Book Bomb! Dark & Sensual Fantasy


I honestly don't set out with specific intent to read books that lean towards romance, and if anyone should tell you that I used to be literary buddies with the romance genre (back when the only guy brave enough to show his cosmetically enhanced pectoral muscles and flowy mane on all the covers was named Fabio), they need to take some advice from Pinocchio. Lies!  I love dark fantasy, though, even if it tends to mix a bit with the more romantical elements of fiction, and especially so if the protagonist (or deuteragonist, or even the tritagonist) is an interesting strong female character.  On that note, here are some you might like to read.

Daughter of the Blood (The Black Jewels, #1) The Black Jewels trilogy, by Anne Bishop, is one of my absolute favorite fantasy series.  Set in a world that is divided into three separate yet interconnected realms (occupying identical geographies, but sort of in different dimensions), the story revolves around four engaging and one hundred times interesting characters: Lucivar, a rebellious winged fighter searching for a strong Queen to serve; Daemon, the lethal seducer who longs for a strong Queen to love; Saetan, the once-feared lonely High Lord of the darkest realm who dreams of a daughter to raise in the honorable ways of the Blood and the Craft; and Jaenelle, the mysterious, deadly girl who stands in the center of this triangle with the promise of becoming much more than anyone of them could imagine.  With an interesting perspective on gender role reversal, strong female characterization, and fantastic writing, ignore the misleading romantic fantasy connection and give it a try! 
The first book in the series is Daughter of the Blood.
A Kiss of Shadows (Meredith Gentry, #1)The Merry Gentry series, by Laurell Hamilton, while definitely more erotic than romantic, is one of my favorite contemporary fantasies because of the wonderfully complex world Hamilton has spun from threads of fairy folklore, myth, and legend of a wide range of cultures, but with its own unique and gasp-worthy twists.  Princess Meredith has been in hiding from her aunt the Queen of the Unseelie Court, home to the more frightening of the fae races, until a case she is working on, in the guise of a human private investigator, reveals her true identity.  Faced once more with a world that shunned and almost killed her (repeatedly, and not by accident), now she must navigate unfamiliar territory as a desirable, powerful member of the darkling throng. 
The first book in the series is A Kiss of Shadows.
Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #1)The Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, by Laurell Hamilton, is probably my favorite of all vampire fiction, although mostly the first half of the series until Narcissus in Chains (book ten), where the tone of the series goes from seriously wicked supernatural crime investigation to, well, more bedroom action type stuff (the noir aspect is still there, just not as prominent).  Anita Blake is an animator, someone who raises the dead for a living (her firm offers services like will settlement, witness reports, and consolation, posthumously), as well as a vampire executioner, someone legally sanctioned to hunt and kill rogue vampires who’ve broken the law.  Hamilton is one of the very first authors to write what is now considered modern urban fantasy, so I consider her take on vampire mythology to be more original than recent additions to the genre (copy-cats!). 
The first book in the series is Guilty Pleasures, followed by nine novels that are definitely still my top favorites, with subsequent additions to the series that are still entertaining, if not exactly in the same way.
Darkfever (Fever, #1)The Fever series, by Karen Marie Moning, unlike The Black Jewels trilogy does tread more on the romance genre side of the literary line, but its take on fairy mythology is nicely original, and quite dark.  MacKayla thinks she’s just a regular girl until the murder of her sister, when she discovers she has the ability to see the fae everywhere, and that her sister was involved with powerful beings and secret societies.  Her quest to solve her sister’s murder spans several books, with some poorly strategized cliff-hanger endings (which frankly tried my patience but I had to keep reading if only to get to the series conclusion).  Don’t expect pixie dust or dragonfly wings, rather, tentacles, nightmares, and blood-fueled magic are what these fey creatures are all about. 
The first book in the series is Darkfever.
Kushiel's Dart (Ph├Ędre's Trilogy #1)The Kushiel’s Legacy series, by Jacqueline Carey, is a wonderfully imagined alternate history slash fantasy.  I say that because Terre d’Ange, the main country of the book, is based loosely on France, with surrounding countries echoes of its real-world European counterparts.  I’m currently going through an unexpected Francophile phase which is why I picked up the book in the first place – fantasy blended with a bit of historical French culture, yes please!  Terre d’Ange and its sister nations were founded by a band of rebel angels (from whom the people are descended), led by Elua, the main deity.  Phedre, the protagonista, is a rare anguisette, physically marked with a red mote in her left eye as chosen by one of the rebel angels, Kushiel, as someone who experiences pain as pleasure.  Trained in all the arts of a courtesan, secretly as a spy, she uses her skills to infiltrate the royal courts to find her way through tangled intrigue, shadowy politics, and looming disaster.  Be warned, this series isn’t for everyone, as the religious and cultural foundations are based on different interpretations of sexual freedom.  It isn’t at all gratuitous, though, it’s more restrained than you’d expect, and it is definitely more tasteful (and interesting!) than that book with the fifty kinds of grey or some such.
The first book in the series is Kushiel's Dart.
Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website to order a copy today!

