Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

evilIt’s hard to believe the same author that wrote this hilarious novel also wrote Library Lion, a picture book that gets me teary every time I read it aloud.

Reading this was like watching several episodes of Buffy in a row-perhaps a half season long arc. It was super. I visualized this entire story taking place inside my alma mater.  There’s a new high school librarian and although he’s really attractive, Cynthia finds it odd that her best friend Annie is so into him.  When she meets him herself she senses something really strange. Not long after that she sees that other strange things are happening. This had the classic set up of the protagonist and her crush being the only two people who put together the clues that something bad is happening and have to figure out how to stop it. In this case, it’s that the librarian is a demon who wants to siphon off the life essence from all the students so he can get ultra-powerful.
Not too gory or horrifying, and with that wonderful Buffy feeling of even the villains have really funny lines. I really enjoyed this and surely hope there is a sequel to this.

Recommended for people who liked Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (and vice versa)

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

audreyWould you believe I’ve never read Kinsella’s famous Shopaholic series? I haven’t. But I wanted to read her YA debut because I had heard some good things about it. Before I say how much I like this book may I ask book cover designers to stop being so blatant about trying to make books look appealing by giving them nearly identical covers to other successful books? This cover is so clearly meant to evoke Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

I loved how Kinsella opened on a dramatic, yet funny, and immediately captivating scene-her mother dangling her brother’s laptop out the window threatening to drop it to break his “addiction” to computer games. After that opening we go back a month to meet Audrey and her family.  It turns out that Audrey doesn’t go to school anymore, has panic attacks, and there was some kind of incident at school involving terrible bullying that caused a stay in a mental hospital. Intense! But the tone, while respectful, sympathetic, and appropriately sad at times, remains overall light. I thought this was a super story. I especially loved the family dynamics between her and her brother, Frank, and her mother’s mad ideas about computer addiction.  Is it completely unbelievable to me that social anxiety Audrey is going to be helped to recover by a boy being interested in her? Yes. If I was a teenager who wanted nothing more than a boy to notice me and ask me out, and I actually engaged in the world and still had no success, then I can assure you that if teenager me read this book I would have thrown up my hands and exclaimed in disgust, “even the mental case has a boy just come to her house and fall for her!” But that quibble aside I thought this was a good story and nicely written. I’ve already passed it along to a teenage cousin.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

blueHurrah! The last Anne Tyler book I read was so terrible I couldn’t believe it was written by her. This, though. This was a return to writing as deep and beautiful as Ladder of Years (which you know is a favorite of mine.) And in fact, there are many similarities between the two books.
If I had to describe this book in a nutshell I’d say it is a story about the family history of one particular family in Baltimore, and the house at the center of it all.  I love it when a house or setting or object is as much a character in a story as the people, and in this case the beautifully crafted, solid, gracious home built by Junior Whitshank is certainly a character.  At first built by Junior for the Brill family, but coveted by him, it houses first Junior, his wife Linnie Mae, and their children-Red and Merrick.  Then it houses Red and his wife Abby, and their four children-Denny, Stem, Jeanne, and another girl.  Then finally, with the children grown it is just Red and Abby, until the adult children believe help is needed.

The story is told in different sections-each a certain time, and each focusing on one of those characters/couples. I liked very much that we started with Red and Abby, seeing them as parents and grandparents. Getting an idea of what their life has been like, and what their children are like.  Denny is the child who is the uncommunicative black sheep, and he is a common thread through almost all of the sections.
Tyler’s characters are not particularly warm or affable, they are certainly flawed, and they do have secrets.  But somehow you definitely care for them and hope that they do have good lives and can talk to each other and work things out.

I enjoyed this book so very, very much. I enjoyed reading it, talking about it with my friend, and imagining what is happening in these character’s lives five years from now.

Terrific, stellar writing.

