This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
Ellie, 16 and living with her mother in Maine, gets an email from a stranger asking if she could walk Wilbur tonight. Concerned about Wilbur, she writes back to alert the sender to the mistake. The two start a funny exchange of emails (Wilbur turns out to be a pig), and Ellie and Graham, 17, become friends over several months. The teens don’t exchange names. Unknown to Ellie, Graham is a movie star. When the location for his next movie falls through, he suggests Ellie’s coastal Maine village, and the movie crew set up camp in Henley for several weeks in the summer. He doesn’t tell Ellie, and mistakenly thinks Ellie’s friend Quinn is his email pal when he meets her at the local ice cream shop. After the pair finally meet, and are definitely attracted to each other, they continue to exchange emails. Ellie is not very happy to have her friend turn out to be famous, and she knows that her mother will be upset by the media who follow Graham’s every move. Ellie and her mom have a family secret that they’re trying to keep, even from Ellie’s friend Quinn. The two teens are very likeable, and had normal, happy childhoods, unlike many of the teens in fiction today. Except for his fame and career, Graham is normal. He’s lonely and feels isolated since he left school and feels that Ellie is his only real friend. Ellie is trying to earn enough money to go to a poetry camp at Harvard, and hopes her absent dad can help out with tuition. Graham gets in trouble trying to keep photographers from hassling Ellie, and the two take a boat and head out of town to meet Ellie’s dad. Nothing goes as planned, but it makes for a good story. I enjoyed this sweet fantasy teen romance with a lot of humor.
Recommended for fans of Joan Bauer’s books.
Approaching 70, author/journalist Philip Caputo decides it’s time to realize a dream; to drive from Key West, Florida to the Arctic Ocean in Alaska. He reads up on the history and literature of the places he might visit, rents a vintage Airstream trailer, and finally asks his wife Leslie if she can join him on the trip and help take care of their two dogs. Leslie, a magazine editor, had already figured out a plan to work part-time while on the road.
They try to avoid expressways, but sometimes use them. Traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway, they are amazed by its beauty and lack of commercial development. A highlight is traveling the Lewis and Clark trail. Along the way, Caputo interviews 80 Americans, asking them what unites or divides us as a country. Their answers are varied, and thought-provoking. They visit small towns, national parks, reservations, historical monuments, and sample lots of regional food specialties. Traveling and camping with a small trailer and two dogs isn’t always easy, but it’s often funny, such as when Leslie meets “Mothra”, a huge moth, in a campground shower.
While I enjoyed reading about the road trip, it was the historical background Caputo shares with the reader that made the biggest impression on me, from learning about the Lewis & Clark expedition, the Nebraska setting for Willa Cather’s books, researching a soldier at the Battle of Little Bighorn, information about the national parks, and more. The small towns in decline were quite a contrast to communities like Grand Island, Nebraska, a multicultural melting pot with immigrants from many parts of the world recruited for factory jobs. References to other travel writers and memories of growing up in Chicago and Westchester round out the book. I think both history buffs and armchair travelers would find The Longest Road well worth reading, as well as anyone interested in reading about what other Americans think about our country today. Read more about the book and watch a book trailer on the author’s website.
The Tao of Martha, by Jen Lancaster
Jen, a Chicago area writer, closes out a very bad year by deciding to tackle her house, garden, and life with tips from Martha Stewart. She figures that if Martha can bounce back from adversity, the practical advice in her books and magazines should help Jen. For his New Year’s resolution, her laid-back husband Fletch resolves to grow a beard. Jen is funny, tends to take on more than she can handle, swears a lot, and is devoted to her dogs, especially Maisy, who has major health issues. Guests arriving for a party are likely to be handed a recipe card and directed to the kitchen. Thinking like Martha helps Jen clear out her kitchen’s “Drawer of Shame”, organize and decorate her house, learn about gardening, throw some great parties, become an obsessive disaster prepper, and get her priorities straight when life throws her a curve, such as forgetting that Thanksgiving was just around the corner. Jen finds that while learning new crafts can be rewarding, if you’re not having fun, it’s not for you. For example, pumpkin carving is tough and messy, but decorating pumpkins and gourds with glitter is a breeze. And if you’re going to stop wasting food and cook more, you might as well learn to make comfort foods that are expensive to buy, such as cheesecake. I enjoyed this entertaining and insightful memoir of the year Jen chose organization and happiness.
The Human Division by John Scalzi
From award-winning science fiction writer John Scalzi, another adventure in space. This book was originally released as a serialized ebook. It’s good to have a Plan B. For Colonial Union administrators, Plan B is the unarmed courier ship Clarke, with Captain Sophia Coloma, Ambassador Abumwe, her assistant Hart Schmidt, and Lt. Harry Wilson, on loan from the Colonial Defense Force. Unknown to the crew of the Clarke, they are sent on diplomatic missions that have not gone well for various reasons, including the disappearance of one of the ships they’re replacing. The division referred to in the title is the disconnect between the humans on Earth, and the humans in the Colonial Union, a collection of human colonies, which has been using the Earth to staff its Colonial Defense Force, whose recruits have a short life expectancy. The Clarke and its crew have various adventures which include Harry and the secretary of state’s daughter, a doctor, skydiving to Earth from a space station that is under attack. It was entertaining to read, and I look forward to the serialized sequel. For more about the book and sequel, visit the publisher’s website. For more about the author, visit his well-known blog.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
This is a supernatural thriller, and quite fun to read. It’s the first in a series about the Checquy, a secret British spy agency staffed with people with a variety of supernatural abilities or unique physical characteristics, along with normal assistants. The opening sets the tone: Myfanwy Thomas (she pronounces it Miffany) finds herself in a park in London, surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves, and with no memory. Her former self has left her a letter, however, giving her two options and a safe hideout. Clearly there is a traitor within the Checquy agency. The reader and Myfanwy learn that she is an executive with a desk job at the agency, but is occasionally called on to oversee the Checquy response to supernatural emergencies, such as a building covered with purple fungus that has swallowed the first team sent to investigate screams from inside. Her normal assistant Ingrid is invaluable as Myfanwy tries to get up to speed on her job while looking for the traitor. Lots of action and suspense, along with humor, plenty of eccentric characters, and unique settings including a boarding school for supernaturally gifted children make for a page-turner. I can’t wait to see what O’Malley, a first novelist from Australia, comes up with next. For more information and a video book trailer, visit his website.
