Heather Wells, former teen pop star turned residence hall assistant director, is getting married. But before she does, she must deal with a) Prince Rashid, scion of a fictional Middle Eastern country, who has converted four standard rooms into a lavish suite; b) the mysterious death of one of her RAs during freshman orientation week; and c) the sudden appearance of her mother/former manager, who skipped town with all earnings and has never shown a stitch of remorse. Is the prince and his party lifestyle responsible for the RA’s death? Who’s leaking his secrets to the student blog? Will Heather ever keep an appointment with her pricey and snobbish wedding planner? It wouldn’t be a Heather Wells mystery without a few complications.
Why I picked it up: No matter how hard I try, I cannot quit Meg Cabot. Her easy-breezy style and relentless, character-appropriate Important Life Lessons Young Women Need to Know snag me every time. (Use a condom! Tell your helicopter parents to back off! Pour your own drinks! Learn to balance your checking account!)
Why I finished it: The red herrings kept me riveted to the murder-mystery plot, and I HAD to find out if the wedding would go off without a hitch.
It's perfect for: A book club that’s more about wine than books. Discussing a Cabot novel with your friends is as much fun as live-blogging The Bachelor. Or save it for your next interminable flight on a crowded airplane so that the fast-paced plot and zippy dialogue will make you forget about your surroundings.
@bookblrb: A former teen pop star tries to solver a murder, figure out why her mother has reappeared, and plan her wedding.
It's 1964 in Mississippi and twelve-year-old Sunny is focused on her own problems, rebelling against her new stepmother and adjusting to her step-siblings. When civil rights activists from around the country arrive to register black people to vote, white townspeople, including some she knows, will stop at nothing to uphold the status quo. Pulled into the turmoil, Sunny starts to look beyond her protected world to the lives of others like Raymond, a black boy who risks violence simply for entering a movie theater. Everything's changing around Sunny, testing her courage and leading to hard choices, choices that could put her family-and maybe even her life-in danger.
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Oscar Drai, a fifteen-year-old living in a Barcelona boarding school, wanders into an old house where he hears haunting music. There he meets Marina, an enigmatic girl his age with a sense of adventure. Together they follow a mysterious woman in black through a cemetery to an old greenhouse filled with incomplete mannequins. A photo album there full of disfigured, deformed people leads them to a long-dead doctor who made a fortune in prosthetics, romanced an opera singer, and died tragically with her in a suspicious fire. The woman in black reappears and wordlessly gives Oscar a calling card with the dead doctor's name and address; it’s a false lead into a mystery that deepens with every page. Who was the doctor, and who is the woman? As Oscar and Marina uncover old secrets, they discover that there are people who will stop at nothing to keep them from the truth.
Why I picked it up: I’ve enjoyed a few other books by Ruiz Zafón, and I was intrigued by the subtitle of this one.
Why I finished it: The book presents Barcelona as a labyrinthine city with a storied, haunted past. I feel like I’ve visited its older quarters. Ruiz Zafón kept bringing more twists and turns to the plot, which prevent me from putting down this book for more than a few minutes at a time.
It's perfect for: Kara, a high school student who frequents my library. She has a dark sensibility, and will quickly fall in love with the undercurrent of horror and melancholy in the book.
@bookblrb: Two teens follow a woman through a cemetery into a mystery involving a doctor who made a fortune in prosthetics.
Years ago Lance and Gordon fell in love when the bass player and band manager were part of The Might. The band was led by a rich, self important genius and everything was just great as long as no one rocked the boat. But Gordon chafed in the restrictive atmosphere and Lance was too laid back to test any boundaries. Gordon pushed for more; Lance fought any change. The final straw came when Lance acted out by sleeping with someone else. That was it. Gordon broke it off and was gone.
Now, Gordon's invited Lance to join the Indigo Knights, a new band he's managing. He's made it clear that this is business only and that they're not going to rekindle the flames of their past. But Lance has been so hung up on Gordon that he's been celibate all this time. He wants no one else. He regrets how things ended, but he's never had the chance to try to make amends.
This is his only chance. Can Lance convince Gordon to trust him again?
