Friday, July 24, 2015

Recommended Reading: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Book Description:

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher—a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is instantly transported to a hidden island where he is presented with a special quest: to travel to the dangerous Vanished Kingdom and rescue a people in need. Along with his loyal sidekick—a knight who has been turned into an unfortunate combination of horse and cat—and the magic eyes, he embarks on an unforgettable, swashbuckling adventure to discover his true destiny.

Peter Nimble is an earlier work from the author of The Night Gardener, which we enthusiastically recommended at the beginning of the year. Peter Nimble isn't quite that good, but it's still a lot of fun. The Night Gardener is middle-grade horror, with more focused themes and more overall success as a story, while Peter Nimble is a fantasy that relies on quirky characters and worldbuilding.  

The tone is light and not-quite-realistic, hearkening back to some favorite middle-grade books like The Phantom Tollbooth, but the actual content is a little more mature with lots of character deaths and injuries. The narrator has a Lemony Snicket sort of style where not everything he says in his asides can be trusted, but the target age range for this book may not understand that -- the narrator talks about how apes can go months without drinking water and have a hump to store water in, for instance. An older child would know this is tongue-in-cheek, but a younger child who's used to those kinds of educational asides might just take it at face value. 

Either way, Peter Nimble is a fun read for middle graders. It's got wacky characters like the cat-horse-knight Sir Tode, and a huge talking dogfish named Frederick. It's got enough action and jokes to keep things moving, but is also complex enough for older kids who want more of a challenge!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Recommended Reading: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Book Description:

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving,
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

This book is the perfect choice for any book lover, a celebration of all things bookish and quirky. It's fun and funny, full of quotes you'll want to put on mugs, but it's also very touching in some places. The love story is sweet, but also heartfelt. While the plot appears random at first, bordering on magical realism, the ending brings all the little plot threads together... and the books. The literature references are many and varied, always perfect for the occasion. Plus, A.J. Fikry is the NSL Book Club's pick for August! Click here for more information.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Recommended Reading: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

Book Description:

Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened? Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born in New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life, you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.

Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, but make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!

A creative, interesting book. The "choose your own adventure" gimmick means it can never be too heavy, never too serious, and the short sections keep you interested. There's no way to read in chronological order even if you wanted to, so what you get is a dreamlike jaunt through NPH's memories... It's less a "memoir" or any kind of biography and more just behind-the-scenes peeks at the actor and the productions in which he's performed. As he says several times, he loves to see the secrets behind the curtain! He doesn't act like it's some great work of literature except in jest, which allows the depth it does have to come through -- his love for his husband and kids is palpable, and you can tell he's a born performer. Funny and heartwarming!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Recommended Reading: Young Avengers Omnibus

Book Description:

It's not important what our parents did. It matters what we do. Someone has to save the world. You're someone. Do the math. The critically acclaimed team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie reinvent the teen super-hero comic for the 21st century - uniting Wiccan, Hulkling and Kate "Hawkeye" Bishop with Kid Loki, Marvel Boy and Miss America. No pressure, right? When Wiccan makes a horrible mistake that comes back to bite everyone on their communal posteriors, we cue five issues of hormonal panic. Fight scenes! Fake IDs! Plentiful feels! (a.k.a. "meaningful emotional character beats" for people who aren't on tumblr.) Young Avengers is as NOW! as the air in your lungs and twice as vital.

High-quality superhero hijinks and pitch-perfect characters. It's big, it's colorful, it's fun, and it's intense! There's a fantastic character lineup in the description, and every character gets something important to do in the plot. They combine and play off each other well, and they make a great team. They act realistically, they're young, but they're teens and 20-somethings who want to be good people and strong superheroes... They have troubles, but they don't whine. The plot is great too, with an interestingly meta villain and a good excuse for the team to be on their own. (After all, if Captain America could just swoop in and save everyone, it would've be a very interesting story!) If you've enjoyed the popular new Ms. Marvel or award-winning Hawkeye, this is a great next step!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Recommended Reading: Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Did you or your child start the Series of Unfortunate Events, but never finish? Since Netflix has announced a new TV series based on the books, this summer is the perfect time to go back and read 'em all!

The thirteen books follow the misadventures of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. The three children are sadly orphaned at the beginning of the series, and are put in the care of the nefarious Count Olaf, who tries to get their inheritance for himself. The children escape, and spend the rest of the series traveling between different guardians and trying to evade the Count.

That description really doesn't do the series justice, though, because it's all about the tone. Lemony Snicket -- a pseudonym of author Daniel Handler -- is one of the best narrators in fiction. He frequently stops to inject his own commentary, explain vocabulary, and foreshadow future events. It's a great opportunity to teach literary methods, but it's also just plain hilarious, and it makes the whole series unique. While others tried to imitate the books' tone in the wake of their success, no one ever quite managed it.

A few books in the middle can seem a little repetitive, as they follow the established formula of introducing a new guardian, having Count Olaf appear in disguise, and then ending with the guardian's departure (through death or other events). If you push through to the later books, though, you'll be rewarded with a fantastic ending. It may seem rambling, but by the time you get to the end you realize it's one complete, satisfying story, and well worth the effort!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Recommended Reading: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson


Book Description:

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ's boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond. Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover. To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. 

Local author Suzanne Johnson's "Sookie Stackhouse meets Harry Dresden" series is a perfect choice for urban fantasy fans. Johnson uses the New Orleans setting to great effect, and she's created a realistically complex fantasy world around it. The heroine is more scientifically-minded than most heroines, but she's still fun and sassy. The writing is a little choppy in this first book -- the mystery elements can be overly obvious, and the romantic subplots unwieldy. Still, it's a strong and atmospheric first book, and in the sequel (River Road), those problems are solved!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recommended Reading: Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly

Book Description:

Clinton Kelly won't just revamp your wardrobe -- he'll revamp your life! The huddled masses yearn to be fabulous, and finally Clinton Kelly is heeding their call. As co-host of TLC's popular What Not to Wear, he regularly transforms dumpy fashion disasters into traffic-stopping, get-an-instant-promotion, reignite-the-passion-in-that- relationship makeovers. But fabulousness doesn't stop with style. Let's face it: you might look good, but if you're chomping on that crudité with your mouth wide open, nobody at the party will talk to you -- even if you can explain to them what crudité actually is. Of course, the keys to being better than everyone else aren't always so obvious. Don't worry; Clinton's here to help.

Want to dress, speak, behave, eat, drink, entertain, decorate, and generally be better than everyone else? That's the subtitle of this book, so it's probably the one you're looking for! Clinton Kelly of What Not to Wear fame may be sassy and funny, but he also gives great advice. This book covers all the basics, from fashion fundamentals to simple party recipes. He focuses on doable, easy-to-remember rules, throwing in a few "Wow, I never thought of that!" tips for good measure. Plus, the book is visually appealing with a great page design -- like a long, fun magazine. Find it in nonfiction!