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Staff Picks: Books

TIDY TO A FAULT

Author and Illustrator Emily Gravett has done it again! In "Tidy", she introduces us to Pete the Badger, who happens to be a cleanaholic. Pete was born to clean, scour, tidy up anything and everything; a daunting task if one lives in a forest. No tidying challenge is too big for Pete and he soon gets carried away resulting in a disaster for the forest and its inhabitants.

Luckily, Pete and his friends set things right and Pete learns a valuable life  lesson. Too much of a good thing may not be good after all!

This rhyming book is pure fun and the illustrations are delightful. It also effectively delivers a subtle message about preserving the environment. After all, as the saying goes "you don't know what you've got 'till its gone".


Beneath Wandering Stars

When this book showed up on my new books cart, I was first drawn in by the cover. It wasn’t a title I had been anticipating, but as I flipped it over to see what it was about, I knew I would be taking this one home.
After her brother Lucas is wounded in Afghanistan, Gabi Santiago vows to hike the Camino de Santiago in his name. The only catch, her brother’s best friend Seth, whom Gabi hates, has to walk it with her. As they hike this centuries old pilgrimage searching for meaning, forgiveness, and a miracle for someone they both love, they begin to understand each other better, and more importantly, themselves.
The Camino de Santiago has fascinated me for a long time. Five years ago, my mom and I watched a The Way (which I also highly recommend!), and I decided that I wanted to walk it. My mom and I agreed that in five years, when I turned 30, we would hike the Camino together, and finally that year has arrived. When this book appeared on my cart, it was just one more encouragement for me. The story moved me, and cemented my desire to make this pilgrimage. I highly recommend this touching story that deals with change, friendship, and grief in a beautiful way.


Flame in the Mist

Set in Feudal Japan, Flame in the Mist follows three main characters: Hattori Mariko, Okami, and Hattori Kenshin. Right from the start, this book yanks the reader in. A betrayal has taken place, and revenge is sworn. Ten years later, we see Mariko, less than thrilled to be married off as a tool for political leverage, on her way to Inako. When her procession is attacked, and she manages to survive, she decides to disguise herself as a boy and find out the truth of who attacked her and why they want her dead. Through her search for the truth, she finds herself among the Black Clan and Okami. It is from them that Mariko learns she may be clever, but she certainly has more to learn. Her world is a lot smaller than she imagined it to be, and perhaps things are more complex than she thought as well.
I devoured this book. As I neared the end, I became frustrated knowing there was no way this book could be a stand alone, and as I flipped the last page with a cliffhanger, I sighed. There is so much left to be explored in this enchanting world. I have so many questions, and I can’t wait for the next book to answer them. Fans of Samurai Champloo, Robin Hood, and feminism will love this story as I did.


Celine

If you have enjoyed Peter Heller’s previous two novels The Dog Stars and The Painter, you will certainly enjoy his latest effort Celine. Celine is very different from either of those first two novels, and requires a bit of a leap of faith to wrap your head around the storyline and the character of Celine herself, but that leap is made oh so much easier by the skill of Heller’s writing. Celine is an older, aristocratic, and well-dressed private detective who also happens to be a firearms enthusiast, greasy spoon aficionado, fan of Soldier of Fortune magazine, and has a complex and secret back-story. The novel follows Celine and her partner/husband Pete as they investigate the disappearance of the father of a captivating woman named Gabriela, with a complex and tragic back-story of her own. The story is beautifully written, fun to read, and strikes just the right balance of romp and heartbreak to really sink in and keep the pages turning quickly.


The Circle

 So you might have noticed that new movie out in theatres right now. You know the one starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson called The Circle? You might have seen the trailer and thought, “Oh, that looks interesting, I will spend my money on this.” I am here to urge you to think again!

I want you all to read the book by Dave Eggers instead for two reasons: 1, the movie is horrible. 2, The book is a thrilling masterpiece exploring the way information is shared and stored in modern times that will have you examining all of your life choices regarding social media.

