The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

indexBook-  Thursday Next is a SpecOps (Special Operations) agent in an alternate universe Britain where literature is at the center of people’s lives, dodos are not extinct, and the Crimean War is ongoing. The story revolves around Thursday’s attempt to capture wanted criminal Acheron Hades, who just happens to be her former English professor. Acheron, the third most wanted criminal in the world (if you don’t know the first two, you don’t want to know), has found a way to enter the world of books and starts holding various book characters for ransom. Thursday must find a way to follow him and rescue Jane Eyre before Bronte’s masterpiece is ruined.

This book is enormous fun, but if it has a flaw, it’s that it tries to go in too many directions at once. Various diverse subplots include Thursday’s reconnecting with her former fiance, fighting vampires, and her father’s excursions through time. Never fear, though:  this book begins an ongoing series where most of these plot threads get resolved and more elements introduced along the way. We own the first book in audio and paper copies, and the rest of the series in paper copies, here at the library. The Eyre Affair will appeal to fans of other British authors specializing in the zany and fantastical, such as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

Book – What do a PhD candidate and a gang leader have in common? They both have a vested interest in the life of gang members and their actions. Sudhir was a graduate student at the University of Chicago during the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. In Gang Leader for a Day Sudhir befriends J.T., the leader of the Black Kings, a gang on the Southside of Chicago. The two have a chance encounter when Sudhir is trying to get surveys filled out by tenants at a Chicago projects high-rise. This meeting will lead them to develop an interesting relationship that will span over 10 years.

J.T. shows Sudhir what it takes to lead a gang and how the gang operates. Sudhir learns that gangs are structured and operate very similar to most corporations. The major difference being the products (drugs), and employee discipline delivered when gang members do not meet organization expectations, which comes in the form of violence.

Sudhir broke the mold for sociological studies when he performed this research. Normally sociologists use surveys to collect data on why subjects feel the way they do. Sudhir decided to immerse himself in gang culture in order to find out what gang life was like, how the community dealt with the gang, and why J.T. returned to the gang life after having attended college and a job at a downtown business. Sudhir also develops relationships with several community members and leaders allowing Sudhir to obtain a better understanding of life in the projects of Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes.

I listened to the audiobook and would like to recommend it for those trying audiobooks for the first time. The reader had a voice that made me want to listen and kept a good pace. Audiobooks can be tricky because many factors will affect the listener’s experience. Readers with interest in true crime, gang culture, and sociological studies will enjoy this book.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The-Sweetness-at-the-Bottom-of-the-PieBook – It is 1950 in the south of England, there is a dead body at the bottom of the garden, and the feelings of eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce can best be described as… delight.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first in a series of mysteries featuring a thoroughly unconventional young sleuth.  Flavia is a devoted chemist, a razor-sharp observer and–though she would never use the term of herself–a girl genius, with a noble heart but a matching talent for lying, inventing or thinking her way out of trouble.  All of this ought to combine to create a completely unbelievable character.  Miraculously, it doesn’t.  What it creates, instead, is a genuine original, an irresistible series that I couldn’t put down if I tried.

In her first outing, Flavia solves a mystery involving a dead bird, an extremely rare postage stamp, stage magic, an academic who fell from a bell-tower decades ago, and her own father’s boyhood.  Not every reader will love Bradley’s sometimes verbose and always metaphor-strewn style, but those who fall under Flavia’s spell will find six more titles waiting, the newest published just this year.  the audiobooks are exceptionally good, with Jayne Entwhistle providing a pitch-perfect Flavia who never seems more than half-an-inch shy of laughter.

 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

daughterBook – To her friends and classmates Karou appears to be an ordinary foreign exchange student studying art in the timeless city of Prague. She has typical relationship troubles and is dealing with the disappointment of a cheating ex-boyfriend. However, it becomes apparent how extraordinary she is when she fends off the continued advances of her ‘ex’ armed only with wishes.Then she is summoned on a clandestine mission of….tooth collecting? Karou’s true identity is a mystery hidden even from herself, until she meets a winged echo from her past.

This book was listed among the YALSA top ten best fiction titles for young adults in 2012. The audiobook was nominated for several Audie Awards, and the movie rights have been sold to Universal Pictures. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first in a fast paced trilogy that takes on a much darker tone with the second book Days of Blood and Starlight. Taylor is thoughtful about the impacts of war on her characters and the worlds she has created. This world-building trilogy might appeal to fans of Greek mythology and stories about angels such as Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Series.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

lost cityBook – Touted as a real-life Indiana Jones story, The Lost City of Z tells the adventures of Percy Fawcett. The last of the ‘amateur’ adventurers, Colonel Fawcett helped explore the Amazon and was instrumental in mapping the borders of Brazil and Argentina at the request of the Royal Geographic Society. He is most well-known for his exhaustive search for the ‘Lost City of Z,’ a city that he was convinced existed in the depths of the Amazon jungle. His expedition disappeared in 1925 and no verified account of what actually did happen exists. At least one hundred people have died in search of both the city and the fate of Fawcett’s party.

In addition to the story of what happened in Fawcett’s life, The Lost City of Z also tells the story of a writer in search of a story and how easily you can get caught up in a legend. David Grann undertook a trek of his own into the false paradise that is the Amazonian jungle and came out with a new understanding of what it meant to be an explorer in the golden era.

