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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!

 

Eight years ago Telly Ray Nash took a baseball bat to his father’s head, killing him. True the elder Nash was running after Telly and his younger sister, Sharlah, wielding a knife. True he had just fatally slashed Telly’s mother with that same knife. It was an instance of fight or flight and the two young children had no where to go, so Telly defended himself and his sister the best way he knew how.

The orphans were separated, Telly bouncing around foster homes until Frank and Sandra Duvall took him in and tried to get him ready for adulthood. Sharlah fared somewhat better, finally settling in with Pierce Quincy and Rainie, a retired FBI profiler and a retired police officer, respectively. They want to adopt Sharlah and become a true family, which she is OK with.

Their separate lives converged when Telly was filmed shooting out the security camera in a local convenience store, the site of a double murder. When the police arrive at the Duvall’s looking for Telly, they find Frank and Sandra shot dead. Telly is the likely suspect.

The manhunt for Telly involves profilers, trackers, and multiple police agencies. Of course, all is not what it seems. There are secrets that need to be told in order to identify the murderer.

The action starts in chapter one and continues throughout the book. Right Behind You grabs and keeps your attention. Of course, you are pulling for Sharlah and Telly. The twists and turns keep you guessing. And you’ll absolutely fall in love with Luka, Sharlah’s dog, also a retired police officer.

I read Lisa Gardner’s Crash and Burn and Catch Me. I really liked Crash and Burn. As I said in my review of it, “…Gardner weaves a great story and that is what makes you want to keep reading. Readers will immediately take to the characters. They’ll get caught up in their lives. They’ll want to unravel the mystery.” This holds true for Right Behind You as well.

There is a reason Lisa Gardner is a best selling author and Right Behind You is one of the reasons.

 

In this English translation of a Swedish debut young adult novel, fifteen year old Steffi is an outcast at her high school. Karro, one of the ‘in’ girls, never passes up a chance to harass her, call her a whore, tell her she stinks and how ugly she is. All Steffi wants to do is play jazz.

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One day, walking home from school, she hears old school jazz music coming out of the second floor window of a retirement home. It stops her in her tracks and she stares at the window, into the face of a white haired old man who asks if she’s going to stand there staring or is she going to come up. Steffi does the latter and is introduced to Alvar ‘Big Boy’ Swensson, a well known jazz bassist during the time of the second world war.

Author Lovestam is a jazz aficionado herself and has penned an interesting two part tale. In the first, Steffi confides in Alvar about the goings on at school, her love of jazz and her desire to go to a music school in Stockholm.

In the second tale, Alvar reminisces about his journey to stardom, from his humble beginnings in Varmland, taking the train alone to Stockholm at age seventeen and meeting a real clarinetist on the train, joining a band, courting the gorgeous Anita and achieving his fame. There is a touching romance in this novel as well as a pseudo history lesson about Swedish life during the Second World War.

Lovestam name drops the well known Swedish jazz musician Povel Ramel (who I never heard of) as well as several other musicians of the time. She is into the beat of Steffi’s bass guitar and illustrates how the music permeates every aspect of Steffi’s life. Jazz musicians will understand this better than I do.

Wonderful Feels Like This, a rewarding intergenerational tale, brings to mind Notes From the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick, Notes in which the main character, Alex, forges a relationship with a nursing home patient, Sol, also a famous musician. While Lovestam’s novel is more serious and Sonnenblick’s has a touch of humor, the bonds forged between Steffi and Alvar and Alex and Sol form the bases of great stories.

While the cadence of the translation is a tad stilted until you get used to it, Wonderful Feels Like This is a fun read. But I wouldn’t limit myself to this book alone. I’d also highly recommend Notes From a Midnight Driver. You can’t go wrong with these two.

 

 

Becky Albertalli, the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, has penned a very readable second novel, The Upside of Unrequited. In my review of the first book I said, “If you’re looking for just a fun romance, try Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” I’d pretty much have to say the same for The Upside of Unrequited.

Molly and Cassie are the twin daughters of lesbians Patty and Nadine. Cassie is cute and decidedly gay. Molly is somewhat overweight and decidedly straight. Early in the book, Cassie meets Mina and  quickly falls for her. Molly, on the other hand, has had 27 crushes but has never been kissed and never had a boyfriend. Mina and Cassie try to set Molly up with Will, Mina’s best friend but there’s no chemistry. Molly, on the other hand, likes dorky Reid, a co-worker at the store at which she has a summer job. Is this going to be crush number 28?

Albertalli tackles several issues in The Upside of Unrequited: twins growing apart when one is in a relationship and the other isn’t, the insecurities of girls whose figures don’t meet the societal norm of pretty or sexy, the legalization of gay marriage. All of this is done in an easy to read, fun story. Readers will like the characters. The situations are real. The writing is descriptive.

Any reader who likes young adult romance can’t go wrong.

Betty Rhyzyk is a transplanted Brooklyn cop now in the narcotics division of the Dallas Police Department. A routine stakeout of a known drug distributor’s house becomes a murderous bloodbath when a Mexican drug lord drives by and sees his distributor talking with a policeman and a neighborhood do-gooder who reported his dog locked in his car in the Dallas heat. Three dead and one wounded does not make for a successful stakeout.

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With the drug investigation now becoming a murder investigation, the lines of authority are blurring. One thing is apparent, though, Betty is being targeted by someone.

