Posts Tagged ‘April F.’s picks’

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

November 21, 2014

Teenager Jeremy Johnson Johnson (yes, his middle and last names are both Johnson) lives in the offbeat town of Never Better, which can only be located by those searching for it (but if you find it once, you’ll never lose your way when you try to return). He and his father run the Two Book Bookstore, which stocks just two books. And Jeremy’s best friend is the ghost of Jacob Grimm. This quirky setting is the backdrop for one of the most unique books I’ve read in a while – part ghost story, part dark fairy tale. Like many fairy tales, the good characters are truly good, the villains are shockingly evil, and the magic is unexplained but ever present.

Jacob doesn’t know why he has a duty to look after Jeremy, but he knows he does. He knows that he must find and protect Jeremy from a mysterious figure known only as the Finder of Occasions. Jeremy is the only one who can hear Jacob, and Jacob has become his constant companion as he struggles to cope with his mother having left the family and his father sinking into depression as a result. Jeremy is focused on his schoolwork, his one man lawn business, and planning for a better future – until the day he and the daring, beautiful Ginger Boultinghouse meet and she takes an interest in him. Much to his surprise, he and Ginger become fast friends. But soon, an innocent enough prank goes wrong and the town turns on Jeremy. Soon, Jeremy is at risk of losing the bookstore and his home. As Ginger tries to help Jeremy figure out a way out of his dilemma, they start to uncover dark secrets about Never Better: the town has had a mysterious string of disappearances of children and teens, and they may be in danger of something far worse than being shunned by the townspeople.

Jacob continues to fret about the danger Jeremy is in from the Finder of Occasions as more and more ominous signs appear – but the truth about the missing children is darker than anyone in Never Better suspects. As things start getting more twisted, the story gets more and more gripping. McNeal writes the kind of fairy tale that grabs you and won’t let your imagination go – and the kind of story that makes you want to leave the light on if you read it late at night!

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The Humans by Matt Haig

May 9, 2014

humansbookcover.phpOne night, brilliant mathematician Andrew Martin is arrested after running through Cambridge University wearing nothing at all. His friends and family are used to his workaholic ways and assume he’s finally cracked. What they don’t realize is that there a being currently inhabiting Professor Andrew Martin’s body, but it is not Professor Andrew Martin. The unnamed narrator of The Humans is not human. His home is a planet far from Earth, a place of where math, logic and precise reasoning are valued above all. No one on his planet makes decisions based on emotion. Everything is perfectly rational and organized.

As the story unfolds, we discover that Professor Andrew Martin has recently cracked a longstanding mathematical problem called the Reimann Hypothesis. Proving it will advance human knowledge and technology by leaps and bounds. The narrator’s unnamed species, far from Earth, has been observing humans, and their leaders have decided that humans are too irrational, too limited, and too emotional to have access to this much knowledge. He is sent to Earth and put into Martin’s body with a mission: remove any physical evidence of what Andrew Martin had accomplished and kill anyone who might know about it. He sees it as a mission of mercy, to save violent, unpredictable humans from what they could do to themselves with this kind of knowledge and power.

At first, the being inhabiting Martin’s body is disgusted by humans: by their bodies, by their inability to think precisely, by their reliance on emotion. But as he fumbles his way through Martin’s messy personal life, trying to find all traces of Martin’s research without anyone detecting what he really is, he starts to see the beauty of humanity. He experiences all kinds of everyday things, from buildings to clothing to art, in a new and often funny way. The more time the narrator spends on Earth, the more he appreciates human experiences: music and food and above all, Martin’s friends and family. Before long, he starts to question whether humans – as messy, emotional, and imperfect as they are – are really as bad as he had been told. The Humans starts as a simple story about an alien visitor to Earth, but ends up being a story that is by turns funny, insightful and inspiring, the kind of book that makes you laugh and makes you think and in the end, makes you value every day and every human experience anew.

 

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Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

March 25, 2014

In the year 1665, a young man named Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck became the first Native American student to graduate from Harvard. He was born on Martha’s Vineyard, which was at that time mostly inhabited by the native Wampanoag. As a teen, he traveled to the mainland to attend a preparatory school and the Harvard. Little is known about him other than the bare facts of his life, but author Geraldine Brooks uses these few facts to create a powerful novel of family, culture and faith.

