Tyler Knott Gregson and his wife are professional wedding photographers who travel the world together for work. Gregson likes to capture little moments and make them big, and he thinks about love a lot, so he decided to write a Daily Haiku on Love to try to understand it better. This book is a small selection of the over 2000 haiku he wrote for the project.
Why I picked it up: I'm a big fan of poetry. But I have the attention span of a gnat, so haiku really appeals to me.
Why I finished it: I was skeptical that anyone could make good haiku love poems -- it’s a big emotion to fit into seventeen syllables. Not only did the poems capture beautiful moments, many of them were downright sexy:
Sometimes I want less,
less clothing and less waiting,
less words and less space.
Readalikes: I really loved the photography. Half are written out in a lovely scrawl on scraps of paper, then photographed in front of an enchanting variety of rustic items, everything from a mason bee house to the photographer’s shoes. This gave the poems a homey context that made them feel even more sweet and personal, making it a perfect read for romantics who regularly got their hearts broken by A Softer World.
Best-selling author Mary Roach explores the science of keeping human beings intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war.
Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.
Madeline has a disease. Her immune system is so weak, even the smallest germ could be fatal, so she has spent her whole life, or at least the last seventeen years, in her house. Her only human contact is her mother (who is also her doctor) and her nurse. She’s satisfied with this until she spots the new neighbor, Olly, a boy about her age.
Why I picked it up: This book appeared on virtually every best of YA list last year. I also liked the fact that Madeline is multi-racial (as is the author), and we need more quality YA books featuring racially diverse characters.
Why I finished it: Madeline was smart, witty, funny, and comfortable with her situation, but clearly longing for more. Olly was equally smart, witty, and funny, and dealing with problems of his own. Their conversations online and over the phone were entertaining and not surprisingly led to something more than friendship. I wanted to see how this romance would play out. Madeline’s mother also intrigued me. Although her daughter’s health was clearly her main focus, something just didn’t seem right. I finished the book in one day, unable to stop until I had the whole story. This was a fascinating look at two young people taking stock of their lives and finally making decisions for themselves. And the book’s unusual layout featuring artwork, recipes, schedules, and one sentence book reviews was a plus.
Readalikes: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern. Amy has cerebral palsy and uses a computer to communicate. When she decides to forgo her adult assistants during her senior year, she enlists Matthew as a peer helper. Their friendship grows as the year progresses, each learning something about each other and themselves. Both books are about unlikely friendships that become romances, and dealing with extraordinary problems as well as those that “regular” teens face. Plus both are funny, fast-paced, and heartwarmingly real.
“The curlicuing plot is itself the source of much of the appeal here, which is not to shortchange either the ever-quirky cast of bent but delightful characters or Hallinan’s dazzling style ... Are there too many lovable crooks in contemporary crime fiction? Well, maybe, but one thing’s for sure: they’re all chasing Junior. ” –Booklist starred review
Junior Bender finds himself caught in a Hollywood revenge plot epic enough for the silver screen.
Los Angeles’s most talented burglar, Junior Bender, is in the middle of stealing one of the world’s rarest stamps from a professional killer when his luck suddenly turns sour. It takes an unexpected assist to get him out alive, but his escape sets off a chain reaction of blackmail, strong-arming, and escalating crime. By the time Junior is forced to commit his third burglary of the week — in the impregnable fortress that’s home to the ruthless studio mogul called King Maybe — he’s beginning to wish he’d just let the killer take a crack at him.
Jaine Austen, divorced freelance writer and “Fudge of the Month Club” member, lands a job creating advertising copy for Joy Amoroso's shady dating service. The job rapidly devolves into writing fake member biographies to give the appearance of an upper-crust, blue-chip clientele for the “Beverly Hills” service (it’s actually located in lower rent Mar Vista). Joy's so cheap that her idea of employee benefits includes setting up Jaine with client Skip Holmes III, a doddering and wealthy food faddist who wants to buy Jaine's beloved tabby, Prozac. (Prozac is the spitting image of Skip's own deceased and beloved Miss Marple, and he plies the cat with Tiffany collars and lobster thermidor.)