This book was a fascinating look at the Amazon through the eyes of anthropologists, archaeologists, and adventurers. The mystery still lingers and this book made me research so many things. I still want to know more about the events that led to the disappearance of Fawcett’s party and the subsequent discoveries made. This will be hours and hours of interesting reads.

I listened to this book and while the narrator had a dry almost monotone style, it worked for the topic.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

Choose Your Own AutobiographyBook- You are Neil Patrick Harris. You’ve been on Broadway, starred in 2 wildly popular TV sitcoms, are breaking into the movies, and have a loving husband and twins. You are Neil Patrick Harris. Magician. Actor. Husband.

A choose your own adventure style is an interesting and intriguing choice for a memoir. The reader picks and chooses what parts of NPH’s life to read about. But if they choose incorrectly, they die a horrible, horrible death. Usually right before an imaginary sequel. In that sense, it’s a lot like a choose your own adventure work of fiction.

NPH’s life comes with a lot of privilege, and it’s a very feel-good story. I listened to the audiobook version, and even though I lost the ability to choose which parts I wanted to listen to next, I still got to listen to the trick endings, and was given options. Rather than, “…turn to page 65,” I got, “…be patient, it’s coming.” It’s littered with celebrity testimonials, crossword puzzles, and recipes, which can be found on the bonus PDF CD and downloaded to your home computer. The audiobook is also read by NPH, so if his voice soothes you, like it does me, listening is the preferred method of enjoying this book.

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale

Catch Me If You CanBook Catch Me if You Can is the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. Frank was a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and a teaching assistant at a college all before he was twenty years old and all without a high school diploma. Catch Me If You Can tells his exploits as one of the most successful con men in history. I was absolutely floored when I heard some of the things he was able to get away with. I had to remind myself over and over that the era was a very different one and that computers were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are now, but still, the things people will believe when wrapped up in a believable package were almost sad.

One thing that really struck me in listening to this book, which Frank Abagnale has stated was exaggerated to a degree due to the co-writer’s editor’s demands, was the complete lack of malice in all of his actions. Not once did he set out to ‘get’ the little guy, he always targeted big corporations or banks with his scams. The man is brilliant and has since transferred his way of thinking towards helping the FBI and banks combat fraud.

I listened to the audiobook version and loved it. His story was also adapted into a movie and he is the only living person with a Broadway play based on his life.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinchBook – This Pulitzer prize-winning story has been likened to a number of classic coming-of-age tales from Charles Dickens. The central character in this novel, Theodore Decker, loses his mother during a tragedy that he himself survives at a New York art museum. The traumatic event, told from Theodore’s perspective, provides a compelling start for the book.

The audiobook for this title is narrated by David Pittu. His narration is exceptional as his voice conveys the pathos of young Theo and the psychic burden that overlays his life. Theo and his mother had been estranged from his father, and after the events in the museum Theo is housed for a time in a beautiful Manhattan apartment with the wealthy family of a socially-inept schoolmate. His appreciation for the art and antiques in the apartment touches upon on-going themes in the book: the immortality of masterpieces, the messages they convey through the ages, and the profound attachments individuals form with these pieces.

I was especially glad to be listening to the audiobook version of this story when Theo, as a teenager, develops a friendship with Boris, a boy from Ukraine. Both author and narrator played delightfully with the Slavic dialect. Boris is a wonderful character because he brought levity and perspective to the story, and David Pittu’s Boris was very likable.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbraBook – “What do you seek in these shelves?” What recently unemployed graphic designer Clay Jannon sought was employment. His quest was successful at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore; a place with bookshelves and ladders extending up three stories, and a collection of curious books that are never bought, but are “checked-out” by eccentric individuals. Clay calls upon his friends to assist him with investigating mysteries which extend far beyond the walls of the enigmatic store. This thought-provoking tale includes puzzles that revolve around technology as antiquated as the printing press and as cutting edge as Google wizardry. The humorous writing and optimistic tone make this novel a rejuvenating read. Appropriately, this book offers a surprise if the reader turns out the light. The audiobook does not offer that perk, but the narrator Ari Filakos delivers the likable Clay’s inner monologues and quirky humor so well that I went back and listened to some key sections to hear his moving delivery of them.

After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story by Michael Hainey

after visitingBook – This memoir describes a ten-year search by the author to uncover the truth behind his father’s death in 1970. Hainey was six when his family received the tragic news that his father had been found dead on the street on Chicago’s North Side. Like his father before him, Hainey became a journalist, and he used his investigative experience to unearth the elusive truth about that night. This chronicle begins with a focus on the author’s mother and the telling of the story of his parent’s courtship at the Chicago Tribune. A colorful portrait of the lives of Tribune and Sun Times journalists at that time is told. Hainey relates memories of growing up in Chicago and reveals the impact his father’s absence had on his childhood. When he questions his family and his father’s co-workers, he gathers additional anecdotes about the lives of newspaper reporters in the sixties, but his sources remain quiet about the night his father died. Eventually, his dedicated search reveals the truth about that night, and in the process provides him with a rich history about the father he lost. For the audiobook, award winning narrator Dan Miller does a wonderful job with the preponderance of dialog for the interviews contained in this memoir.