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I was at the American Library Association conference in Orlando last weekend and had a chance to exchange a few (very few) words with some of my author and illustrator idols:

They were all charming, of course. So, now for their latest books:

I’ll tell you that I love the books by these authors (except that I haven’t yet read anything by Laura Ruby but Bone Gap is on my reading list). The Margaret A. Edwards award (contributions to young adult literature) winner Anderson writes about current issues in Impossible Knife of Memory, Wintergirls and Speak. Readers can’t put her books down. Ashes is the third book in her Seeds of America trilogy about the Revolutionary War. She is truly impassioned about her subjects.

Jerry Pinkney is a marvelous award winning illustrator who has done wondrous things with his fairy tales The Lion and the Mouse, The Tortoise and the Hare and Grasshopper and the Ants. Children and adults alike will smile as they read these books. He promised to continue as there are so many more fairy tales to tell.

Jordan Sonnenblick uses humor to discuss serious topics such as strokes, old age and cancer in Falling Over Sideways, Notes from a Midnight Driver, and After Ever After. The topics he writes about are ones you don’t see in young adult literature all that often.

Morgan Matson and Emery Lord are the masters of the summer romance (watch out Sarah Dessen!). Matson’s Unexpected Everything (review to come), Since You’ve Been Gone and Second Chance Summer are the perfect beach reads. (For some reason I’ve bought Matson’s last two books at Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs, NY…I’m not from there! Is this a trend?) Lord’s spin on romance and characters is unique in When We Collided (Vivi is such a great character) (review to come) and Open Road Summer. So get your reading chair, beach umbrella and SPF 50 ready.

You’ll have to wait until I read Bone Gap to know what that one’s all about. But if it is a Michael Printz Award winner, it can’t be all bad.

These six authors provide any kind of reading you want (serious, humorous, romantic, illustrious, mythical) to take you through the summer, into the fall and beyond. Happy Reading!

 

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Shakespeare’s Garden by Jackie Bennett with photos by Andrew Lawson is a photo essay of the gardens that Shakespeare may have been familiar with as he was writing his plays and sonnets. Plants and flowers were common in his works and Bennett tries to describe the gardens of the day and those he may have seen.

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(The photo on the cover is indicative of the numerous photos throughout the book.)

Gardens in Shakespeare’s time served many purposes. Ornamental gardens were just being introduced. Most gardens served a purpose–to feed a family, to produce herbs and plants for medicinal purposes, to feed livestock. As Shakespeare’s popularity and fame increased, he traveled between London and Stratford on Avon. He came into contact with royalty and commoners. As a result, he would have been familiar with both royal gardens as well as common gardens of the working class. He would also have been familiar with the medical and household uses of many of herbs and flowers.

Many of the Shakespeare properties have been purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) and have been restored. Shakespeare’s Garden was published in association with the Trust.

Per the publisher: “From his birthplace in Henley Street, to his childhood playground at Mary Arden’s Farm, to his courting days at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and his final home at New Place – where he created a garden to reflect his fame and wealth. Cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, these gardens are continually evolving to reflect our ongoing knowledge of his life. The book will also explore the plants that Shakespeare knew and wrote about in 17th century England: their use in his work and the meanings that his audiences would have picked up on…”

While the narrative describes the gardens and there are tidbits of botanic quotes from Shakespeare’s plays, it is the photos that bring everything to life. Andrew Lawson’s photos will make gardeners drool. While I was hoping for more of an explanation of the meanings of the flowers and plants Shakespeare used in his works, and there was little of that in Shakespeare’s Garden, I was not disappointed by the book. I wish I could have a fraction of one of the gardens photographed in the book. Shakespeare’s Garden is definitely worth the time. It is totally enjoyable.

Precocious nine year olds can be exasperating and when you’ve got a heart disease and a helicopter mother, you are a uni-sensor (someone who knows things before or as they happen), and a science nerd, it can be a bit much. Julian is just such a person. He, his moms and his sister, Pookie,  move from Washington, D.C. to the boondocks of Maine to open a bed and breakfast. Upon arriving they receive a notice that their elderly neighbor, Mr. X, is suing them to demolish the addition they put on the house for the B&B because it hinders his view of the ocean.

Pookie suggests Julian go over and befriend Mr. X in hopes that he change his mind, thus beginning a relationship between Julian and Mr. X, who recently lost his wife to cancer, and has been described as a lonely man with nothing to live for.

