Harley Quinn: Hot in the City by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner (2014)

harleyquinnEveryone’s favorite psychopath with a heart of gold is back! This time in her own solo comic series, Harley Quinn has broken up with Mister J. She’s out on her own and ready for action. Follow her adventures in the city as she wreaks havoc on its citizens with the best of intentions (ranging from saving animals from euthanasia in an animal shelter to landing a job in a nursing home as a counselor). Check out Harley Quinn: Hot in the City today. Hang on tight, you’re in for a wild ride!

The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally (2013)

daughtersmarsIn Thomas Keneally’s The Daughters of Mars, two Australian sisters go first to Gallipoli and later France as nurses during the Great War. They are, as they themselves would say, reserved and non-demonstrative girls who have never been close. The title, meaning women who go to war, is accurate. These women are not in battle, but still see and experience harrowing events. A theme running throughout the book is that any event has at least two outcomes and, especially in war, who will live or who will die or is not preordained. And life, in the larger sense, is like that too. How can someone survive the war then die of flu? How can someone who is a jeweler lose his sight but someone who is an artist lose their non-dominant arm? How can someone survive a horrible shipwreck and die in a simple car accident?

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (2015)

watersedgeMaddie, Ellis, and Hank are part of the idle rich in World War II Philadelphia. Life is just one big party until Ellis falls out of his father's graces and embarks on a journey to find the Loch Ness monster. Maddie learns the truth about her husband, the war, and life itself in a small village in the Scottish Highlands. There she meets two women and a man who change her path. Sara Gruen's vivid descriptions and characters will transport the reader to a different time and place in At the Water’s Edge.

Spotlight: A. S. King

IMG_2660Did you know author A.S. King is coming to the library this fall? Her upcoming visit on Tuesday, November 10th has inspired me to complete the A.S. King Book Challenge (i.e. read all her books). After flying through Ask the Passengers, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Everybody Sees the Ants, and Reality Boy, I can safely say that I haven’t been reading these books – I’ve been devouring them! With perfectly integrated magical realism and bomb resolutions, they are just that darn good.

Realistic in well-developed characters and tone, King deploys a bit of magical realism in the majority of her books that helps convey characters’ emotions and plot points in a unique manner. In Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Glory discovers information about her family and members of the cult that live next door from getting glimpses into their futures after drinking a petrified bat. The other books include appearances from Socrates' ghost and an army of anthropomorphic, sassy ants. These bizarre devices help build well-defined characters and settings in such a seamless manner that the reader may forget that Socrates’ ghost and sassy ants are not a common occurrence in our world.

The magical realism will invest you into her characters' wellbeing to the point that you’ll dread parting ways with your new fictional friends. Luckily, King is also a master at perfectly satisfying resolutions. While other authors may rely on a Hollywood blockbuster finale that explodes in the reader’s face, King’s endings seem to glide to a slow stop for a perfect landing. Astrid, from Ask the Passengers, and Lucky, from Everybody Sees the Ants, both struggle with an underlying life challenge. Astrid wants her family and community to give her the opportunity to discover and accept her sexuality. Lucky wants protection from a bully who humiliates him in some of the most egregious and nauseating scenes I’ve ever read in a YA book. Both books’ endings diverge from the assumed happy ending conclusions, and yet both end with such optimistic notes that I can now say I’ve experienced the ever allusive tears of joy.

Magical realism and perfect resolutions are just the icing on the cake in King’s books. When you come to the library and head to the Ks in the teen fiction section, beware that just one King book will leave you craving for more. So grab an IPPL basket and a few tissues from the Ask Us desk, and cancel your weekend plans so that you too can complete the A.S. King Book Challenge!

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro (2012)

artforgerClaire Roth is a starving young artist who suddenly finds herself in the midst of an international art theft. The plot develops with a little romance, a little suspense, and a debate over what is innocent reproduction and what is a crime. The background of the unsolved 1990 Gardner Heist is explained, but the letters and insights into Isabella Gardner in the 19th century adds a pinch of history to this contemporary novel.

Check out B. A. Shapiro’s novel The Art Forger today.

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe (2015)

manatthehelmIn the early 1970s, a woman from a wealthy background suddenly finds herself divorced and living in a small English village, where divorced women are suspect (it would seem for good reason). The book is told in the first person by ten-year-old Lizzie (looking back as an adult) and has quite a funny tone and wonderfully set pieces. Nina Stibbe’s Man at the Helm is very funny, but sad too.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)

micemenJohn Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a powerful story about two day laborers during the Great Depression who dream of owning an acre of land. George is small, but smart, and he worries over and tries to protect his friend Lennie, who is big and strong, but has the mind of a child. Their prospects look promising until a flirtatious woman enters the picture, and George must act quickly to do what he feels is best for his friend. You won’t be able to put this book down.

For other classics that make great choices for reading and discussing, check out our book list.
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American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)

americangodsThe novel opens in the very realistic setting of a prison where model prisoner and likable character Shadow finds himself about to be released into society. Tragedy strikes and Shadow is released into a dismal, lonely future.

