What do you get for a boy named Bat? A skunk named Thor, of course!

Last year I read a book titled Rain Reign, by Ann Martin, which was selected for the 2017 Oklahoma Children's Sequoyah list. It was the story of Rose, her father (struggling on his own to understand and raise Rose), a stray dog, a hurricane, and Rose's uncle. It was a very well-written book and dealt with some difficult topics that had the book hovering between an upper elementary read and a YA selection. I highly recommend it to 5th-7th grade readers.

However, this left me wondering: what can I recommend as a good book with a neurodiverse character for those younger elementary-aged readers? Now I have one; A Boy Called Bat, by Elena K. Arnold. This book is charming. You will love how all the characters in this book are dynamic; there are no cookie-cutter characters with standard, stereotypical traits. The book is so good because of this. In addition, its simple, though surprisingly, elegant language makes it accessible to readers as early as 2nd grade. This book is going to be great as a class set to get those younger grades talking and thinking about what they read.

Bat's mom is a veterinarian and she has brought home an orphaned baby skunk. She tells Bat they are only keeping it for a month so it can get strong enough to be released. Bat has other plans. He decides to prove to his mother that he is the skunk's best option for a good future, and that a skunk will make a great pet. Along the way, he also has to deal with his exasperated older sister and the back-and-forth of alternating weekends with Dad, an experience relatable to many children.

You'll fall in love with Bat and his family; you will also get frustrated along with them as they deal with the same lessons all families deal with. This is a great book about learning to respect each other's differences. It also shows how every family has struggles, and no matter how ordinary the struggles, what's extraordinary is the amount of love, respect and understanding each family finds to hold itself together.  

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, is clearly written by a polished master storyteller; the characters seem live, feel, and work in a world as real as our own. The tale spins and pulls and ponders in just the right way with impeccable timing. The moments of choice and danger are terse with tension and consequence. And to top it all off, this is the author's first book. It's not fair to other authors that he is this good already, but for reader's, this is a great book to remind you of the joy of reading.

It is somewhat misleading to label this book as fantasy, and disappointing in that many will pass it over because of the genre label, but it falls in that genre nonetheless. However, anyone who enjoys a great tale should enjoy this story. It is hard to believe that a "fantasy" story can move with so much intensity without being intensely action-based. There is action here, but it is where it needs to be to further the story, not thrown in to cover up a weak narrative. And magic? Yes, magic is present, but not in your typical fashion. Magic is more of a mystery, a wonder in this book than something that is tossed about as carelessly as kids playing catch.  Yes, there is definitely magic here, but the majority of the magic is in the storytelling.

So, what is it about? It is a story within a story. It is the beginning of the tale of Kvothe, an orphan, a minstrel, a student, an arcanist, an innkeeper who has been convinced to tell his tale to a chronicler. It is a story of loss, love, hope, survival, fortune and misfortune. It is a wondrous and insightful look at how a boy can become a hero and an outcast, and it is a story that will hook you and leave you pleading, when is the next book arriving? Turns out, book two is available for you right now. Get The Wise Man's Fear here or at your local library.

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Halloween Book Guide For Kids

I have to open with this one because it is my newest choice and it is awesome! Any book with glowing green underwear that you can’t get rid of has got to be amazing. The book, Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, is another story following Jasper the rabbit, who you may recognize as the star of Creepy Carrots. Jasper needs new underwear, and there in the midst of all the tighty whities is a pair of creepy underwear that Jasper thinks are “glorious.” When he gets them home and puts them on one night, everything is great until “...the underwear glowed. A ghoulish, greenish glow.” Admittedly, the artwork by Peter Brown is so fun in this book. Jasper soon learns that when your underwear is creepy and glows, sleep is difficult. This starts Jasper’s quest to be rid of the underwear. This book is so fun, and it is about creepy, glowing green underwear: c’mon, you know the kids will make this their favorite as well.

 

There are two books on the lists which are poetry collections, An Eyeball in My Garden, selected and edited by JenniferCode Judd and Laura Wynkoop, and Trick-or-Treat by Debbie Leppanen. The first book, An Eyeball, has longer rhyming poems and black and white illustrations. It is the creepier book of the two, but still has dashes of the gross and the humorous. Pick your favorites to share with your kids. The Trick-or-Treat book is much more whimsical. It has bright, fun illustrations and operates with short, quick turning poems your kids will enjoy reading aloud.