Jaine's not the only person that Amoroso belittles and abuses. So when she is poisoned during her Valentine’s Day party, there are several likely suspects and suspicious persons, including Jaine. To clear herself, she goes on a quest for the real killer.
Why I picked it up: I was looking for recent Valentine's Day books, and my local library's thoughtful catalogers had tagged this one.
Why I finished it: Don't let the mirth fool you; this is a mystery! Receptionist Cassie blames Joy for her mother's suicide. IT guy Travis is entrepreneurial enough to take over Joy's client list after her death. Alyce, an angry client, has access to syringes (they were used to pump poison into Joy's deadly bon-bon). But it's also a comedy with many distractions. One of the detectives investigating Joy's death keeps asking Jaine for dating advice. Prozac is beginning to favor Skip (and his tasty seafood offerings) over her owner. And email updates from Jaine's retired parents about their misadventures involving online purchases, dubiously branded goods (“Georgie O. Armani” wash and wear separates for Mom, “Belgian Army Knives” for Dad), and jealousy gone horribly wrong provide hilarious interludes.
It’s perfect for: My mother and my sister, who are both fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. There may be no exploding or demolished cars (staples of the Plum books), but the action at the climax of Killing Cupid is just as satisfying.
Maggie Duprès managed to turn a humanities degree into a high-flying Silicon Valley career, at least until she was summarily laid off from the company she and her best friend co-founded. Floundering, she spends her days at the Dragonfly, a used book shop struggling to stay afloat. Hugo, the lovable, aging-hippie owner, takes a shine to Maggie, and over the protests of cranky employee Jason, offers her a job to bridge the time before another tech job offer comes along. A tattered copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover proves to be the catalyst for change for both Maggie and the bookstore -- scribbled in the margins is a decades-old epistolary romance between “Henry” and “Catherine,” with the last entry an invitation to meet in person. Maggie posts the exchanges on the Dragonfly’s website, attracting new customers and the attention of Avi Narayan, a venture capitalist and book lover. Torn between her desire for her old life and the satisfaction she’s found at the bookstore, Maggie must figure out who she wants to be, and whose expectations she’ll have to disappoint.
Why I picked it up: It’s about a bookstore, duh.
Why I finished it: I love the dignity King gives to her characters. Jason, for example, is a stereotypical geek (Dungeon Master, SCA member, sci-fi guru) with cerebral palsy that affects his hands and one leg. In another writer’s hands, he could feel like a token, but King gives him flaws and feelings and a life apart from Maggie’s: he’s not just a player in her story, but someone who has a story of his own.
It’s perfect for: My friend Randi, a former bookseller and editor who loves romance novels of all kinds. This is a fierce love letter to intellectual passion, packaged like a cozy throwaway you’d read in front of a warm fire. Randi would appreciate it on both levels.
Andie's summer plans before her senior year? Work at her prestigious medical internship, have a little romantic fling, and get away from her father, a politician always on the prowl for votes. When a scandal sends her father home and her internship is suddenly cancelled after she has already packed, her summer plans are shot. The only job she can find is dog walking, and Andie throws herself into it to avoid her father (which gets harder and harder as he tries to reconnect with her).
Then she meets a young author, Clark, out walking his dog. He refuses to fit into her normal pattern of shallow relationships that last only a few weeks, and Andie soon finds herself in uncharted emotional territory.
Why I picked it up: I enjoyed one of Matson’s other books, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, while on an ALA book-prize committee so I wanted to read this follow-up.
Why I finished it: Andie's friends are much more than the usual cardboard cutouts. Bri and Toby in particular are well-rounded and add a lot to Andie's story. Toby's unrequited love for a particular boy causes a rift between them, making Andie choose sides. I've witnessed that kind of drama before, and Matson is very good at making it seem real. And Clark is not a typical summer book boyfriend. He is home-schooled, often awkward, and a fantasy novelist whose circumstances are just as compelling as Andie's. As a parent, I appreciated the storyline about Andie's rapprochement with her father, too -- it felt organic, and was a nice addition to the pleasantly plump plot.
