In the Lives of Puppets

by T. J. Klune
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Release date: April 25, 2023
Content: There are a couple of swear words, including one or two f-bombs, plus some sexual humor. It will be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

This is one that I feel like the less you know, the better off you are. The basic premise is this: Vic is a human who is living with robots – his father, an anxious vacuum, and a sadistic nurse robot (trust me) – in the forest. One day, he discovers an android, fixes it, and brings it back online. It has a connection to Vic’s father (who is, yes, an android) which changes the course of Vic’s life. 

What really drives this book is the characters. Yes, the plot is loosely based on The Adventures of Pinocchio (the book, not the Disney movie), but it’s the characters that drive the story. We got a couple of copies to pass around the store, and we kept reading passages about Rambo the vacuum and Nurse Rached aloud to each other. We started a text thread of quotes. We laughed a LOT. But it’s more than that, too. Klune is meditating on the purpose of humanity, whether we – with all our negatives – are actually worth being alive. And if we are worth it, what is that worth. 

Also, know that I sobbed for the last 50 pages of the book. Klune pulled me into his world and I felt every bit of it. Heartbreak, love, humor, betrayal, acceptance, and loss. 

I have been positively ruined for other books for a while. You will absolutely want to read this when it comes out in April.

EMG Graphic Novel Round-up 3

Little Monarchs
by Jonathan Case
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Content: There are some intense moments, fights, and possibly leaving people for dead. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the near future, a sun sickness has killed off all mammals. What humans are left, have gone underground. But 10-year-old Elvie and her caretaker, Flora get live aboveground because of some medicine that Flora discovered: it comes from the scales off monarch butterfly wings. So they follow the migratory paths of monarchs to harvest and make medicine while Flora tries to make a permanent vaccination. That makes it sound very tame, but this has near death experiences, some pretty awful bad guys, and a lot of tension. There are some light-hearted moments, an it’s all about found family, and it’s full of STEM facts. I do have a slight issue with the author being white and the main character being Black, but that’s a minor one. Overall, it’s a remarkable book.

The Real Riley Mayes
by Rachel Elliott
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Content: It deals with crushes, and there is some bullying and homophobia. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Riley just wants to be herself: Short hair, androgenous clothes, drawing as much as possilbe. But, her friend that “got” her moved away, and she’s having a hard time making new friends. One of the kids in class teases her for being a gay, calling her names and excluding her from all-girl events. The thing is, Riley’s not even sure she’s gay. She does make a couple of friends, but she’s not sure if they’ll stick especially after she makes smome mistakes. Maybe she’ll figure out this whole being a 5th grader thing out.

This one was super cute! I loved Riley, and her struggles felt like a real 5th grader’s struggles. Making and keeping friends, figuring out who you are, figuring out how to be a friend. it’s all there. I liked the art, and there wa seven some humor in it as well. Really really good.

Apple Crush
by Lucy Knisley
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Content: It deals with crushes. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Jen is spending the week on her mother’s farm, after he divorce from Jen’s father. She’ getting used to living in the country, and going to school. But her new stepsiste, who visits on weekends, has other plans. One of them is super into boys, and all Jen wants to do is hang out, work on the pumplki patch next door, and draw. It’s a touch line to figure out how to walk.

This is a nice look at the different stages kids are at in middle school. Some are into relationships and “liking” other kids, others not so much. I appreciated the matter of fact way Knisley approaches the suject, and the way she woe a Halloween story in there as well. It’s a cute story and a cute book.

Bunnicula
by James Howe, Andrew Dokin, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
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Content: There is humorous “horror”, and sometimes scary moments. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Bunnicula is one of those books I’ve heard a lot about, but have never read. Things I didn’t know: it’s written suppsoedly, by the dog, who is telling the story of the vampire bunny. I didn’t know that the bunny only sucks the juices out of vegetables, turning them white (i had thought maybe it was a real vampre bunny). I didn’t know that it was the cat who goes pretty crazy tyring to prove that the bunny is a vampire. I thought it was scarier than it actually was.

Still, it wa a fun graphic novel and not a bad way to be introduced to this story

Didn’t finish: Sorceline.

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza

by Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris
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Content: It looks like a lot, so it may be intimidating to some kids. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Back in the early days of the pandemic, say April of 2022, Mac Barnett (bless him) decided to start a lunchtime stoytime where he would sit and read one of his books. (He was written a lot!) He live-streamed them on Instagram, which was its own brand of charming (with guest and regular tech issues). It grew to be a whole thing, including a Joke corner (with jokes submitted by kids) and sound effects (done by Mac’s wife) appearances from Henry the Dog, and once a week or so, an episode of The First Ct in Space. Mac would write the scripts, Shawn (Mac’s best friend and racquetball nemesis) would draw and film them, and they both would do the voices. It was dumb and silly and exactly what we ended during the first year of the pandemic.

All this to say: those episodes became this book. And it’s very much in the spirit of those: silly, kind of stupid, full of dumb jokes, and absolutely charming. I giggled my way through this (I completely jive with Mac’s sense of humor), and even though the plot is really dumb, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re having a good time reading it, you’re checking out the Spotify playlist to hear the Ballad of Captain Babybeard, and you’re forgetting about the problems in the world for a bit.

Honestly, that is the best sort of book, really.

Audiobook: Bookish People

by Susan Coll
Read by Alexa Morden
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs. There is also mention of suicide. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

A co-worker – the current Children’s Coordinator at the bookstore – turned me on to this one, saying: It’s super accurate, including down to the vacuum cleaner that won’t work. That was enough for me.

The basic plot: it’s one week at an independent bookstore in Washington, DC (not Politics and Prose, though) where everything seems to go wrong. The owner, Sophie, is having second and third thoughts about running a bookstore and just wants to hide away in the hidden room behind the sports section (I think?). Clemi, the event coordinator, has booked Raymond Chaucer, a notorious poet who is basically known because his wife killed herself. Clemi, however, thinks Chaucer is her real father. In between all that is a lot of rain, some pretty weird and funny customers, and a vacuum cleaner that just won’t work.

it’s particularly silly and fluffy; there’s really not much depth or growth here But the author must have some experience with working at a bookstore; there was a lot of insider baseball from Shelf Awareness (which is more like an industry newsletter, not a blog) to receiving and stocking books (though they order a LOT of books) to those weird customers who show up at author events. In fact, it was the author event, where one attendee just started rambling about spotted owls, that had me howling in laughter. I know those people; I have had those people at events I have run.

The narrator was particularly delightful and engaging, doing voices (I particularly liked her voice for Summer), and basically keeping me engrossed in an increasingly silly plot.

So, not a deep or moving book, but it was good for a few laughs, which I enjoyed.

Cranky Chicken

by Katherine Battersby
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Content: To be honest, this is more of an early chapter book than a graphic novel. Think of it one step up from Elephant and Piggie. It’s in the Beginning Chapter book section (grades 1-2) of the bookstore.

Cranky Chicken is cranky. That’s just how it is. And then one day, she inadvertently kicks a leaf off a worm, and suddenly Cranky has a friend (which she’s not sure she wants): Speedy the Worm. From there, the book is a hilarious exploration of them getting to know each other and becoming friends.

Oh my goodness, this was so funny. I haven’t laughed this hard at a book this simple since Elephant & Piggie. Cranky Chicken is supposed to be cranky, but really he’s just charming and funny. I enjoyed Speedy’s optimism — it was just the right amount — and their adventures together. The drawings are simple but evocative and funny.

I know humor is subjective, but I found this one just delightful.

Audiobook: Broken (in the best possible way)

by Jenny Lawson
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including many, many f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

In this series of short, sometimes thoughtful, often very funny, essays, Lawson reflects on life, mental illness, writing, and well, just about everything.

Honestly, this isn’t the first book of hers I’ve listened to, an I have to say that it’s really the best way to experience them. (Granted, I’ve not read them, so I can’t definitively say.) I love listening to Lawson — who is really a great narrator — spin her stories, making me laugh. She is a personable writer and a narrator, and does much to just bring you in as a listener into her little world.

I definitely recommend the audio book for this one, if only for the last little bit when she talks about recording the book during quarantining for COVID (since her immune system is shot, she took the quarantine seriously) and it was a nice way to wrap the book up.

She’s crazy, yes. But in the best possible way. I loved this.

A Wealth of Pigeons

by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss
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Content: There’s some mild swearing and pictures of bums. It’s in the Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

I saw a poster at the store for this book, and thought to myself: “Huh. So, Steve Martin is doing cartoons now.” And yep, I was right. He is! He has collaborated with New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss. Collaborated is the right word — sometimes Martin would send ideas to Bliss to illustrate, and sometimes Bliss would send illustrations to Martin to caption. Either way, what they have come up with is an utterly enjoyable collection of small comics that just delighted me.

Not all of them are hilarious — some of them did make me laugh out loud, but most just made me smile — but it’s just the utter charm of the book that won me over. There are dog jokes and cat jokes and Woodstock jokes and Bliss and Martin poking fun at themselves.

And there’s not much else to say. It’s delightful, and is the perfect thing to pick up at the end of this very long and often horrible year.

Carpe Jugulum

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Through the shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to earth–“
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series:  Equal RitesWyrd SistersWitches AbroadLords and LadiesMaskerade
Content: There’s a few jokes about sex and a bit of violence. It would be in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore if we had it.

We’re back in Lancre, and Magrat has just had a baby. They’re doing a naming ceremony, and her husband, King Verence, has decided that it would be “modern” and “diplomatic” to invite the residents of the next kingdom over, Uberwald. Which would have been a really great idea, except they’re vampires. Or rather: Vampyres, because they’re modern and sophisticated.

Thus starts a romp as Grany Weatherwax (who thought she didn’t get invited to the naming) goes into hiding as the vampyres take over, and it’s up to Nanny Ogg, Agnes, and Magrat (with some help from an Om preacher, Mighty Oats — go read Small Gods before this, because there are Easter eggs) to get rid of the infestation.

The thing I love most about Terry Pratchett’s books are the little things. Like a character named Igor, who limps and has a lisp and keeps complaining about the new vampires, saying “the old mathter did it better”. Or the page or two of thinly veiled penis jokes in the middle of a vampire fight that had me laughing out loud. Or the fact that the vampire castle is called Don’tgonearthe Castle. Or the Nac Mac Feegle (!), who show up (in an early iteration; they speak mostly gibberish and Nanny has to translate at one point. I like them better in Wee Free Men, but it was still delightful to see them). I think this is one of the better witch books: I liked how all the witches from Granny to Agnes got to play a role, and use their strengths to help.

It’s truly a delight, and a fitting end to the adult witch books. Now to dive into some more parts of Discworld!

Round Ireland with a Fridge

by Tony Hawks
First sentence: “I’m not, by nature, a betting man.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s sweary, both in English and Iris, and there’s a ton of drinking. It’d be in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore if we had it.

A while back, I happened to be watching vlogbrothers, and John recommended this one, and I thought to myself “That is the sort of book I need to get me through some dull winter days.”

I was right.

The basic premise is this: Tony got super drunk one night and his friend bet him 100 pounds that Tony couldn’t hitchhike the circumference of Ireland carrying a fridge. (There are Reasons this got bet, but that’s really unimportant.) Tony, for whatever reason that I can’t remember now, decided that it was a good bet to try and accomplish. So, he set out to Ireland, picked himself up a small, white, minifridge and a dolly, and started hitchhiking.

The boon came from when someone (again, I’m not sure who) got him in contact with the Gerry Ryan Show, which was broadcast throughout Ireland on the radio. They were all so mystified by why Tony would do this, so Gerry decided to put out calls to help Tony out. I’m pretty sure without that support, this would have been an entirely different book.

As it is, it’s a delightful (if often stupid) read about a delightful (if often stupid) trip. Tony met lots and lots of people, had a good sense of humor about it all, and in the end realized that humanity (at least humanity 22 years ago) isn’t all that bad. It’s a ridiculous book about a ridiculous endeavor.

Which is to say: I really enjoyed it. Tony had me laughing out loud at parts, and it’s a truly delightful book to tell people about (“No seriously: the fridge went surfing!”). It does have a nice travel element to it, though it’s less about the landscape of Ireland and more about the people Tony meets. At any rate, it was a delightful romp to the Emerald Isle in the middle of a cold winter.

Maskerade

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “The wind howled.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series:  Equal RitesWyrd SistersWitches Abroad, Lords and Ladies
Content: There’s some reference to sex, because that’s just who Nanny Ogg is. And some creative swearing. It would be in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore if we had it.

Ah, I have come to adore Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Sure, some of the witches books are better than others (my personal favorite is still Witches Abroad), but I do adore the combination of Granny and Nanny taking on the world.

In this one, they head to Ankh-Morpork to tackle the opera. It seems that one of Lancre’s own, Agnes Nitt (aka Perdita X. Nitt) has moved to the big city to try and make her fortune, and has fallen in with the opera. That has a Ghost who seems to not only be haunting the opera house, but is murdering members of the cast and crew.

So, if this sounds vaguely like Phantom of the Opera, you’re probably right. Except — like a few of the other ones in the witches series — Pratchett takes the familiar bones of the story and overlays a funny and clever and insightful story with Granny and Nanny being their amazing selves. There’s a mystery in this one that they manage to solve (with some hilarious asides about being in the book publishing business), before getting Agnes to come back to Lancre and take up her True Calling as a witch.

Not my favorite of the series, but definitely fun! (I thought this was the last of them, but it turns out that there’s one more to go before I hit the Tiffany Aching series.)