by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
First sentence: “I feel bad that I can’t remember anything about Gran Nicholas’s house.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s written perfectly for the younger age group. It is in the middle grade  section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Livy hasn’t been to her grandmother’s house in Australia in five years, when she was five years old. She doesn’t remember much from the last time she was there: not the room or the toys or the landscape, and especially not the green creature in the closet. Bob (the green creature in the closet) remembers Livy though. She told him to stay put, which he did. For five years. In the closet. But now that Livy’s here, he’s sure she can help him find his way home again.

Bob (the book not the character) is a charming little story about friendship and growing up, but also home and family. And it’s a delightful twist on fairy tales. In Mass’ and Stead’s hands, it’s not saccharine, but simple and sweet and tender.  Livy was more complex than I expected, pulled between her childhood self and a desire to be “older” and the responsibility of being a big sister. And Bob was charming and delightfully innocent. I liked that the fairy tale had rules: even though they were never spelled out in the book, Mass and Stead were consistent with who could and could not see Bob. It was incredibly well done, and a delightful read. .


Does My Head Look Big in This?

by Randa Abdel-Fattah
First sentence: “It hit me when I was power walking on the treadmill at home, watching a Friends rerun for about the ninetieth time.”
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Content: There is some mild swearing. It would be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, if we had it.

Amal is an Australain-Muslim-Palestinian girl attending a prep school for her 11th grade year, and she has just made a big decision: she is a faithful Muslim, and she wants to express that faith by wearing the hijab full time. Except. She’s the only Muslim in her school, it’s right after 9/11, and, well, let’s say that people, even in Melbourne, aren’t that open-minded.

But Amal is determined to make it work. She faces down the disapproval of her headmistress, the questions of her (non-Muslim) friends, the bullying and badmouthing of the close-minded, and she comes out much better for the experience.

It’s a simple plot; no massive twists or turns, no real huge conflict with a tear-jerker reveal. Just a simple, true-to-life story about a religious girl trying to live her life. And I loved it. I loved Amal and the way she made the decision, but the way she kept having to reaffirm the decision to herself. Being religious in a secular world isn’t always easy, and Abdel-Fattah reflected that. I also loved how she wrote about Amal’s faith. It’s hard to put into words, but I felt that she got what it means to be religious. (I’m sure she does.) The book did feel a little dated; it’s set in 2002 and was written in 2005, but I think it’s still necessary. And it’s really a charming story.

Audiobook: The Best of Adam Sharp

by Graeme Simsion
Read by David Barker
Content: There’s a couple of f-bombs, some other general swearing, and lots of sex, most of which is not tasteless.

I picked this one up because I liked The Rosie Project well enough, and I thought the premise of this one — a man who met the love of his life when he was in his 20s, though it didn’t work out, and 20 years later reconnects with her — sounded like something I’d like. And, for a good long while, it was. Adam, the main character, is a pianist by hobby (and a good one, though with a tortured relationship with his musician father) and there was a lot of music and musical references running through the book. I liked the falling in love, the wistfulness when remembering how it didn’t work out.

But, then, once he reconnects with his ex-lover, it just does sideways, and turns into a middle age wet dream. Or something that felt a lot like that. And when he ends up in a ménage à trois with his ex-lover and her current husband (about 2/3 of the way through), I bailed. Yep, I do have limits and there they are. I have to admit there’s a part of me that’s curious to know where the book went from there, but it’s not strong enough to pick it back up.

As for the narration, it was good, though I really couldn’t tell much of a difference between the Australian and English accents (is there much of a difference?) and his women’s voices were abysmal.

So, really: not worth the time at all.

Words in Deep Blue

by Cath Crowley
First sentence: “I open my eyes at midnight to the sound of the ocean and my brother’s breathing.”
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Release date: June 6, 2017
Content: There’s some inferences to sex, some teenage drinking (it’s legal in Australia) and some swearing (I don’t remember there being any f-bombs, but don’t quote me on that). It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Rachel realized, three years ago, that she was in love with her best friend, Henry. So, she told him, via a letter in his family’s bookstore’s “Letter Library” (the coolest idea ever: leaving notes in books for strangers and/or friends). He never responded, having eyes only for another girl. And then she moved to the coast, so she figured (even though he wrote) they were over.

But, three years later, Rachel’s younger brother has drowned, and neither Rachel nor her mother are dealing with it well. Rachel’s flunked out of Grade 12, and it seems like perhaps the best thing would be to go back to the city and live with her aunt Rose and figure out what the next step should be. She ends up working at Henry’s family’s bookstore, and comes back into Henry’s orbit, again. Rachel’s dealing with too much to get into a relationship right now. But being back with Henry is comfortable, and maybe Rachel can figure out how to heal from her brother’s death. And maybe, this time, it’ll be different with Henry.

I loved this book, mostly because it hit all my sweet spots. Summer romance, bookish characters, second chances at love. I thought Crowley managed both grief and the healing process realistically. And I loved the letters that were scattered throughout the book, how the characters used the books to communicate with each other. I liked that the grief gave it an edge, and I really liked how it resolved.

An excellent summer romance.

The Piper’s Son

piperssonby Melina Marchetta
First sentence: “The string slices into the skin of his fingers and no matter how tough the calluses, it tears.”
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Content: There’s a bunch of f-bombs and some talk of sex (nothing graphic). It has a more adult sensibility than I was expecting, and although the library has it in its Teen section, I’d be tempted to put it in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Two years after the death of his favorite uncle in a terrorist bombing in London, Tom’s dropped out of university, living with some crap flatmates, and basically a mess. Then, hitting rock bottom, he finds his way back to his Aunt Georgie (who’s been knocked up by her ex-boyfriend) and begins to piece his life back together.

Some books are plot-driven and some are character-driven, and this one is the latter. There’s not much plot-wise — mostly it’s the ways in which Tom and Georgia (and the rest of the McKee family) are dealing (or not dealing) with the crap in their life — but the characters make this book worthwhile. Tom is brash and abrasive at first, but he grows so much that by the end, I was sobbing. And Georgia gives the book a heart that otherwise would be missing. This family is so messed up, but so fierce in their love for each other; it’s truly one of those books that show how families really do come in all shapes and sizes.

Technically, this is a sequel to Saving Francesca, but you can definitely read it as a stand-alone. And it’s so very worth it.

The Rosie Project

by Graeme Simsion
First sentence: “
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: A ton of f-bombs, a character who has multiple one-night stands (because he wants to have sex with women from every country of the world), a lot of alcohol consumption (granted, all the characters are in their 30s). Thematically, I could see this having older-teen appeal, but it sits in the adult fiction section at the store.

Someone at work — my boss, perhaps — described this to me as a “romantic comedy.” Nothing of substance, really, but generally enjoyable. But because of the way the characters are, I kind of came to think of this as Sheldon gets a makeover.

Don Tillman is a genetics professor at an unspecified university in Melbourne, Australia. He’s got a brilliant mind, but his life revolves around… routines designed for efficiency. He wears Gortex shirts because they work for both regular life and exercise. He has a designated meal plan — lobster every Tuesday, for example — that enables him to both 1) minimize shopping and 2) free his mind to think instead of having to focus on cooking.

Granted, his idiosyncrasies — I liked that even though in the first chapter Don gives a speech to an Aspergers conference, it’s never stated outright that he’s been diagnosed on the autism spectrum — have made it difficult for him to have a relationship. As in: he’s never had one. He’s never had a second date. At age 38, he’s decided that it’s not only his inability to figure out social situations, but also his inability to find someone he’s compatible with.  So, he initiates the Wife Project: a survey designated to weed out unacceptable potential partners.

Then Don’s best friend Gene (who’s a real jerk, on so many levels) sends Rosie in. Don initially thinks Rosie is a candidate for the Wife Project, but it turns out it’s something more. She’s looking for her biological father, and wants Don’s help. Thus begins the Father Project, to which Don happily agrees. And although Rosie is far from “acceptable” as a prospective partner, Don finds that… well… opposites attract.

So, did it live up to the book talk? In some ways, yes. It was a very sweet book. Don was likable in the same way Sheldon is: you like them, but they drive you nuts. For the record: Don is much less abrasive than Sheldon. But since that’s the extent of my experience with Aspergers, I’m not even going to venture to comment on how Simsion treats it. That said: I get the feeling we’re supposed to be laughing at Sheldon, but I never felt like we were supposed to laugh at Don. It felt more inclusive than that.

I was disappointed that it wasn’t snort-milk-out-your-nose funny. There was only one scene — when Don and Rosie take over making cocktails at an event — that made me actually laugh out loud. But I did smile a lot. And I did like the dynamic between Don and Rosie, which offset the fact that Gene is a complete jerk. (And that’s being nice.) And I did think the ending was endearing.

So, yeah: it’s worth your time.