Monday, March 31, 2014

March 2014 Book Recommendations

March 31, 2014

How to Get into the Twin Palms
By Karolina Waclawiak

While compiling a list of exceptional immigrant literature, I came across this title, energetically praised by Gary Shteyngart, author of the highly esteemed Little Failure: A Memoir. Admittedly, the cover peaked my interest too. (So much for not judging a book by its cover).

Suggestive of Joan Didion with a sense of humor, Waclawiak tells an L.A. story about an alienated Polish girl living the so-called American dream in a rundown Russian community of rentals with crocheted curtains, nosy neighbors, and apteka, stores selling everything from medical supplies to herring. Single, unemployed and abandoned by her newly Texan parents, Anya decides everything will be alright if she can just make it past the bouncers at the glitzy Russian nightclub down the street. This requires a bit of reinvention, including hair dye, wardrobe enhancement, and Lev, a homely, unavailable, yet irresistible gangster.

Capturing the crushing loneliness and disillusionment often depicted in a tales of immigration in a thoroughly modern way, this novel also brilliantly portrays the heartbreak and self-loathing involved in being “the other woman.” For tragi-comic effect, Anya’s stand-in mothers, the opinionated ladies at the local bingo parlor, and the Californian wildfires and their ubiquitous falling ash provide a fitting accompaniment for Anya’s painful yet ultimately cathartic path of destruction as she finally get what she wants—into the Twin Palms.


March 17, 2014

Fire Base Illingworth
By Philip Keith

Fire Base Illingworth is a very tense story of an infantry battle fought near the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh Province in the darkened early morning hours of April 1, 1970 towards the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Keith, author of the acclaimed account of another related Vietnam battle, Blackhorse Riders, is a Harvard graduate and decorated Vietnam War naval aviator. Keith’s account is both an analysis of Fire Support Base strategy – using ground troops as bait to lure the enemy into attacking - in the waning years of the controversial war, and also a story of personalities and their reactions in a harrowingly dangerous combat situation. Moving beyond any political context, the story is also, inadvertently, an examination of courage, luck, and fate involving the combatants on both sides.

Keith does not avoid crucial issues such as drug use, command competition, personality clashes, and the darker psychological traps that intense combat can produce. However, he also portrays the fierce loyalty and selflessness ground troops had for each other in battle even in the final years of the war. Keith imbues his book with detailed narratives of American troops to personalize the combat. These are very human people from all over the United States. One Illingworth soldier, Peter Charles Lemon, however, was born in Canada and is the only Canadian born U.S. citizen to be presented with the Medal of Honor for fighting in the Vietnam War. Keith’s book updates the reader in a fascinating epilogue about many of the soldiers and their lives after Illingworth. He includes a number that were killed in the fighting and the very poignant written commemorations left at the Virtual Wall by strangers, friends, and family members. Peter Lemon is included in the epilogue and his is an amazing story in and of itself.

Readers who liked Blackhorse Riders will not be disappointed by recently published Fire Base Illingworth and can be assured that it will live up to its subtitle as “…an epic true story of remarkable courage against staggering odds…”.


March 10, 2014


By Andrew Smith

Oh, so you think you can just read a book like Winger and then go on with your life like nothing happened? You think that this is a lighthearted coming- of-age tale with some rugby thrown in? Wrong! If you choose to pick up this YA novel, you may find yourself giggling uncontrollably at the protagonist, Ryan Dean’s irrational fear of Mrs. Singer and her dreadful diarrhea hex. You may learn some things about the fringe sport of rugby including the very real possibility of catastrophic penis injuries. And you most likely will find yourself rolling your eyes at Ryan Dean West’s inability to stop thinking about every female around him as a possible mate. But after all this…when you’ve been lulled into false security…this book will wreck your life. I mean that in the nicest way possible. You’ll cry, you’ll curse, you’ll spend the rest of the day in a dark room shaking slightly. Or not. Is this enticing you to read the book? Maybe I should take another approach.

Andrew Smith has created a completely believable and original character in Ryan Dean West. The 14-year-old high school junior is treated like a little boy by the other members of his class. He attends Pine Mountain, a boarding school dedicated to reforming troublemaking rich kids. This year Ryan Dean has been assigned to Opportunity Hall, the dorm for the school’s worst offenders. He’s determined to change his life, get tougher, and finally win over his long time crush and best friend, Annie. He doesn’t anticipate getting into a fight with one of his best friends, bonding with the rugby team’s biggest jerk, or losing someone he cares about. This book is unabashedly real; it ignores typical narrative conventions and presents life (as viewed from inside the head of an excitable 14-year-old boy) as it really happens.

On March 18th at 5:30pm, the Teen Reads Book Club will be discussing this book. This event is open to all teenagers regardless of whether you’ve read the book. Join us to talk about Winger or to talk about the kinds of books you love to read. We’ll be meeting on the third Tuesday of each month. And depending on how things play out, this first meeting may turn out to be more a post-Winger support group. ; )


March 3, 2014

The Diviners
By Libba Bray

“Deep in the cellar of the dilapidated house, a furnace comes to life with a death rattle like the last bitter cough of a dying man laughing contemptuously at his fate. A faint glow emanates from that dark, foul-smelling earthen tomb. Yes, something moves again in the shadows. A harbinger of much greater evil to come. Naughty John has come home. And he has work to do.”

Libba Bray’s series-starter, The Diviners, is an addictive, thrilling young adult novel. It is somehow a perfect mix of mystery, horror, humor, and a touch of romance; there is so much going on in this book that I don’t know where to begin. The lowdown: Evie O’Neill is sent to live with her Uncle Will in Manhattan after a scandal in her hometown that revolves around the secret power she possesses. Will is the owner of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult—or the “Museum of the Creepie Crawlies”, as it is generally known. When Will is called in to assist in the investigation of occult murders happening in the city, Evie tags along and finds that her gift is good for more than just parlor tricks, it might actually help catch a killer.

So what’s going on in this book besides a murder mystery? Set in the 1920s, this novel features flappers, jazz, theater, prohibition and organized crime. Bray addresses issues like racism and homophobia without being heavy handed or a jot less entertaining. And over the gleaming light of 1920s Manhattan is a fog of terror: a haunted house, a Ouija board, séances, prophesy, and an evil spirit. The book benefits from Bray’s obviously extensive research. The dialogue flows with 20s slang and Bray effortlessly weaves historical context into the plot. For fans of paranormal fiction, this is a must-read.


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