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What's Mt. Airy Reading?

Staff Picks

Our staff picks have migrated to our blog. Here are links to current staff and community reviews on the blog: The box below contains links to reviews from 2006-2008.


September, 2008:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. (Heather)
Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber. (Maleka)
La Perdida by Jessica Abel. (Maleka)
March, 2008:
Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex. (Eric)
February, 2008:
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata. (Janet)
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Maleka)
October, 2007:
Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt. (Janet)
September, 2007:
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. (Jen)
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. (Jen)
Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke. (Jen)
The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell by Rachel Herz. (Jen)
June, 2007:
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. (Rich)
April, 2007:
The Secret History of the American Empire by John Perkins. (Brad)
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. (Maleka)
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. (Janet)
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. (Anna)
March, 2007:
Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. (Sheila)
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. (Noah)
Erzulie's Skirt by Ana-Maurine Lara. (Kayla)
November, 2006:
The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. (Jen)
October, 2006:
Zivvy's Picks - Books about Falling Down. (Sheila and Zivia)
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. (Jen)
Getting It by Alex Sanchez. (Nif)
Crossing Jordan and The Big Nothing by Adrian Fogelin. (Nif)
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett. (Nif)
Specials by Scott Westerfeld. (Nif)
Magic Lessons by Justine Larbalestier. (Nif)
September, 2006:
Zivvy's Picks - Toddler as Test-Reader! (Sheila and Zivia)
August, 2006:
The Orientalist by Tom Reiss. (Nate)
Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. (Maleka)
July, 2006:
Poetry by Martin Espada. (Nava)
Hidden Kitchens by Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson. (Sheila)


The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami may very well be the best book I have read in the past few years. The story of Toru Okada begins with his and his wife's cat going missing and spirals out of control from there. Toru meets a bizarre cast of characters, including a morbid 16-year-old girl who is obsessed with death, a pair of psychic sisters named after Mediterranean countries, and a war veteran from Japan's Manchukuo campaign that has more than a simple story to tell.

Murakami's writing style is at the same time dreamlike and startlingly realistic. He writes with intensity, making you feel as though what is happening in the book is happening right in front of you – I had to put the book down a few times. This wasn't a bad thing; on the contrary, it was refreshing to have this vivid attention to detail on every page.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an incredibly well-written piece of literature that I am extremely glad about picking up off of the shelf. Surreal and yet starkly sober, Murakami's genius comes across in not only his compelling story, but his incredibly lifelike representation of his odd characters. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. (Heather, September 2008)

[See another staff review of Murakami's work below.]

Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber.
I enjoyed this book so much that immediately after I read it I went and checked out more books by Abu-Jaber. I love her style of writing- full of wonderful character development, sensual descriptions of place, and a forward-moving flow of the plot's twists and turns that are timed perfectly for me. I don't want to spoil too much of this novel (it is considered a mystery), but know this- you'll be getting bizarre background stories, a heap of fun character dynamics, and intriguing action. It all takes place in snowy and gray Syracuse, New York, where identity and origin (including race, family history, detective work, and more) are lost and trying to be found throughout the entire story. Highly recommended. (Maleka, September 2008)

La Perdida by Jessica Abel.
Wow. This graphic novel blew me away. I read the entire thing in one night (and that's saying a lot from a woman with two very young children). I just couldn't put it down. Now for the most part graphic novels tend to overstimulate me. I felt like I couldn't get into them. La Perdida changed my mind. Jessica Abel has drawn and written up a narrative that is fresh and full of intense and highly developed main characters that stay with you for a long time. I went through the novel both liking and disliking the main character, Carla, who is half-Mexican, and who travels down to Mexico City to find a way to connect to her roots, which have never been a part of her growing up. She learns a lot, and in turn we, the readers, learn a lot- conversations dealing with the very tough topics of immigration, ancestry and heritage, colonialism and consumerism, and the co-opting of folkloric Mexico. It's intense, and made me both cry and laugh throughout the book. Pick this up and read it in one day. Then let it sink into your psyche as you analyze American politics and plan your next vacation to "Third World" countries. (Maleka, September 2008)

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex.
How hard is it for the Phantom of the Opera to write a new song? And would you believe that Bigfoot and Yetis get confused all the time? And don't start Young Dracula on the dentist. These are but a few of the rhyming stories you'll find in Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich - along with some wonderful art. Just make sure that Godzilla doesn't poop on your Honda. (Eric, March 2008)