 

Poetry for Kids



I’ve loved poetry ever since I was a child and my father read to me from the “Childcraft” poetry volume.  With National Poetry Month coming up in April, this is a good time to concentrate on passing on a love of verse to a new generation.  The Poetry Foundation recognized the importance of nurturing young readers when they started awarding a national “children’s poet laureate” several years ago. Their website explains that “the children’s poet laureate aims to raise awareness that children have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them.”

First to hold the new position was Jack Prelutsky, who really deserved it.  He has published many volumes with guaranteed kid appeal.  A good one to start with is Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face and Other Poems: Some of the Best of Jack Prelutsky.  Here are the first two stanzas of the title poem:

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

(You get the idea.)

During her tenure as children’s poet laureate from 2008 to 2010, Mary Ann Hoberman published Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart, which includes many memorable verses, by her and other poets, arranged from short to long with tips for memorizing so a reader can “know it forever.”  Here’s one of the short ones she wrote herself, called “Hippopotamus”:

How far from human beauty
Is the hairless hippopotamus
With such a square enormous head
And such a heavy botamus.

Don’t miss the anthology edited by current Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis.  It is called Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs that Squeak, Soar, and Roar!  The photos, by National Geographic, are just stunning.  The poems range from thoughtful to amusing, including Lewis’ own “Wedding Bears:”

A panda by the name of Ling-
Ling met another panda, Ping.
They fell in love the first of spring
And hand in hand, Ling-Ling and Ping
Planned a panda wedding-ding.
A fling,
A ring,
A wedding-ding!
The sun was shining.
So was Ling-
Ling standing
Hand in hand with Ping.

These renowned poets are a good place to begin when discovering children’s poetry.  But what I would really recommend would be to head for “811.54” on the library shelf (that’s a Dewey Decimal Number) and just start browsing.  Have you discovered any really good poetry books for children?  We’d like to hear about them in our comments below.

 

Parisian Style


“Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn

Do you ever feel like you want to change your style?  Become a bit more chic?  A bit more sophisticated?  A bit more French?  If so, then Parisian Chic is the book for you.  It is an homage to Parisian style, written to help us all bring out our inner French Girls (or Boys!).  Written by Ines de la Fressange, a former model (she was Karl Lagerfeld’s muse in the ‘80s) and current doyenne of French fashion, the book gets into the nuts and bolts, telling us what to do, what never to do, and what we just might get away with. 

Some fun tips (there are plenty more in the book!): 


  • Don’t be a fashion victim.
  • If it feels good, wear it.
  • It’s okay to pair navy blue with black.
  • Never be bland.
  • Anything from a surplus store worn with vintage costume jewelry is good.
  • Be bold.
In addition to the fashion guide is “Ines’s Paris,” a section on travel, where de la Fressange tells about the chic and fun places to stay, eat and shop.  You will discover:


  • Where to find the best bookshops (for both English and French books)
  • Where to take kids (and where to buy adorable kids’ clothes)
  • And where to shop online like a Parisian (for those of us who don’t have a Paris trip in our near futures)
You don’t need to be a die-hard Francophile (or Parisophile) to enjoy this book, but you might just be by the time you’re finished. 

If you enjoy books on French lifestyle and fashion, you might also want to read:

Bonjour, Happiness by Jamie Cat Callan
Entre Nous by Debra Ollivier
French Women for All Seasons by Mireille Guiliano
Joie de Vivre by Harriet Welty Rochefort
Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard
My French Life by Vicki Archer


 

Press Here, by Herve' Tullet

The simplicity and utter charm of Herve' Tullet's amazing book Press Here uses the reader's own power of imagination and individual motion to create a three-dimensional, interactive environment for learning, on the flat surface of a picture book. Press Here is truly in a class of its own for design and ingenuity.