The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine (author of Mockingbird among other tween books) describes exactly that…the magic of being alive, the magic of the world around us, the magic that is family. Everyone in the book, Julian’s moms and sister, Julian,  and Mr. X all have issues that they must deal with. But it’s Julian’s positivity (is that a word?) that shines through and, in many instances, gets people through their issues.

Julian is a science nerd and through Julian, The Incredible Magic of Being cites many scientific facts and theories. It also has “farts”, Facts and Random Thoughts, at the end of each chapter, some of which we learn from (facts) and some of which are merely random thoughts. (Julian is a font of information and I got the feeling that he is on the autism spectrum somewhere, although that might not have been the author’s intention. Caitlin, in Mockingbird, has Asperger’s Syndrome, by the way.)

The one thing about science, according to Julian, is that whether or not you believe it in, it is there. And the fact that we don’t believe or understand it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So, when Julian talks to his best friends in parallel universes, you’ve just got to believe. When he can sense occurrences in other locations, you just have to believe. When he describes his sister as a black hole, you’ve got to believe.

I love upbeat characters. In some ways, The Incredible Magic of Being reminds me of Soar by Joan Bauer whose main character also has a heart problem but won’t let it keep him down. I think kids will relate to Julian and his teenage sister and enjoy his thoughts and escapades. The Incredible Magic of Being is a fun, light read even though the subject sounds kind of heavy. Have fun with it and even learn something, such as what the Messier Objects are.

Grace’s mother is unstable. After Grace’s dad died, when she was two years old, her mother, Maggie, has gone through a series of boy friends, they’ve moved numerous times, she drinks heavily and ‘borrows’ money from whoever she is living with. When Grace returns to Cape Katie after two weeks at a music workshop in Boston, she finds Maggie has (1) moved in with Pete, the lighthouse keeper, (2) Pete’s son and her new housemate is Julian, Grace’s ex-boyfriend who posted their sextexts on Tumblr after their breakup and (3) her mother has sold her piano…the one Grace is supposed to practice on for her upcoming audition for music school.

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After storming out of the house, Grace walks to the beach for some solitude. Instead she finds a girl sitting by the water, shoulders heaving as if she’s crying. Unsure whether to skirt around her and leave her in peace or make sure she’s OK, Grace takes the latter course and meets Eva for the first time.

Eva, as it turns out, is living with Grace’s best friend Luca and his mother, Emmy. Eva is the daughter of Emmy’s best friend who recently died and Emmy is Eva’s guardian. Luca and Emmy are also Grace’s solid ground in the midst of her familial storms.

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake, tackles a few serious issues, including what is a teenage daughter’s responsibility for her mother’s erratic behavior, who comes first, a daughter’s future or a mother’s present, and can a girl brought up in an unstable environment know how to truly love someone?

Blake does a great job of contrasting Luca’s happy family with Grace’s messed up one. She makes the budding relationship between Eva and Grace very realistic, with all the pitfalls and uncertainties inherent in a new relationship. She describes Grace’s dreams of being a concert pianist and the heartbreak when she thinks she may never achieve her goal. And Grace’s ambivalence about staying with her mother or leaving her is heartbreaking.

An all around good book!

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Two Nights is a welcome departure from Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series and does not delve into the forensics of murder. Instead, you get an action packed story that keeps you reading.

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Sunday Night has a troubled past as a child, as a marine (?) and as a cop. It is just such an upbringing that entices dowager Opaline Drucker to hire her. A year ago her daughter and grandson were killed in an explosion at a Jewish girl’s school in Chicago. Her granddaughter, Stella, disappeared. The only sign of her existence was an attempt to access a bank account that only Stella and Opaline knew about. There has been no solution to the case, despite the ongoing Chicago P.D.  investigation.

Deep in her gut, Sunday thinks Stella is still alive. Because of her own troubled childhood, she feels a kinship with Stella, which is the only reason to leave her isolated island home in Charleston and head to Chicago.

Sunday criss crosses the country following leads, some of which are hunches as opposed to real leads. She butts heads with local law enforcement…of course. Her methods and demeanor are unconventional, but that is the appeal of Sunday Night. The ancillary characters are interesting characters as well, just adding to the appeal.

I’ll let you find out for yourself why the book is called Two Nights. I’ll let you find out for yourself how the case is resolved. But, I’ll warn you, once you start reading you may not want to put Two Nights down. Kathy Reichs has put together a good story.