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata.
Books for young adults are astoundingly well-written and valuable sources of information about history, adolescent concerns, and introductions into the complexity of adulthood. Newbery Medal winner Cynthia Kadohata has written another masterpiece entitled Weedflower. Twelve year old Sumiko lives two lives: the life before and after Pearl Harbor. As an expert flower grower at her extended family's flower farm in California, Sumiko is surrounded by the beauty that she helps to create and a family that provides wisdom and security to her days despite the bigotry she encounters with her school mates. Once the family is broken through the orders to be sent to internment camps, Sumiko struggles to overcome the "ultimate boredom" of camp life and goes on to create a garden in the desert. Irrigation methods are utilized and shared with the Native American community suffering the same relocation, and the water of life brings beauty and food to both imprisoned nations. Weedflower is a slice of American history that calls out to be remembered, written with a talent that deserves to be read by all age groups. (Janet, February 2008)

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Adichie's novel about the Biafran war in Nigeria is full of absolutely stunning pictures of revolutionary love, international racism, the horrors of war, and the intimacy of long term relationships. I loved her different perspectives, from a young village houseboy to a European writer to a beautiful and educated upper class Nigerian woman. The characters stay with you long past the actual reading of the novel - they are rich in detail and full of complex feelings. This is truly a journey of broad and expansive themes of love and loss, and small, detailed themes of what it takes to love someone unconditionally and how people grow within states of trauma and tragedy. (Maleka, February 2008)

Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt.
Occasionally I discover a book which becomes my constant companion. I carry it with me, sneaking moments throughout the day to savor a few more pages. I stay up later than I should. I prolong the last few pages, waiting for a special time. In this case, I discovered a sequel. To my surprise, it is equally engaging. A further surprise: these are books for young adults (12 to 14 year-olds).

Newberry medal winner Cynthia Voigt has provided such an experience with her two novels Homecoming and Dicey's Song. The themes trickling through both books are lessons for all ages: how to manage the grief of abandonment, the art of holding on and letting go simultaneously, being true to one's inner being, differences in how we learn, the refusal to accept labels.

The voice through which this story is spun is the eldest of the Tillerman children, Dicey, who at thirteen is the only one of the four siblings who remembers their father. He leaves the family upon the discovery of the fourth pregnancy. Dicey perseveres as care-taker while her mother attempts to support her family of five. When despair and poverty become overwhelming, the children are loaded into their broken down car, each with a paper bag of belongings and a load of peanut butter sandwiches. The last hope is to find the one remaining relative, an aunt in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who has sent a Christmas card once a year to the family. Somewhere in Connecticut the children's mother runs out of hope and money and deserts the children in the parking lot of a shopping mall.

With determination and courage, Dicey leads her three younger siblings on a search for their great aunt in Bridgeport. Adventure, disappointment, hunger, thirst, and fatigue abound, along with a memory of their mother's love. It is a love that provides the conviction that they must not be separated and must find a home.

This is a story to be savored and shared and grow curl-edged on your bookshelf, to be reread for inspiration whenever needed. If your twelve- or thirteen- or fourteen-year-old daughter will accept a recommendation, these books will provide openings for endless conversation. And in case you want to go on reading, there are five other books in the Tillerman cycle. (Janet, October 2007)

Jen's Fall Picks (all due out in October 2007)

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Winner of the 2008 Coretta Scott King Award and the 2008 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

Elijah of Buxton is historical fiction that took me to a fascinating place I'd never been. Elijah is the fictional first child born into freedom in the real-life Canadian settlement of Buxton, but his chief claim to fame, he says, is that he spit up on Frederick Douglass when he was a baby ten years ago. It goes without saying that he's looking for ways to redeem himself. He helps out his neighbors, he goes to school, he joins his family in welcoming new-free slaves to the settlement. But then he has a chance to help a friend whose savings, intended to free his family, have been stolen -- even though it means crossing over the border into the United States.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.
Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday is also about a clever eleven-year-old black kid (actually biracial) crossing borders, but this story is played almost entirely for laughs. Gratuity Tucci (her friends call her Tip) is living a normal life in Philadelphia until her mom is abducted by aliens, and she finds herself driving their car cross-country in the company of an alien gone rogue who has chosen the name J. Lo in the hope that it will help him blend in. There's also pointed satire, questions of loyalty and family, and saving the world from two alien invasions. A lot to do. And meanwhile, what's happening to all the cats?