It begins when the reader responds to the author's suggestion to press the yellow dot, and embark on an enchanting and delightful journey, jumping in, and making the action happen.  Shaking the pages, tilting the book this way and that, the use of color and motion, as the dots multiply, move from side to side, and grow bigger and bigger, all contribute to making this book an enegretic read!



 

A Declaration for Independents


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence)

The immortal words of Thomas Jefferson ring out in the history of the United States and the American landscape ever since their first bursting onto the scene July 4, 1776.  Presidents and politicians routinely invoke the Declaration to defend whatever political position they are espousing.  Abraham Lincoln, no slouch in his own right when it came to writing, summoned the Declaration’s sentiments in his Gettysburg Address, which was a precursor to the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all of the slaves in the United States.  Martin Luther King, Jr.,  quoted the declaration in his “I Have a Dream” speech, citing the portion of the Declaration that “all men are created equal,” as America’s creed.  While most people now routinely believe and espouse the ideas set forth in the Declaration, historically, up until its publication, these ideas were antithetical to any government that hitherto had existed.  The idea, that Government was instituted for the benefit of its citizens, and that people by their very nature were free, was a foreign concept to that point in world history. 

What if this Declaration with its ideas of self-governance and freedom were never written?  What if it were never needed?  What if the American citizens of the British Empire had decided that they were better off under the protection of Mother England?  While it may seem ludicrous to consider that any of these possibilities could have happened, it is hard to place one’s self in the position of the peoples back in that time.  As of the start of 1776, while war had broken out, the hostilities were mostly limited; and the possibility for reconciliation was still within the people’s grasp.  What then drove these people and these events to promote the cause of liberty?  What happened in 1776 to irrevocably shape the history of the modern world?


While it is very easy to develop certain beliefs about the reasons for the events during this critical time during American history, as people often note that history is written by the victors, David McCullough, in his book 1776 develops a thorough, balanced, and often moving account of the thoughts and feelings of not only the American Revolutionaries, but their British parliamentarian and monarchal counterparts.  Taking the reader from the stirrings of Revolution right up to the precipice of the Declaration and then to its aftermath, McCullough focuses his eye towards the intricacies of the individuals involved in this historic conflict.  The summer of 1776 was a very active and prominent one, moving the cause of freedom from the back burner to the very forefront of America’s mind and consciousness.  Troubled by the seeming indifference to the struggles and issues of the colonists by King George III of England, American “Patriots” banded together to accomplish what few in the modern world had done up to that time, establish Independence from the people that had conquered, nurtured, and developed the land into a very successful and profitable enterprise. 

From the appointing of General Washington by the Continental Congress and the banding together of militias to form the American army to the British disdain for the colonists and their firm belief that as the children of the British Empire the colonists should be accepting of their authority given the provisions that the empire supplied these people with, McCullough takes a nuanced look at the various factions and their reasons for doing what they did.  Small details such as Washington’s claim that he took on the command of the army reluctantly, while attending the meeting in which the Congress made that request, in full military regalia, portray a commander who may not have been as reluctant to join the cause as he has made it seem.  McCullough also wishes to balance the colonial portrayal of the King as greedy, selfish, and ostentatious with what his reign was actually characterized by: his lack of desire for all things ornate or gaudy.  It further displayed the balancing act the King had to make between his desire to live a low key life, with the expectations of his subjects and their desire to have their king look and act the part of a royal, not to be cowed by any upstart group of individuals across the ocean.  These little details sewn together in a tapestry comprise a story that is both fascinating and insightful.


What is great about 1776, the novel by David McCullough?  Just about everything.  Not only do you get wonderful historical context and accuracy, but the plethora of ways you can read it adds to its beauty as a must-have part of any historical collection of non-fiction.  You can obtain the material in multiple platforms.  First there is the beauty of the simple work itself, which is eminently readable, and gives a nice timeline and context to an understanding of the history of the American Revolution.  Second, you can always pick up the larger coffee table edition.  In it there are beautiful pictures and illustrations to go along with the fascinating story.  Furthermore, there are additional letters and correspondence that one can read to give a larger context with the story that McCullough is trying to weave.  And finally, if that is not enough, one can pick up the audio book narrated by McCullough himself.  And as anyone who has watched the Civil War (dvd), by Kenneth Burns, and also narrated by McCullough, can attest, McCullough’s reading can be both insightful and emotional, full of thoughtful commentary and depth.  With such wonderful ways to experience this story, the beginning of the American experiment, 1776 is a must read for history buffs and laymen alike.