Some of you are saying, “But I really like Tom Hanks,” and to that I just want to point out that 1, you can always imagine Tom Hanks in your mind’s eye as you read the much better book, and 2, there are so many other great Tom Hanks movies. So many.  


The Sun is Also a Star

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably already super excited for the movie Everything, Everything  based on the novel by Nicola Yoon coming out on May 19th. But hello, that’s two whole weeks away! If you need something to make that time go a little faster, do yourself a favor and check out Nicola Yoon’s other fabulous book The Sun is Also a Star.

Natasha is a science nerd, and hard core grunge rock fan, who will be deported back to Jamaica in 12 hours. All of the careful plans she’s made for herself are about to be radically disrupted.  Daniel on the other hand, has just been going through the motions. He walks the path his parents have mapped out for him and isn’t excited about any of it.  The two meet on a chance encounter, and spend the day talking about everything that matters: life, love, and the universe on the Day that Changes Everything.

It’s ultra-romantic of course, but what I find most impressive is the way Nicola Yoon thoughtfully explores racial and cultural differences. She herself is a Jamaican American, married to a Korean American man, both of whom are the children of immigrants. So when the characters in the novel have conversations about race, food, and hair, those discussions are nuanced, well informed and authentic.

 

I give it the Milan Seal of Approval, but more importantly, it’s also a 2017 Coretta Scott King winner, #1 New York Times Bestseller,  2016 National Book Award Finalist, and those are just the honors I feel like mentioning right now. I just finished it yesterday—it is the greatest. The end. 


Novels in Verse

Before poetry month comes to a close, I want to highlight some novels written in verse. Through a series of short poems, an author can tell an amazingly rich story, despite the limited scope for details and dialog. 

Most recently, I read A Girl Named Mister, by Nikki Grimes, who is coming to KPL on May 9. The book combines sections in the voice of the title character with poems in the voice of the Virgin Mary, which are in a book Mister is reading during a challenging time. 

One of my favorites is Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, which is written as the diary of a boy who is learning to love poetry. The title poem pays homage to a poem by Walter Dean Myers, and others throughout the book are modeled after other famous poems. Speaking of dogs, God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee imagines what it would be like if God had a life like an ordinary human.

All the novels in verse I've come across are written for children and young adults, but there is much in them to be appreciated for any reader. They seem particularly well suited to addressing difficult topics such as grief and the darker chapters of history, such as Jacqueline Woodson's memoir of growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, Brown Girl Dreaming. Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone takes place during the Armenian genocide. 

Other authors who frequently write in verse include Kwame Alexander and Margarita Engle. Novels in verse are not a replacement for regular fiction, but like graphic novels, you can read through them quickly for the basic story, or better yet, you can linger to enjoy the nuances of language.


Call Me Tree - Llámame Árbol

Written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, Call Me Tree is a beautiful journey that imagines life as a tree, from a seed in the ground to an árbol standing tall. Written in both English and Spanish, the sparse, lyrical wordings perfectly complement the rich and expressive imagery exploring nature, connectedness, and individuality.


White Tears

Hari Kunzru brings his unique literary voice to a novel that explores race, privilege, authenticity, and the power of blues music. Drifting in and out of different time periods and settings, White Tears continues in the vein of Kunzru's last novel, Gods without Men, which used a similar  fluid timeline. Kunzru is a truly skilled writer and one of the rare popular novelists who gets favorable reviews from the literary intelligentsia, but remains very accessible and a fun storyteller at heart.


Max

Incredibly researched and vividly written, Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali is not for the faint of heart. This historical fiction is based off of real events during WWII, beginning with our introduction to the titular character as he is preparing to be born, the first child of the Lebensborn Program. From his birth until the German surrender, we see the world through Max’s eyes and his heavily indoctrinated thoughts - sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic language included.
Getting through the first quarter of this book was a challenge for how descriptive the writing was in those regards. The second half of the book certainly rewards the reader for sticking it out, as Max subtly comes to understand the world around him, and how he deals with it. Max is a brutal story with an important message, well worth picking up.