When Shadow believes he has nothing to lose, he agrees to work for Mr. Wednesday. In American Gods, Neil Gaiman creatively switches gears and the reader is on a fantasy quest in a strange world where gods and goddesses are as real as prison was just hours before.

Enjoy this novel? Check out our list of the best fantasy novels for adults.

Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay (2009)

feartheworstLinwood Barclay’s thrillers are usually good at grabbing the reader right from the beginning and pulling him in. Fear the Worst is no exception to that rule. In this story, Tim Blake is just an average guy who is good at selling cars. He has an ex-wife and a 17-year-old daughter who is staying with him for the summer. His real nightmare begins when his daughter disappears, supposedly into thin air. When he starts to search, no one has heard of her, not even at the place she was working.

To make matters worse, he is constantly being watched because others are looking for his daughter too. They’re not planning a welcome home celebration, though. This is a good mystery that will keep you up late at night turning pages.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

jonathanstrangeSusanna Clarke writes a historical fantasy novel full of curious characters and thousands of rich details that are woven together masterfully. Set in the age of Napoleon, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell follows two English gentlemen determined to bring magic back to England. While old Mr. Norrell wishes to hoard the magic for himself and is overly cautious, Jonathan Strange daringly forges ahead producing new and exciting magic despite the risks. Many of the scenes are comical, but there is an ominous cloud of dark magic which hangs over the entire story creating a feeling of foreboding and suspense. (The book was made into a BBC miniseries in 2015.)

A Place for Us by Harriet Evans (2015)

placeforusMartha Winter is turning eighty and having a big family party, at which she plans on revealing a secret. Martha and her husband, David (a famous cartoonist) have built what looks like, from the outside, an idyllic life at Winterfold, their home in Surrey. Their granddaughters, Lucy and Cat, now grown, remember it that way too. For Martha and David's three children, however, there was conflict between Daisy (the middle child) and her siblings--eldest Bill and youngest Florence.

In Harriet Evans’ novel, the reader explores the family's lives both past and present from many points of view. A Place for Us is an exploration of family relationships and is a real treat for people who enjoy the novels of Joanna Trollope, Rosamunde Pilcher, and early Jojo Moyes.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2012)

dogstarsAfter a pandemic flu has wiped out all but a few people, a pilot named Hig finds himself teamed up, for better or for worse, with Bangley, who is armed to the teeth and would rather shoot first and ask questions later. They have staked out a valley with a small suburban airport, with Hig warning people from the air that they should stay away. While Bangley is ruthless, Hig has a gentle nature, so they keep to themselves with Hig’s dog Jasper being his only real friend. It is a lonely and violent existence. When Hig hears a radio transmission from his plane, he must decide whether or not to risk everything to see if there is still some civilization out there.

Fans of dystopian literature will enjoy Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. It is not nearly as bleak as The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but still has plenty of desperate, exciting moments and ultimately conveys a message of hope. Check out other tales of dystopia here.
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The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon (2014)

killjoysGerard Way and Shaun Simon’s piece is not your run-of-the-mill graphic novel; its story chronologically takes place after My Chemical Romance’s album: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. That’s one of the best parts about it! Since its precursor was a music album, as you are reading through it, there are references to MCR’s lyrics and you can actually hear what some characters are intended to sound like. As you’re reading Dr. Death-Defying’s lines, his voice appears in your head like magic. It’s a surreal experience to have when you’re reading a graphic novel that doesn’t have a TV or movie adaptation!

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is a great read for anyone who is (and even isn’t) a My Chemical Romance fan. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to Danger Days but stands on its own as well with no pre-knowledge of the music. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young girl who was previously under the protection of the Killjoys. After their deaths in Danger Days, she struggles to find her place in the unforgiving world she was left in. Why were they protecting her? What was it about her that made them so willing to risk their lives? In The Fabulous Killjoys, the reader finds the answers that they are seeking and so much more.

The High Divide by Lin Enger (2014)

highdivideUlysses Pope embarks on a journey that will lead him far away from home for an indefinite period of time. He may not even come back. But the only explanation for his departure that he gives his family is vague and left to be discovered in a note inside a locked trunk. Set in the late 1800s, The High Divide follows the members of the Pope family as they travel across the Great Plains—the father’s departure prompting first his young sons, and then his wife to go on their own quests.

The story unfolds as three different narrators (Ulysses, his wife Gretta, and his older son Eli) give accounts of their adventures—each searching inwardly and outwardly for answers, and encountering many colorful, and sometimes dangerous, individuals along the way. The High Divide is sure to be an entertaining read for lovers of fiction set in this era, as Lin Enger has created authentic voices for his characters and woven some intriguing historical personages and events into his tale.

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood (2004)

ghostwriterA young Australian boy searches out the mysterious past of his mother in postwar England based on the clues revealed in the ghost stories composed by his great-grandmother. A few of the ghost stories are included, and it becomes increasingly hard to discern if art is following life, or life is following art in John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer.