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Karen's Staff Favorites
Karen has been at Annie Bloom's since early 2015. She's been a high school English teacher, a dance teacher, and is currently a part-time teacher/librarian, having a marvelous time working on a first novel (when not at Annie Bloom's).
In the 15th century, a "stew" was slang for a brothel, and with the variety of characters (including prostitutes and their clientele) and high emotions in play, this Hot Stew is aptly named. Packed with well-drawn characters and vivid description, Fiona Mozley's sophomore novel digs into the topic of gentrification. This Soho is the habitat of a variety of underprivileged types, determined to keep their homes and businesses. Also drawn to Soho are wealthy landowners, intent on driving out the riffraff and building up, up, up. As the novel progresses the reader can’t help but route for the underdogs, all the while wondering if there is any possibility that Capitalism won't prevail.
The subject matter is heartbreaking, but don't avoid this novel. The writing is extraordinary and the ending full of hope.
It's amazing how people can have the best of intentions and still make an utter mess of things - especially where race is concerned. A wonderful debut novel and such fun to read!
The Need had me on edge immediately. Molly's husband is out of town as she hides in the dark with her baby and child, listening to footsteps in the next room. Exhausted by the demands of two young children and her work as a paleo-botanist, Molly is also troubled by some strange artifacts discovered at the site where she's been working. Members of various religious groups have been vocal in condemning the discovery, and now it seems one of the crazies who swarm the site may have followed her home. This scenario is frightening enough, but as the story progresses, Phillips adds a twist which leads both the reader and Molly to question her relationship with reality.
Kavanagh is stuck on the wall defending the border. It's deadly cold and miserable and there's no way out of it. Everyone must serve two years on the wall where sea levels are rising and the danger of invasion by the Others is ever present. Even though the penalty for any breach of the wall is to become an outcast–an Other–Kavanagh wonders if some excitement wouldn't be better than the solitary, mind-numbing, twelve hour shifts he has to endure. In a world where the only goal seems to be continued existence, he begins to contemplate the risk of change and, even more precarious, of relationship. John Lanchester strikes a chord in this dystopian novel by underlining issues of our time–climate change, political polarization, xenophobia–in a survival story that becomes much more.
A Middle-Grade delight told entirely in emails and letters about two girls who are pushed together in friendship when their respective dads fall in love.
A Middle Grade gem. There are 96 reasons why 13 year old Genesis dislikes herself and she really can't do anything about any of them. But that doesn't mean she isn't willing to try. You'll find yourself worrying over her choices and then cheering her on as she discovers new strengths and talents.
The Turning by Emily Whitman (Greenwillow Books 2018)
(Young Adult Middle Grades) Aran’s mother is a selkie, a being who morphs between human and seal shape, but Aran was born without a pelt and can’t join his mother and the rest of the selkie clan as they explore the ocean. Placed in the care of a human woman when his mother goes away, Aran struggles to keep his true identity hidden while simultaneously helping the humans who become a part of his life. This middle-grade book by Portland author Emily Whitman will appeal to readers who enjoy a dose of fantasy. A beautifully written coming-of-age story.
Young Adult. It's so easy to fall into Laini Taylor's worlds. Her imagery is vivid and poetic and her characters are fascinating. Highly recommended!
"What color?" is the question Leigh and Axel ask one another when they wish to describe their feelings. Colors and imagery are used effusively in this magical story of a teenage girl who, after her mother's suicide, travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents at the behest of her mother in the form of an enormous red bird.
YA - Ages 12 and up.
Set in 1960s Canada, Indian Horse tells the story of an Ojibway child who loses his family and ends up in a horrific boarding school which aims to “take the indian out” of him. While many children succomb to punishment or disease, Saul survives because he is introduced to hockey by a young priest. The picture of determination, he trains himself to be the best possible player, rising to the level of professional, only to be ground down by racism. This beautifully written coming-of-age novel is often heart-breaking, yet untimately hopeful. Indian Horse was a competing title for Cananda Reads for 2013 and won the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature in 2013. Highly recommended.
A powerful story about a young woman's life and changing ambitions before, during, and after the Holocaust. Beautifully illustrated and the author's backstory adds emphasis to the theme of the novel.
