Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

If you're reading this, you probably like books.

Do you like books about books?

If so, stop reading this, and put The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry on hold immediately.

A.J. Fikry owns a small bookshop on Alice Island.  After his wife's tragic death, he now lives alone in an apartment above the store, with only a very-valuable first edition Edgar Allen Poe volume to keep him company.

When this rare book is stolen, he decides he has nothing else of value, and starts leaving his door unlocked, only to come home one day and find something very unexpected left waiting for him in his store, changing his life forever.

With a host of sympathetic and well-drawn characters, Zevin paints a full picture of a charming island town and its inhabitants. Her love of books is evident, both in the chapter intros (each a summary of a well-known short story) and her depictions of life in a bookstore.  For example, this paragraph about describing the selections of a book group made my laugh out loud with recognition:
"In April, The Paris Wife. In June, A Reliable Wife.  In August, American Wife. In September, The Time Traveler's Wife. In December, he runs out of decent books with wife in the title.  They read Bel Canto"* 
A beautifully-written, quick read, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a must-read for booklovers (and especially librarians) everywhere.

Readers who enjoy this should also check out The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde

*sidenote: I do highly recommend Bel Canto (reviewed here on vbplrecommends by Lennis) .

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

It's the summer before college, and Elizabeth and Lauren have both just received the official email informing them that they will be roommates in the fall.

Elizabeth, excited to be leaving home in New Jersey, shoots off an email to Lauren introducing herself and discussing the usual things (who will bring the microwave?).

Lauren, busy helping to care for her five younger siblings, only has time to send a short, brief reply... after all, she really wanted a single anyway.

And thus, begins their correspondence. Over the course of the summer, they begin to share more of their lives... their arguments with friends, the boys they're getting to know, their family dramas.

Zarr and Altebrando each write one of the characters, and details what is happening in their lives, interspersed with the text of the emails they send to each other.  The tension between what is actually happening and what they share in their emails adds a realistic touch to the novel.

This is a great summer read for high schoolers getting ready to head to college (or even for those of us who went to college in the pre-smartphone-dark-ages).

Readers may enjoy other YA collaborative novels, such as Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Dash and Lily's Book of Dares (both by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn),  Will Grayson, Will Grayson, (by David Levithan and John Green), and Team Human (by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Panic by Lauren Oliver

Panic by Lauren Oliver

In her newest novel, Panic, Lauren Oliver moves away from  her YA dystopian series, Delirium and back to the realistic fiction genre of her debut, Before I Fall.

Panic tells the story four teens spending the summer in Carp, a small town in the middle of nowhere.  Hard-hit by the recession, Carp has few opportunities for young adults, and all four teens are looking for a way out of town.

Thus, they end up involved in "Panic", a summer game started years earlier, where just-graduated-seniors participate in a series of progressively more dangerous challenges.  Those who complete a challenge move on to the next one, and ultimately, the teen left at the end will win $60,000.

Oliver switches between the perspectives of four of the main characters.  Each  has their own reasons for participating -- one just wants to pay for college, one is trying to get away from her abusive, alcoholic mother, and each has secrets that they're keeping from the others.

Panic is fast-paced and gripping, and readers will root for each of the characters to succeed, even as they compete against each other. Those who enjoyed Oliver's earlier novels will recognize her style, even in a different genre.

If you enjoy Panic (or while you're waiting to read it), check out Lauren Oliver's other YA and youth novels (including Liesl and Po -- review by Ashley).  Readers who enjoy contemporary novels about teens in tough situations may also enjoy the works of Katie McGarry (including Pushing the Limits) and Laura Wiess.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

A couple years ago, I reviewed Maggie Shipstead's debut novel, Seating Arrangments for this blog, and so I was very excited to read her second novel, Astonish Me as soon as it came out last week.  In this novel, readers are treated to a glimpse into the world of professional ballet.

The novel opens in 1977; Joan has helped her then lover, the famous Arslan Ruskov to defect from the USSR several years earlier.  Joan's own ballet career has never really taken off, and when she finds herself pregnant, she leaves ballet behind and settles down with her childhood best friend, Jacob.  As her son, Harry grows, he too begins dancing, bringing Joan back into the world she thought she'd left behind.