 

Bone Dog by Eric Rohman is one of my new favorites on this list. It opens with, “Ella and Gus had been friends for a long, long time.” Ella, Gus’ dog, is getting old. So Ella makes Gus a promise under the full moon. What follows is both funny and sweet, and there is a moment in the middle of the book where the illustrations made me laugh aloud and cheer. You will love this book as much as the kids to whom you read it. It’s touching and terrific.

The titles of the next two books speak for themselves! Extreme Pumpkins and Extreme Pumpkins II by Tom Nardone are attention-grabbing non-fiction titles. They offer instructions on how to make a wide variety of carved pumpkins. Better still, there is a picture of each pumpkin, which is really what interests the kids. A few of my favorites include the puking pumpkin, the booger-eating pumpkin, and the afraid-of-pie-pumpkin. Note, if you only have a chance to get one of these books, the second is much more fun and child-friendly than the first.

This next book is destined to be a librarian’s classic. Bats in the Library by Brian Lies was published in 2008 and continues to be a favorite of many readers, especially librarians. It tells the story, in rhyme, with fantastically illustrated pages, of a night bats find their way into the library. The bats explore the library in the manner of children, checking out the computers and the copy machine, flipping through pop-up books, and listening to story time. This book needs to be in your collection, and it will be read for years to come.

 

Yes, the author of this book is THE Jerry Seinfeld. Halloween is the book that will make kids laugh and they will tell their parents and friends about it. However, it is the adult reader that may have the hardest time reading this one without cracking up. Luckily, you can find a copy with a CD where Seinfeld actually does the reading. It is basically a clean, stand-up routine about Halloween. Also, there is a really good lesson you can teach kids about how illustrations work together with text in this book. This one will make you laugh and remember the old Halloween costumes you used to wear.

 

 

Selected next is a good, spooky read with a repetitive refrain. It plays on children’s imaginations and how it can run away from them. On a Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day will have kids sitting on the edge of their seats, wondering if our young treat-or-treater from the story is going to make it home safe, or if something is after him. The resolution is like a sigh of relief, and you can see the children visibly smile when they realize everything will be okay. But you haven’t turned all the pages yet…

 

I don’t think any collection is complete without a book of goofy jokes. I’ve chosen Kooky Halloween Jokes to Tickle Your Funny Bone by Linda Bozzo for that honor today. This collection of jokes is very kid-friendly and will get good laughs from your early elementary crowd. Some of them are so ghoulishly bad, you’ll have no choice but to chuckle along. You’ll find many knock-knock jokes, limericks, and things like this: How does a witch know what time it is? She looks at her witch watch.

 

 

Another great read for campfire settings, October, or anytime you want a little fright is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. This is a collection of old stories and folklore many of you may have forgotten from your childhood. All the stories in this book are short to very short, and several can be read in one setting. I have used these for scary story time for both a 4th-5th grade group and a middle school group. There are some great, repetitive stories and thought-provoking stories in here. My favorite, however, are the "jump stories." These are the ones where you stomp your foot, or get real quiet, sucking the readers in before making a loud noise and watching them all jump. I recommend picking a few for your reading and practicing them so that you'll be able to maximize the fun and spookiness of these tales.

 

If you have read Gail Gibbons, you’ll know she seems to have cornered the non-fiction holiday market. The selection of books she writes always begins with the holiday name followed by is. Our selection, of course, is titled Halloween Is… Depending on which holiday in the series you are reading, the books tend to offer a little historical information, some anecdotal stories about legends associated with the holiday, and descriptions of the types of activities people participate in during those holidays. Admittedly, there are times I wonder about the line between fiction and non-fiction in these books, but the simple drawings and easy subject material do offer a quick summation of the holiday.

Sometimes, you just can’t beat a picture book with good sounds. Add well-drawn, colorful illustrations of a couple bunnies dressed for Halloween, and you have Boo, Bunny by Kathryn O. Galbraith. This book must be read aloud with inflection and enthusiasm. Read it right, and kids will lean in when you whisper, and jump in their seats when your voice gets loud. Add the right sound effects, and your kids will ask you to read it over and over. It is a simple story about two rabbits finding each other for a night of trick-or-treat fun and friendship. You will find yourself eager to read this one aloud again and again.

