The Immortals Series by Tamora Pierce

immortalsBook – Meet Daine, a girl with an unusual gift that allows her to communicate with animals.  With only her beloved pony, Daine finds a new life as the animal handler of the Queen’s Riders, working with the knight Alanna.  However, it soon becomes clear that Daine’s gift is more than unusual; it’s magic.  With the help of a mage called Numair, Daine learns to harness the power she possesses.  As her magic reveals its true nature, Daine embarks on a crusade with her newfound friends to protect the city of Tortall from the attacks of  immortal creatures set on destruction.  The series order: 1- Wild Magic, 2-Wolf Speaker, 3-Emperor Mage and 4-The Realms of the Gods.

I first read Wild Magic as a teen, initially attracted by the human-animal communication aspect of the story, but there is so much more to love.  Dragons and other magical creatures, mystery, and fantasy all come together to create this captivating novel. The best part is that Daine’s story continues for four books (no need to feel rushed in your reading!).  This series was everything I wanted it to be.  Which, for me at least, is a pretty big deal.

Tamora Pierce has written a bunch of other novels within the same universe as The Immortals Series, appropriately dubbed the Tortall Universe.  Each mini-series follows a different character; if you liked Daine, try following Alanna, Kel, Aly, or Beka in his/her own adventure. Check out more tales from your favorite characters of the Tortall Universe at Goodreads.com.

 

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Book – As a children’s librarian, there is no doubt that I am biased in favor of children’s books, but you don’t need to take my word for it that this one makes a fun read even for grown-ups. Besides the vote of confidence from the Newbery Committee, I have the testimony of my grandparents–neither of whom is a children’s book reader in general but each of whom devoured this one in a day, laughing all the way–to back me up in that claim.

1962 is the summer of eleven-year-old Jack Gantos’ perpetual grounding. With a nose that won’t stop bleeding, on the outs with both his parents and forbidden from playing baseball with his friends, Jack might have a grim few months ahead of him if not for his feisty elderly neighbor. Mrs. Volker, the resident historian of the small town of Norvelt, needs the loan of Jack’s hands to type up obituaries of her fellow orginal Norvelters, the rare task for which Jack is released from house-arrest. But when those obituaries start coming a little too thick and fast, Jack and Mrs. Volker become an unlikely team of sleuths, and fast friends into the bargain.

Part mystery story, part fictionalized memoir, entirely small town slice-of-life, Dead End in Norvelt explores questions of community and memory without ever feeling preachy. Centering as it does on an inter-generational friendship, it’s a great choice to share within families–but even if you don’t have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or cousin to pass it on to, it’s well worth the rollicking ride.

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

how-to-start-a-fireBook – Best friends and college roommates at UC Santa Cruz in the early 1990’s, Anna, Kate and Georgianna share adventures, life-stories and secrets. Anna is the ringleader, who makes up games for every party they attend. A risk-taker and at odds with her austere, wealthy family, her life begins to spiral out of control. Kate is reserved and follows Anna’s lead. She hides herself in obsessive research about various and random topics, including mushrooms, redwoods and planets. George loves nature and becomes a forest ranger. A beauty, she easily attracts the attention of men, but often settles for unsatisfying  relationships.

Twenty years after college, the women find themselves retracing the paths their lives have taken. The story alternates between their viewpoints and bounces back and forth from the past to the present. I slowly discovered that one evening in particular influenced the lives of all three. I liked getting to know these characters and how their interests, talents and personalities threaded through their friendship. Lisa Lutz also wrote the popular Spellman Files series.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Book-  Despite living in a small Texas town collectively obsessed with football and the local Miss Clover City beauty pageant, Willowdean Dickson has managed to carve out a niche away from all that, looking to her deceased shut-in aunt Lucy for guidance. This is no mean feat, given that Will’s (or Dumplin’, as her mother calls her) mother is a former Miss Clover City winner and current pageant bigwig. However, the pageant draws Will into its orbit. First her best friend Ellen begins to hang out with pageant hopefuls, creating a distance between herself and Will where none existed before. Then Will enters a secret affair with the laconic Bo, an enigmatic-but-hot fast food coworker whom she’s crushed on for months.

Though Will is a bigger girl, she has up to this point in the story projected confidence. However, Bo’s keeping her a secret, and her niggling suspicion that her mother is ashamed of her, damages her confidence. In a wild bid to prove to herself to herself and to do what her aunt Lucy had always dreamed of doing, she, and a ragtag band of other unlikely candidates, enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant. What follows is a campy high school coming-of-age experience reminiscent of Hairspray. Perhaps the best, most refreshing thing about Dumplin’ is that, unlike other stories in this vein and much like real life, the fat protagonist is allowed to remain fat; she doesn’t magically lose weight the moment she locates her self-confidence.

Unfinished Business (2015)

Movie – The best way to describe Unfinished Business is as a raunchy comedy with family life lessons. Vaughn is a businessman that has just quit his job and ventured out to start his own business to rival his old company. The only way to do that is by landing a big client and beating out his former company.

Throughout the adventure he is joined by the fresh out of water Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) and an old school businessman Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson). Both characters, along with other well-known actors (mainly Nick Frost), lend some laughs and make the movie enjoyable. There is family drama back at home Vaughn is dealing with in his character’s way, which gives the movie that family life lesson feel. This is intermixed with some over the top raunchy comedic scenes not suitable for all ages.