The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora

wonderSince we do tend to if not choose, at least select, books by their cover, let me point out what a good one this has.  This was terrific. A bit dark, but not depressing/horrifying/or anything like that.  It is interconnected stories about the residents of a bucolic, beautiful, historic, Connecticut town.  But as you read everyone’s stories you realize how much of that is a facade and how imperfect everyone’s lives are. So, first up-I love interconnected stories.  Reading a chapter and having that protagonist mention someone who you realize was the protagonist in another story.  Seeing how other characters viewed incidents and people. I think when done well it always pleases and impresses me.

I did feel some sadness for some of the characters but mostly enjoyed the peeping Tom aspect of reading these stories: look at her! look at him! I know your secrets! Although I don’t remember much about it the film American Beauty came to mind in terms of this theme.  I think Tom Perrotta fans might also like this book.

Some of the stories I especially liked (so stop reading if you don’t want any spoilers)……..

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I was absolutely fascinated by the family in the particularly historic house, where the mother and father insisted on living as if it was still 200 years ago. I mean, they had crossed the line from historic re-enactors to totally creepy.
I also really enjoyed the story of the artist who takes on his commission which allows him to pursue his artistic vision of covering a house in meticulously rendered insects. And that was especially good as that house was then referred to in two other stories.
I felt so bad for the house inspector.  I was also super intrigued by the man who becomes all New Age and gives up his job and hangs out in his treehouse.

A really good book!

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

quarkThe is the sequel to The Last Dragonslayer and I read it close on the heels of the first.  Picking up shortly after the first has ended Jennifer Strange is still dealing with managing magic and the few functioning wizards she has.  In the first book we saw the unfair and illegal machinations of the King, and that takes center stage in this book.  Basically the other magic company is going to try to become the official royal magician, putting Jennifer’s company out of business, and taking over all magic. But for what nefarious purposes? The two companies agree upon a contest of magic-building a bridge, which will also help the infrastructure and get a much needed task done at the same time.  But of course there is rampant cheating.
I enjoyed very much the addition of new characters, as well as the titular Quarkbeast story.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

realYou know those books that you start reading and can’t wait to get back to every time you stop? And then when you finish you can’t stop thinking about it? This is one of those books. I found it immensely fascinating and thoughtful. It begins in the present day with an elderly woman with dementia in a nursing home. The nurses always say she is confused because the woman gets mixed up about who her children are. The thing is, the woman is remembering two different lives. How can this be? well, the story goes back to the woman’s childhood during WWII and starts her story. When she is a young woman in a pretty lousy relationship the man wants to get married and insists they do it immediately, saying “now or never.” And there her life divides, one path for saying “now”, and the other for “never.” Those two lives are extraordinarily different.  The story covers at least 50 years so things often move very quickly within a chapter, covering a few years at a time. To keep them straight one path she is known as Pat, the other Tricia. Pat and Tricia have similarities, but mostly differences. One finds love with a woman, the other is a downtrodden miserable housewife. She has children in both lifelines, but they are very different. And, fascinatingly, the world is different in each lifeline, indulging in some serious alternate history.

At the end the lines converge and there is a good comparison. But was one life better than the other? Which would she choose? There was a lot of sadness in both lives, but also many good moments. It was a great story, well told, and very thoughtful.

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

chinaTruly my most anticipated book of the year. Crazy Rich Asians was one of my favorite books of the year when I read it, and among my group of reading friends all 4 of us absolutely loved it, and we couldn’t wait for this sequel. Thank God Melissa got a prepub of it for us to pass around! I’m pleased to say this absolutely lived up to expectations and the first book– it was totally wonderful.  Just totally over the top luxury, outrageous behavior, spending, fashion and art, and shenanigans. The story is the same characters with new drama, tons of secrets, and scheming. And again I found all the descriptions of food absolutely tantalizing and wish I had someplace to taste all these things (without having to go to Hong Kong or Singapore) Rachel and Nick continue to be the breath of normality in the story. Fantastic!!