As an aside, this new character for Reichs works well for her, unlike Renee Ballard, Michael Connelly’s new protagonist in The Late Show who, for all her rebelliousness, doesn’t generate the excitement that Sunday Night generates. Given the choice, you know which one I’d pick. Let’s hope Sunday Night appears in more books by Kathy Reichs.

 

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine, a woman who grew up privileged, is a sixty eight year old part time artist and part time private detective, taking mostly non-paying, “lost cause” cases in which she reunites separated families. She lives in Brooklyn with her second husband, Peter, who assists. He is very calm, very organized as opposed to her more emotional demeanor.

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Gabriella, a graduate of Celine’s alma mater, Sarah Lawrence college, came upon her name in an alumni periodical. Her father, a well known photographer, went to the Western U.S. for a photo shoot and disappeared when she was very young. He was presumed dead, when blood stains were discovered near the car he abandoned in a wooded area. However, Gabriella never had full closure and wants Celine to investigate.

Celine becomes intrigued and, of course, takes the case. Needing to travel to the Western U.S., she borrows her son’s mobile home and she and Peter take to the road.

Ostensibly a mystery, Celine is more a relationship story about Peter and Celine, their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, their love for each other. While there is some mystery and some danger, it’s her personality and her life story that are the draws in this interesting, well written, more literary novel.

I liked Celine so much, I’m contemplating reading Heller’s other novels, The Dog Stars and The Painter. I highly recommend Celine to everyone.

Konrad, a retired Icelandic police detective, is assisting in the investigation of the suffocation death of an elderly gentleman. Looking through his personal effects, Konrad finds yellowing newspaper articles regarding the murder of a young woman whose body was discovered in a box outside Reykjavik’s National Theater in 1944. Konrad is intrigued. Searching old police files, he finds scant information on the original case investigated by Icelandic Detective Flovent and Canadian Military Police Thorson. During the Second World War a large contingent of American and Canadian troops were stationed in Iceland and it was not uncommon for the fraternization of American soldiers and young Icelandic women.

Early on, readers learn the deceased gentleman is Thorson, who having unexpectedly uncovered new information on the seventy year old murder follows these new leads. While Konrad is trying to solve Thorson’s murder, he also retraces Thorson’s recent investigation. Simultaneously, readers follow the initial case as it moves forward, moving back and forth in time.

Arnaldur Indridason, the author of the Inspector Erlendur series, beginning with Jar City, continues his modus operandi of covering a current and cold case in this new series set during the war years. The inspectors, both during the 1940s and present, are formidable characters. The blend of police procedural with Icelandic folklore is intriguing. The premise captures readers and the dogged pursuit of the truth with its twists and turns keeps them riveted as the two cases converge.

This book is not as dark as the Erlendur novels. None of the investigators are as morose as Erlendur, which is an interesting change. Indridason has said that this is the initial book of at least a three book series with Flovent and Thorson as protagonists. It is a welcome addition from a master of mystery and I can’t wait for the second installment.

If PTSD in returning soldiers wasn’t such a serious issue, then The Right Side by Spencer Quinn would be a humorous book. But it is a serious issue and Quinn handles it with humor while getting his point across: PTSD can manifest itself in many ways, some of which mess with your mind, make you forget things you remembered seconds ago, disorient you.

If you were expecting another Chet and Bernie novel, you won’t find it in The Right Side, although a key character is a dog named Goody.  LeAnne Hogan was injured in Iraq, losing her right eye, her right side becoming her blind side. While in Walter Reed Hospital, she befriends her roommate, Marci, who dies suddenly of a blood clot. LeAnne decides on the spur of the moment that Walter Reed is doing her no good, nor is the hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Machado, so she up and leaves, with no particular plan.

Readers will follow LeAnne as she makes her way across the country in search, really, of herself. The ups and downs are dramatic, the almost loss of control at times real and scary. Quinn acknowledges two U.S. Army Veterans who reviewed and critiqued the book, so I’m assuming that Quinn’s portrayal of PTSD is accurate.

Quinn draws a good and realistic picture of LeAnne and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be drawn to her and Goody and want her to overcome her demons. In reality, I’m guessing, you don’t necessarily overcome them; you just get them somewhat under control.

If you’re interested in a young adult book on PTSD, then I’d suggest The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt.

I’ll go out on a limb and say The Right Side is one of the best books I’ve read this year, not necessarily because it’s overly literary, but because it addresses an ongoing issue with sensitivity and humor.