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Karen B.'s Picks

Book Cover Meg Cabot
Size 12 is Not Fat

Mystery
Heather Wells is a former pop singer who's broke (her mom ran off with her agent, and all her money), lonely, chubbier than she was (but not fat -- size 12 is not fat), and working as the assistant director of a residence hall at New York College.
Pretty traditional chick lit fare, right? But then Heather gets a call, saying that one of the residents is dead. Everyone's pretty sure it's a fluke accident, death by elevator surfing. Heather's not so sure, since girls don't elevator surf. And then, two weeks later, another virgin's dead.
Is someone killing the freshmen? Or has elevator surfing just become a hot fad among lonely, preppy girls who suddenly have their first boyfriend?
Size 12 is Not Fat is a fluffy, fun mystery by one of teen fiction's star authors. Although this title is written for adults, it will appeal to the young (and young at heart). I look forward to the sequel, Phat Chick.
Recommended by Karen B., January 2006

 


The Mad Cook of Pymatuning by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Horror
It's the summer of 1952, and seventeen-year-old Jerry Muller is looking forward to another summer at Camp Seneca. This year, he's bringing along his nine-year-old half-brother, both to introduce him to the camp Jerry loves and to prove to his father than he is necessary in Peter's life. But this year, something's very different and very wrong and Camp Seneca. Chief Wahoo, the Jewish doctor who's always been in charge of Indian lore at the camp, is gone, and in his place is a real Indian, Buck Silverstone. Silverstone, aka Redclaw, takes his job very seriously, and suddenly time-tested traditions are taking on a sinister edge. Jerry's very wary, and even a little bit scared -- should he grab Peter and run, or is he over-reacting? Treacherous pranks and strange happenings in the woods build the tension in this thriller, which brings to life a 1950s summer camp.
Recommended by Karen B., November 2005

Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year by Esme Raji Codell
Teen Nonfiction
This memoir, winner of a 2000 Alex Award, relates the experiences of a first year teacher at an inner-city school in Chicago. By turns uplifting and heart-breaking, Educating Esme is an enlightening look at the joys and triumphs, as well as the frustrations, of being a third-grade teacher. The author worked for two years as a third grade teacher before becoming a school media specialist. She instilled in her students a love of the written word and the joy of learning, while struggling with abusive parents, school board complaints and educational bureaucracy. Despite being written intially for adults, Educating Esme has very high appeal for young adults, especially those who may wish to become educators themselves.
Recommended by Karen B., September 2005

Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig
NonFiction
This memoir, at times heartbreaking and at others hilarious, chronicles the adolescence of a young woman struggling with a unique form of obsessive-compulsive disorder known as "scrupulosity." The daughter of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Traig, at the age of twelve, decides the only way to salvation is by becoming an Orthodox Jew - a very Orthodox Jew. Over the next six years, she follows the rules laid out in the Old Testament with a fervor that leads to numerous other problems: eating disorders, because very little of the food available to her is kosher enough to eat; poor personal hygiene; estrangement from a family that doesn't understand that she doesn't have a choice but to do what her guidebook, the Bible, tells her. Traig's voice as she matures from a child with no interest in religion to a young woman with little interest in anything else remains clear and untainted, and her story is one that will fascinate anyone with an interest in religion, mental disorders, or the intricacies of growing up in the 1970s.
Recommended by Karen B., August 2005

The Thing About Jane Spring by Sharon Krum
Fiction
Jane Spring, attorney, was raised by a single father, a military man, who instilled in her his values: a sense of duty, loyalty, honesty, and aggression. Jane's certain that she has all the qualities any man would want, but she can't understand why first dates rarely turn into second dates, and second dates never turn into third dates. After overhearing a couple of colleagues discussing her, she realizes that maybe she has something to learn about how to find love. Jane decides to remake herself into the image of someone who's never had a problem with love: Doris Day. At first, Jane's new image confounds those around her. Has she gone insane? Is this just a ploy to win a high-profile case? But as Jane continues to stay in character, those around her begin to adjust, and realize that there really is something about Jane Spring. A light read about becoming who you want to be, The Thing About Jane Spring will please those readers who are looking for something fun and entertaining with a bit more wit and intelligence than some of the other "chick lit" offerings.
Recommended by Karen B., July 2005