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke.
Witty and whimsical, this book also begins with an eleven-year-old hero -- although she turns twelve the next day. Her birthday is full of trouble: castle magic gone awry due to a pronunciation error, a missing neighbor whose relatives threaten siege, and a quest to find the hairs of a giant who lives a day's ride away. However, Igraine would rather be a knight than a magician like the rest of her family, and she is up for the challenge. Also features a helpful cat named Sisyphus and the family's magical Singing Books.

The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell by Rachel Herz.
And finally, a book intended for grown-ups. In The Scent of Desire, psychologist and olfactory expert Rachel Herz delves deeply into our least understood sense. She examines the intersections of smell with emotions, memories, desires, prejudice, marketing, and the sense of taste, and she illuminates the often dismissed but truly devastating condition of anosmia, the loss of the sense of smell. What I learned helped me appreciate the world around me in new ways!

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.
I chose to review Uglies because it touches on a lot of key ideas and criticisms about our present day world. Issues such as oil, the wasting of natural resources, and the overwhelming pressure of superficial beauty are found and discussed throughout the book. All of these important issues are interlaced with a really engaging and fun story of a young girl named Tally, and her journey to become pretty.

I would recommend this book to a younger (20-below) group of readers. The book starts off slowly, but picks up after the first chapter or so and really blossoms into a wonderful story that left me wanting more. (Rich, June 2007)

[See also Specials, the third book in the series, reviewed below.]

The Secret History of the American Empire by John Perkins.
The Secret History of the American Empire, the newest offering from John Perkins, becomes available in stores this June. You may recognize the author's name because of his other exposé, the 2004 New York Times bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Confessions documented the story of Perkins' career with Chas T. Main, an international consulting firm. Perkins vividly described the ways his employers taught him to forecast a Third World nation's financial future, utilizing deceptive figures. The result of this? Organizations like the IMF and World Bank handed out loans based on the forecasts, and the Third World nations were mired in massive debt for years afterward.

In Secret History, Perkins continues the path laid out by Confessions. He describes his interviews with a number of people that range the gamut of the socioeconomic hemisphere. He speaks of encounters with a leper in Indonesia, wealthy executives in South America, and numerous people in between. Perkins goes into even more detail about the drastic consequences of these massive loans. These details can be sobering at times, but if there's one thing to be taken out of Perkins' books, it's an awareness of the problem. The most enjoyable part of Secret History for me was the last third of the book; instead of more descriptions of his time in other countries, Perkins remains hopeful and speaks about some of what he has done, and what he is doing.

I thought Secret History of the American Empire would be simply a more repetitive version of Confessions. However, I was wrong about this. The book opened my eyes even more, and Perkins' gleam of hope is a little uplifting in a book where it sounds like everything in the world is going downhill. The best words that I can use to describe my feelings on the book are those of Howard Zinn, renowned author and historian: "[Secret History is] a sweeping, bold assault on the tyranny of corporate globalization...Perkins is undaunted, and offers imaginative ideas for a different world." The book is due on shelves June 5, and I highly suggest that any reader interested in world politics, economics, and international affairs in general check it out. (Brad, April 2007)

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Okay, I have to admit some things before starting to review this novel. I love food. I love descriptions of food. I love long passages out of novels that describe the sensuality and seduction of exquisite platters of food prepared for guests and families in the story. This is part of my attraction to Jhumpa Lahiri's writing. She describes platters of delicious Indian food consisting of curries, samosas, and stews with beautiful details while exploring major themes of loss, love, and identity while the characters eat, muse, and fight. The novel starts with a description of a makeshift mixture of Indian snack consisting of Rice Krispies, peanuts, chopped red onion, salt, lemon juice, and slices of green chili pepper, prepared by a very pregnant Ashima, the main female character, trying to copy the exact blend of the snack found on street corners in Calcutta. This is the perfect start to a novel that is basically one long journey of a family shifting from one culture to another within their lives -- showing episodes of the search for what is a real cultural identity in a society that is a complete mixture of multi-identity. Food is just one of the subjects Lahiri uses to describe the way the Ganguli family relates and doesn't relate to their American friends, family, lovers, etc. I related to descriptions of failed relationships where people couldn't understand why certain family traditions were still so important to the obviously very Americanized younger generation of Gangulis. Some parts of the book seemed like short stories within themselves -- Lahiri is an outstanding short story writer and it seemed a little stretchy for her to create a whole novel. Despite the stretchiness, the aromatic blend of spices wafts through the family stories, leading to a satisfying end, and definitely creating an absolute craving for some kind of potato curry, a gorgeous swath of golden sari fabric surrounding you, and a yearning to learn your family roots even if you've never set foot in your homeland. (Maleka, April 2007)

