What Tickles Your Funny Bone?

Children like funny stories.  The overwhelming popularity of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is proof of that.  When I know someone is looking for a good laugh, there are a few books I recommend repeatedly.  Why?  Because they made me laugh when I read them!

A Whole Nother Story and the two sequels Another Whole Nother Story and No Other Story share a fast-paced and wacky plotline.  Dr. Ethan Cheeseman and his three smart, polite and relatively odor-free children are on the lam, trying to evade a variety of villains who want to take his time travel machine before he can use it to save his wife.  What sends the humor over the top is the droll narration by the (fictional) Dr. Cuthbert Soup, who also happens to be the founder and president of the National Center for Unsolicited Advice.  The narration halts periodically so that readers may benefit from his wisdom.  For example:  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him participate in synchronized diving.”

Another “go to” funny book is The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.   (Perhaps it is not surprising that Mr. Rex’s first novel for children is a rib-tickler, because he is also the author of Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, which contains very silly poems about Frankenstein, the Phantom of the Opera and other famous monsters.)  In this sci-fi saga, a girl named Gratuity joins forces with an alien who calls himself J.Lo (he’s a Jennifer Lopez fan) to save the world from another even scarier group of aliens.  Gratuity, who drives her missing mother’s car by strapping cans to her shoes, is a witty narrator and J.Lo is, in his broken-English way, a fitting comic foil.  They travel from Pennsylvania to Florida, where they visit a creepy Disney-like theme park, to Roswell in the western desert, where a seemingly crazy Navajo knows more about aliens than he at first lets on. 

Share these book titles with some school-age kids you know and see how they like them!  If there are books that tickle your funny bone, tell us about them in our "Comments."


Book Bomb! What's Stranger Than Fiction?

'Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!

How differently the world would men behold!

- George Gordon Byron, Don Juan

I don’t read non-fiction very often, but when I do it’s usually because the premise is something that really captures my interest, generally, when a book addresses something out of the the ordinary, something controversial, or something my parents would never read... in public. Non-fiction isn’t all dry facts and straight-to-the-yawn history; trends in this genre now seem to lean more towards the creative, so they can be just as entertaining while at the same time being twice as educational as any novel. Here are some truly entertaining and simultaneously brain-expanding (for the most part) non-fiction titles you might want to add to your reading list.

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs, is pretty radical, if only because of the lengths Jacobs goes to in his attempts to live this literal biblical life. At times discomfiting, many times hilarious, and surprisingly thought-provoking, it will definitely have you mulling thoughtfully over the relevancy of the ancient book’s many edicts (although Jacobs has some interesting and giggle-worthy interpretations of “stoning adulterers” and approaches to “the no-lying commandment”).

For a just as interesting but alternate perspective, there’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, by Rachel Held Evans. Evans takes the female side of biblical edict and explores directives that you may or may not agree with but will definitely find interesting in modern context.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean, approaches the periodical table of elements with a creative and wandering (but discerning) eye, skillfully blending science with history, psychology, some physics, and a dash of sodium chloride. I've never quite managed to develop a taste for chemistry, so I was at first just a teeny bit hesitant to read it, but it’s definitely worth it if you like knowing interesting but random facts, like why Ghandhi hated iodine, or that Lewis and Clark's expedition could be traced by following their *ahem* bathroom breaks, or that Marie Curie had a reputation beyond that of brilliant female scientist that might surprise you.

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, also by Sam Kean, is an informative, conversational, and fascinating exploration into the world of DNA, and all of the wonderful/crazy/amazing/strange things it has created out of the human race and the abundant life that surrounds us. Ranging from things like how some people can survive a nuclear bomb, to where Einstein’s genius actually comes from, to DNA itself and the amazing discoveries in the field today you may not have known about, it willl definitely get your neurons firing and have you looking at cat-ladies in a whole new light!

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters French Kids Eat Everthing: how our family moved to France, learned to love vegetables, banished snacking, and discovered 10 magic rules for raising healthy, happy eaters, by Karen Le Billon, is a personal but enlightening view on cultural eating habits and child-rearing. The author describes her family’s experiences moving from America to France, and the commonsensical approach French parents take to getting their children to behave, gastrically (for the most part they don’t snack, they aren’t allowed to be picky-eaters, and they certainly do not take their own ketchup into restaurants).