Yarvi, second son of the King of Gettland, was born with a half-formed hand. He could never hope to be a warrior like his older brother and father, so he studied with their minister. He became her sharpest pupil and was set to take the test to become a minister himself, to devote himself to a life of study and advising rulers to smooth the path for peace.
Yarvi’s father and brother are dead, killed by Grom-gil-Grom and his Vanstermen. Yarvi is now King. He has to seek vengeance, and that means leading the attack himself.
During the fighting Yarvi is betrayed. About to be killed by his own men, he casts himself into the sea. Everyone believes him dead. A new king is crowned. But Yarvi is found by Grom-gil-Grom and sold into slavery.
The odds against him, Yarvi is determined to keep his promise and seek vengeance for his brother and father. And he’s also determined to get his throne back.
Why I picked it up: I was in the mood for a well-written, violent book. Joe Abercrombie always delivers.
Why I finished it: Abercrombie’s humor pops up in unexpected places. On his way to his father’s funeral, Yarvi’s uncle offers him a bit of encouragement.
“You’re doing well, “ Yarvi’s uncle whispered in his ear.
“I am walking.”
“You are walking like a king.”
“I am a king and I am walking. How could it be otherwise?”
It's perfect for: Miss Mac, the librarian at my daughter’s international middle school. The school is supposed to encourage students to learn a foreign language, hence the “international” designation. This book really supports the idea. When Yarvi is a slave in the galley, the property of a drunken captain, he has to find ways to better his position. (He won’t last long rowing.) One of the ways he does this involves the languages he speaks.
@bookblrb: When the crippled Yarvi seeks vengeance for his father’s and brother’s murders, he is betrayed.
Max Brooks, the best selling Zombie writer in history, unleashes an all-new horror epic! As humans wage their losing fight versus the hoards of the subdead, a frightening realization sets in with the secretive vampire race: our food is dying off. This is the story of the vampire's decent into all-out war with the mindless, hungry hordes of the zombie outbreak as humanity tries to survive them all! This collected edition contains the entire first chapter of Extinction Parade (issues #1-5) and a massive undead cover gallery! Max Brooks' best-selling novel, World War Z, has been adapted into one of 2013's biggest blockbuster movie releases, bringing increased media attention to this acclaimed author. Legendary Pictures announced they have optioned Extinction Parade for a TV series.
Naoki Higashida was living a life of isolation, suffering from severe autism that kept him from communicating with his family. But one determined teacher helped him learn how to spell words out onto an alphabet grid. Through his own determination, hard work, and patience this teen broke down the barriers around him and gave the people of Japan insight on what it’s like to live with autism.
Why I picked it up: I think libraries could serve autistic teens better, and I wanted to learn what I might be able to do for them.
Why I finished it: Higashida's brief essays and anecdotes are poetic and heartwarming. His life would be a nightmare to most people, yet he loves it and just wants to be treated with kindness and respect. He answers questions that might be seen as awkward or rude with honestly and compassion, both for himself and those who misunderstand him. While he admits he only has his own perspective, explaining things such as why he is a such a picky eater, why so many clothes are unbearable to him, and, of course, the reason he jumps (seemingly at random) provide valuable insight to how the autistic mind works.
Readalikes: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon because, like Haddon's autistic teen detective, Naoki is driven to figure out how to interact with the world in a way that is satisfying to him and creates connections with others. Terry Trueman's Stuck in Neutral because it also features a thoughtful narrator trapped in his body (in this case by severe cerebral palsy) whose life is full and enjoyable despite the fact that “normal” people don’t see how he could be happy.
@bookblrb: Autism kept Naoki from communicating with his family, but he learned to write and published this book about himself.
A conversational look back at his grueling training in Japan, the lean years in Seattle, and his eventual success by Shiro Kashiba, one of the first sushi chefs in Seattle.
Why I picked it up: It's packed with gorgeous photos of Shiro's life, historic Japan and Seattle, and the gorgeous northwest seafood that Shiro works with every day. It's a quick and pretty read.
Why I finished it: Shiro is really serious about sushi and he worked his butt off to create a version of Ginza sushi that used the freshest local ingredients in his new hometown. I was really inspired by his serious and joyful dedication to food.
