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!