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
The Secret Life of Bees is a journey through a young woman's grief and guilt over her mother's death and along the road towards healing and redemption. As the title implies, the concurrent life-affirming theme is the life-cycle of the bee and the curative nature of its honey.

Lily is introduced at age fourteen. The year is 1964. The setting is a rural town in South Carolina. Lily lives alone with her embittered and abusive father, T-Ray. Her first and only memory of her mother is the day her mother is "accidentally" shot on December 3rd, 1953, while packing to leave home. T-Ray convinces Lily that she accidently fired the gun that killed her mother. For ten years, Lily's only source of love is from a black woman, Rosaleen, pulled out of the peach pickers in his orchard by T-Ray to work in their house. Rosaleen lives alone in a shack in the woods but grows to love Lily and instills her unique version of religion, nurturing, and care.

It is Lily's devotion to Rosaleen that finally gives her the motive to leave T-Ray and her home in search of information about her mother, Deborah, "the most beautiful name in the world". Lily's only guide towards her destination is a wooden picture of Black Mary which belonged to her mother and has the name of the town Tiburon on the back side.

Tiburon is found, along with a family of mothers with their own religion based on the Black Mary, the mother in all our hearts, an intriguing mixture of Judaism (including the Wailing Wall), Christianity, matriarchal theology, and the cycle of bees and their production of honey. In all, The Secret Life of Bees is a story of humankind, of our universal struggle to forgive ourselves, to give ourselves unconditional love while realizing at all moments that we continue through our lifetime to suffer the pains and joys of life on earth. (Janet, April 2007)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.
Twenty-six year-old Ishmael Beah has lived two lives. At the age of twelve, suddenly displaced by warring rebels in his native Sierra Leone, he wandered the ravaged countryside for months with a gang of boys before being inducted into the ranks of the government army. At sixteen, he was rescued by international aid organizations, emigrated to the United States (where he attended Oberlin College), and, in 2007, published a bestselling memoir detailing the trauma of his early life and his remarkable journey of transformation.

While Beah has become something of a literary superstar, receiving promotions from Starbucks and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, his book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider, is immensely personal, written in clear, evocative prose. Beah's spare and honest voice cuts to the painful heart of his experience: “To survive each passing day was my goal in life…There were nights when I couldn't sleep but stared into the darkest night until my eyes could see clearly through it. I thought about where my family was and whether they were alive.”

Offsetting Beah's chilling accounts of the physical and emotional casualties of war are memorable images of the children's resilience. For instance, early in his ordeal, Beah is commanded by a suspicious village chief to dance and mime to a collection of rap cassettes he was carrying in his pockets. Before the fighting broke out, Beah had been traveling with friends to participate in a talent competition; in this surreal account, Beah must literally dance for his life. A Long Way Gone illustrates the brutality and senselessness of all wars in which children are enemy combatants; it provides a crucial call to action on behalf of the 300,000 child soldiers fighting in violent conflicts around the world today. (Anna, April 2007)

Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.
This book, Pollan's second, is structured as an exploration of how plants and humans interact to further not just human desires (each section is dedicated to a desire: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control) but plants' evolutionary need to propagate themselves. Pollan argues persuasively that certain plants benefit enormously when we select them for some trait that satisfies one of these desires. The chosen plants are cultivated and prized, spreading their genes across much greater territory than would otherwise be possible.

Years ago I read Pollan's first chapter, which is about Johnny Appleseed bringing apples to the American frontier, where sweetness would have been rare (sugar was scarce and not nearly the refined product we now know). I was fascinated by the way he braided history, gardening, and ethnobotany. Then I found myself mired in his second chapter, which is about beauty and tulipomania in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Maybe someone would love the tulips, too, but that someone is not me.

