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Category Archives: Recommendations

The Burning Soul by John Connolly

The Burning Soul by John ConnollyWithout checking, I think I can safely say that John Connolly is the most-mentioned author on this blog.  But that’s for a very good reason – he’s one of my all-time favorite authors and people.  Plus he’s been kind enough to publish two books per year recently and still finds the time to tour and do interviews to talk about them.  So we, in turn, keep reviewing his books and posting his interviews.

Normally I don’t like to review books in a series, unless it’s the first title.  I’m the kind of person who has to start a series from the beginning, and unfortunately I often abandon some series because they have too many books and I too little time.  This being the 10th Charlie Parker PI novel that Connolly has put out, I can understand that it’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed if they haven’t read any of his previous mystery novels.

Have no fear.  You can start the series at the beginning, with Every Dead Thing, and enjoy your way up to the newest installment.  But The Burning Soul, more than any of the others in the series, I believe, can be read on its own without the preceding books.  Of course, once you’re done, I still recommend spending the next year reading the series from the beginning in anticipation of his next release, but hey – I’m biased.

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthyFirst of all, please don’t think I picked this book up because of the Oprah endorsement. I’m made of meatier things than can be swayed by an Empress. But when it comes to Viggo Mortensen, I’m JELLY. It might have something to do with his hair/face/body. Anyhoo, I remember seeing the cover of the book whilst shelving at the unnamed bookstore I worked for and thinking, “Oh, Viggo, when will we stop playing these games?” At around the same time my brother saw No Country for Old Men and was all, “I’m scared to sleep alone.” That movie being based on a McCarthy book paired with Viggo on the cover of THIS book slayed me. So I began the reading.

And let me tell you. It is not a happy read. Clinically depressed people and people prone to over-sympathizing, stay away. You will not have a happy thought for days. Not exaggerating.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA monster calls on Conor just after midnight in the shape of a yew tree looming over his bedroom window.  But Conor is not afraid.  “I’ve seen worse,” he says.  And he has – his waking life is filled with helping care for his mother during another round of cancer treatments, a father who has largely disappeared to be with his new family in America, a gang of bullies at school, and losing faith in his one true friend.  Amid all this turmoil, it is almost a relief to be visited by the yew tree at night.  Or at least it’s a nice change of pace from the monster in his other nightmare – the one that truly frightens him.

The idea for this book came from a Young Adult author named Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  (I am not familiar with Dowd’s work, but will certainly be looking it up now.)  Patrick Ness was called in to shape the idea into book form, along with illustrator Jim Kay, and the result is something special.  The language is simple but haunting, and Conor’s pain and uncertainty show in stark and heartrending ways.  The illustrations are dark, textured, and expressive, and add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the book.  Simply put, this is a beautiful volume in terms of story, prose, and presentation.

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The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician KingI have to come clean – when I read the first book in this series, The Magicians, I had very mixed feelings about it.  The writing was excellent, no doubt about it, and I read through the book very quickly.  But at the end, when I put it down, I couldn’t tell if I had liked it or not.

The problem is: Grossman takes fantasy worlds similar to Harry Potter, Narnia, and others, and brings them into a very modern setting.  Young magicians are given an entrance exam to see if they will be accepted into the magical college of Brakebills.  A fantasy world from a series of children’s books, known as Fillory, turns out to be real.  And the magicians must learn their own powers to navigate in this magical world.  Except along the way they get lost a lot, and there is quite a bit college-age experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and sex.  The characters make an unending list of pop culture references.  Their adventures seem to meander around with no clear objective.  This is not how I expect my fantasy novels to play out.

I like Harry Potter because none of the wizards uses a cell phone, even outside of Hogwarts.  They don’t use magic to throw crazy parties fueled by controlled substances.  There’s a timelessness about the Harry Potter books, and the Narnia books, that is quaint and comfortable.  Is it more realistic that young people would misbehave a bit when learning to harness great powers?  Sure.  But that’s not what I’m used to finding in my fantasy novels.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren ChildThe liquidation book fairies were very kind to me last week.  As I was cleaning up what was left of our Kids’ department for the umpteenth time one morning, I stumbled upon this lovely version of Goldilocks, as told by Lauren Child.  When I saw that it was illustrated with photographs of handmade dolls posed in a handcrafted cabin, I knew that I had to buy a copy for fellow bookseller and reviewer hardboundandgagged.  In case you don’t know her in real life (which I imagine most of you don’t), she is not only a fantastic kids’ bookseller, but she also does some very unique artwork.  A lot of that artwork utilizes dolls, and she poses them for photographs that are works of art in and of themselves.  So, basically, this book could have had her name written on it.

After I bought it and brought it home, however, I realized that I had a problem.  Although this book was perfect for her, after looking through it in more detail, I realized I was going to need a copy for myself.  And that is the really impressive part – somehow, the very next day, while cleaning up the Kids’ section yet again, a second copy materialized in front of me.  A liquidation miracle!  That kind of magical discovery would never happen while buying books online.  Suffice it to say, we both have our own copies now, and she kindly allowed me to write the review.

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SMARTYPANTS (Pete in School) by Maira Kalman

As the school year begins and we rush around, picture books are often overlooked. For a young child they can open the world, and for an older child they can quiet or explain a world that might be best explained visually. In this fast paced E-Reader world, remember the value of a picture book collection of your own and support authors who share their brilliant work with us.