The Dime by Kathleen Kent moves along pretty swiftly. Betty, a tall, striking redheaded lesbian among her mostly conservative male police coworkers, has it tough. Being of Polish descent and being from Brooklyn, NY don’t make it any easier. Kent has created an interesting ensemble cast, including Betty’s deceased Uncle Benny, a cop who constantly whispers in her ear when the going gets tough.

However, Kent enters the universe of the unbelievable when a story of a murderous Mexican drug cartel morphs into evangelical Christianity and Civil War reenactments. So, what starts out as an action packed, interesting but somewhat routine mystery veers off the road. There is action throughout the book, which makes for fast reading.

I’m sure there will be more Betty Rhyzyk books and I’ll certainly give the second one a read through. But hopefully Kent will stay on track with that one.

Ms. LaCour can pack a lot into three days, which is the time span of her latest novel, We Are Okay.  (By the way, it only took me two days to read, it’s that engrossing.) Mabel’s mother died when she was  young and she lived with her grandfather, each having their own bedroom and sharing the common space of the kitchen, living room and dining room. Respecting each other’s privacy, neither ventured into the inner sanctum of the other.

But one summer day after high school graduation, Gramps doesn’t answer when Marin comes home. Busy with summer fun and new girlfriend, Mabel, Marin has pretty much ignored Gramps, minimizing his failing health. Fearing the worst, Marin enters her grandfather’s bedroom, which actually consists of a sitting room and adjoining room and discovers something she never thought existed and which changed her opinion of Gramps forever.

The police are called and a shaken Marin is taken to the police station but rather than go home with Mabel’s parents (who are almost like a second set of parents) she slips out the back door and boards a bus from California to upstate New York and college with nothing but the shirt on her back, her cell phone and her debit card, even though school doesn’t start for two weeks. She ignores Mabel’s frantic texts for weeks before they dwindle into non-existence.

However, Mabel hasn’t given up and visits Marin at school for three days over Christmas break, which is where the story unfolds.

Through the action of the present and flashbacks to the previous summer, readers understand the torture that these two young women underwent, the loss of a grandparent, the loss of a friend. But it also reinforces the concept of family which is not just biological commonality. Mabel and Marin are endearing characters. You like them immediately. Their pain is understandable. The awkwardness of their reunion is palpable.

We Are Okay is both happy and sad and wonderful. And should you like it, don’t forget Everything Leads to You and Hold Still.

Giambanco’s debut, Blood and Bone, is an awkward but readable mystery. It begins with twelve year old Alice Madison running away from home. Cut to twenty years later, Madison is a homicide detective called to the scene of the brutal murder of Matthew Duncan. A relative newbie to homicide, she is lead on the case which after several days is going nowhere.

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Two ancillary stories which will impact the current include ruthless murderer, John Cameron whose life she saved from a gangland cartel slaying eighteen months earlier and Jerry Linquist who maintains his innocence of the brutal murder of his wife for which he is incarcerated.

The ensemble cast of Madison’s partner, Kevin Brown, medical examiner Dr. Fellman, Crime Scene Investigator Amy Sorenson and District Attorney Sarah Klein. There are several romantic interests as well.

The reason that I said ‘awkward’ in the beginning is because the language used is somewhat awkward, especially when Giambanco refers to people. The use of language wasn’t smooth. It was choppy.  The plot moved slowly in the beginning and picked up as the story progressed. However, there was a leap between the final scenes of the investigation and the conclusion, the ‘who done it’ if you will. Again, that left out clue was the basis for the solution.

Maybe as Giambanco continues to write, the flow to her books will improve. As with many mysteries, while I wouldn’t seek out Blood and Bone, I wouldn’t pass it by either if it crossed my desk.

 

 

In Richard Dooling’s introduction to Cornell Woolrich’s Rendezvous in Black, he mentions that Woolrich is one of the lesser known pulp mystery writers but is deserving of more notoriety. His titles themselves evoke ‘noir’, such as Rendezvous in Black, The Bride Wore Black, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, and Waltz Into Darkness. Many of his books have been made into movies. And his writing won’t disappoint.

Rendezvous

(I usually like to show the cover of the edition I read, but this is so much more evocative of pulp fiction.)

Johnny Marr and his girlfriend Dorothy had a date every night at 8 PM in front of the drug store. Without fail. She was the love of his life. They were destined for marriage. But one night she doesn’t show up. There’s a crowd standing by the curb and a body lying in the street. It was a freak accident that killed Dorothy and Johnny vows to get revenge. He wants the perpetrators to know how it feels to lose the most important person in their lives.

I will be the first to admit that you have to suspend belief in order to enjoy the book. How Marr tracks down the perpetrators, how he exacts revenge, requires a leap of faith by the reader. But, the suspense level is high and one is apt to take that leap unquestioningly.

As I said, the writing won’t disappoint. In describing Detective Cameron, the poor soul who latched onto the fact that murder was taking place, Woolrich writes, “He was too thin, and his face wore a chronically haggard look…His cheekbones stood out and his cheeks stood in…There must have been times when his clothing had been at least passable, if nothing more than that. But he must have been entirely alone when that happened, because no one else could ever remember having seen him at such a time.”

The chapter titles tell you exactly what the action will be. Parting. The First Rendezvous. The Reunion. Simple but all telling. The fifth rendezvous is reminiscent of Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn. You can figure out why.

While Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler may be masters as describing the seamy sides of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Woolrich is a master at describing the seamy side of people, the anger, the raw emotion, of people.

After reading one Woolrich story, most notably Rear Window (originally called It Had to be Murder), you will become a devout fan.