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Sandy's Staff Favorites
Sandy joined the Annie Bloom's staff in October of 2012 after having recently moved back to Portland which had been her home for 25 years. She is a former English teacher and librarian and her main reading interests lie in children's and young adult literature, adult mysteries and legal thrillers.
I must admit, I had never read a Jody Picoult book before now, so I didn't know what to expect. It turned out that I found it difficult to put down. The time: early 2020 as the Covid pandemic began running rampant. Finn is a surgical resident in NYC working endless hours. Diana (his almost-fiancé) has gone ahead alone on their planned vacation together to the Galapagos, which is also in shut-down mode, albeit more isolated and quiet. The contrast couldn't be more striking. Communication between them is sporadic because Wi-Fi is not reliable on the islands. It's a time for self-reflection for Diana. Is she happy with her planned future of job and wife and children? Or will she survive, as Darwin put it, only by being adaptable to change. Maybe she needs to change her expectations. Picoult paints vivid pictures of Covid chaos, both in treating it and in having it, and of experiencing the beauty and wonder of the Galapagos. Someday in the future this book may well be considered "historical" fiction. Note: Be prepared for the totally unexpected twist toward the end.
A family consisting of the parents and their 2 teenage children head out of NYC to a remote luxurious home they’ve rented for a week’s vacation, planning to leave the world behind. Their peaceful retreat is suddenly shattered when an older Black couple appear at their door in the middle of the night claiming to be the owners of the house and that they can’t return to the city because there is a blackout. Could they please stay? Can this couple be trusted to be who they say they are? How widespread is the blackout? When will they get any news from the outside world? The internet and TV are down and there is no cell phone service. What is going on? Suddenly animals and birds are acting strangely. Flamingos in swimming pools. Deer amassing by the hundreds. A storm is brewing. The air is still. Then a booming sound so loud it brings the humans to their knees. Glass shatters. Teeth loosen and fell out. Nausea. Insects are silent. Then a second boom. With no way to determine what is happening, there is nothing to do but wait and keep on going and hope. All in all, this is a very disturbing novel on many levels. This book was written prior to the current pandemic and all that has happened in 2020, so it might not be considered dystopian fiction after all. This is a page-turner of a novel which leaves the reader uncertain as to what lies ahead in the immediate future for both the characters and, I might add, for us in real life.
Hiaasen is at it again. Whether writing for adults or children, his weird take on life, people and events can make even the most jaded chuckle if not laugh out loud.
As usual, his setting is Florida, and this time he is dealing with a people-eating python. His satire is right on as he relates the ‘goings on’ centering around the residents of the Winter White House. There is no space here to list or describe Hiaasen’s many ludicrous depictions of people and events. Just think of the First Lady’s affair with a Muslim Secret Service agent, the adoring socialite hard-drinking Trump-loving Potussies (use your imagination here), the malfunctioning tanning bed which you knew was coming eventually, an unlucky Honduran asylum-seeker falsely condemned by the president as a terrorist and murderer of the afore-mentioned python victim. (This part too close to the truth to be funny, but it’s resolved satisfactorily. You just need to have a little black-mail involved.)
The one bit of sanity is Angie, the wildlife ranger who corrals the culprit python and others. Her clear-thinking and logic are refreshing in the midst of the rest of the insanity. Hiaasen has taken advantage here of the times and put it to good use.
"In a small back alley of Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee—the chance to travel back in time." Kawaguchi wrote this story originally as a play which was adapted into a novel and eventually translated into English. The story-line is that of four interconnected visitors to the café, each of whom wish to go back in time for various reasons including to meet once again with a loved one to say words left unsaid at the time, to comfort or reassure, or to even say goodbye. There are quite a few rules involved in accomplishing this, but the most important one is that you must return to the present before your coffee gets cold.
This is an interesting premise and prompts the reader to ask: Who would I like to visit with one last time? Where would I like to return in order to view a scene or meet with a loved one or experience or relive an episode meaningful to me in my past? One rule is that you can only do this one time. Another rule is that you cannot change the present. But perhaps you can find peace or a sense of completion for something left undone or unsaid. This little book is a quick but heart-warming read.
In these days of trying times, political unrest, uncertainty on many fronts, it's good to just take a step back and find some joy somewhere, anywhere. Reading Abbi Waxman's novel is a good start. From the first page to the last, this is a book that will keep the reader giggling, chuckling and even laughing out loud over an unexpected phrase or incident or reference. Nina Hill works in an independent bookstore. She is young, introverted, shy and highly intelligent. She lives alone in a small guardhouse with her books and a cat. Life is good. Suddenly she is thrown for a loop when she meets a guy she actually might like. In addition, she discovers a father she never knew she had (recently deceased) and a whole passel of relatives thinking she should definitely not be in his will. If you dislike trivia, literary references, non sequiturs, movie quotes or anything of that nature, this is not the book for you. But for those book lovers among us, this novel is made to order. It's witty, charming, fun, highly entertaining, and I cannot praise it enough.
