” from egg hunters) obsess over every facet of Halliday’s life, especially his video game and pop culture obsessions which should be familiar to anyone who was a nerd in the 1980s. Though Wade does not have as many credits (in-game money) or as much experience as some players, he is the one who stumbles on the first clue of the game and sets off the competition.

Though it certainly helps, you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s nerd culture to read this book. At its heart, the book reads like a virtual reality version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If I had a complaint, it’s that I would have liked to see more world-building of the world outside the OASIS, but the game world is so immersive for both the reader and the characters that it’s not a serious issue. Ready Player One will appeal to fans of young adult dystopias, video games, and science fiction. Also, the audio version is narrated by Wil Wheaton.  Who can resist?

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

all-is-not-forgottenBook – Twelve-year-old Jenny Kramer was the victim of rape, a brutal, and violent assault, but she has no memory of the attack. That’s because Jenny’s parents made the decision to have doctors give Jenny a controversial new drug meant to erase all memory of the attack.  This novel deals with the aftermath of that decision, and Wendy Walker weaves in the effect that Jenny’s attack has on her parents, Charlotte and Tom Kramer, Inspector Parsons, and the mysterious unreliable narrator. I felt that Wendy Walker managed to introduce and delve into the backstories for countless characters without bogging the story down. If anything it made the story even richer.

I also loved the unreliable narrator and his place within the story. When I say I love the narrator, I mean how the character is written, the depth in which we are able to delve into who he is and his involvement in the story of Jenny Kramer. He is at times likable, other times despised, but I feel that all readers can at least agree that he elicits a strong reaction and has a unique existence within the book.

This is a dark and disturbing, yet completely immersing read that had me still pondering over it hours are reading.  I would warn potential readers that the description and details of Jenny’s rape are extremely graphic; it is a difficult read.

 

 

Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers

indexBook – As I mentioned earlier this month, I’m fascinated by stories of wilderness adventures gone terribly, irrevocably wrong. Living in the suburbs it’s easy to forget the immensity of the natural world – and its unforgiving nature. As the authors of Over the Edge say, nature is not Disney World, and there’s no guarantee that the unprepared will make it out alive.

And not to be morbid, but this collection of stories about deaths in one of America’s most impressive natural features is fascinating stuff. While there are a fair number of suicides (although not as many as you might think), most of the deaths they talk about are the result of just that kind of lack of preparation – hikers, cavers, rafters who thought they could do more than they could, and found out too late that they were wrong. It’s a comprehensive catalog of things not to do, and anybody interested in hiking Grand Canyon probably ought to read this first, just to make sure they don’t get too cocky.

I stumbled upon this book after reading the fascinating saga of the discovery of the Death Valley Germans – a family of tourists who disappeared into the California desert in 1996, and whose remains were finally discovered by search & rescue volunteer Tom Mahood in 2010. From this and from Over the Edge, I have learned never to drive a minivan offroad in the desert, to always carry twice as much water as I think I’ll need, and also to stay far, far away from Death Valley.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro

0062266632.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – Tig is a stand-up comedian. She experienced a streak of devastating personal tragedies in 2012, including C-Diff, the death of her mother, the break-up of girlfriend and a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis. She turned to comedy to channel her grief. The result was a set that went viral and was released as the album “Live,” which was nominated for a Grammy. In her book, Tig recounts her journey. The first chapter depicts her early life and unconventional upbringing and was my favorite chapter of the book. However, after a promising beginning, the book went flat for me. Tig states her feelings, then gives examples, rather than illuminating truths through the story. Other memoirs I have read have been better at conveying difficult character traits of people in their lives, while also managing to express their redeeming qualities. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, I admire Tig for overcoming the adversity she was confronted with and for sharing her personal story through stand-up comedy.

When Bunnies Go Bad: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir by Clea Simon

indexBook – With a title like When Bunnies Go Bad, author Clea Simon had me hooked on her newest mystery novel immediately.  The brown, furry rabbit on the cover didn’t hurt.  I pictured a story of a once friendly and adorable creature wreaking havoc on an poor, unsuspecting town.

Instead, this novel follows Pru, a woman with secrets to hide, mainly her identity as an animal psychic.  In her small hometown, people know only that Pru seems to have a way with animals.  From pests to pets, Pru is friend and trainer to all creatures.  When Pru discovers the body of a rich vacationer, she can’t stand by and let the feds handle the case.  With her special skills, Pru manages to get inside information on the murder, specifically from the deceased’s beautiful young girlfriend and her tiny pup.

I enjoyed learning about Pru’s backstory, and the origins of her gift.  I liked the concept of this animal psychic crime solver, but I found the story to be a little jumbled, and confusing.  However, as a whole I enjoyed this cute “cozy” mystery.

When Bunnies Go Bad is part of the “Pru Marlowe Pet Noir mystery series,” which also includes other fun titles such as Kittens Can Kill, and Parrots Prove Deadly. What’s not to love?

 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power

23732096Book–“Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! She’s a human and also squirrel! Can she climb up a tree? Yes she can, easily.” It is necessary to begin a review of the Squirrel Girl graphic novel with the Squirrel Girl Theme song. It’s totally “not” similar in tune to the Spiderman Theme song at all.

Squirrel Girl aka Doreen Green, the adorable college student with the proportional speed and strength of squirrel, begins her own series by taking down some bad guys (while singing) and then starting her first day of college. Doreen, along with her sidekick and best friend, Tippy-Toe (an actual squirrel) deal with normal trials in life: homework, finding new friends, and defeating evil villains out to destroy the world. Totally normal.

What I love about Squirrel Girl graphic novel series is its ability to make me smile and laugh while reading it. Doreen is a great lead character. You get to see her struggle through her first day of college and then fight some villains afterwards. She has spirit, spunk, and loves everybody she meets. She is not your typical superhero and that is why I love her and her writers so much! Doreen does things her way.

So if you are looking for something fun to read this week. Check out the Squirrel Girl series! We have volumes 1-3 with more on their way. Squirrel Power!!