The Silent Companions by Stephanie Purcell
Elsie, newly widowed and pregnant, moves from London to her husband’s country estate expecting to live in quiet comfort during the period of her confinement. Instead, she finds the house in disarray, the servants resentful, and the company of her husband’s young cousin, Sarah, less than satisfactory. Yet, when strange and dangerous events occur, Elsie and Sarah draw ever closer while the entities known as the silent companions create suspicion within the household and the nearby villiage. This Victorian-Gothic is not the novel read in bed – unless your intention is to remain wide awake!
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Milo has ten thousand chances to get it right – to earn his place in the cosmic soul. But Milo is already on life number 9,995, and if things keep going the way they have, instead of becoming one with everything, he may just slide off into nothingness. Still, there are plenty of laughs, heartbreak and growth in his last five lives, and always the companionship of Death (or Susie as she prefers to be called) to keep him company between incarnations. A novel for those who love Vonnegut and Gaiman (with a touch of Steinbeck).
The second in the Arc of a Scythe series is well worth reading. Schusterman continues to put his characters in situations which challenge them mentally, physically, and morally. The ending is satisying but will leave the reader anxious for the next in the series.
YA Novel for Ages 9-12
Nick-named "Cannonball" for her volatile temper, Cammie believes what she really needs is a mother. In the summer before she begins Junior High, she looks for someone to fill the role, focusing on a trustee from the prison where she and her father live. Along the way she befriends inmates, alienates current friends, and experiences PA life in 1959. An exceptional novel from Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli.
Vasya the only one who sees the spirits that protect her people from evil, but she isn't the only person who believes in them. Others leave offerings until Vasya's stepmother calls in a priest who demands the people give up their pagan ways. Soon after, things begin to go dreadfully wrong, and Vasya struggles to bolster the spirits, striving to save her village from the evil that threatens to engulf it. Based on a Russian folktale, The Bear and the Nightingale is engaging in both its storyline and its poetic language.
(Young Adult) Sixteen-year-old Starr straddles two worlds, the poor black neighborhood where her father runs the local grocery and her mother works at the clinic, and the private urban school she attends. She successfully keeps these two separate until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil. Because Khalil was killed by a police officer, Starr feels pressure from both her worlds to respond in different ways. Angie Thomas has chosen a timely topic for her debut novel and handles the subject with intelligence and honesty.
A fog of sorrow hangs over the city, because each year the witch in the woods demands a baby as a sacrifice. Except that the "witch" abhors the barbaric practice. Every year Zan races to save the baby, feeding it starlight until she can place it with a loving family in another village. But when she accidentally feeds a baby moonlight, the child becomes dangerously "enmagicked." To shield everyone, Zan undertakes raising Luna with the help of Glerk, a swamp monster, and Fyrian, a tiny dragon. Back in the city, Luna's mother has gone mad with grief, yet the unsympathetic leaders of the city require that the tradition continue for disturbing reasons of their own. While Zan struggles to teach Luna to control her powers, things in the city worsen, and a young man enters the forest intent on killing the evil witch. Luna, Glerk and Fyrian race to save Zan from him, but find they must battle an even more sinister enemy lurking in the woods. With a dark yet whimsical fairy-tale vibe, Barnhill's poetical prose reveals the cost of lies, and the absolute necessity of hope.
The accident season might seem like a series of coincidences, except that it happens every October. Sometimes there are just more bumps and bruises. Sometimes bones are brokern. And in the really awful seasons, tragedy strikes. Seventeen-year-old Cara worries this is going to be an especially bad year and wonders if it might have anything to do with Elsie, who was her best friend in the year after Cara's father died.
While searching for Elsie, accidents keep occurring and no one in Cara's family is immune to injury. No amount of extra clothing or hiding of sharp objects helps protects them from physical harm, or from the secrets that come to light along the way. Fast-paced and intriguing!
YA - grades 9 to 12
Britt-Marie Was Here – Fredrik Backman
Readers of Backman’s second novel, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, will remember Britt-Marie, as a rule-making, nag-bag with an OCD involving cleaning. Britt-Marie is hard to like, and she hasn’t changed much as this novel begins, except that she has taken a step away from her cheating husband, Kent.
Britt-Marie lands a temporary job looking after a recreation center in a small town decimated by the financial crisis. In Borg she encounters a cast of characters who are almost as eager to steer clear of her as she is to avoid them. It’s when some children demand her attention that the people of Borg and Britt-Marie begin to change.