Do you have a willful child in your home or class? If so, then Annie Was Warned by Jarrett J. Krosoczka will resonate with you and that child. Annie can’t be told anything; she is going to do what she wants. When everyone warns Annie not to go to the creepy house on Halloween night, does she listen? Of course not; you see, Annie isn’t scared. What follows is a short tale of possibly creepy things followed by questions like, “Was it a spider?” Of course, each time it wasn’t. This builds expectations up until the point when Annie arrives at the old mansion and there are warning signs posted everywhere. Still, Annie opens the door and then...well, read it.

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The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

My favorite aspect of The Golden House is Salman Rushdie’s clear enjoyment of writing a story.  His sentences, the little diversions he takes with the plot, the side streets of language he travels down, pointing out literary and pop culture landmarks along the way; all these avenues of fiction were enjoyable to visit with him.  I haven’t read Rushdie since he wrote The Satanic Verses.  I don’t recall that book being as playful with language as this current selection. The plot, however, is more of an American epic than a playful tale. The Golden family is large in the scope of their reach and influence. The patriarch is a powerful man with three diverse sons and a past he has tried to escape.  Besides the family, the primary players include a Russian seductress and a young man named Rene (think Nick Carraway) who wants to be a filmmaker and views the family as source material.  He is not, however, an aloof watcher.  He becomes deeply involved in the life of the Golden's.

There are a number of interesting literary references the reader can make.  I’ve already mentioned Nick Carraway and there are definitely flavors of The Great Gatsby in this book.  There are also ties to both Roman emperors and, I’d say, Greek drama.  And Rushdie makes it clear he is playing with the Slavic myths involving Vailisa and Baba Yaga.

I was also amazed at how current this book is. Not only are there timely cultural references, but the political climate is ultra current.  The shape of our current social and political America plays as an unseen, yet influential hand indirectly impacting all aspects of the story and the characters in it.

The characters (and the mythologies they can bring to the story) were interesting to me, and I was involved in all their stories,  However, it was those same characters which kept me from loving the book.  I didn’t really like any of them. The narrator was the most likable, but some of his actions, which had resounding impacts, seemed to be done without any sense of personal integrity.  Then again, maybe that was part of the point; maybe Rushdie wanted the reader to be a little sickened by the whole thing.  But don’t get too upset; Rushdie does leave us with hope, maybe that is the ultimate takeaway from The Golden House.  

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Two Books We Should All Read and Discuss

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper, like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, is one of those books that everyone needs to read. It is a great book for upper elementary or even early intermediate grade discussions. Kids at that age are beginning to understand injustice, see the good and bad in the world around them, and sense that they will be able to make a difference in it.

This book tells Melody’s story. She is a brilliant eleven year old. In fact, she’s one of the smartest students anyone will ever meet, but she is treated by most teacher’s like a toddler and repeatedly subjected to the same alphabet and nursery rhymes year after year. When you have Cerebral palsy, are unable to speak up for yourself, are stuck in a pink wheelchair, and have very limited control of your limbs, it is hard not to feel like a prisoner in your own body. Fortunately for Melody, she does have Mrs. V. Mrs. V realizes Melody’s abilities and uses technology to allow Melody to truly communicate with others. This opens Melody’s world and enables her engagement with her peers unlike she has ever experienced. It even offers Melody an opportunity to show everyone her intelligence.

Not everyone is comfortable with her newfound voice. My daughter read this book a few months after I. She told me this book made her mad. Hearing that assured me that she understood the book. There are few books out there that can completely change how you think about the world and how you view those around you. This is one of those books.

Stella by Starlight is a great book for book discussion. There are readers who don’t like historical fiction because it seems too far removed from the life they are living now. Closer inspection reveals that the story of the past can offer great insights into the struggles of the present. Stella’s story takes place in North Carolina during 1932. She and her brother JoJo are out in the middle of the night when they stumble across a meeting of cross-burning KKK members. JoJo is confused about the purpose of the men in white hoods, but Stella knows they mean trouble.

This book deals with some of the harsh realities of segregation. Stella and her community are going to have to determine what is worth fighting for and how to fight for those things. There is a great scene in this book where Stella goes with her father so he can register to vote. The scene is affecting and understated, and one of the most moving in the whole book. Discussing this book with kids, it is easy for them to see how unequal segregation was and how terribly people can be treated because of prejudice. That is a great place to transition the conversation into one about bigotry and prejudice in America today.