Let's Bring Back: An Encyclopedia of Forgotten-Yet-Delightful, Chic, Useful, Curious, and Otherwise Commendable Things from Times Gone By Let's Bring Back: An encyclopedia of forgotten-yet-delightful, chic, useful, curious, and otherwise commendable things from times gone, by Lesley M. M. Blume, is a great, meandering jaunt through decadent days past for those of us who like to reminisce, or dwell in retrospective thoughtfulness on the wonderful things of the past we wish were here again (you never know, they very well might be). Things like corsets (just don’t pull them too tight!) and courtship (the kind with flowers, and letters, and lovely romantical words), or Tutti Frutti Ice Cream and midnight birthday suppers. Humorous and definitely nostalgic, it’s a light but noteworthy read.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach, is as strange as it sounds, but is also unexpectedly witty, informative and, yes, funny.  From cosmetic surgery practiced on bodiless heads, to crash-test dummies, to defenestration-test dummies (i.e. being thrown out of a window), Roach delves into the macabre with a deft touch that leans more toward the academic than the morbid.  Probably not for the weak-stomached.  Click here to check out her other books that are just as inappropriately informative, irreverent, and humorous, such as Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.

Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website to reserve a copy today!


Matched by Ally Condie

As a teenager, I definitely did not like being told what to do.  As an adult, I’m not a lot better.  I like my choices.  Even if I don’t like the options, I like the ability to choose which awful thing I get.  My mom used to joke, “Knuckle sandwich or poke in the nose?”  That’s why the world that Cassia grew up in would not have been the best for me.
Citizens in the Society have everything chosen for them.  They are told how many calories are optimal for them, the proper ratio of protein to carbohydrate in their food, what they should study, their jobs, where they live, and who they will be matched with.  Everything is decided based on aptitude tests and committee decisions.  Cassia is perfectly happy with how her life is going and is thrilled when she’s matched with her long-time best friend Xander, until she gets home and finds another face flash on the data cube that should have had Xander’s information on it.  She’s told to ignore the glitch and continue on with her happy pre-planned life, but how can she when finally given a choice? Find out in Matched by Ally Condie.


For Fans of Magic and Wizardry

There is a great series about wizardry by Diane Duane that our children's librarian recommended.  It starts with So You Want to be a Wizard and continues on with eight more adventures.  It begins with the main character, Nita, trying to hide out in the library because she is a frequent victim of relentless bullying.  She happens on a book in the career section called So You Want to be a Wizard.  Browsing through it, she finds that only those who might be chosen can even see the book title.  It hasn't been checked out in years.

After beginning the book and trying to begin her first attempt at wizardry, Nita meets up with a Hispanic boy named Kit who has social troubles similar to hers. Nita and Kit are both brainy scientific types, and they immediately team up for the lessons which lead them to be shifted into a whole other alternate Manhattan.  There powers of evil seem to dominate everything.  The quest is dark and frightening, lightened only by the humor of a little white hole named Fred who joins them.

Like the Harry Potter series, the frequent perils can be thrilling or exhausting as they roller coaster one into another, but unlike Harry there are no colorful magical settings to imagine.  The imagery is nothing but spooky and dark.  The language of the narration is frequently poetic with phrases such as "timeheart" and "starsnuffer," and references to astronomy, light and dark, and stars and moon.

So here's a dose of science and magic and the theme of wars between good and evil forces executed by a pair of very real world characters and their curious little white hole friend.  The lead character, Nita, is a girl who is brainy and brave and, when not involved with wizardry and battles against evil forces, just wants to fit in with friends and family.

This book gained  a starred review in School Library Journal and won an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers award.

More about Diane Duane can be found on the website here.  Four of her Star Trek novels have been listed on the  New York Times Best-Seller list.  And all books in this Wizard series and others by Duane can be found in print format, audio, and e-book format in our Orange County library catalog.


Ron Rash's latest novel "The Cove"

Set in the rugged mountains of North Carolina during the end of WWI, The Cove by Ron Rash is an intriguing mix of historical fiction and Gothic romance.  Laurel Shelton is a young woman ostracized all her life by the town folk of Mars Hill who believe she’s a witch.  Laurel lives with her brother Hank, who has recently returned from the war, on an isolated farm called the cove that is often shadowed by a large cliff overhang.  One day Laurel discovers a mysterious stranger in the woods, a flute-playing mute, and a romance develops.

Though the end of the war is near, xenophobia and patriotic fervor are at a fever pitch amongst the villagers. Chauncey Feith, an ambitious yet dimwitted army recruiter who has conveniently avoided conscription himself, is on the hunt for an escaped German prisoner from the near-by internment camp. 

The suspense builds as one hopes that reasonable sensibilities will prevail, but fears that tragic consequences are the likely result.

The Cove is a marvelous example of regional writing full of Appalachian culture, colorful dialogue, and lyrical writing.  I was haunted by the story.  Even though the setting is almost 100 years ago, it feels timely with its themes of intolerance and wartime politics. 

Ron Rash is a professor at Western Carolina University and the author of the best-selling Serena.  He got the idea for The Cove while researching local history and discovered that there had actually been a German internment camp in North Carolina during WWI. According to Mr. Rash, “This camp was not for POW’s.  It was for German civilians who happened to be marooned in the United States when the U.S. entered the war.”


Life, Death and Books

“I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.” ― Woody Allen

In preparation for a book club, I just finished The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (luckily, all the members of our group are healthy!).  The book tells of the informal, two-person book club that the author creates with his mother, Mary Anne, after they find out she has pancreatic cancer, one of the most quick and deadly forms of the disease.  Mary Anne was a fighter.  She did humanitarian work with child soldiers, was shot at in Afghanistan and worked in refugee camps in Thailand.  She approached cancer like she did the rest of life—she wasn’t going down without a fight.  About two years passed between her diagnosis and her death and in this time she continued to live as fully as her body would allow.  The books she read with her son helped them to learn more about each other (even though they already had a close relationship).  They learned how books can teach us about life and death and how to get through both of them.  In reading their picks, the two discover that we can always find ways to apply a book to our own lives, even when it might not seem to fit at first glance.

In a similar vein is The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  However in this case, the author does not have the luxury of extra time and preparation for her husband’s death.  John Dunne dies of a heart attack suddenly at the dinner table.  We are told at the very beginning:  “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”  What unfolds is Didion’s coming to terms with his absence.  The term “magical thinking” is the belief that one event happens as the result of another, even though the two events are not at all linked.  (For example:  If I make this light, I’ll get a raise today.)  If I don’t give away his shoes, she thinks, he might come back and wear them.  (Schwalbe also experiences magical thinking.  If we see the manatees today, Mom will have a good day, he thinks.)  Being a writer, Didion researches and reads throughout her grieving.  She offers insight into the tricks the mind plays on us when dealing with the death of a close loved one.

Schwalbe notes:  Since we never can say what will happen tomorrow, any book can be the last book we read.  (All the more reason not to read anything that doesn’t capture you within the first fifty or so pages, if you ask me.  Why spend time slogging through a book, when putting it down and grabbing something different will make you happier?)

If you could only read one more book, which book would that be?  Would you read something new, or revisit an old favorite? 


Cucumbers, Cantaloupe and Cold-Blooded Murder?


Farm Fresh Murder is the first book in Paige Shelton’s Farmers’ Market Mystery series. The main character, Becca Robbins, spends her days growing pumpkins and strawberries, canning and preserving jams and jellies to sell at the local farmers’ market and tending her farm. Her lifestyle is pretty simple and idyllic until one morning her twin sister, the manager of the farmers’ market, calls to tell her there has been a murder at the market. One of the market’s vendors has been found dead and the police department’s main suspect is Becca’s friend Abner, the wildflower vendor.

Becca becomes determined to find the real killer and clear her friend’s name as well as remove the shadow that has been cast on her beloved farmers’ market. The farmers’ market offers a huge cast of characters where everyone is a possible suspect. Becca is an amateur sleuth, often asking too many questions while simultaneously forgetting to get some key information. Despite her limited detective abilities she has a big heart and is persistent. Along with the help of her dog, Hobbit, Becca spies, interrogates and chases down suspects. The list of suspects includes corn farmers, flower growers, sexy male sculptures and longtime vendors whose secrets date back to before Becca was born. Can Becca unbury past secrets in time to free her friend or will she get caught off guard by a very clever killer? You will have to read the book to find out. The book’s unique setting and likeable characters make this book a good read. I recommend this book to fans of cozy mysteries.


Book Bomb! Popular Teen Novels to Film 2013

I love film adaptations of novels, if only because they are actual visualizations of what I’ve only been able to imagine, in my brain. Not to say that all film adaptations are faithful - or even successful - translations to the big screen, but with continuous improvements in film technology, and trends in the motion picture industry to give fans what they clamor for most, more often than not they are satisfying in their own way.

Here are some well-known teen titles with much anticipated film versions to be released in 2013.

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion in a few words is a teen zombie novel, but not like any ol’ zombie novel. It’s a romantic zombie novel! But before you start imagining all kinds of disturbing and eek-worthy situations, stop; it’s not that romantic. Marion’s debut novel is funny, at times scary (zombiefest - goose bumps guaranteed), and surprisingly … eloquent, considering the restless undead are supposed to have nothing going on cerebrally except for the ravening need to feed on the living. Think Romeo and Juliet, only Romeo likes his steaks rare.  And human-shaped.  And trying to escape.  In theatres February 1.

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1) Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia, is a teen supernatural drama told from the viewpoint of Ethan Wate.  He meets a mysterious girl named Lena Duchannes whose family possesses strange, terrifying and wonderful gifts that are anything but human. The first in Garcia’s Caster series, it explores Ethan and Lena’s struggle to overcome the disparity between their two vastly different worlds, as well as an ancient Duchannes family curse, and Ethan’s own family secrets.  In theatres February 14.

The Host (The Host, #1) The Host by Stephenie Meyer (of Twilight fame) is listed as adult fiction but its characters and Meyer’s intimate and emotional narrative are easily accessible to older teens. Earth has been invaded by extraterrestrial entities that possess humans and take over their bodies. Wanderer, an invader, attempts to take over the body and mind of a young woman, Melanie Stryder, but is surprised to find powerful resistance and, even stranger, a bond, fueled by Melanie’s memories and will to find the man she loves. In theatres March 29.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1) City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, is the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, and follows Clary Fray as she discovers another invisible world existing alongside ours, that of Shadowhunters and demons, where people with deadly skills hunt dangerous unseen creatures. Invisible until Clary witnesses Shadowhunters slaying a demon in full sight, but no one else can see them except for Clary. Reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer only not as original or hilarious.  In theatres August 23.

Revenge of the Witch (The Last Apprentice / Wardstone Chronicles, #1) Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney, is a British novel for younger teens (although the original title for the British edition is The Spook’s Apprentice - love this title but oh well), and follows the exploits of Tom, the seventh son of a seventh son, who is able to see the invisible beings all around - some benign, many not – and his apprenticeship with the man who fights the less friendly variety.  In theatres Oct 18, under the title Seventh Son.

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is a Nebula and Hugo Award-winning sci-fi classic and a definite must-read if you enjoy the genre, or even if you just enjoy interesting characters and exciting, well-written conflict. Set in the distant future where Earth faces threats from an alien insectoid race, the story follows Andrew “Ender” Wiggin who is sent to an elite military-training school at a young age after exhibiting signs of advanced intelligence, fearless strategic inclinations, and most importantly a good heart. Pitted against other students, some much older than him, in zero-gravity “mock” battles to prepare them for the real thing, Ender has to deal with isolation, rivalry, and the secret plots of the school’s administrators, all centered on him.  In theatres November 2013.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, is the sequel to The Hunger Games, and continues from where the first novel left off, with Katniss and Peeta returning home as the unheard of co-victors of the deadly Hunger Games tournament. The second book in the trilogy expands on the stirrings of rebellion against the Capitol, while Katniss and Peeta, preparing for the Victory Tour that will take them to all of the districts, strive to paint a picture as an enamored couple, with their lives and the lives of their loved ones at stake.  In theatres November 22.