This is not your typical mother-daughter story. Maggie and her daughter Allison have been estranged for two years. Allison left her childhood home in Maine upon the death of her father, and Maggie had not heard a word of her until the news came that Allison had been one of two people to have crashed in a private plane in the Rockies. Allison's body had not been recovered. Why not? Maggie works from her end to try to learn the details of Allison's life once she left home. Allison, on her part, did survive the crash but now needs to survive long enough to reach her mother before Maggie uncovers secrets that will get an attempt made on her life as well. The story builds to a race-against-time tense conclusion. Jessica Barry is the pseudonym for an American author now working in publishing. Whoever she is, she is talented and writes gripping novels.
It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening…. There have been numerous psychological thrillers written of late, and I would list this title among the best. A child psychologist suffering from agoraphobia, living alone and spying on her neighbors—this sounds promising. She believes she saw a crime committed in a house across the park, but no one will believe her. Why? She’s an alcoholic who likes to mix her numerous prescriptions with daily bottles of merlot. She watches old black and white movies of the film noir genre and Hitchcockian thrillers. Do her delusions stem from these? This debut novel is filled with tragedy, sudden revelations, suspense¸ not to mention many literary references and even a cat. What more could you wish for?
This novel has haunted me for months. If I were asked what book it was in my lifetime that has mattered the most to me, I couldn't answer. I still cannot decide. So obviously I would not have been welcomed in this particular book club. The members are asked to pick their "matters most" book as a theme for the coming year. Members present their case for each monthly choice. A newcomer to the group chooses an obscure out-of-print title. As the story unfolds, readers come to realize the significance of this book in how it personally relates to the member who chose it, even though she herself is clueless until the end of the book. This novel works well as a mystery. But the question still hangs in the air personally. What book would YOU choose?
Tyranny: cruel and unfair treatment by people with power over others; arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority. In this small pocket-sized book, Mr. Snyder, a European historian, describes the fall from democracy in Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s and ‘40s. Soon fascism, Nazism, communism and totalitarianism were the rule. He asks the reader to consider history when one’s own political order seems imperiled. In twenty short chapters, the author addresses instances occurring today in America such as bullying, attacking free speech and the press, interference with democratic elections, lying officials, cover-ups by the government, and much more. He offers suggestions for individuals to combat attempts at control. Citizens need to read and study and think and speak out. Support service organizations with donations or by volunteering time. Subscribe to reputable publications. Run for office. Be heard. And, yes, even march. This little gem of a book speaks to all Americans who value democracy.
Nic Farrell returns to her small home town of Cooley Ridge for the summer to care for her ailing father. When she left ten years prior, it was to attend college and begin a new life, trying to forget the mysterious disappearance of her best friend. That case was never solved and now another young woman has disappeared just as mysteriously. Once again, Nic, her brother, her ex-boyfriend, and other friends are considered suspect. The story begins in the present and then moves backwards, one day at a time, beginning at Day 15 and ending up at Day 1. Surprising revelations come to light, secrets are told, and the reader is constantly kept off guard, right up to the surprising twist of an ending. This is a fun and addictive read--very hard to put down until the last page. Then there is the urge to begin reading it again, but backwards this time, chapter by chapter.
The United States has three power grids: Eastern, Texas, and the West Coast. If any one of those were hacked (and the probability is high), it would be devastating. Tens of millions of people would be without electricity for months. No running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light or medical supplies or food. It would be a mid-19th century existence. Renowned journalist Ted Koppel has written a scary scenario of what could happen. Without even leaving home, our foreign enemies, including terrorist groups, could attack our infrastructure via the internet and create havoc for a large portion of our country. Our federal government is aware of this possibility but as yet has taken no steps to form a plan for the aftermath of such a cyberattack. Koppel has written a highly readable work, well-documented and up-to-date with his references. He does offer solutions if we would only listen to his wake up call.
Bowser is a handsome mutt adopted by Birdie on her 11th birthday. The two quickly bond and before long they are working together to solve the mystery of who stole Black Jack, the prized mounted marlin which for years hung on the wall in the bait and swamp tour shop owned by Birdie's grandmother. This is a middle school reading level book filled with all the things young readers enjoy: adventure, friendship, humor, animals, suspense, excitement, daring deeds, and even a treasure map. What makes it especially appealing is that the story is told by Bowser with his intelligent, doggie-brain mind. Similar to the author's best-selling Bernie and Chet mysteries for adults, this book is sure to please the younger crowd. Hopefully this is the first of a series.
