Ballerina Misty Copeland, the third African-American soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, uses simple poetry to encourage young dancers to work hard and to believe that they, too, can become beautiful ballerinas: "you are the sky and clouds and air / your feet are swift as sunlight."
Why I picked it up: I enjoyed watching Misty Copeland as a judge on the most recent season of So You Think You Can Dance.
Why I finished it: I love ballet picture books of the "You can do it!" variety. They are much more useful to young dancers than picture books about how much young dancers love to dance. Copeland's story is particularly inspiring. She didn't start until she was thirteen, and was offered professional roles by age fifteen. But her focus in this book is on the hours of hard work necessary for all successful dancers regardless of talent. Myers's bold, colorful art is the perfect companion to the text because he clearly illustrates how the young dancer moves from imperfect form to the beautiful poise of a true ballerina.
Readalikes: Marilyn Nelson, one of my favorite poets, also wrote the picture book Beautiful Ballerina to encourage young dancers. Photographer Susan Kuklin took pictures of students from Dance Theatre of Harlem’s school to illustrate Nelson's poetry.
@bookblrb: Ballerina Misty Copeland uses poetry to encourage young dancers to work hard and believe in themselves.
A retired Delta Force lieutenant colonel, New York Times bestselling author Brad Taylor spins thrillers based on years of experience in special ops. No Fortunate Son finds Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill facing a terrorist organization that’s kidnapping the military relatives of key U.S. officials. Now the Taskforce must decipher the enemy’s web of lies or watch the hostages be killed—one by one. Suspense
After a painful breakup, Shana has issued a "boy moratorium" and refuses to date anymore. While out shooting photos for her portfolio, she meets Quattro, a sweet guy who makes it very difficult to stick to her pledge. Some bad news makes her forget about Quattro momentarily -- Shana’s father is going blind, which means he soon won’t be able to work.
Why I picked it up: I love Chen’s writing and was excited to hear another book of hers was out. Her books, like Return To Me, always have a strong female character who is learning about herself and her place in the world, and they are easily hand-sold to teens looking for a new read.
Why I finished it: Chen’s books always have a sense of soul-seeking travel. This time the adventure took me to Peru. When Shana's dad learns that his eyesight is quickly failing, her mother plans a family trip there. Her dad is bitter and angry about his condition, and the trip to Machu Picchu does not go as planned. Quattro coincidentally shows up on the trip, and Shana can't understand why he pulls away from her. I love how the story takes the reader across the world, but also makes connections to Chen’s other books in the form of Easter eggs. Shana's friend Reb is from Return To Me, and another couple in a restaurant are Terra and Jacob from North of Beautiful. Those connections felt like rewards for me, and I couldn't wait to discover more.
It's perfect for: My friend Danielle, a librarian in Portland who recently visited me in Seattle. I know she'll appreciate the way the Pacific Northwest is portrayed in the book. Chen captures the beauty of the area from the mountains to the water, but also creates a genuine northwest feel by including the area's quirks. The Pike Place Market’s gum wall shows up in the opening scene of the book. (Danielle and I managed to shoehorn our friend Chris into visiting it, despite his protests about it being unsanitary.) She will also like a reference to Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts when Quattro promises to take Shana there. Danielle will also appreciate the beautiful and poignant sentences Chen creates to describe the relationship between Shana and her father: "'Look' and 'see' and 'watch' had become the ticking time bombs of reality."
@bookblrb: Shana issues a “boy moratorium,” but after she meets Quattro, it’s hard to stick to her pledge.
Peter Carey’s two Man Booker Prizes attest to his standing as one of the world’s most adept literary craftsmen. In Amnesia, Gaby Bailleux introduces a computer virus into Australia’s prison system to release hundreds of asylum seekers. But doing so also inadvertently opens the doors of 5,000 American prisons—creating a diplomatic firestorm and entangling Gaby with left-wing journalist Felix Moore. Fiction
A cat sits on a mat and chases a rat. It retaliates with a baseball bat.
Ed lives in a shed with Ted and Fred (a dog). Ed gets mad when Fred won’t stay off his bed.
Why I finished it: Denton’s drawings are epically funny, from Fred biting Ed’s head (it looks like Ed is wearing Fred for a hat) to the chaotic kersplat! of the bat.
