Dessen, Sarah. Just Listen.

NY: Viking, 2006.

I’ve become hooked recently on Dessen’s highly literate YA novels, and this one is one of her best so far. Even though I’m a grandparent, I’m also a lifelong librarian and recommender of books to all sorts of readers, and that includes teenagers, so the purported target readership doesn’t faze me. A book is either well-written or not.

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Published in: on 22 June 2017 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dessen, Sarah. Along for the Ride.

NY: Viking, 2009.

I only recently discovered this author, whose books are marketed as Young Adult, but I’m very impressed with her work, period. She considers themes and issues of interest to teenagers, but they should also actually appeal to any reader who is interested in people and how they interact with each other. And Dessen never, ever writes down to her readers. She expects you to pay attention and think about what you’re reading regardless of your age.

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Dessen, Sarah. The Moon and More.

NY: Viking, 2013.

Dessen has won a number of awards for her novels and frequently appears on “Best of the Year” lists — but always as a “Young Adult” author. That’s a form of ghettoization I try to avoid. I consider her simply a first-rate author of highly enjoyable fiction, period. Her eleventh book is about 18-year-old Emaline, plowing through her last summer at home, working in the family’s three-generation beach-rental business before heading off to a nearby state university. A perfectionist, highly organized (she was the only 5th Grader with her own filing cabinet), and a naturally helpful sort, she’s very well liked in the little coastal town of Colby (which feels like North Carolina), and she knows absolutely everyone.

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Kearsley, Susanna. The Shadowy Horses.

NY: Bantam, 1997.

I read a great deal, in nearly every genre and flavor of fiction, and I strongly disagree with the elitists who insist that certain entire categories of books simply aren’t worth their time. That’s pure snobbery, and it’s generally based on prejudice, not experience. Because a book is either well-written or it isn’t, and while there are plenty of books that I haven’t bothered to finish, and certain authors whose repeated lame attempts I have learned (usually) to avoid, the occasional losers are spread across the whole of literature. There are almost always books in any niche that are worth your time. And this one, a romance novel with a strong psychic flavor, is one of them.

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Hammett, Dashiell. The Thin Man.

NY: Knopf, 1934.

Hammett, one of the fathers of the modern detective story, only wrote five novels, of which this was his last, about the wealthy and sophisticated Nick and Nora Charles. It’s difficult to read about Hammett’s other famous detective, Sam Spade, without imagining Bogie, who made the character his own but who also played the hardboiled Spade pretty much the way the author wrote him. When Nick and Nora came to the silver screen, though, William Powell and Myrna Loy mostly just played themselves, and they mostly played the Charleses for laughs. And that’s not at all fair to the book, which certainly wasn’t written as light comedy.

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Gruen, Sara. At the Water’s Edge.

NY: Random House, 2015.

Gruen is best known for Water for Elephants, but this novel, her fifth, is rather different. It’s January 1945 and Maddie Hyde is a wild child in New York society. She’s been married to Ellis for a couple of years now, but she’s really more of a mascot for him and his best buddy, Hank, than she is a wife. Also, her in-laws hate her, her own father ignores her, and she feels guilty for her scandal-ridden mother’s suicide a decade before.

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Swierczynski, Duane. Canary.

NY: Mulholland Books, 2015.

I’ve been a big fan of Duane’s idiosyncratic crime novels for some years now and this one may be his best. There’s a reason it was nominated for an Edgar. Serafina Holland is a very straight-arrow 17-year-old college freshman in an honors program and her future looks very bright. It’s the day before Thanksgiving and she’s at a party (pretending to drink beer and smoke pot), taking a break before term papers are due and then finals. A guy she barely knows begs her to give him a lift down to South Philly, supposedly to pick up a book and, being a nice person, she agrees.

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Published in: on 10 May 2017 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pratchett, Terry. Johnny and the Bomb.

NY: HarperCollins, 1996.

This is the third adventure of thirteen-year-old Johnny Maxwell and it’s also the closest to a classic science fiction plot. Johnny has been working on a project for school (telling adults you’re “doing a project” will get you in almost anywhere you really ought not to be) on the bombing of his little town of Blackbury by the Germans during World War II. It was all a mistake, the Luftwaffe thought it was somewhere else, but an entire street was destroyed and all its residents killed.

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Pratchett, Terry. Johnny and the Dead.

NY: Doubleday, 1993.

This is the second in the “Johnny Maxwell” trilogy of young adult novels, and it’s even better than the first one. Johnny is twelve and living in the Midlands, just trying to slog though adolescence. In the first book, he discovered that computer games can involve the Real World and that aliens are people, too. This time, it is revealed that the deceased aren’t really that different from the living, if you’re one of the few who can see and communicate with them — which Johnny is, which he discovers when he takes a shortcut through the local cemetery just before Halloween.

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Anvil, Christopher. Pandora’s Planet.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

Anvil never really hit the big time, but he was a popular author in the 1970s and ’80s, when he was a regular contributor to ANALOG. His signature style was wry and ironic observations and commentary about those irritating humans, and this novel (his third) is filled with that sort of thing. It’s an original on the “invasion of Earth” theme, in that the Centrans (who somewhat resemble humanoid lions) conquer our planet — but just barely.

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