Click on any of the book titles to visit the shiny new OC Public Libraries website to reserve a copy today.


Meaning of Love

Every Day by David Levithan is the story of A, who wakes up as a different person every morning. The book opens on day 5,995 with the 16 year old in the body of a self-centered boy named Justin. A never knows who he will wake up as so he chooses not to alter the life of his host.  He makes the day as routine as possible by accessing the host’s memories. Things change when he meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. The two cut class and drive to the ocean; Rhiannon, of course, thinks she is with Justin. By the end of their unexpected day together, A is in love.
A doesn’t have a family, a gender, or a body to go back to inhabit. This makes it easier to sever ties with the people in the host’s life. Suddenly this is not true with Rhiannon. Instead A plots to connect with her in different bodies, breaking the rule of not deviating from the daily routine of his host’s life. Every Day defies logic so you have to accept the story for what it is and try to understand Levithan’s question: What establishes love? Is it just physical attraction, a deep connection from within, or a combination of both? Most of the plot revolves around A trying to spend time with Rhiannon. Their love is tested as A appears in a different body each day, ranging from a suicidal Goth girl to an overweight boy; a geek to a drug addict; a transgender to a beauty queen and so forth. The poetic prose is wise; it will reel you in from the beginning and leave you wanting more at the end.


Pear Tarts & Free Magazines

Are you looking for a pear tart recipe? Why not visit the library? The library! The public library has so many resources, and this is just one more. A few months ago while in line at the grocery store I saw the most delicious looking pear tart featured on the cover of a magazine. I bought the magazine on the spot just for the pear tart recipe. I made the recipe and sure enough it was delicious, just as advertised on the cover. I was so happy and then the very next day I came to work at the library and saw the exact same magazine sitting on our library shelves. For free!

In the grand scheme of things I wasn’t too upset, but it dawned on me that I wasn’t using one of the library’s resources. I am a huge fan of magazines. For a long time I subscribed to several magazines and I still subscribe to a few, but sometimes I like to browse magazines without the commitment of purchasing a subscription. A lot of people, like me, forget that libraries carry magazines that can be checked out for free. You can read the most current issue in the library but you can also check out past issues. The library doesn’t just have academic or research oriented titles; you can pick up a copy of Vogue or People. Now, I frequently check out past issues of magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal and Food Network Magazine.

I’m not recommending that you stop buying magazine subscriptions of your own.  I haven’t. But I do want to remind you that the library carries so many magazines, and they can be checked out for free. Different branches carry different magazines so check your local library to see what they carry or check our online catalog to see which branch carries a particular magazine. This is also a great way to comparison shop. If you are looking to purchase a subscription to a magazine and can’t decide between say, Sunset Magazine and Real Simple, you could check out back issues of both to see which you like better. So the next time you are at the library, be sure and take a look at the magazine section.


Silent Firecracker

The first thing you should know about this book is that Alvin Ho, who comes from a long line of Chinese farmer/warriors, has so-so performance anxiety disorder. And yet, once upon a time, before he went to school, he ran around the house dressed as firecracker man screaming at the top of his lungs while banging simultaneously on a garbage can lid. He was “as noisy as a firecracker,” but in school he is “as silent as a side of beef. “ Alvin has prepared his own PDK: personal disaster kit, has a desk mate who has written the “book on Alvin” which delineates the manner in which Alvin communicates with his eyes, and might just turn out to be Alvin’s best friend, except for one problem:  “she’s a girl. And girls are weird even if they wear a cool eye patch, drag a cool peg leg and know how to throw a mean uppercut. ” Through the ordeals of making friends with Pinky, the Johnny Astro show & tell misadventure,  and taking piano lessons at the Hansel and Gretel witch’s house, the reader is imbued with a sense of appreciation, and near admiration for difference. One learns better ways of taking out aggression. Through Alvin’s eyes we learn that the best way to teach your child one of life’s lessons is to have a heart to heart chat over ice cream.  “Take care of your things, and they will take care of you,” Alvin’s dad likes to say.  One could posit that this simple yet elegant statement about humanity is author Lenore Look’s underscoring point, but I don’t really know, I can’t remember (this is a secret code hint—read the book!)