 

There is Something About the Stars

The image of stars is a favorite in poetry.  And two of my favorite recent reads invoke this very image in the title.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass was the 2012 winner of the California Young Reader Medal in the Middle School/Junior High category, and it is a noteworthy book indeed.
                                                                                                                     

Ally, age thirteen, lives at the Moonshadow campsite and loves her home-schooled life and remote campsite retreat with its focus on astronomy.  Another thirteen-year old, "Bree," is a misfit in her intellectual, science-loving family.  She lives for her model good looks and her place in the "A-list" clique at school.  Jack is a thirteen-year old overweight boy with no friends and an unstable family history who has retreated into drawing and reading in his treehouse. These are the three characters who take turns telling their stories as the Moonshadow campground is hosting a gathering of followers of eclipses to view a total eclipse of the sun.  To their mutual horror, Ally has discovered that her family plans to move to the city and put her and her brother into public school, and Bree's parents are moving with her younger sister and her to be the new caretakers of the Moonshadow.

Ally, Bree, and Jack, three unlikely characters to come together, bond through their experiences and even hardships at the campground and each are put on paths to profoundly grow and change.  This book highlights astronomy, inviting interest and knowledge of this topic to an otherwise psychologically realistic read.  This is a book that even a reluctant reader might enjoy, as it was a favorite children's choice pick award winner in many states.  More about the author and her blog may be found here.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-tHQ7KG-hK5s/UBHChNPuhtI/AAAAAAAAAB4/OT_GCc3OjRI/s1600/The+Fault+in+Our+Stars+Cover.jpg
                                                                 



The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is another run-away into Teenland book by this author. The book was briefly discussed in the former blog titled "Good Book, Bad Covers," but I am compelled to elaborate here. There is no shortage of readers as it has been on the bestseller and Orange County Library hold list from the beginning.  But this review is for the teen or adult reader,  looking for one of those cry-and-die novels, or perhaps a reader of teen romance, recommending a book that will take them to another level.

Hazel Grace is a high school girl with advanced cancer who is forced by her parents to join a support group. And so are introduced, frequently with humor, a cast of characters with cancer and a wry insight into the dynamics of the support group.  She reluctantly finds herself attracted to a former basketball star who has lost his right leg; he has a prosthetic, but all of his good looks.  Hazel holds back because she is hanging on with the the help of an experimental medication and her oxygen supply, but it is unknown for how long.



They connect over her infatuation with a book called An Imperial Affliction by a Dutch author who has left the characters hanging and seems to be unavailable to respond to readers' pleas for another book, or even any correspondence at all.  But when their determined quest leads to a slim possibility to fly to the Netherlands and meet the author in person, the suspense deepens as well as the romance.


Green takes us with reality and with humor into the lives of teens, or any cancer patient, and reminds us that besides the cancer and often unkind physical assaults to cope with, and the hovering people who love them, that they bear the burden of worrying back and establishing the normalcy in their lives beyond the frequently awkward perceptions of others.

Both of these books may be requested through the Orange County Public Library website.  More can be found about this very popular and award-winning  author who writes quality books for teens here.

 

Saga: A New Age of Comics


If you’re like most people, when you think of comic books, you think of super heroes. Heroes like Superman, Batman, and the X-men brought comics into the limelight of popular culture, but a new type of comic is changing the way stories are told in comic books, as well as bringing in an older readership. I like to call these “dramics,” or dramatic comics. Though this type of storytelling started in the 80’s with works such as Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta or From Hell, it is reaching a fever pitch of popularity thanks to publishing companies like Image Comics.


One of Image’s most popular new dramatic series’ is Saga, a space opera/fantasy comic with elements from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Romeo and Juliet thrown in for good measure. The story surrounds lovers Alana and Marko, whose people are on opposite sides of a brutal war spanning the galaxy. Alana is from Landfall, a planet that is home to a technologically advanced race of winged humanoids. Marko is from Landfall’s moon, Wreath, whose horn-headed populace may not be as tech savvy as those from Landfall, but make up for it in the practice of powerful magic. Alana and Marko meet on the Landfall Coalition’s prison planet Cleave, where Marko is a prisoner of war, and Alana one of the prison guards. They soon realize that, despite the rhetoric of their respective governments, their similarities vastly outweigh their differences. When Marko is scheduled to be transferred to Blacksite, a prison no one ever comes back from, Alana helps Marko escape, ensuring her own status as a criminal with the Landfall Coalition.  
After months running from Landfall authorities on Cleave, Alana gives birth to Marko’s daughter, whom they name Hazel. Their purpose now becomes clear: get off of the planet Cleave and find somewhere far away from the war where they can settle down and raise their daughter in peace. This is easier said, however, than done. With both the Landfall and Wreath governments seeing Hazel as an abomination, Alana and Marko are relentlessly hunted across the galaxy.


