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Staff Picks: Books

HOT DOG TASTE TEST

I like weird books and I cannot lie! If you like them too, checkout HOT DOG TASTE TEST by illustrator Lisa Hanawalt. The book is ostensibly about foodie culture and such, but Hanawalt’s charming watercolor illustrations, wacky animal obsessions, and just plain weird and wonderful sense of humor make this so much more.


After You by Jojo Moyes (sequel to Me Before You)

To those of you who have read Me Before You, I am here to recommend the sequel, After You. Author Jojo Moyes continues to craft relatable, interesting stories for the characters she brought to life in Me Before You as well as introducing a few new people. The best part of this sequel is that the other characters are given more time to develop instead of Louisa being the main focus. We get to see Camilla and Steven Traynor’s lives after Will, observe Josie’s growth and her marriage with Bernard more closely, and view Treena’s situation from a fresh angle. The only character I did not like, a teenage girl with a ton of personal and family issues, became very important and even her story interested me. Moyes delves into themes of grief, depression, and isolation in After You and succeeds in painting a very real portrait of loss that is important to find in fiction. We watch how long it takes Louisa to get her life back on track after the events of Me Before You and appreciate that her recovery takes a lot of time and introspection. While it did require more patience from me to stay with Louisa during this most challenging time in her life, it was worth it to reach the book’s satisfying conclusion.

 


Happy

Emma Dodd's picture books are among my favorite to read with my kids. My latest favorite is, Happy, the story of a Mama Owl and her happiness with her babies. The beautiful illustrations with occasional metallic accents always grab our attention. The rhyming, joyful text comforts us when we're grumpy because it's almost time for bed. The sweet, but not achingly sweet, storyline brings us closer together as we read. I know my children will cherish these titles when they leave my house and I'm grateful we get to share them while they are young. For a complete list of Emma Dodd's titles, check out our catalog.


Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza

You think you like pizza? Colin Hagendorf likes pizza. Middle-aged, crusty punk Colin likes pizza so much, in fact, that in August 2009, he set out to eat a slice of cheese pizza from every single pizzeria in Manhattan, and in the process started the blog Slice Harvester. This book is a record of his pizza adventures over the course of two years and nearly 400 pizza slices, good and bad (frequently bad). Along the way, he meets the third-generation Italian owner of one of NYC's best pizza joints, eats pizza with celebrities, drinks, fights, and reevaluates his existence. More than just a pizza travelogue or simple list of reviews, Slice Harvester is warts-and-all memoir of some very bad behavior and questionable decision-making. If you like your pizza topped with attitude, sarcasm, and a dash of self-loathing, take this one home today!


Far From the Tree(1)

I was trying to think of a book that I could recommend for LGBTQ Pride Month and my mind keeps going back to a deeply moving book I read a few years ago by Andrew Solomon called Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Most of the book is not about LGBTQ issues, but Solomon’s research and empathetic voice helps bring awareness and appreciation for the view point of many different kinds of people, which is a major goal of Pride Month.

Through interviews with parents, Solomon explores the lives of families raising children with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities; and with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, and who are transgender. The summary in our catalog describes the book as, “elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance--all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.”

Do not be put off by the size of the book. If you just can’t get yourself to take on a project this big, the chapters stand mostly alone so you could pick and choose what you wanted to read. Also, just reading the introduction is highly satisfying, as you encounter more compelling and fascinating ideas than most whole books.

In the chapter on transgender children, Solomon mentions a documentary titled Prodigal Sons that was made by one of the subjects of that chapter. I was delighted to see that the library owned a copy and I highly recommend it.


Bear and Hare - Two Good Friends Off On Another Gentle Adventure

Author and illustrator Emily Gravett has written another book featuring that likeable pair, Bear and Hare.

In Bear & Hare: Where’s Bear?, the duo play hide and seek and unfortunately it’s Bear’s turn to hide. After counting to ten, Hare has no problem finding Bear as he attempts to conceal himself in places that are far from obscure. Bear is just too large!

Then it’s Hare’s turn to hide while Bear counts to ten. Bear has a much more difficult time finding Hare. He looks in the teapot, under the rug, and under the blanket. Bear gives up and decides that a quick nap is in order. He curls up under the blanket, while Hare, comes out the other end. Now Hare is once again looking for his friend Bear. Finally, after checking all of Bear’s previously ineffective hiding spots, Hare states loudly “I WANT BEAR!” Bear comes out from underneath his blanket and they reunite with a big hug. There! They’re back together once more, and all is well with the world!

A sweet and endearing story which is sure to please any preschool child. Wonderful whimsy!

 


No Ordinary Sound

I highly recommend No Ordinary Sound by Denise Lewis Patrick.  The story introduces Melody Ellison, the latest addition to the American Girl historical dolls line BeForever.  Reading it transported me back to my childhood growing up in Detroit during the 1960s.  It is a wonderful read and I was so impressed with all the authentic references to the city and the time period.

Melody is a talented 9-year-old who loves to sing.  Her story unfolds as she tries to balance her youthful dreams with the harsh realities of growing up during the Civil Rights Era.  After Melody is chosen to sing a solo at her church recital, she experiences set-backs at home, in her community, and in her country.

The author has written a true classic here.  I can't wait for the Melody Ellison doll to debut this summer.  I just might find myself standing in line at a mall somewhere.  


Lost Girl

As someone who loves 20th century historical fiction of all kinds, I was drawn to Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls. The Girls follows present-day Evie Boyd as she recalls the events of the summer of 1969 when she was 14 years old. Evie, a lost and lonely adolescent, is drawn into a cult by the confident, effervescent Suzanne who is everything Evie wants to be. She finds sanctuary at the compound, but things begin to unravel when the leader plans a gruesome murder that rocks the nation. 

Being a teenager is hard on everyone. It’s an awkward time and all you want is to feel like you belong somewhere. My version of handling this stage in life was VASTLY different (mainly sitting in my room listening to emo music and reading Stephen King novels), but Cline conjured up a bittersweet nostalgia that made me feel a connection to young Evie. Cline also depicts the diversity of female relationships- with men, with girls and women, with society- and does not gloss over any of the negatives. Evie isn’t always likable and doesn’t always have a solid reason for her actions, and that’s okay. Cline isn’t afraid to show that everyone has flaws, not all decisions are crystal clear, and not all relationships are ideal, or even healthy.

I will confess that I wasn’t as captivated with the actual plot as I had hoped, but I was still drawn into this book. Even though the incident is comparable to the Manson Family murders, the thrill of the crime fell a little flat.  If you are looking for an edge-of-your-seat-true-crime-inspired fiction, move on, BUT if you’re looking for an emotional coming-of-age tale, get comfy and read on.  The Girls may not have been the historical crime story I was expecting, but it was definitely worth the read!


A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

 I’ve read many novels about World War II, but A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, is the first I can recall with a Japanese setting to the Nagasaki bombing.

Amaterasu Takahaski, now living in Philadelphia, is skeptical when a badly scarred man, claiming to be her grandson, appears at her door. Her grandson and her daughter perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki, but this man carries a collection of sealed private letters that open long-buried family secrets that give her pause.

This is a heart-wrenching story of love and regret, ultimately healing and hope. I’ve been recommending this to my reader-friends and expect it will be one of my favorites of the year.


These Girls Pack a Punch!

 Do you need more dinosaurs, time travelers, and girl power in your life? If so, I have two fantastic graphic novels for you.  First up, is Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn, the writer named by Wired Magazine as " the greatest comic book visionary of the last five years." This suspenseful mystery starts with a slow burn as four paper delivery girls head out to cover their route the morning after Halloween in 1988.  After the girls accidentally set off a strange machine, the story kicks off at break-neck speed, and soon the girls are facing off against dinosaurs, laser-blasting knights, and sub-human creatures that might just be from the future. It’s intense, fast-paced, wicked fun, and the series is only just beginning. 

 

Also, make sure to check out the Lumberjanes series by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson. Lumberjanes follows five “hardcore lady types” spending the summer at a crazy camp surrounded by bizarre supernatural mysteries. The girls fight werewolves, solve riddles, and avoid the ever-watchful eye of their group counselor in this manic, off-beat, fantastic read. This series has been out for a while, but you can catch up on Hoopla digital.

Both of these series are a great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy, action, and mystery with fabulous artwork. So what are you waiting for?