Bagieu, Penelope. California Dreamin’.

NY: First Second, 2017.

This is one of those books that’s going to mean quite different things to you depending on how old you are. I grew up in Texas in the ’50s, a much bigger fan of Jerry Lee than of Elvis, and I had no use at all for those floppy-haired guys from England with all their “yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then I went to Northern California for a couple of years in the early ’60s just as beach-rock and folk music was being invented. I saw Baez in concert. PP&M came and played on campus for free, just for laughs.

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Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game.

NY: Tor, 1985.

There’s a rather short list of really important modern science fiction novels, the books that influenced the next generation of both readers and younger authors. This is one of those novels. The original novelette version was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula and the novel-length version won both those awards. It’s also a book that hardly anyone who’s read it shrugs off. They tend either to love it, for a whole bunch of reasons, or to hate it, for a whole bunch of other reasons.

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Dessen, Sarah. Once and for All.

NY: Viking, 2017.

Dessen’s latest YA novel easily maintains the high standards set by its predecessors. The protagonist in each of her books is usually part of an unusual setting, which adds interest for the reader in addition to her romantic adventures. At seventeen, Louna Barrett has been deeply immersed in the wedding business for nearly a decade, thanks to her mother’s busy schedule. “A Natalie Barrett Wedding” is always a big deal and usually pretty expensive, so the pressure is always on.

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Published in: on 29 December 2017 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

NY: Random House, 2000.

I have no excuse for the fact that this marvelous Pulitzer-winning epic sat on my “To Read” shelf for most of a decade before I got around to it. Once I started it, though, I found it difficult to put down. I’m ordinarily a fast reader (I never skim, I just take large mouthfuls of text), but this one is more than 630 pages of dense narrative, so it took awhile. You’ll want to read slowly and savor Chabon’s use of the language as well as the immense amount of social history and artistic detail he packs into every scene.

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Wolitzer, Meg. The Interestings.

NY: Penguin, 2013.

Wolitzer has published close to a dozen novels but her record has been somewhat uneven. This may be one of her best, though, especially to those of us born before 1960. It’s the story of six kids who first come together one evening, aged fifteen and sixteen, in the summer of 1974 at Spirit-in-the-Woods, a determinedly artsy summer camp in the Adirondacks run by a couple of aging Greenwich Villagers.

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Published in: on 16 December 2017 at 6:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Macdonald, Ross. The Drowning Pool.

NY: Knopf, 1950.

In many ways, Los Angeles private eye Lew Archer was to the 1950s what Philip Marlow was to the same city a generation earlier, but he doesn’t seem to be much read these days. Which is a shame, because Macdonald was an excellent writer of noir-ish crime stories. This was Archer’s second case, in which he tries to find out who’s attempting to blackmail the young wife of the heir to a large, oil-rich estate in the hills north of LA. But she’s not going to give him much to work with.

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Kleid, Neil & Nicolas Cinquegrani. The Big Kahn.

NY: NBM Publishing, 2009.

The author and artist of this graphic novel are both new to me, though they seem to have a body of work already on the market. It’s kind of a strange one, too. The story opens with the funeral of Rabbi David Kahn, who helped establish New York’s Congregation Beth Shemesh, served as its leader for many years, and was a noted figure in the community. And his eldest son, Avi, presently his father’s assistant, is the obvious choice for the job.

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Published in: on 24 November 2017 at 5:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Keen, Greg. Soho Dead.

Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2017.

Kenny Gabriel is a couple years short of his sixtieth birthday and with less than three hundred quid in the bank. He’s a creature of Soho, having lived and worked in that London neighborhood since supposedly going off to university in the mid-’70s, and both he and Soho have changed over the years. He’s a skip-tracer most of the time, working for a corpulent, agoraphobic computer nerd who hasn’t left his flat in a decade.

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Dessen, Sarah. Dreamland.

NY: Penguin, 2000.

I’ve been working my way slowly and sort of randomly through Dessen’s Young Adult novels, all of which have been well above average in many ways. This is one of her earlier ones (she’s published thirteen books now) and it’s much darker than any of the others I’ve read. I can’t even say I enjoyed it, exactly, though it certainly has a powerful impact.

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Published in: on 7 November 2017 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dessen, Sarah. What Happened to Goodbye.

NY: Viking, 2011.

Dessen is a first-rate author whose novels are directed at young adults but which should be of interest to anyone who enjoys a good story and thoughtful writing, regardless of age. The protagonist of this one is seventeen-year-old McLean Elizabeth Sweet, who was named after her basketball-fanatic father’s favorite college coach. But then the coach retired and his younger replacement ran off with McLean’s mother, which kind of soured both of them on the sport.

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