The novel spans several decades, and readers are reintroduced to these characters as they grow and change through the years.  Flashbacks are interspersed throughout, bringing new details to light, and while some of the plot twists were less-than-surprising, the ending does unexpectedly bring everything together in a satisfying way.

Astonish Me is on order, so put your holds in today for this perfect beach read!

And if you enjoy this, definitely check out Seating Arrangements, along with the novels of Liane Moriarty (What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret have both been reviewed by other vbplrecommends bloggers) and Jojo Moyes (Lennis reviewed Me Before You last summer).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart is a unique take on the superhero genre.  Ten years ago, something called Calamity exploded in the sky, bestowing amazing powers to some of the Earth's population.  These people are known as Epics.  Their super powers vary from strength and speed, to controlling the elements and much more.  But they all have one thing in common: no morals.

They are not heroes, but power hungry and tyrannical rulers who see normal people as slaves.  No one will fight them...except for an elusive group known as the Reckoners, a band of average humans who target and assassinate Epics.

Years ago, Steelheart, the invulnerable ruler of Chicago, killed David's father.  Ever since that day, David's wanted vengeance.  So when he gets word that the Reckoners are in town, David seeks them out.  Somehow he as to convince them to target Steelheart himself, one of the strongest known Epics.  It's a hard sell, but David has a secret, one that he's kept since the day his father died.

David has seen Steelheart bleed.

This book is classic Brandon Sanderson, filled with creative plot twists, plenty of action and playful wit.  It has just the right amount of brooding without taking itself too seriously.  Teens and adults alike will enjoy this new take on super powered beings.

If you enjoy this book, check out Sanderson's other teen fiction, The Rithmatist.  If you like his style but want something a little more complex and epic (ha) in scale, The Stormlight Archive series is a great choice.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn

The Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command) by Timothy Zahn is set in Star Wars universe and takes place around 5 years after Return of the Jedi.  After the fall of the Empire, the Rebel Alliance has coalesced into the New Republic.  But the galaxy is far from won.  The fragile New Republic is strained by keeping the peace.  Politicians scheme and vie for advantage.  Luke Skywalker doubts his abilities to rebuild the ancient order the Jedi.  And Han and Leia must balance their responsibilities as ambassadors while preparing for the birth of their twins.

Yet not all consider the Empire to be dead and gone.  A new champion of the Empire has emerged, with a tactical prowess and ruthless efficiency that rocks the very foundations of the New Republic.  Have the tables turned?  Who will be victorious in this new struggle for the fate of the galaxy?

The Thrawn Trilogy  is an absolute must-read for Star Wars fans.  Timothy Zahn's books reignited the love of Star Wars literature in the 90's and to this day are regarded as some of the best Star Wars writing of all time.  The spirits of the characters are perfectly represented as Luke, Han and company face the challenges of their lives with the help of new allies and old friends.  The action and suspense will draw you in and capture your imagination.  The books read like you're watching the Star Wars films for the first time (Episodes IV, V and  VI, not those other ones).  If you love Star Wars, treat yourself to one more journey to that galaxy far, far away.

Looking for more Star Wars? Check out Lost Tribe of the Sith and Timothy Zahn's latest book, Star Wars: Scoundrels.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

The MacBride family has gathered at their country home in Devon to scatter the ashes of Lydia MacBride - beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and respected magistrate.  Nothing has been the same for the MacBrides since Lydia’s death from cancer.  Widower Rowan, headmaster at a prestigious school, has been drinking, daughter Sophie is struggling to hold her marriage together after the birth of a new baby, and grandson Jake is in trouble with the law.  

The only seemingly bright spot is for the youngest son, Felix, who finally has his first girlfriend.   Kerry is a quiet young woman who seems to be able to see past Felix’s disfigurements, which resulted from a vicious attack on him as a child. 

But when Kerry is left behind to care for baby Edie as the family enjoys the Bonfire Night celebrations, everything goes wrong.  It seems that someone thinks Lydia wasn’t the paragon everyone thought she was. Someone hates the MacBrides and has set in motion a plan to destroy them. 

This atmospheric and evocative tale of secrets, obsession and unintended consequences will keep you turning pages to a very satisfying conclusion.

The Burning Air is available in print and as an audiobook.  For another psychological thriller featuring family secrets, try Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.