Still, the apple section stayed with me, and last year I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan's excellent book on agribusiness and the food chain, which is one of the few books that I think everyone in the world should read (really: if you eat, you need to know what Pollan has to say). I loved Omnivore so much that I picked up Botany and started again from the beginning. The apple section is the best one in the book, with its strong historic vein, and I still don't think the tulip section is nearly as interesting, but the marijuana/intoxication and potato/control sections come close. The unintended consequences of the drug war on the form and cultivation of domestic cannabis is richly ironic, and there's a clear path from the potato section, in which Pollan contemplates genetically modified crops and monoculture, to the topics he covers in Omnivore.

I'm a gardener, and I think this was a lovely and rare example of a book about gardening that's not so much about plants as about culture. You don't need to be a gardener to enjoy it. But if you are a gardener, I think you're missing out on a great read if you don't pick this book up. (Sheila, March 2007)

Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.
The book Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac is a lot like its title. Odd, introspective, and mysterious, it feels like two words just put next to each other for a reason we can't comprehend. Indeed, Dharma Bums is full of words we don't expect to see next to each other, and each increasing page feels like a chance encounter of them all. Oddly enough, a chance encounter with the book on the floor of a hallway in my high school was what brought me to first pick up the book. I picked up the book, dusted it off, and my first thought was immediately "Dharma Bums? What are Dharma Bums?" The name brought to mind Tibetan monks with traveling knapsacks running away from the police. Intrigued, I read most of it throughout the rest of the school day, finding it much more engaging than any subject I have after lunch, like physics, or calculus.

Dharma Bums, essentially, is a work of fiction but feels more like a narrative crossed with a review of a lifestyle. Jack Kerouac carefully details every aspect of the carefree life of the Dharma Bums: random college-age intellectuals who study Buddhist texts by day and party wildly into the night. The characters spend a lot of time mulling over the pros and cons of this lifestyle, and part of what makes this book so realistic is the way Kerouac explores his characters' thoughts -- not simple, one-dimensional knee-jerk reaction thoughts that bubble up, but long chains of ramblings as the characters analyze their situations. The fact that they contemplate philosophy all day doesn't help the length of their soliloquies inside their heads.

I wasn't able to finish it at the time, because its rightful owner found me and took it away, but the other day I stumbled across it in the bookstore, and finished it. In fact, running over there and reading it right now would be precisely a random action that a Dharma Bum might do. I can't put into words just how the book made me feel, but it was a combination of wistful, relaxed, and the reaffirmation that letting time flow and discussing philosophy is sometimes what we all need. But most of all, Dharma Bums is a good reminder that sometimes, the most spiritual things are a direct result of randomness. (Noah, March 2007)

Erzulie's Skirt by Ana-Maurine Lara.
A couple of weeks ago, out of curiosity, I picked up Erzulie's Skirt, the first book by Ana-Maurine Lara, who recently visited The Marble. For those who are wondering, Erzulie is the Vudun goddess of love and conception and is the patron of lesbians and gay men; she is affiliated with rivers and luxury and is sometimes personified as a water snake. Erzulie, however, has more than one personality and is feared as much as she is loved.

Erzulie's Skirt is a fascinating look into another world. Ana-Maurine Lara tells the story of two women living in the Dominican Republic. Themes of destiny, justice, girl's education, and sexuality are laced throughout the narrative in which the distinction between this world and the world of the spirit is blurred. Few tools are left idle for Lara: she opens with a dramatic dialogue between two spirits - Erzulie and Agwe - she uses prose interlaced with Spanish and Kreyol, songs and poems to convey the world of Miriam and Micaela. Ana-Maurine Lara paints a portrait of a beautiful and dynamic relationship between two astounding and very human women in a harsh world. Definitely a good read for those with a curious spirit and thirsty intellect. (Kayla, March 2007)

The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute.
The main idea of The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict is that almost anything someone can do -- helping with the dishes, disciplining children, even conquering a city -- can be done with either a "heart at peace" or a "heart at war". And it is this distinction, much less than the actions one takes, that rules the outcome of any such interactions.

Prepared by the Arbinger Institute,The Anatomy of Peace tells the story of a group of parents brought together by a program for troubled youth. The parents spend a weekend learning to hear this message: your children will get no lasting benefit from this program if you yourselves don't change as well. The group is facilitated by an Israeli and a Palestinian whose former enmity toward each other's people has transformed into mutual trust.