With science fiction and fantasy elements, as well as a dramatic story of two star-crossed lovers and the bounty hunters paid to kill them, Saga breaks the mold in comic book storytelling. Brian K. Vaughan’s brilliant writing has been evident since Y: The Last Man, but he outdoes himself this time with a story that is both epic and personal at the same time (as well as occasionally humorous). Though the artwork is all digitally-made, Fiona Staples somehow makes each frame look like a painting, the browns and grays emphasizing Alana and Marko’s desperate situation. 

The graphic novel Saga: Volume 1 collects the first six issues of this fantastic comic in paperback book form, and is recommended for adults who love fantasy and/or science fiction.

 

Branching Out For Wildlife

 March 18-24 is National Wildlife Week, the National Wildlife Federation’s longest running educational campaign; this year’s theme is “Branching Out for Wildlife,” focusing on the important role of trees for wildlife and people.  Although their aim is to teach kids about wildlife, the Library is a big fan of life-long learning, so I’ve gathered a few recent titles to get you inspired.



If you don’t think nature is your thing, Eric Rutkow offers a unique blend of natural and national history in American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation. From the earliest colonies to our current struggles with climate change, trees have played an important financial, cultural, and environmental role in the development of our nation.


In The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, the Future of Our Forests, and a Radical Plan to Save OurPlanet, Jim Robbins details the story of David Milarch, a tree farmer whose visitation by angels propels his attempt to promote the cloning of ancient trees in an effort to save the planet.
Julie Zickefoose’s Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, featuring the naturalist’s drawings and watercolors is a more personal account of interactions with nature, as Zickefoose recounts the many songbird rescues she has performed over the decades with affection and immediacy.



If reading about trees and wildlife isn’t enough, search the catalog for the subject: "Gardening to attract wildlife" and get some ideas for making your yard a wildlife refuge.

 

A Penny Saved...


“Money often costs too much.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m always a little suspicious of books (and people!) that promise to save me money, but I was glad that I put aside my suspicion long enough to read How to Shop for Free and All in Good Time.  If you’re looking to save a little money on your daily shopping trips, these books will give you lots of tips on how to keep your dollars in your bank account.

How to Shop for Free by Kathy Spencer could also be called “Couponing 101.”  I never knew coupons could be so helpful!  Spencer teaches you how to use them to your advantage by stacking, doubling and keeping track of when items go on sale.  For example, toothpaste sells for $2.99 regularly.  It goes on sale for $1.99.  If you have a manufacturer’s coupon for $1.00 off and a store coupon for $1.00 off, you can stack the coupons and get the toothpaste for free.  She doesn’t hide the fact that you have to put a little time into the process by looking for coupons and sales, but she shows us how to save money on the things we use every day.

In All in Good Time, the authors Tara Kuczykowski and Mandi Ehman, tell us when we can save on certain items, such as bicycles, appliances and cosmetics.  We’ve all heard of the white sales in January, in which you can save on bedding and towels, but did you know that stores put cookware on sale in April and May in anticipation of graduations and weddings?  They also give lots of tips on how to prolong the lives of your “stuff,” so that you won’t need to buy it so often in the first place.

To get a taste of the savings that await you, check out the authors' websites:  www.howtoshopforfree.net (Spencer), www.DealSeekingMom.com (Kuczykowski) and www.Life.YourWay.net (Ehman). 

A Provocative Post 9/11 Novel


Reading Amy Waldman’s novel The Submission is like watching a politically-charged story unfold on a 24-hour cable news station.  Two years after the 9/11 attacks, a panel jury convenes to select a memorial design for the victims, only to discover the anonymous winner is an American Muslim.  Mohammad Khan (“Mo” to family and friends) was born in Virginia, attended Ivy League schools and doesn't practice his religion, but no matter, he is branded a terrorist sympathizer by the tabloid press and opportunistic politicians. 