Part memoir, part literary criticism, this book is an account of a man on a soul-searching journey. Although Andy Miller has a loving family and a good job, he feels something is missing in his life, so he determines to read 50 books in one year and in so doing try to find himself. He tells of his struggles in trying to get through some of the books on his list and of his delight in reading others, similar to the struggles and various delights in his life. His observations on all lead him and the reader along the path of discovery. He weaves his discussion of various books into his experiences as a bookseller, book editor, blogger, member of a book group, and writer. This is a love song to books, one every bibliophile can relate to and read with enjoyment. It's fun. It's humorous. And it sports a great cover.
I've never been one to read much non-fiction, but lately I find myself drawn to a wide variety of subjects. My latest find was a book about cats and dogs. These animals have become more than pets. They are family. The author traces the origins of these animals from ancient times to the present and discusses how they have evolved from being accepted because they were earning their keep as watchdogs or herders or rat-catchers to their present day privileged status as household members. Various animal rights activist groups throughout history are mentioned, and the author brings the subject up to date by discussing how pets now have lawyers to defend their rights. Grimm raises the question as to whether cats and dogs are filling a void by becoming substitutes in our lives, keeping us from seeking out human companionship instead. This is a book written in a readable style and filled with fascinating tidbits and factual information about our four-legged family members and friends.
The title sounds like this would be a work of science fiction. Well...not necessarily. It could be true. It could happen today. Mark Watney is stranded on Mars. His crewmates left him there for dead. A raging sandstorm forced them to depart hurriedly with no time to retrieve his body. But he is alive. And he has no way to communicate this fact back to Earth. How will he survive? Will he survive? Using his training as an astronaut, his knowledge of various scientific fields, and his wits and problem-solving abilities, he manages to get by temporarily. He keeps a log of his thoughts and activities and through his jottings, his delightful sense of humor comes through to the reader. This is truly a riveting story that will keep you guessing to the end. --Sandy
This is a laugh-out-loud read. The main character has Asperger's, and while the syndrome is anything but funny, the author deals with the subject with honesty and respect and has created a loveable and lovely character. Don Tillman is a good-looking, successful, intelligent bachelor. When he decides it's time to get married, he goes about attempting to find the ideal woman in his typical methodical style, by first having each "applicant" answer a 16-page, double-sided, questionnaire (The Wife Project) which he figures will save time by first weeding out all those not meeting his requirements. Then along comes Rosie who has none of the qualifications he's looking for. This book is utterly charming and delightful. Caution: I wouldn't advise reading it in public.
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Originally published in 1950 as The Story of Jennie, and out of print for many years, this lovely and loveable children's classic has now been reprinted as part of the New York Review Children's Collection. It's a timeless tale of a young boy, longing for a cat of his own, who, while racing across a London street toward a kitten he has spied, is struck down by a truck and wakes up actually being a cat. A stray, Jennie, befriends him and teaches him how to survive as a cat. One of the most delightful chapters in the book is entitled, "When in Doubt-Wash." Anyone who has ever had a cat will be intrigued by the truth behind Jennie's philosophy as well as her instructions. The author nails it perfectly. Children and adults alike will be enthralled by this warm and satisfying adventure story.
Typical story. Wife disappears from home leaving behind signs of a struggle and poorly wiped up blood residue. Husband doesn't display "typical" signs of anguish and concern and therefore appears guilty. Besides, in the end, isn't it always the husband who "did it"? This is where all similarities stop. Ann Rule writes about the psychopathy of real people. Gillian Flynn creates her own devious, manipulative, dark and terrifying characters who put on a likeable front outwardly, but inwardly they are conniving, narcissitic, lying and dangerous individuals, the likes of whom you hope to never find in your own life, but probably have at one time or another. A non-stop read with twists and unexpected turns on every page.
Son tells the story of Claire, a young girl assigned the job of being a birth-mother in a society far different from our own. Various elements combine to make Claire different from the other girls in that she remembers giving birth to a son and feels a mother's love for her child. She discovers which family he was given to and begins to bond with him. When her child is taken from the village because his life is in danger, she attempts to follow but becomes stranded on an isolated shore. Many years later she manages to find a way out and continues her search. Will she find him before evil forces cause her to lose her own life?
Lois Lowry won the Newbery Medal for The Giver, the first book in what has come to be known as The Giver Quartet. Son concludes the series. All 4 books, written for ages 12 and up, received starred reviews. While each book can stand alone and is seemingly unrelated to the others, Lowry succeeds in magically drawing the different tales and characters together to form a most satisfying conclusion. I avidly re-read the first 3 titles before reading this final title and thoroughly enjoyed them all.