Readalikes: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Both feature characters that are writing books of fiction (excerpts of which appear in each novel), creating both a realistic and a fantasy world inside each book, and each has a romance at its core.
An aging man and his wife live in a small house in the Finnish countryside, insulated from the worries of the world. As the man goes through his days, he feels a bit empty and down on himself, thinking about life and death, things that have happened to him, and people he has known. The one bright spot in his life might be his wife, if only he could pull himself away from his thoughts and remember how much he loves her.
Why I picked it up: Every panel on the cover is gorgeous, and the title sounded upbeat.
Why I finished it: I spent a month in Finland when I was seventeen as part of a summer exchange. From the birch trees, to the sauna, to net fishing from a rowboat, there's a lot here that reminds me of my time in the Saimaa lake region and my time in Lahti.
It’s perfect for: Aspiring comics colorists. Musturi’s use of color is astounding. Some parts of the book have a very specific palette to evoke a mood, but what most amazed me were the flashback scenes of the couple’s lives. My favorite section is a two-page spread where they’re remembering their plan to start a band, which features sixteen amazing panels of looks they tried (or maybe only thought of trying) ranging from the Beatles’ to early '80s hip-hop style. Musturi uses every color at his disposal to create these funny snapshots that are very time-specific, but that don’t take attention away from each other despite their brightness.
Will Ares is a Hollywood divorce lawyer helping aging producer Evans Beatty and his soon-to-be ex-wife negotiate a settlement. Gigi Averelle is a wedding planner working for young movie star Carrie Cartwright and her soon-to-be husband Evans Beatty. Somehow, Will has managed to remain a romantic who still believes in true love. He pursues Gigi with all the charm he can muster as their paths continue to cross. But Gigi is a bit of a cynic who seems to think dating isn’t worth the hassle.
Why I picked it up: I’ve been a little bogged down in depressing (but good) nonfiction and violent fantasy novels, and this looked light.
Why I finished it: First, this doesn’t follow a typical romantic movie arc. The characters are all likable and intelligent -- Carrie is a smart, motivated actress building her own career without her fiancé’s help; Gigi works hard to make her business a success and isn’t unpleasant, despite making Will work to get her attention; and even Evans's affection for his young fiancée comes off as genuine. And Carrie getting cast in a movie with another of Evans’s ex-wives creates wonderful complications.
It’s perfect for: My friend Barb, who loves weddings. The whole ceremony and everything that happens at it is good, lighthearted fun, and it takes up a significant part of the end of the book. It’s quite a party with several humorous and fantastic moments.
As the title suggests, it’s a compendium of terrible love affairs throughout history, from Nero and Poppaea to Norman and Adele Mailer. Told in a snarky, occasionally vulgar, but always entertaining style, the book offers ultimately optimistic views on love and happiness despite the general depravity of its subjects.
Why I picked it up: The title and jacket art caught my eye, and when I flipped through the pages I landed on this line: “But just because someone loves watching prostitutes pick up chestnuts with their lady parts does not necessarily mean they are incestuous.” How could I NOT check this out?
Why I finished it: Wright is the kind of person you want at your Oscar-watching party, offering behind-the-scenes gossip and wry commentary with a biting wit. Even when attempting to give someone the benefit of the doubt, there’s thankfully little subtlety in her approach: “So [John] Ruskin was maybe a smart, handsome guy who just did not know that women had pubic hair.” I snorted on more than one occasion while reading this book.
It’s perfect for: My friend Mary, recently unlucky in love and whip-smart when it comes to both history and psychology. She’d get a kick out of the descriptions of sex and power in ancient Rome, as well as Wright’s multi-chapter discourse on sexual morality and prudishness in the Victorian Era.