Caleb’s Crossing is narrated by Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a Puritan minister who has moved his family to Martha’s Vineyard to try to convert the Wampanoag. Bethia is very bright; she wants to learn and to explore her world, but as a young girl she is expected to tend to her family and their home. She is able to slip away and explore the island for short times as she forages wild plants to add to the family’s dinner, and on one of these explorations she meets Caleb, son of a Wampanoag sonquem, or leader. The two become friends, although they must hide their friendship from their families. Bethia’s father also meets Caleb and begins to educate him, unaware of his friendship with Bethia. In time, Caleb and several other students from the island attend a preparatory academy in Cambridge and then Harvard itself, studying the classics, religion, and philosophy alongside the sons of governors and leaders in the colonial community. Bethia becomes an indentured servant in Cambridge and narrates Caleb’s story of crossing cultures, as well as her own struggle to find a place as she thirsts for knowledge in a culture that frowns upon education for women. Bethia and Caleb both strive to fulfill grand ambitions, but feel pulled into defined roles and identities by their families.

Caleb’s Crossing does a wonderful job exploring their world, from the natural beauty of Martha’s Vineyard to the early years of higher education in America, and shows the reader a glimpse of both Puritan and Wampanoag culture. I listened to the book on audio; narrator Jennifer Ehle does a wonderful job creating Bethia’s voice, and added another dimension to the story.

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Jinx by Sage Blackwood

March 18, 2014

Young Jinx knows that the thick forest called the Urwald is full of danger. Anyone foolish enough to leave the path is likely to meet a hungry werewolf or elves or, even worse, an evil wizard. So when Jinx’s stepfather decides that he has too many mouths to feed and leads Jinx off the path, he knows things aren’t going to end well. Sure enough, they meet both a wizard and a troll. But much to Jinx’s surprise, he leaves the encounter alive – and with a new home, with the mysterious wizard Simon Magus.

As time passes, Jinx begins to question what he’s heard about wizards. Simon is short tempered, but he doesn’t seem evil. As Jinx grows up in Simon’s home, he gradually learns a lot more about his world: magic is more complicated than he had thought, there is much more outside the Urwald than he would have guessed, and he himself is more unique than he knows at the book’s start. Jinx is a classic fairy tale character: the orphan with more power than anyone expects. He’s also smart, brave and immensely likeable. Simon is also a fascinating character, far more nuanced than he seems at first.

His motives keep the reader guessing as he tries to balance his grudging affection for Jinx with his ambitions as a powerful wizard.

Jinx is written for a middle grade audience, but would appeal to anyone, adult or child, who enjoys a mix of powerful magic, peculiar wizards and witches, unique fantasy worlds and well-written characters at the center of it all. Even better, Jinx’s world is much bigger and more complex at the end of the book than at the start, and Blackwood‘s sequel, Jinx’s Magic, introduces still more to the story. This is shaping up to be one of my favorite fantasy series in years, and I can’t wait for the third book!

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One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

June 26, 2013

One Came HomeIn 1871, Placid, Wisconsin is an untamed place. People mostly live off the land and trade with pioneers passing through. Passenger pigeons fly overhead in flocks so large they blot out the sky, followed by hunters eager to make their fortune from pigeon meat and feathers. Cougars prowl the roads. Counterfeiters hide in caves, far from the eyes of the law. And 13-year-old Georgie’s sister Agatha has left town without a farewell to anyone, following the pigeon hunters. When the sheriff finds a body that is decomposed beyond recognition, but wearing Agatha’s dress, her mother and grandfather fear the worst. But Georgie refuses to accept that her beloved sister could be gone. She sets out on her own to find out what really happened to Agatha – and finds more danger and surprises than she bargained for along the way.

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake successfully blends a lot of elements – a well-paced mystery that keeps readers guessing, a Wild West adventure, a coming of age story and an ode to the natural world. The latter is what really set this book apart from other adventure stories: the natural world is described with vivid language and interesting details. The sheer number of pigeons described in the flock over Placid seems unbelievable and exaggerated, but the author’s notes confirm that it is accurate. Georgie is also a great and relatable character. She’s practical and tough but also emotional and a risk taker. The reader can’t help but cheer her on all the way to the book’s satisfying conclusion!

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