The great thing about Sharon’s books is that they don’t conclude with pretty resolutions where all the world’s wrongs are put right. Although they are children’s books, they don’t shy away from real world situations. These books allow children to grapple with and discuss issues of substance and give adults a great platform from which to begin these conversations.

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love in lowercase by Fransesc Miralles

Coffee Cup My Wife Made Me.jpg

In a moment, I'll tell you why there is a picture of a coffee cup here. First, I want to introduce you to love in lowercase by Francesc Miralles.  This book was originally published in Spanish in 2010 and was translated into English by Julie Wark in 2014.  I thoroughly enjoyed this smart, quirky, effervescent (read it; effervescent is the right word) book from cover to cover.

Back to the cup: The coffee cup was made for me by my delightful wife on a Saturday night while I was out with our oldest daughter.  She created the design, cut the vinyl on the Cricut (a fascinating machine she really enjoys) which she received for her birthday, and ironed the design (yes, ironed the coffee cup) onto the mug for me.  Drinking my two cups of coffee out of it this quiet morning while the girls slept had me smiling, reminiscing about when I first met my wife and thinking about this book that I'd forgotten (and, coincidentally, read while in Denver shortly after our first date).

Although he is not a librarian as I am, Samuel, our protagonist, has a personality a little like the one I used to have. He is a slightly brainy, slightly lonely, professor of German literature who moves through life listening to a music all his own.  Samuel's life begins to change when he starts taking care of a cat who has decided, against Samuel's wishes, to make Samuel's house his home.  He names the cat Mishima (if you haven't read Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy, stop and put a library hold on it now...okay, continue reading).  For the sake of juxtaposition, it wasn't a cat for me, but a flea-ridden, half starved German Shepherd mix of a puppy panting outside the library in the summer heat that I took in (she is now known as Annie).

Obviously, since the title points to this book being a love story, there must be a love interest.  Gabriella is this for Samuel.  We first meet Gabriella in this moment:

When the light turned green, I crossed the street thinking about the fastest way to get home.  I was right in the middle when the light changed to amber. It was then that I saw her...Time suddenly seemed to stop, like a satori in the old man’s book.  Then the past shot forward with astounding clarity.

For Samuel, this moment takes him back nearly 30 years when he last saw Gabriella.  The moment he remembers with her had a profound impact on his life.  Whether or not the moment really happened, with her, and as he remembers, is one of the mysteries of the book.

My similar moment happened one afternoon when I had swung by the library after working what was then my second job, landscaping.  I had stopped by the office for just a minute, filthy from work, and was walking out of the office area when I saw a woman leaving the library.  I was immediately stunned and short of breath.  I went straight to Dave, who was working the front desk, and asked "Did you see that woman? She's beautiful. Who was she?"

Dave, however, had not interacted with her because she came in, picked up a hold, went to the self-checkout, and left.  When he responded that he hadn't noticed her, I muttered, to myself as much as him, "She's like gravity." That made perfect sense to me because I'd never felt such pull from a person. Interestingly enough, there is a similar phrase in the book, "like planets condemned by gravity to collide."  Dave may have thought my comment was weird, but he'd known me long enough that he took it in stride.

So Samuel has this aforementioned satori moment with Gabriella, but then time swings back into motion and she is carried away from him.  Again, our circumstances were similar, except I didn't even have a name for the woman who had instantaneously caused such a great disturbance in my simple existance. Both Samuel and I knew then that we had to find out more about the women who just made an indelible impact on our lives.

Miralles' book is also filled with a cast of equally interesting supportive characters.  In fact, the other characters are unique enough that some reader's complaint about this book is that all of their stories aren't neatly wrapped up. When you finish the book, you still sit and speculate about how some of the side stories might end.  I don't fault that in this book.  I like that there is still a life going on for the other characters full of wonder and heartache and triumph that we can only ponder about.

Of course, you can guess that there was a first date in both our stories.  For Samuel, it goes like this:

I found a free table next to a column and hastened to strike the right pose: man waiting for the woman he loves; first date. It’s difficult to seem natural in such a situation, so I asked for a coffee and looked up. Just then, two especially fluffy clouds came together to create a great big mustache in the blue sky.

     Easily distracted is he? Yes, again, that makes two of us.  When Gabriella does show up, he just starts talking and opens with a statement about watching the clouds and seeing the mustache.

Samuel's awkward opening is followed by this statement, "Gabriella looked at me as if she had some kind of weirdo sitting across from her."  Lol; again, that is so appropriate.  I think some days my wife would need both hands to count how many times she thinks that about me.  She tells me she has never met anyone who thinks the way I do.