The story focuses on the most recalcitrant of the parents, so the message can get heavy-handed at times, and the writing is a bit self-conscious. The lessons, however, are powerful ones, with well-reasoned arguments and helpful charts, copies of which are now posted around my house.

Next time you're annoyed with someone, ask yourself, am I seeing them as a whole person, with needs like mine, or am I seeing them as an object, an obstacle in the way of my happiness? Consider the way your answer affects what you see, and what you say to express your feelings. And then read this book. (Jen, November 2006)

Zivvy's Picks (October 2006)

About three weeks ago, Zivia fell down the front steps and broke her arm. Since then, she's been interested in books that have falls in them. Two favorites are Sally Goes to the Vet, by Stephen Huneck and Hush Little Baby, by Marla Frazee.

Sally is a black lab who takes a tumble and goes to the animal hospital where the vet checks her out (she needs an X-ray and a shot but she's fine). The story is easy to follow and not at all scary. It's a great way to talk about a doctor's visit with a little one, and Huneck's folk art is crisp and appealing to adults as well as children.

The current absolute favorite is Hush Little Baby, as interpreted by Marla Frazee, a great kids' book illustrator. Her version is set in a scrupulously researched Appalachian cabin, with big sister events in motion and keeping them rolling along until the end when she catches baby sister after the horse and cart fall down. The pictures are filled with gentle humor and grownups will sympathize with the parents expressions as the sleepless night proceeds. (Sheila and Zivia, October 2006)

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages.
Is it worse to be the kid everyone makes fun of to her face, or to be the kid one rung higher, who is desperate not to be associated with her? What if the two of you suddenly have to live together? What if you're supposed to get along because your parents are all working on a secret "gadget" that will help your country win the war?

Set in the strange little enclave of Los Alamos, amid the mountains of New Mexico, in the middle of the Second World War, The Green Glass Sea gives a kids'-eye-view of the Manhattan Project, including cameos of several famous scientists. Klages presents a well-researched and authentically voiced story that is at once heartwarming and chilling. (Jen, October 2006)
Winner of the 2007 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

Nif's Picks (October 2006)

Young Adult

Getting It by Alex Sanchez.
Carlos is 15 and has never had a girlfriend or a hookup or anything. When he notices that Sal, who is gay, is comfortable talking with girls, he decides to ask Sal for some “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” type help. Sal agrees, but only if Carlos will help him start a gay-straight alliance at their school.

I just discovered Adrian Fogelin, who writes moving, humorous stories about interracial friendship and young teens learning to be true to themselves. I read these two and am eager to read more.

Crossing Jordan by Adrian Fogelin.
Cass's dad builds a fence when he finds out that the new neighbors are black. But Cass and Jemmie both love to run, and they forge a friendship stronger than their parents' disapproval.

The Big Nothing by Adrian Fogelin.
Justin's dad left home, his mom is depressed, and his brother is about to be shipped to Iraq. Learning to play the piano brings much needed solace, but also awakens a crush on a girl more popular than him.

Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett.
I may have mentioned that I intend to read everything Terry Pratchett writes. This third book about Tiffany Aching is pure fun. If you've read Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith is a must-read. If you haven't read any of them, what are you waiting for?

At WisCon this year I was pleased to meet Scott Westerfeld and his wife Justine Larbalestier. Both are writing fresh, exciting young adult SF&F from down under, and I was really excited to see these sequels come out:

Specials by Scott Westerfeld.
This is the conclusion of the trilogy that started with Uglies and Pretties. In Tally's world, everyone gets cosmetic surgery when they turn 16…whether they want it or not. Tally and her friends are now Special, their rebellious natures subverted to make them part of the controlling elite of their society.

Magic Lessons by Justine Larbalestier.
Only a few short weeks ago, fifteen-year-old Reason thought that magic didn't exist. Now she knows that has to use magic, or else she'll go crazy, but if she uses too much magic, she will die. Family and friends with similar powers are faced with the same hard choices. Reason is caught between two powerful grandparents with suspicious motives, pulled between Sydney and New York, and chased by a mysterious figure with magical powers unlike that of anyone else she knows. Who will help her? Who can she trust? The second book of the trilogy that began with Magic or Madness.