Readalikes: A lengthier book (192 pages!) by Griffiths and full of Denton’s cartoony characters that makes reading fun, The Cat on the Mat is Flat. It feels like an early reader, but my daughter and I had a great time reading this aloud even though she was already on to chapter books. It’s truly, goofily, insane.
@bookblrb: Funny, nonsensical early readers by Andy Griffiths with drawings by longtime collaborator Terry Denton.
New York Times bestselling author Alex Kava’s thrillers have been published in more than 20 countries. A spin-off of his popular Maggie O’Dell novels, Breaking Creed finds K9 search-and-rescue trainer Ryder Creed in the news after thwarting a drug-smuggling operation. But when she’s targeted by a Colombian cartel, even help from FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell might not be enough to save her skin. Suspense
Hawthorn and Child, two London detectives, wrestle with mysteries they cannot solve. A man is wounded in a drive-by shooting which may be connected to the ongoing investigation of a crime boss (but then again, maybe not). A pickpocket who drives the crime boss around on meaningless errands has a growing, nagging sense of paranoia and makes a sudden decision to leave the country with his girlfriend. A man narrates his own mental breakdown as he raves about powerful people he's never met, although he's sure they know who he is; when he takes a baby hostage, Child must negotiate with him for its release. Hawthorn relates to Child an incident about a football referee who was his lover for a time, and how the referee saw ghosts, which wasn't a problem until he saw them on the field during a match. Nothing adds up, but every character is completely invested in trying to make sense of the world.
Why I picked it up: I'd heard mention that Ridgway was an Irish author to watch, with a great ear for dialogue.
Why I finished it: It is strange how little actually happens in this book, and yet there were moments of such tension that I could not put it down. In one section, the narrator is a teenage girl, and halfway through I figured out that Child is her father as she struggles to understand why her father is crying by himself in a restaurant. In another, a book editor is given a manuscript that seems to be about wolves who run the city of London; he cannot decide if this is some kind of fantasy or if the wolves are code names for gangs. As he travels to areas mentioned in the manuscript, he loses his grip on reality and reveals his own dark secrets.
Readalikes: This book was a lot like Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot. The two main characters appear in and disappear from the narrative, but they are always searching for reasons and information. This book seems to say, like Beckett’s, that there are not always reasons for the actions people take.
@bookblrb: Two London detectives wrestle with strange, unsolvable mysteries where nothing adds up completely.
With 50 New York Times bestsellers under her belt, Jayne Ann Krentz is one of the world’s premier writers of romantic suspense. Already haunted by the horrors of her past, Grace Elland flees to her hometown after discovering the lifeless body of her boss. Falling in with venture-capitalist and ex-Marine Julius Arkwright, Grace soon realizes she’s being stalked—and that Julius may be her only salvation. Suspense
New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s parents never talked about death or the future. They were proudly codependent and refused to ask for help even as they aged into their nineties. When Chast visited them just days before 9/11, for the first time in over a decade, she found that they were “slowly leaving the sphere of TV commercial old age -- and moving into the part of old age that was scarier, harder to talk about...” She began to go to their apartment regularly to try to help out, despite their objections.
Why I finished it: I totally identified with Chast. She hoped that her parents would die at the same time and that she’d never have to deal with any of it, but then she was forced to deal with (and laugh at) the reality of their situation (even as they denied it), from the grime in their house to the dangerous clutter to the seriousness of their many ailments. My family is still going through this with my ninety-six-year-old grandmother, though it’s easier now that she’s in a nursing home -- while she occasionally thinks she’s still got a car, it’s not possible for her to take one for a drive.
It's perfect for: Richard, who is a bit of a hypochondriac. Chast’s father, George, reminded me of the type of quirky old man I think he’s going to be: a kind, oft-alarmed worrier who liked to walk with his daughter (as Richard does) and who believed he nearly died from an infection he got playing with dirty checkers (Richard is destined to be killed by an unwashed Settlers of Catan piece).
@bookblrb: Cartoonist Roz Chast tries to deal with her proudly codependent parents as they age into their nineties.
Former Episcopal priest Taylor takes on darkness, in all its physical and metaphorical forms. Why are we collectively afraid of the dark? Why do we equate “dark” with “evil,” and what are the implications of that bias, both culturally and spiritually? How did the invention of the light bulb permanently damage our sleeping patterns? Taylor explores caves (literally) and valleys (figuratively), and offers ways not only to escape the darkness, but also to embrace it.