Readalikes: The documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Shiro and Jiro trained at the same restaurant and went hiking together on the weekends. The two men ended up in very different places cooking fairly different food (Shiro has invented new tastes and combinations while Jiro is kicking it old school). The documentary skimmed over a lot of the details about the food, but the book includes techniques and recipes.
@bookblrb: The life of Shiro Kashiba, one of the first sushi chefs in Seattle.
Journalist Sokolove revisits his high school to lionize its longtime drama teacher, Lou Volpe, and chronicle the impact Volpe has had on his students over his forty-year tenure. Through the lens of several productions, interviewing the actors and students involved, Sokolove showcases Volpe’s peculiar gift of identifying, nurturing, and trusting young people to perform beyond their abilities and create real art.
Why I picked it up: I’m a drama nerd with fond memories of the plays and musicals I participated in as a teenager.
Why I finished it: Truman High’s partnership with music publisher MTI allowed Volpe to stretch his actors beyond the typical high school fare. I was intrigued, and a bit perplexed, to discover how he turned an adults-only show like Spring Awakening into sort-of-family-friendly fare without losing its emotional power.
It's perfect for: Your favorite Gleeks, obviously, as well as the adults who motivate and inspire them. It’d make a terrific retirement gift for a drama, band, or choir director.
@bookblrb: A journalist revisits high school to showcase a drama teacher’s impact on students over a forty-year career.
The story of professional wrestler and actor Andre the Giant from his boyhood in Molien, France, to worldwide superstardom.
Why I picked it up: I was raised on a diet of cookies, pop, and bad TV. I’m a huge fan of both Andre the Giant and Box Brown.
Why I finished it: It’s a combination of pleasing, informative anecdotes. Brown is very straightforward about where he got his information, and that he took liberties with the material. When Andre gets a ride to school from his father’s friend, the playwright Samuel Beckett, because he was too big to ride in the school bus, I immediately wanted to know more. Beckett? Really? Brown’s notes at he end of the book told me exactly where he got the story. Years later, just after Andre has his first fight in Paris as Géant Ferré, he’s being taunted in a bar by two men. He responds by flipping over their car while they’re in it. Perfect. And there are sources for that oft-repeated story, too.
It's perfect for: My cousin Mike, who has acromegaly. Andre wasn’t diagnosed with the condition until a doctor saw him in Japan in 1970, when he was going to appear there in a fight. Andre was told that he wouldn’t live past forty. I think Mike will love the way Andre lived his life to the fullest, and the fact that he lived well past his expiration date.
@bookblrb: A graphic novel biography of wrestler and actor Andre the Giant.
As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Josh is taking stock of his life when he realizes that half of his Facebook friends are ferrets. He has also never kissed a girl, he cannot yet play Metallica’s “One” on his ¾ sized acoustic guitar, and he does not have any piercings. He decides that all of these things must change before he turns sixteen, with or without the approval of his strict mother.
Why I picked it up: The cover and title reminded me of another book I liked, 236 Pounds of Class Vice President: A Memoir of Teenage Insecurity, Obesity, and Virginity by Jason Mulgrew. I was hoping for another self-deprecating remembrance about school and being a teenager.
Why I finished it: It’s fictional, but it’s just as funny. Josh’s friend signs him up for senior citizen mailings, and he starts getting AARP-type offers for adult diapers and funeral plots. Josh also gets a pair of free support tights in the mail and gives them to his friend Peter, who is “almost-certainly gay.” (Peter protests, insisting he is a size small, but keeps them nonetheless.) And Josh has to take “drastic actions” after attempting to flush his ferret’s wood shavings down the toilet. These leave him slightly traumatized after unblocking it.
It's perfect for: My neighbor’s kid, Jeff, a fifteen-year old who noodles around on his guitar whenever he has a spare moment. He would connect with Josh’s love of music and his willingness to tear his fingers up on the steel strings of his guitar. And he’d appreciate the teen angst without all the suicide drama and drug use, that Josh is simply trying to find his place without feeling sorry for himself or giving up on what he likes (heavy metal music and ferrets).
@bookblrb: Josh decides that his life must change before he turns sixteen, whether his strict mother approves or not.