Wealthy siblings Leo, Bea, Jack, and Melody Plumb have been waiting their whole lives for The Nest: a now-sizable inheritance their late father had set aside until Melody, the youngest, turned forty. Now that day is near, but The Nest is in shambles -- raided by their alcoholic mother to pay off a young, undocumented waitress whom Leo, the eldest, injured in a car accident. The Plumbs have all lived their lives carelessly, secure in the knowledge that The Nest would erase any past sins. But now that security is gone. As secrets are revealed and relationships twist and crumble, the Plumbs must re-evaluate their options and face reality.
Why I picked it up: It had a blurb from Amy Poehler on the cover.
Why I finished it: Though the Plumb siblings get the most ink, the secondary characters were my primary interest. Would savvy literary agent Stephanie, professionally entwined with both Leo and Bea, realize her long-buried dream of having a family? Would world-class good guy Walker rescue his husband Jack once again, or free himself once and for all from the toxic Plumbs? And what about hapless writer Paul -- would he grow a pair and admit his love for Bea? Would Melody’s twin teenage daughters assert themselves in the face of their mother’s suffocating surveillance?
Readalikes: Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, another novel about rich, talented people who can’t seem to hack adulthood.
Newbery Honor–winner Joan Bauer’s newest protagonist always sees the positive side of any situation—and readers will cheer him on!
Jeremiah is the world’s biggest baseball fan. He really loves baseball and he knows just about everything there is to know about his favorite sport. So when he’s told he can’t play baseball following an operation on his heart, Jeremiah decides he’ll do the next best thing and become a coach.
Hillcrest, where Jeremiah and his father Walt have just moved, is a town known for its championship baseball team. But Jeremiah finds the town caught up in a scandal and about ready to give up on baseball. It’s up to Jeremiah and his can-do spirit to get the town – and the team – back in the game.
Full of humor, heart, and baseball lore, Soar is Joan Bauer at her best.
A 1971 Supreme Court ruling struck down the National Basketball Association's rule that players had to compete for four years at a college before entering the league, but it was not until 1974 that Moses Malone became the first player to jump straight from high school to the NBA. He was the exception, though, not the rule, and very few others tried to make the leap. Then in 1995, a skinny seven-foot tall center/forward named Kevin Garnett declared for the draft. Many experts thought him foolish, but he was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves. (He is still playing as of 2015 in a possible Hall-Of-Fame career.) This led to an explosion in drafting youngsters, as no team wanted to pass over the next Garnett. But for every Malone, Garnett, and Kobe Bryant, there are horror stories that serve as warnings for young men considering doing the same. Abrams presents the stories of all of the players who came into the NBA straight from high school until this was disallowed in 2005.
Why I picked it up: Even though I'm an old man with sore knees, I still play ball a few times a week, and I follow basketball.
Why I finished it: The difficult part for teams was that if they passed on a high school kid like Kobe Bryant (as twelve teams did), the negative impact could be generational. Yet if they did draft a kid, it might mean years of teaching him basic skills while paying him millions of dollars for the privilege, all while he could not fully contribute on the court. I can’t imagine having had to make that decision.
And I loved the details about teenagers like Tyson Chandler, who were drafted together as teens by the Chicago Bulls. Chandler was discovered crying in the locker room after losing -- having had an adolescence full of success, he didn’t have the maturity to handle the ups and downs of competition. There were also those who never made it that far, like Lenny Cooke and DeAngelo Collins, two very skilled teens who declared for the draft with dollar signs in their eyes, passing up chances to play at any university they desired, only to go undrafted. Neither ever played a minute in the NBA.
It's perfect for: Josh. Given the chance, he’d sleep all day, so he would relate to Eddy Curry who, despite being paid millions to play in the NBA, sometimes had to be woken up to be in time for games.
Simon Watson is a librarian in a small town library where he works as an archivist and curator for a collection focused on whaling history. He is about to lose his job due to budget cuts, and his home is in such disrepair it’s about to fall into Long Island Sound. Then he receives an antique book in the mail that seems to have a connection to the suicide of his mother. As chapters alternate between Simon’s present day story and the tale of late 1700s carnival life depicted in the book, Simon has to decide whether the connections are coincidental or some sort of curse that has plagued his family for generations.
Why I picked it up: I saw it on a list of “best books featuring librarians.”
Why I finished it: Simon is a sympathetic character, but the story of the traveling carnival and the characters who worked there really kept me reading. The romance between the “wild boy” and the “mermaid” was sweet and tender, and I couldn’t wait to see how they were connected to Simon and his sister, Enola, who makes her living reading Tarot cards. Swyler does a wonderful job maintaining the suspense and tension as she ties the stories together in a logical and heartbreaking way. As an added bonus, Swyler illustrated the carnival story with beautiful drawings of Tarot cards and carnival life.