Why I picked it up: I’ve read some of Taylor’s other works and enjoyed them: she has the same kind of honest, warts-and-all spirituality of Anne Lamott, but without Lamott’s hyper-quirky asides.
Why I finished it: I’ve done a few overnight relay races and discovered a strange but real affinity for the darkest part of night -- being outside, at 3:00am, with only my own breathing and the occasional streetlight for company. There’s a kind of peace in those moments that I can’t find in the daytime. Taylor understands that feeling, as well as the undercurrent of unease that often accompanies it. I felt like I was in the hands of a kindred spirit.
It's perfect for: I’ve already recommended it to the Women’s Group at my church -- it’s the right blend of “quick read” and “deep thought” that they’re always looking for to spark discussions.
@bookblrb: An exploration of darkness in all its forms, both physical and metaphysical.
A line divides each page in two, the hospital curtain that divides newly hospitalized Chess from Shannon, a hospital veteran. Both are young and both have Crohn's disease. They tell their stories to each other in alternating poems.
Why I picked it up: The Kirkus review talked about how illness in this book was not treated as a plot device or a metaphor, but as a real, life-altering event.
Why I finished it: Chess feels like she's been thrown into an alternate reality where she can no longer trust her body and can’t assume she knows what her future will be. Shannon is only a few years ahead of her in her diagnosis, so she doesn't know everything, but she throws Chess some lifelines, like permission to get furious and to no longer have to be perfect for her mother. Frank captures the boiling emotions of being blindsided by sickness.
Readalikes: I want to rubber-band a copy of this book to every teen novel that uses serious illness to heighten the drama of a romance. (There is a romantic moment before her hospitalization, but Chess is sure that it was ruined by searing cramps and diarrhea.)
@bookblrb: Two young people in the hospital for Crohn's disease share their stories in poems.
Golf is a game of records and numbers. One of the most hallowed feats is the Grand Slam, winning all four major tournaments in one calendar year (The U.S. Amateur, the British Amateur, the [British] Open, and the U.S. Open). Only one golfer has ever achieved it. (No, it wasn’t Tiger Woods -- he won all four tournaments over two years, and that’s now called the Tiger Slam.) Robert "Bobby" Jones, well-known amateur golfer and reigning U.S. Amateur champion, won the Grand Slam in 1930, up against a field of professionals, huge pressure, and massive publicity. The stress was so intense that his friends and family were seriously worried about his health. At the end of his astonishing, historical year, Jones shocked the world by retiring from his amateur golfing career.
Beloved by American fans and a star of weekly newsreels, Bobby Jones could do no wrong on the course. He once called a one-stroke penalty on himself for a ball moving slightly when he put his club near it. His playing partner and the rules officials argued that he didn't need to take a stroke, that no one else had seen the movement, but Jones insisted and lost a tournament because of it. When praised for his actions, he said everyone should play it that way because it was right, and he might as well get praised for not robbing banks.
Why I picked it up: I love the game and play all around the country when I am on vacation. The story of a golf god is the perfect beach read for me.
Why I finished it: Sampson punctured a few of the myths about this revered amateur. One biographer claimed the way to understand Jones was to understand his priorities: "God, family, occupation and, lastly, golf." But in 500,000 written words and 4,000 surviving letters, Jones never once mentions his faith. Neither did he particularly enjoy his profession. He was most happy when he hit it rich after retiring from golf, cashing in on his fame with a series of instructional videos. I was fascinated that Jones would likely have not won the U.S. Open, the last of the Grand Slam, if not for a controversial ruling by Prescott Bush, who later became head of the USGA, and father and grandfather to U.S. Presidents.
It's perfect for: My son's friend Frank, an excellent junior golfer about to enter D-1 golf at a major university on a scholarship. Now that he is playing big-time athletics, he will get a taste of the pressure that Bobby Jones experienced. Even at the height of his playing ability, with the national press reporting on his unflappable demeanor on the course, Jones threw up before all of his matches.
@bookblrb: Bobby Jones, well-known amateur golfer, is the only golfer to ever win the hallowed Grand Slam.