This book is by Maira Kalman, one of my all time favorite artists. She is absolutely brilliant. I laughed out loud just reading the back of this book. I hope you and your children will treasure Smartypants.

Pete the dog eats everything! No kidding. After a long summer, Poppy Wise and her brother Mookie go back to school. Poor Pete is lonely at home without them, so naturally Pete heads to school. He interrupts every classroom eating everything along the way, including the 26-volume encyclopedia in the principal’s office.   That night, Pete is able to speak. He is brilliant and filled with knowledge from eating everything at school. He tells the children fabulous facts and helps them with homework. The next day, Poppy Wise and Mookie disguise Pete and sneak him back into school.  He gets to enjoy a typical school day, answering questions, being engaged and enthusiastic to learn. Unfortunately, by the evening Pete has digested all the information and is no longer able to speak; his knowledge is all gone and he is Sweet Pete the dog again.

Thanks to a vivid imagination, a fabulous story and quirky wonderful illustrations, Smartypants is my winner for the start of the school year.

Recommended for ages 5yrs to 100yrs.

 
 

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Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

As I will tell most everyone, I’m not ‘up’ on a lot of celebrity gossip. While I am the first person in the room to point out a random appearance of a mildly obscure actor—be it Stephen Merchant or Faran Tahir—in whatever film we may be watching, I am the last person to find out when JLo and Marc Anthony have split up (though in that particular instance I was trying to figure out how Mark Anthony even knew JLo as he had died in 30 BC). I’ll scan an outdated People Magazine at the hair dresser’s or dentist office, but it takes a pretty special celebrity for me to openly gush. Please don’t ask anyone I went to high school with about me and Elijah Wood.

That being said, it takes an especially special celebrity for me to want to read their autobiography. Simon Pegg is one such celebrity.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHave you ever felt haunted by a book that wanted you to read it, no matter what?  The wonderfully-titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children followed me around for a couple of weeks, then appeared in my house under suspicious circumstances.  Which is to say, it was recommended to me on various websites, by word of mouth, and I saw it reviewed all over the place.  But I resisted, and wasn’t sure that I really wanted or needed to read it.  I wish I could remember what finally convinced me to pick it up, or where or when I finally bought it.  All I can say for sure, however, is that it made its way into my home, at the very top of my TBR, and I’m grateful that it did.

This book takes a series of odd (or let’s say “peculiar”) vintage photographs and builds a narrative around them.  The concept works so well that it becomes entirely plausible to consider the pictures as proof of the story, instead of merely a jumping off point for spinning this yarn.  In truth, I would have been fascinated by the book if it was just a collection of strange and creepy photographs with whatever limited information about their origin was available.  (The photos all come from personal collections, mostly cultivated through flea markets and other somewhat anonymous sources, so there is probably very little solid information available on any of them.)  In some cases you can guess at the techniques used to create an image of an invisible boy, or a girl trapped in a jar, or a young man lifting a large boulder with one hand.  Though I still found it impressive in an age when “dodge and burn” was not achieved by a mouse click in Photoshop.  Other of the photos are not as easy to explain away, and I spent more time than I care to admit just staring at them in amazement.

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Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children by Conn Iggulden, illustrated by Lizzy Duncan

Tollins: Explosive Tales for ChildrenThis book is gorgeous.  I knew as soon as I picked it up that it had to be mine.  And it didn’t disappoint.

Conn Iggulden is best known for his Dangerous Book for Boys, a 2007 runaway bestseller that counteracts today’s culture of overprotected children by suggesting “dangerous” activities they might engage in.  Tollins, published in 2009, follows suit.  A Tollin is like a fairy, except bigger and not as fragile.  And by “not as fragile,” Iggulden means that they can be used as an ingredient in fireworks, with non-lethal results.  Fairies are actually used and abused by Tollins throughout these stories.  It feels wrong to laugh at “fairy cushions” and “fairy handkerchiefs,” which are not cushions and handkerchiefs made BY fairies, but rather actual squashed and snotty fairies.  At the same time, well, fairies have had their day.  These stories are about Tollins, and if a few fairies get crushed in the making, it’s hard to be too broken up about it.

Tollins have always led idyllic lives, drinking nectar in the summer and waiting out the winter in underground tunnels.  But when their way of life is threatened by the arrival of a train station, fireworks factory, and other developing human innovations, they must find a way to cope with the changing world.  The book is made up of three stories, all starring a Tollin named Sparkler who dares break the First Law of Tollins: don’t speak to humans.  Granted, what Sparkler says to humans involves the fact that it is not strictly necessary to use Tollins as ingredients in fireworks, but this still gets him in a bit of trouble with the High Tollin.  For such short stories, there manages to be a good deal of adventure, cunning, and humor packed in.

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WITH THE LIGHT: Raising an Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe

With the Light

WITH THE LIGHT is a 7-volume manga series I really want to read! The books follow Hikaru’s life from birth through his teenage years. His mother knows something is different about her boy, but when he is diagnosed with autism we become exposed to real-life complications, odd social situations, looming sexual awareness and everyday disruptions to family life.

The subject matter is so hard to live with, let alone share with others, that I think it is a very important series. The manga format is engaging for teens, while the subject matter is complex and personal. I think anyone working with autistic children or their siblings should get this series. It should be in doctor’s waiting rooms and high school libraries. A must read for teachers and therapists.

 

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