You really need to read this funny, feel good book to get it.  I know there are readers out there who won't love this book because they don't like quirky characters or unlikely, comic situations, but most of you will be rooting for Samuel and feel invested in his story and ready for the triumph or tragedy that will unfold on the last page.  

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Memory by Phillippe Grimbert

If you’re looking for a book that is a quick read but will linger in your thoughts long after you’ve returned it, Memory, by Phillippe Grimbert, may be the book for you.  I read this book in two short afternoons, but have been thinking about its little nuances for months, resulting in this review.

The story involves the unraveling of a families’ past through the eyes of a quiet, reserved boy of fifteen.  The secrets he seeks to unlock involve his parents and their lives as Jews during WWII France.  Our protagonist has always had a sense that there was something else about his family, some silent “other” thing that was never discussed but was always present although not quite tangible.  This struggle to figure out what that “thing” is leads the boy to seek answers from family friends and journey into the past.  If you are thinking to yourself, “I’ve already read Night by Elie Wiesel” or “I’ve seen Schindler’s List, I don’t need to revisit that,” I ask that you think again.  This isn’t the same kind of work.  It isn’t as heavy in the same way, although it is haunting in its own right. 

What’s really interesting about this book is the way space works.  The book is full of short revelations and insights, often just a couple pages, some even less.  The space at the end of each of these acts almost as a breath, allowing you a chance to, in a sense, inhale the experience and think on it in the same manner as when you take a conscious breath.  This is one of those simple, concise works that pulls you in and then never quite lets you go…highly recommended.

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Recommended: Fun Read Aloud Books for Children (Grades 2-5)

First, Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman. My daughter and I read this aloud together a few years ago in less than an hour. If you have a reader who enjoys a crazy, silly, unexpected adventure, then this is your book. When mum goes away for a trip and leaves dad in charge, he runs the family out of milk. Bad show, Dad! He has to make it up to his son and daughter. He goes to get the milk, "And then something odd happened." This adventure has pirates, hot air balloons, a dinosaur inventor, wumpires, talking volcanoes, and ponies, of course. Clever ponies. Don't be surprised if you have to read it aloud again, and again...

The only series I'm going to mention in this post is The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley. My daughter and I read these, making it through book 6 before she finally got to the point where she felt she was too old to read aloud together. Many of you have memories that stand out in the lives of your kids which mark a turning point, one of those moments you realize your child is getting older and even though you know it is supposed to happen, you can't help but feel sad when it comes and know you'll never get back what has just passed. For me, this is a big one. We spent a lot of time reading aloud together, and it was hard to let that go. But back to the book. This series is a good mix of adventure and mystery. I do need to mention that there are fairy tale murders to investigate, so you need to keep that in mind when deciding if this is right for your audience. If you have a group of kids who want a story with clues and a little danger, these fractured fairy tales are an excellent choice. The kids will love to see how familiar character become new again.

Another great read for campfire settings, October, or anytime you want a little fright is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. This is a collection of old stories and folklore many of you may have forgotten from your childhood. All the stories in this book are short to very short, and several can be read in one setting. I have used these for scary story time for both a 4th-5th grade group and a middle school group. There are some great, repetitive stories and thought provoking stories in here. My favorite, however, are the "jump stories." These are the ones where you stomp your foot, or get real quiet, sucking the readers in before making a loud noise and watching them all jump. I recommend picking a few for your reading and practicing them so that you'll be able to maximize the fun and spookiness of these tales.

Kate DiCamillo's name may be familiar to many of you who know children's books. Unfortunately, one of her books is charming and too often overlooked; that book is The Magician's Elephant. This quick, quaint read involves many of the characters who live in the village which gives the book a good sense of community. It's central figure is a boy looking for his sister who is probably dead, but he is given hope by a fortuneteller who states to him, cryptically, "You must follow the elephant." Another great part to this book involves a magician who only knows one trick. When this magician decides to use his magic in order to impress a woman (and why else do you learn magic, I ask), it goes terribly wrong. Also, you don't want to miss Yoko Tanakas' fantastic illustrations. This is an absolutely enchanting read.