Zivvy's Picks (September 2006)

Many of you know Zivia, my eighteen-month-old. One of my delights as a bookstore owner and a mom is having an enthusiastic test-reader for toddler books. Right now Zivvy loves books that do things and books with a lot going on visually. She's a little too young to do pull-tab books herself, but she likes having them read to her. Here's a quick lineup of what's exciting: Paul O. Zelinsky's beautifully illustrated, The Wheels on the Bus has just enough story to flesh out the traditional song, and his rendition of “bumpity-bump” has made Zivia delight in driving over torn-up pavement.

Sara Anderson makes funky, colorful, die-cut board books of city scenes that open up into new vistas as you read more. Ziv's favorite is Noisy City Day, which has a dog wandering through the city, but cat-lovers will enjoy Noisy City Night. There's also a great, large-format rendition of Seattle's Pike Place market. All have bouncy, chantable words and a funky, multiethnic, androgynous cast of human characters, and plenty of purple. Finally, there's the timely Penelope Goes to School, by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben, the same team behind Daddy Kisses and Mommy Hugs. Penelope paints, dances, tumbles, feeds fish, and blows out candles in this nicely engineered book just the right length for reading three times in a row before going off to day care. (Gutman and Hallensleben are also the creators of Gaspard and Lisa, two canine friends and classmates.) (Sheila and Zivia, September 2006).

The Orientalist by Tom Reiss.
After the fall of the USSR, huge portions of Eastern Europe, the Caucuses and Central Asia suddenly became visible to the rest of the world. In Tom Reiss' The Orientalist, a contemporary search for acclaimed 1930s Azeri novelist Kurban Said unveils that lost world and one of its most brilliant minds. Part history, part mystery and part adventure story, Reiss' page- turner tracks one elusive writer and shows what was lost in the unraveling of the Ottomans and the rise of both Communism and Fascism. (Nate, August 2006)

Haruki Murakami.
Okay, so I randomly started reading Kafka on the Shore, partly for the intriguing title, but also for the good reviews I've heard from various people and book clubs. Was Murakami really what I was looking for in a good novelist? Yes. I also knew I would like him after noticing that one of my favorite writers (Ariel Gore) has his book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle listed as her favorite book ever. I've only read Kafka on the Shore and am now in the middle of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but here's what Murakami does for me- he makes me keep reading. His surreal journeys through Japan with main characters that are both eccentric and ordinary are captivating. He details absolutely hilarious dialogues dealing with gender, politics, cats, jazz and classical music. You will want to read more. You will be disturbed at points but you will want to continue the journey with him and his cast of motley teens, older war victims, and phantom beings. (Maleka, August 2006)

Martin Espada.
Martin Espada writes poetry about liberation in wild, precise words: "This is the year that squatters evict landlords...this is the year/that shawled refugees deport judges...This is the year that those/who swim the border's undertow/and shiver in boxcars/are greeted with trumpets and drums...So may every humiliated mouth,/teeth like desecrated headstones,/fill with the angels of bread" (from "Imagine the Angels of Bread"). Espada is a Puerto Rican poet from Brooklyn whose poems contain the blood and pain of injustice, and also their antidote, a wide imagination. He chants his poems and dances while he reads; the rhythm of his language make it easy to hear their sounds as you read his clear-voiced poems to yourself.

Check out Martin Espada's Alabanza!: New and Selected Poems 1982-2002. For his other books, with fabulous titles like Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hands and A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen, just let us know you're interested and we can order them for you. At the Big Blue Marble, you'll also find Poetry Like Bread, a collection of poets of the political imagination from Curbstone Press in Spanish and English, edited by Martin Espada. The title comes from a poem by Roque Dalton, Like You: "Creo que el mundo es bello/que la poesia es como el pan, de todos." "I believe the world is beautiful/and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone." (Nava, July 2006)

Hidden Kitchens by Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson.
Did you read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and love it? Check out Hidden Kitchens by Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson, otherwise known as the Kitchen Sisters. It's in our cookbook section, and it's based on the NPR series of the same name- taking folks through a journey of street-corner cooking, legendary meals, kitchen rituals, and visionaries-how communities come together through food. Remember Angelo Garro, Michael Pollan's expert forager for food in Omnivore's Dilemma? He's in here with recipes for wild fennel cakes, Sicilian poached eggs, and his own Porcini pasta. Yum. (Sheila, July 2006)

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