Storyteller by Amy Thomson
Fiction
Samad is an orphan, homeless and hungry, when he stops on the street corner to listen to Teller. Her story touches him so much that he wants to give her a gift, but because he has no money he steals a loaf of bread. When he is caught, Teller takes him under her wing. Although at first reluctant to take on the role of mother, Teller's harsel (imagine a giant fish with human intelligence, able to carry humans inside their bodies without harm) convinces her that she needs Samad as much as he needs her.
Although peppered with minor flaws (awkward dialogue and an overenthusiasm to leave a moral message) this is a fantasy novel that manages to touch the heart. Thomson draws the reader through the lives of her characters, combining the story of Samad, Asbeh (the harsel) and Teller with tales of the history of Thellasos and the Pilot, the original settler of the planet. By the end of the novel, I found myself carring deeply about all of the characters, very much involved in the minor details of Samad's life and anxious to know what path he would take next.
Recommended by Karen B, April 2005

Guardians of the Flame by Joel Rosenberg
Fiction
Fantasy Gaming: You roll your dice, create your character, and delve into action and adventure. There's nothing quite like it…all the fun of living in a fantasy novel, without actually risking your skin. Unless, of course, you're a character in the book Guardians of the Flame, by Joel Rosenberg.
An omnibus of the first three books in the Guardians of the Flame series, this book tells the story of seven intrepid adventures that suddenly find themselves sucked from the gaming table into the game. Their "real life" personas are fully integrated with their gaming personas, for good and ill. Karl Cullinane, Walter Slovotsky and the rest find themselves battling wizards, slavers, and ancient dragons as they struggle to make their way home - and beyond.
Like many fantasy novels, the plot is the driving force behind this book. Although the dialogue is sometimes stilted and the writing lacks style, the great conflicts over which the players must triumph and the adventures in which they take part are riveting. The characters are also quite engaging: Karl Cullinane, the gawky college student who is incapable of committing to anything is suddenly a powerful warrior who must take control in battle; James Finnegan, crippled in this world by muscular dystrophy yet a powerful dwarf who wields a mean battleaxe in the other; Andy-Andy, whose very first foray into fantasy gaming results in a struggle to control her magic in Ehvenar; and several other characters, all of whom you learn to love. The characters are not without their flaws, however, which make them all the more likeable.
Guardians of the Flame is set up much like an actual role-playing game would be, with several small tasks (or modules), leading to a major task. In all, this collection of novels is an excellent choice for fantasy readers, gamers or otherwise, who are looking for a fast-paced, adventurous read.
Recommended by Karen B., February 2005

Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
Fiction
This book is one of the many touted as a great choice for people waiting for "the next Harry Potter," and in my opinion is one that actually lives up to the press. Midnight for Charlie Bone is a story about a young man living with an unkind family, who is sent to a special school when it is discovered that he has special powers. Sound familiar? But there the similarities end -- some of Charlie's family is quite nice, he has some truly excellent friends, and his school only has a few of "the endowed" (the rest of the kids are just normally talented). Upon discovering his new power, hearing the voices of people in pictures, Charlie also discovers that eight years ago a scientist sold his daughter to some evil magicians. Charlie thenmeets the girl's aunt, who wants her back. And guess where she's likely to be? That's right -- Bloor's Academy, Charlie's new school. Charlie gets himself mixed up with some very cool kids -- and some very uncool kids --to solve the mysteries of the missing girl and the tool that may help him find her. I recommend this quick read to fantasy lovers young and old(er).
Recommended by Karen B., August 2004

Going Out by Thomas Scarlett
Fiction
Luke is allergic to sunshine, and as a result hasn't been outside since he escaped at age seven. Julie is afraid of absolutely everything and therefore lives a very narrow existence. And then a healer says he can heal Luke, so Luke, Julie, and their friends (one who thinks she might be a witch, one with cancer, and one who blames herself for her boyfriend's death) set off on a roadtrip to find a cure. Comparisons to "The Wizard of Oz" are unavoidable, especially since the author shoves the parallels in your face, but all in all this is a well-written and very enjoyable book. Anyone who's been afraid of a thunder storm or felt impotent to change anything in their life will appreciate the candor with which this story is told. Although the ending is rather predictable, this book as a whole is a welcome departure from the typical contemporary Brit-lit that peppers bookshelves today.
Recommended by Karen B., August 2004