It's perfect for: My friend, Susan, who loves historical fiction and enjoyed Sara Gruen’s 1920s circus story Water for Elephants as much as I did, because both offer a peek behind the scenes of life on the road with a troupe of entertainers.
Most people don't really think or care much about marine invertebrates unless they are ordering fried calamari or checking out a jellyfish exhibit at the aquarium. This book argues that we really should care about these fascinating creatures both for their vital part in the environment and also for their beauty. We descended from simple invertebrates and our existence is tied closely to their survival. They make up ninety-eight percent of sea life, have vital roles in the food chain, and many have symbiotic relationships with marine photosynthesizers that produce much of the oxygen we breathe. And they (and therefore we) are in big trouble. Global warming is causing acidity levels in the ocean to rise, making it inhospitable to many of the more sensitive invertebrates. As they are killed off, the effect echoes up the food chain. This has already created spreading dead spots in the oceans, which everyone should be worried about.
Why I picked it up: I have an inordinate fondness for octopi, plus I love great photography. The second I saw this book I knew I had to get my hands on it, so I could more closely examine the translucent baby octopus on the cover.
Why I finished it: While I have done a great deal of snorkeling, aquarium gazing, and a little SCUBA diving, it is hard to really grasp the intricacies of the tiniest invertebrates, or appreciate their full range of colors. Most of these creatures are photographed against a bright white background (except for the palest ones, which get a black background) that allows you to see their every bump, filament, and passenger (when another creature is living on them). Seeing a live conch in its amazingly orange, sunset-colored shell gave me shivers (and some guilt for eating so many when in Belize). But it was the hermit crabs that made me giggle -- with their googly eyes peeking out of their stolen shells they reminded me of kids playing dress up in their parents' fanciest clothes.
It's perfect for: My friend Sonja, who is both an educator and a diving enthusiast, who could use this to enlighten her students about the importance of these creatures and research what she has seen on her dives. She would especially appreciate the section at the end of the book about how the animals were photographed. Middleton and her crew gathered trays of potential subjects and brought them up out of the ocean to carefully observe and study aboard her floating studio. Each specimen was put in an individual tank and observed, sometimes for hours, until they came out of their shells, unfurled, or let their tiny personalities shine through. They discovered two unknown species in this process!
The O.M.W.O.T. is a post-9/11 American agent with one mission: defeat terror. He recklessly employs martial arts, guns, and whatever else is at hand to kill the bad guys. It’s not just an orgy of violence that engulfs the O.M.W.O.T.; it’s also a sexual orgy, often taking place in the middle of whatever adventure he’s having.
Why I picked it up: The front cover looked insane, with a smoking secret agent beheading a gun-and-chainsaw-toting Conan lookalike in front of a scantily clad woman. And the back cover had a lizardman.
Why I finished it: Everything about this book is over the top, from the bright colors to the violence (exploding vehicles, bullets pounding into flesh, martial arts moves that defy physics). What made me laugh throughout were the very graphic sex scenes with their stilted dialogue, where characters state what is happening as if they’re required to say something. It’s the best send-up of sex scenes in bad action movies that I’ve ever seen. The most hilarious is when the O.M.W.O.T. is having sex with a man while he’s trying to land the front of a passenger jet (terrorists have blown off the back).
Readalikes: Johnny Ryan’s Angry Youth Comix were just published in a beautiful hardcover edition that makes them seem like a timeless classic. It’s the only book I can think of that’s as deliberately offensive, absurd, and entertaining (if you find this sort of thing funny).
When the forces of nature become unbalanced, magical storms turn windmills into dragons. Leah and Alan’s dog, Rowdy, is trapped, and their swords don’t do much against the transformed buildings. They’re trying to figure out what to do when they meet a giant chicken that gives them three gifts, and whose owner sets them on the path to finding Sir George the dragon slayer.
Why I picked it up: Nytra’s first Leah and Alan Adventure, The Secret of the Stone Frog, featured the same beautiful, old-school style of inking.
Why I finished it: Nytra’s drawings continue to be breathtaking. Pages six and seven of the story are a striking two-page spread featuring a gigantic bird (the Ziz) beating its wings and sending magical storms across the world. Nytra creates an amazing variety of textures, from the Ziz’s dark and powerful feathers to the darkness of the storm clouds to their eerie, blowing faces. It’s an amazing level of detail that carried me through the book, past the windmill dragons themselves, all the way to the stormy seas and to the giant faucet in the sky.
Readalikes: Years ago, on a trip to Paris, I was blown away by an exhibit of Rene Goscinny’s original drawings for Asterix. Nytra’s drawings reminded me of Goscinny’s, and of my pledge to give Asterix (which I’m afraid I never connected with) another chance, so I’m moving it up on my reading list.