Much Ado about Magic by Shanna Swendson
Texan Katie Chandler is normal. She has no magical talents, but is immune to magic and can see through illusions. She returns to MSI in New York City to work in marketing. MSI is run by Merlin. Yes, that Merlin. Her boyfriend, Owen Chandler, is a sweet, shy, powerful wizard. A rival accuses Owen, who’s adopted, of having evil wizards as parents, and of causing the havoc in Manhattan that he stops. There’s a lot of humor with flying gargoyles, a clumsy fairy, magical illusions and spells, and her department’s constant partying while Katie’s trying to plan a big event in Central Park. Her roommates know her secret, and try to help when Owen and MSI are in trouble. Not your typical urban fantasy, it’s more of a romantic comedy with fantasy elements. This is book five in the series that begins with Enchanted, Inc. Read more about Katie on the author’s website. Book 6 is now available, and we own the whole series in print, and as e-books on Media on Demand.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
I like cookbooks. I select them for the library’s collection, and I also collect them, skim them, look at the photos, flag promising recipes, and bake or cook recipes from each. But I don’t generally read them out loud. Deb Perelman’s entertaining first book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, was meant to be read out loud. She is young, has a tiny New York City kitchen, a husband, and a toddler. She also loves to cook and entertain, and find new dishes at a restaurant and then experiments (or obsesses) with getting them just right in her kitchen. Her wildly popular blog, smittenkitchen.com, is full of recipes and observations on food and life. In the cookbook, the notes for each recipe are often hilarious, and guaranteed to make you hungry. I’ve already tried a few recipes, and my coworkers at the library agree that Deb’s Brownie Roll-Out Cookies are delicious.
The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Sometimes I want something lighter to read, especially when I need an audiobook to listen to when I’m driving. Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s characters are very good company if you want a romance with some comedy. This is a companion book to Call Me Irresistible, and they can be read in any order. Lucy Jorik is the former president’s adopted daughter, and feels the need to live up to that responsibility. When she finds out at the last minute that she just can’t marry her perfect fiance, Ted Bodine, she panicks and runs away in a choir robe and heels. Wedding guest Patrick, who goes by Panda, gives her a ride on his motorcycle, and they end up on a road trip with Lucy in disguise to escape the press. Panda, although he wears offensive t-shirts, is very attractive and Lucy falls for him. Later, Lucy decides to track him down and ends up staying in his summer house on an island in Lake Michigan. She needs to do some writing for a book about her famous mother, but keeps getting sidetracked. We meet Bree, who has just become guardian to 12-year-old Toby, and is learning to keep bees, and local realtor Mike Moody, who Bree tries to avoid. When Panda, a security consultant, is hired by longtime client Temple, he brings the television diva to the island so she can lose weight while avoiding publicity. Lucy and Panda’s bickering, fighting their attraction, is very funny. Bree’s gradual realization that Mike is no longer the annoying boy she remembers is more heartwarming.
Readalikes for this book would include Jennifer Crusie, Janet Evanovich’s romantic comedies, and Elizabeth Adler.
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle
Sometimes I just want a light, fun book to read. That description perfectly fits Peter Mayle’s books. How about a luxurious working vacation in the south of France? American sleuth Sam Levitt and his girlfriend Elena are off to Marseille so that Sam can help wealthy Francis Reboul win a waterfront development contract. Readers of The Vintage Caper may remember that Reboul was Levitt’s quarry in a wine theft case, but he isn’t the type to hold a grudge. British rival Lord Wapping will stop at nothing to win the contest, while the other developer is Parisian, and not likely to win many votes in Marseille. Much sightseeing, fine wines, and gourmet dining are enjoyed by Sam and Elena until Lord Wapping’s thugs resort to kidnapping. This is a very breezy and relaxed caper, and enjoyable to read.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
I really enjoyed reading this book (partly in print and partly on cd), and didn’t want it to end. This is the first book in Bujold’s science fiction series to feature Ivan Vorpatril, and is an excellent introduction to her writing. Adventure, humor, and romance are the main characteristics, along with memorable characters; the science fiction aspect is less emphasized, except for the setting.
Ivan is the cousin of the short, over-achieving Miles Vorkosigan, who has involved Ivan in several of his adventures, to Ivan’s regret. They are both cousins of Gregor Vorbarra, emperor of the planets Barrayar, Komarr, and Sergyar. Working as an admiral’s aide on Komarr, Ivan is approached by undercover agent Byerly Vorrutyer and asked to befriend a young woman who may be in danger. Tej Arqua resists Ivan’s flirting so he follow her home, where he is stunned by Tej’s sister Rish. After some complicated adventures, Ivan discovers that he’ll go to great lengths to protect Tej, and they end up back on Barrayar together, where their families have varying reactions to their relationship, and the Arqua family arrives to search for buried treasure, resulting in an underground search is both dangerous and funny. Komarr would be a good introduction to Miles Vorkosigan, while A Civil Campaign is a humorous look at Miles and Ivan.