Another spooky entry, Mary Downing Hahn's Took, was all the rage at the school's book fairs last year. My stepdaughter, who is an excellent reader and a reluctant one, read this one last year and then gave it to me to read (after, of course, she let her bff read it). Ms. Hahn, who is a former librarian, specializes in ghost stories for kids. This one is based on an old story that my stepdaughter and I found and read following her reading of this book. She really enjoyed seeing that this book was an expanded version of an American folktale, and we actually had the opportunity to talk about the differences in the two. There is plenty that is creepy in this book. There are dark woods, conversations with a doll (shiver), missing kids, an old woman who may be a witch, and a man-eating hog called Bloody Bones. If you want a eerie story that you can also use to talk about folktales, Took is likely for you.

I hope you have a chance to read these books to your class or kids at home.  Please let me know in the comments what other books you have found are good read aloud books for children in these grades.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I gravitate to books about bookstores and libraries. So, when I first heard about Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan, I knew I had to read it. However, I’d mostly forgotten about it by the time it arrived and had somehow got the premise confused and was expecting a quirky love story, something along the lines of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, (a delightful book I’ve got to review).

Wrong; this is a literary thriller. I’m sure there are a thousand different ways to describe what that actually means, but for our purpose let’s just say it is a smart thriller not only concerned with keeping the pages turning and the suspense high, but also with developing a cast of characters whose motivations and lives are complex, confusing, empathetic, and mirror our own.

When Lydia finds Joey, one of the lost boys whose only solace is found in the Bright Ideas Bookstore, literally hanging in the stacks with a childhood photo of her in his pocket, she has unknowingly just begun a journey to unravel Joey’s past and what, if any, connection it could have to her own.

And Lydia has secrets; her last name isn’t really Smith. Running from a childhood trauma that put her on the cover of Time magazine, she has been hiding her true identity for over a decade. She doesn’t even share her secrets with her boyfriend, David.

And Daddy issues? What about Dad? Why does she refuse to answer his phone calls? What is he hiding from in a remote cabin in the woods.

If that isn’t starting to excite you, let me tease you with this: text puzzles. Joey has left Lydia clues that she has to decipher cut into different books in the bookstore. I was extremely pleased that our author didn’t just tell us about the puzzles, he presented several to us so we could see what Lydia sees and experience a little of the thrill of discovery she felt unraveling them.

There were a few things that bugged me. I’ll try to cover them without giving major spoilers, but if you want a reading experience unencumbered by my own quibbles, you might skip the rest of this paragraph. I couldn’t wholly accept the sibling relationship that is revealed to us. I can’t even tell you why, and the twist it provides leading to the books revelation I enjoyed tremendously. Also, the tension created during the confrontation and confession section was well-done, but it left me feeling like the book’s resolution could have been stronger, somehow. 

Still, this is a solid book; a genuinely good read. If you want a smart thriller with great characters in an interesting setting with the bonus of little plot puzzles made out of books, I think you will enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed it.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Several people told me,”Since you loved The Rosie Project (by Graeme Simison), you’ll definitely love Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant.” Well, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong. I was laughing out loud (giggling, my wife might say, but I don’t giggle) during parts of the book. I really enjoyed the pace and the character as the book opened and Eleanor was fleshed out and endearing herself to me, the reader. I love quirky books and quirky characters (this reminds me, I need to review a little book titled love in lower case by Fransesc Miralles). Also, the book is well-written; Eleanor’s conflicts feel genuine, and there is a weighty burden from her past that counters the books humor and balances well.

Still, something happened to me along the way. I got tired of Eleanor. The pace of the book slows, the humor feels a little more forced, and she just started getting on my nerves. I’m not saying this is a bad book; my wife enjoyed it cover to cover and excitedly gave it to me knowing how much I would enjoy it based on what she knows I like. But the book wasn’t able to maintain the level of enjoyment throughout that it promised from the beginning. I had a similar experience with Nabakov's Lolita and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Both books have some of my favorite lines, and display openings of such force, speed, and exquisite writing that I’d have to say they are excellent books. But the latter parts of each cause me to lose the awe they initially elicited.

The book is still a good read. There is a lot to enjoy, and you may be one of those readers whose affections for Eleanor does not wane over time. For you, my friends, I hope that will be your experience.