Look also writes about Ruby Lu.
Just as good, but within the Intermediate reading range which is 3rd to 5th grade, Ruby Lu is more 3rd grade than 4th or 5th.





More Joshilyn Jackson Books

A while back I posted about a book called, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson. Since then I have read and enjoyed several more of Jackson’s books, and I want to share my thoughts on each book and encourage readers to discover this author just as I did.

My favorite of Jackson’s books is her debut novel, Gods in Alabama. In this book we meet Arlene Fleet who left Possett, Alabama and promised never to return. For over ten years, she kept her promise and stayed far away from Alabama.  Despite her attempts to separate herself from Possett and her past, Arlene’s past, present, and future begin to intertwine. In an attempt to satisfy her determined relatives, increasingly less patient boyfriend and persistent childhood acquaintance, she finds herself breaking many of her promises and returning to Alabama.  At first the reader doesn’t know what is keeping Arlene away but as the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks we begin to understand. This story is full of twists and turns and memorable characters.
After reading Gods in Alabama, I read Between, Georgia. This book’s main character is Nonny Frett, whose biological mother Hazel Crabtree gave birth to her and then left her to be raised by the Frett family. The Crabtrees and the Fretts have hated each other since before Nonny was born and are involved in a modern day Hatfield and McCoy style feud. Nonny’s adoption only added to the hatred between the two very different families. Now Nonny is all grown up and the feud is still continuing and Nonny finds herself still stuck between two towns, two families and two men. Just like Joshilyn Jackson’s other books this book demonstrates Jackson’s ability to tell a compelling story.
Besides being compelling stories, Joshilyn Jackson’s books have other similarities as well.  Her books have common themes and common character types. It might not seem possible to have similar themes in all Jackson’s books without duplicating plotlines and characters; however, Jackson makes it work. Each book is unique but very obviously written by the same author. I had the pleasure of listening to these books as audiobooks. The charm of these books was multiplied by the narrator's Southern accent. I looked up the narrator and discovered that Between, Georgia and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty were both read by the author. I highly recommend the audio versions but the print books are great too. The author has two other books which I haven’t read yet:  Backseat Saints and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. All the books I’ve mentioned are available at the library, so check our catalog.
Have you read Joshilyn Jackson’s books and are looking for similar books? I think fans of Joshilyn Jackson would also enjoy reading Fannie Flagg books and vice versa.


Africa's Call

"All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa. We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already." – Ernest Hemingway
It all starts with a trip to Africa.  In Rules of the Wild by Francesca Marciano, Esme’s father has died and she realizes that her life needs to change.  She says, “I needed to go somewhere where my body would be the only tool required to survive, a place where I would be able to test my fear, rather than putting off the moment I had to face it.”  Africa definitely fits the bill.  Here she will be tested and challenged until she discovers who she really is.  What starts out as just a vacation with her boyfriend-at-the-time, P. (who doesn’t even get a full name) becomes something much more when she decides to stay.  “Everything can be changed,” she says. 
At the beginning, she spends her time going on safaris and to dinner parties with the other wazungus, white people.  Most of the expats have a rather colonial attitude—they go about their own business, giving little thought to the troubles of the native Africans.  The two men she forms relationships with represent two sides of herself, two philosophies to live by—and she must choose one.  There is Adam, a Kenyan-born safari leader, who is sympathetic, but almost places more importance on the land than the people.  Then there is Hunter, a war correspondent, who has seen the tragedies of Rwanda and Somalia and keeps Esme aware that this, too, is Africa, and something she has to deal with, if she is to stay.
What kind of a person is she and where does she stand, morally, in relation to her adopted continent?  Can she resign herself to the paradox that is Africa:  beautiful, yet deadly; hopeful, yet tragic?

Marciano’s writing has been compared to Flaubert, Ondaatje’s The English Patient, and Dinesen’s Out of Africa—lyrical and intense.  You won’t want to put it down until you come to the end.  This book is ranked at the top of my “Favorites” list for travel-related fiction.  It gives you a strong sense of place.  Marciano has two other novels in OC Public Libraries.  Just as Rules of the Wild will pull you into Africa, Casa Rossa will do the same for Italy and The End of Manners for Afghanistan.