I feel I was taken in two very different directions. On the one hand I found the raunchiness funny. Franco and Wilkinson characters were well played and made the movie funny. But then the family drama put the lead character into perspective and displays him as a family man trying to provide for his family by any means needed. This movie is not for everyone. Fans of Vaughn from Swingers and Made will not enjoy this. However someone looking for those “guy humor” laughs mixed with a warm your heart feeling may want to see this.

The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal

Book – The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal is a warm and cozy book that proves it is never too late for a do-over.  Complete with actual recipes throughout the story, this novel is a great feel-good read.

Lavender Brown is a popular food blogger and the dedicated owner of the serene Lavender Honey Farms.  She has dedicated everything she has to her life’s work, and she’s proud of all she’s accomplished.  At the same time, Lavender knows she isn’t getting any younger, and she’s concerned that her business will fall into the profit driven hands of her relatives.  Lavender decides to invite her three close food blogger friends to the farm, in hopes that one of them will be a perfect match.

Ginny has been made famous by her scrumptious recipes and photos as a food blogger.  But her success has turned everyone in town against her, especially her husband.  Stuck in a place with no friends and an unfulfilling marriage, Ginny sets off on a whirlwind adventure with endless hope and possibilities.

Ruby is struggling to come to turns with a miserable break-up with her ex-boyfriend.  Pregnant with his child, Ruby prays that this trip to Lavenders farm will be her saving grace.

Val has recently lost her husband and two daughters to a tragic accident.  She is struggling to hold on to her remaining daughter, and hopes that Lavender’s paradise can help bring them back together.

A cute story, stock full of friendship, drama, romance, and a hint of spice.

 

Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Book – Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children is a lively and imaginative tale that follows a young lad named Jacob.  Jacob has grown up hearing the most fantastical stories of children with magical capabilities from his grandfather.  An Invisible boy.  A girl who holds fire in her hands.  Children who, Jacob thinks, couldn’t possibly have existed.  After the sudden passing of his beloved grandfather, Jacob becomes obsessed with the photos and stories they shared.  The tragedy sends Jacob and his father far away to escape their grief.  And that…is where the adventure really begins. While exploring the island, Jacob discovers the old ruins of an orphanage, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  Jacob soon discovers that all the stories his grandfather told him might actually be true, as the children of Miss Peregrine’s Home come to life.  Yet there are still questions left unanswered. 

For anyone who has ever been awed by circus performers, amazed by people who can do unbelievable feats, pick up this book and take a gander. The story itself is charming, but it is the unique photographs sprinkled throughout the pages that really breathe life into the novel.  It’s almost enough to make you believe that the characters are real people, each with their own history.  Ransom takes these images from his extensive collection of vintage photographs to illustrate the novel; what a brilliant idea!

If you find yourself nearing the end of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, fear not, for the trilogy continues with Hollow City, and the newest installment, Library of Souls.  Also in the works to become a motion picture, don’t miss the premiere of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in March of 2016. And for another visual adaption of the book, be sure to check out the graphic novel adaptation.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

codeBook Code Name Verity follows the World War II adventures of two young Scottish women.  Sensible Maddie, who grew up in her grandfather’s bike shop, has a skill with machines matched only by her love of aeronautics.  As a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force she mostly flies supply planes, but her missions become a lot more interesting once she meets Queenie, the girl with many names.  Queenie is fearless and funny, brilliant and aristocratic—and a spy.  Thrown together under extraordinary circumstances, it isn’t long before the girls form a fierce friendship.  When Maddie’s plane is shot down over occupied France and Queenie is captured on a mission, however, both girls will find their strength, and their bond, tested to the limit.

Told through letters and documents written by both young women, Code Name Verity introduces two equally vivid lead characters whose affection for each other makes them jump off the page.  Elizabeth Wein does an extraordinary job of building tension and maintaining the novel’s pace, making it hard to put down.  Code Name Verity functions equally well as an action-packed war story and as a coming-of-age novel, but for me the absolute highlight is the friendship between the girls—perhaps the single best female friendship I have ever read.  There are mentions of off-screen torture that may be uncomfortable for some, and readers are definitely advised to keep their tissues handy, but the depth of emotion and exquisite writing in this top-notch story make it well worth the ride.

 

 

 

The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow

brilliantBook – In The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise, Francis Wootten lives in Northern England and comes from a loving if dysfunctional family. His mother is tough as nails and his grandmother is the same. His father is absent, caught up in his new life elsewhere. His brother works on a magazine no one reads and raids their pantry on a regular basis along with his flatmate, Fiona. Quiet, reserved and a bit of a loner, it isn’t until his leukemia lands him in a hospital unit, that Francis makes a friend and finally falls in love.

I found myself far more interested and invested in Francis and his family than Amber. The Woottens were easier to care about and connect to while Amber was explained too often and shown too little. That said, Francis’ voice is a compelling one and the book was quite enjoyable. This would be a good read for fans of John Green, unique narrators, and strange family dynamics.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

story hourBook – Lakshmi is an immigrant from India, married but desperately lonely. With no friends or family nearby and a husband who belittles or ignores her, she attempts suicide to end her pain. She ends up at a psychiatric unit, where she meets psychiatrist Maggie Bose. Lakshmi opens up to Maggie, who empathizes with her plight. As a condition of Lakshmi’s release, she must continue to have weekly sessions with Maggie. As the treatment continues, the lines become increasingly blurred between professional detachment and friendship, with unexpected confessions and repercussions.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Lakshmi and Maggie as they explore the themes of love, passion, forgiveness and friendship. This book is thought-provoking and I didn’t want to put it down. I loved the gentle wit, the confusion and compassion of the characters. Lakshmi, especially, is a character I’ll remember for a long time.