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Werewolves of Montpellier

I think I’ve actually come across a book that earns the title Graphic Novel. The vast majority of graphic novels I read are simply the fun, super hero types that, in my mind, are simply bound comics (I realize this distinction may make no sense to anyone else, but it works for me). However, Werewolves of Montpellier, by Jason, feels like a graphic novel. It is a story of a likable, if not exactly confident or industrious, expatriate living in a French city and trying to figure out his life, love, etc… I’ve flipped through others of this type that work to be serious, Maus comes to mind, and Persepolis, but what separates this work from the others is that it is completely charming and not so overly serious as to drown the story or emotion out of the work.

The art is simple and telling. Often the silence, the lack of a caption, says more than any words could. There are a couple scenes where the characters are either looking at each other, or sitting in such tense silence, that the panels really grab you. One scene in particular made me laugh at the reality and absurdity of it, and another, on the last page, was packed with unspoken conversation. As far as actual conversation, some of the dialogue exchanges are really, really good. I would quote them here, but I don’t want to ruin it.

In the end, however, it is the plight, sincerity, and charm of the main character that make this work. I immediately read another of Jason’s other works, The Last Musketeer, and, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t have that special something to make it memorable. That’s when I realized that it was the main character I identified with, and it was that same character that made this book so fun for me. I’m actually having a hard time turning it back in, but that would be a bad librarian thing to do, and I will turn it back in today, or tomorrow…  

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Out Stealing Horses

The English translation of this Norwegian novel, Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson, was published in 2005 and was highly praised. However, I just recently found this book seemingly unloved on our shelves and thought I would give it a try. The story is about the life of Trond Sander and mainly takes place during two distinct moments of time in his life. At sixty-seven, Trond has lost his wife and sister to cancer, and his daughters are grown. He decides to live out the rest of his life in a determined manner in a small cabin. There are definitely threads of Walden here, especially early going, but only to the extent that the scene is set and our main character begins to have his personality revealed to us. The other portion of his life we see quite a bit of is Trond as a boy, just on the verge of becoming a young man. Through this we see a lot of Trond interacting with his father; moreover, we really get to see the events and decisions which shaped the sixty-seven year old Trond we are getting to know.

There is a lot to love in this novel, but two things really stood out in this novel for me. First, the credibility that the reader feels towards the author’s slow unraveling of Trond’s adult life into the sometimes cautious, sometimes manic boy that he was, is exceptional. Everything Trond is as a grown man seems directly related to how he handled the life and situations presented him in his formative years.

Secondly, and I really loved this about this book, Trond is not a victim. His determination is admirable in his older self, and seeing the formulation of it in him as a boy is masterfully done. He is told early in the novel, "You decide for yourself when it will hurt." Seeing how this germ of an idea is handled throughout the novel makes for great reading. Truthfully, the last chapter of the book was fantastic, it managed to drive the central thematic experience of the entire novel straight into me. This novel has a lot to enjoy: a determined life, parent-child relationships, the coming-of-age-experience, friendship, and even Nazi occupation. After reading this book, it feels like it will be part of your life for a long time. 

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Amulet Volume 1: The Stonekeeper

This is an older review that I had never posted. It is funny to read, because my daughter and nephew are now a high school sophomore and senior. As they have grown, we’ve had so much fun passing time making up stories and playing in libraries and bookstores. All childhoods should include time in both. At this point, I’ve read through book 5, and believe book 8 is, or will soon be, published.

Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi, is a graphic novel found in most children’s graphic novel collections. I really would not have read it if I hadn’t been sitting in the children’s area of a library as my daughter and nephew were playing. They were doing well without my immediate attention, so I pulled a book off the shelf, flipped through a couple pages, then turned to the beginning. The short prologue was tense and heartrending, and had me hooked.

What follows is a great adventure story, no matter your age. I admit that I am occasionally underwhelmed by a child or teen protagonist; they can seem whiny to me. There are exceptions, this book included. The book unfolds with great mystery and imagination. There is an alternate world, a magic amulet, a missing, eccentric grandfather (it’s a goal of mine, btw, being an eccentric grandpa), a kidnapped mother, and more. And besides a great heroine and her brother, there are fantastic machines. I must say, without spoiling the book too much, that the moving house at the end has me totally hooked and I have already requested the next book just to say what part it will play.

This review wouldn’t be doing the book justice if I didn’t bring up the artwork. What was really cool about the artwork is that it propels the story with as much, or more, momentum than the text. This art isn’t background; it works through the story, often being the sole vehicle for telling the story. You have to read the “pictures” as much as the text to follow this tale. Overall, this was absolutely charming, and a lot of fun. Now that I have finished it, I guess I’d better check it out for my daughter. 

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