Backman takes a disillusioned, middle-aged woman, a down-on-its-luck village and delivers a laugh-out-loud novel that is also poignant.
Almost eight-year-old Elsa is different - a misfit who disappoints her parents and is tormented at school. Her only friend is an outlandish grandmother who has managed to alienate the cast of characters that populate their apartment building. When Granny dies, Elsa learns she is expected to convey at string of apologies on her Granny's behalf. Somewhat unwillingly, Elsa finds and delivers letters via a treasure hunt, following clues that lead her to realize there are others worthy of love who will love her in return. (Be sure to pay attention to the fairy-tales as you read.) Recommended for fans of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman.
Front Lines – Michael Grant
The novel Front Lines imagines an alternate history of World War II, with women taking up arms to serve alongside men. The young women in Michael Grant’s narrative experience not only sexism and racism, but also have to grapple with the physical and psychological effects of war. The characters are vividly drawn and pull the reader into a gripping story that is difficult to put down. (A must-read for readers who enjoyed Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein!)
YA grades 9-12
Eleven-year-old Velvet doesn’t want to be a summer project for some rich white woman, and recovering alcoholic Ginger is unsure of how to help her inner-city guest. Each has needs that are awakened during the time they spend together, though neither realizes their relationship will stretch far beyond the allotted two weeks because of an abused and unpredictable horse.
Point of view alternates between the two main characters, with an occasional shift to Ginger’s husband or Velvet’s mother. All of the characters are damaged, but Gaitskill resists neat solutions. Instead she shows uncertainty, pain, frustration, and breathtaking moments of hope.
If you knew the world was going to end in 144 days and you had the power to save it, would you? What about if your boyfriend had committed suicide, your father abandoned you, your grandmother was losing her memory, you were harrassed and abused at school, and periodically abducted by aliens who always managed to set you back on earth at some inconvenient time and place in only your underwear?
Henry Denton has a quick wit and strives to keep going while staying under the radar, but his life is grim with the misery he endures both at home and at school. Still, the reader is pulled along, hoping that Henry will find reasons to choose life and discovery that he is worthy of being loved.
YA - grades 9-12. Recommended for those who enjoy Neil Gaiman and Ransom Riggs
YAO recommendation. Nelson's story and writing are effervescent! (Ages 14 and up.)
YAO recommendation. Fresh, funny, and tragic. This novel will resonate with anyone who has loved someone with a mental illness. (Ages 14 and up.)
A coming-of-age story told in diary form, The Hired Girl has delightful characters; none more so than the literature-loving Joan herself. The 1911 setting will pull the reader back in time with its focus on gender and class roles as well as faith and feminism. Highly recommended! (YA Grades 7 and up.)
Molly Gloss has a strong voice and her wonderful prose takes the reader into another time. (Descriptions so lush I found myself looking for non-existent places on the map!)
YA Nonfiction - Highly recommended! Steve Sheinkin has wowed me before with BOMB! and Most Dangerous continues making history exciting and accessible. (Lexile level 890)
Jess wakes up in terrible pain, uncertain who she is or where she is. Things get worse when she learns she is accused of murder. With no memory of events leading up to the fire which has disfigured her and caused the death of a child, Jess comes to believe she is guilty and refuses food. On the edge of death, she is visited by the ghost of the boy who died. He wants Jess to help find his real murderer, but what can she do from prison? A thriller with a sci-fi twist, Carey asks the reader to go into another plain of consciousness with Jess and the ghost to solve the mystery. You'll want to read just one more chapter before your head hits the pillow.
Young Adult for grades 5 and up
A twelve-year-old orphan named Crow has been adopted by Osh, and is being raised on a tiny island in Massachusetts. Crow has everything she needs except for acceptance from the people on the neighboring islands and answers to the questions of how she came to be orphaned and who put her in the basket that washed up on Osh's island. A beautiful novel that touches on themes of bigotry, bravery and the need to belong.
Young Adult - The subject matter of Scythe is both troubling and intriguing. In a world where there is no more disease or hunger or war, Citra and Rowan are chosen as apprentices to a scythe - the only person sanctioned to glean/manage the population - and neither wants the job. In the course of training, they are pitted against each other with life and death consequences. A thrilling Prinz Honor book by Neal Shusterman!