The other major character in this book is Claire Burwell, the lone juror who lost a family member in the attacks.  She initially supported the design, but the pressure from other outraged family members causes her to reconsider.

The nation is divided by the controversy, and Mo becomes a pawn caught up in a fight between factions who are more interested in advancing their own agendas.  Should he drop out of the competition to restore peace and give the country more time to heal, or should he stand up for his principles and demand that he be treated like any other American?

The Submission is a plot-driven book with a large cast of characters which enables the author to explore multiple points of view.  Amy Waldman writes for The New York Times and The Atlantic, and her journalist style suits this novel well. At times a biting parody full of sarcastic wit, at other times a meditative questioning of ethics and personal values.  I really enjoyed this thoughtful exploration of the raucous and wild nature of political discourse.

A Great Read and A Great Series



A characteristic of a great series of books is that the individual books are strong enough to be enjoyed independently from the rest of the series. However, I also think that series are best read in order. For this reason, I wanted to read JA Jance’s JP Beaumont series from the very beginning. I selected the book Sentenced to Die for my library’s recent mystery book club meeting because it is a collection of the first three JP Beaumont books. It contains Until Proven Guilty, Injustice for All, and Trial by Fury. Originally published in 1985, Until Proven Guilty introduces Detective Beaumont, a Seattle homicide detective.  This first book in the series teaches readers that in Beaumont’s world not everyone is who they seem and the lines between right and wrong can blur every once in a while.
 
JA Jance’s books are interesting reads that will keep the pages turning. I enjoyed this collection of books because there are lots of red herrings and the story lines twist and turn and kept me guessing the whole time. Each book is definitely strong enough to be read on its own, but I took the advice of avid Jance readers and started at the beginning. These first three books in the JP Beaumont series are the first JA Jance books I’ve read but I plan on reading more. How will Beaumont’s character develop? Like me, you will have to read the series to find out.
Along with the Beaumont series, JA Jance writes the Ali Reynolds, Joanna Brady, and the Walker mystery series. Fans of JA Jance will be excited to learn JA Jance is a keynote speaker at this year’s Literary Orange event. Literary Orange will be held on Saturday, April 6th, 2013.   Reserve your spot at this event today!

 

A is for Annie, B is for Buster...and D is for Dysfunctional


If you think your family’s dynamics are interesting, I invite you to meet the Fangs. 

In the novel The Family Fang, author Kevin Wilson relates the story of adult siblings Annie and Buster, respectively an aspiring actress and little-known novelist, whose professional and emotional lives have gone pretty much awry.  As the novel begins, Buster is accidentally shot in the face with a potato gun while researching a freelance article, resulting in severe injuries and an unmanageable medical bill.  For her part, Annie walks across a movie set topless and has an intimate encounter with a reporter who’s writing an article about her, both with disastrous results for her career. 

Annie and Buster’s parents are Caleb and Camille Fang, performance artists who included Annie and Buster in their pieces – as “Child A” and “Child B” -- throughout their childhoods.  In chapters which alternate between Annie and Buster’s present-day lives and the circumstances surrounding particular performance art pieces, we read about the long-term effects of a most unusual upbringing in which Caleb and Camille cajoled and even at least once deceived their children into performing art in stores and restaurants and on city sidewalks.

As adults, fresh from their recent missteps, Annie and Buster decide to move back in with their parents.  Both siblings have the notion that living under the same roof together might somehow help them to put their lives back together.  What Annie and Buster don’t anticipate, however, is the major change which shortly occurs in their parents’ lives. But is this change real or just a performance piece on a grand scale? 

How much do I love this insightful, wonderfully weird – in the best way possible -- and often hilarious novel?  Let’s just say that I’ve already given it to two friends and one cousin as birthday presents, something I only do with one or two favorite books each year.  If you’re interested in how childhood experiences affect our self-image and life trajectories or even just want to meet a few of the quirkiest characters you will ever come across, then I highly recommend The Family Fang to you too.  Wilson draws both Annie and Buster quite clearly, creating two likeable characters whose recurring self-doubt and fumbling mirrors our own, albeit magnified due to their odd upbringing. 

It’s hard to believe, but The Family Fang, named a “Best Book of the Year” by several publications, is Kevin Wilson’s first published novel.  He preceded it with his short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, an award-winning debut.  I eagerly await his next work, in whatever format he chooses.