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The Invoice
Jonas Karlsson
Delightful. There was just something about the author's style of writing that made this very enjoyable to read. What would you expect a bill for your "happiness" to total? How would you begin to assess the value to your life, much less pay the bill. In this story, that is exactly what happens, the main character receives a bill and the ensuing tale unfolds as he looks at his life.
Refinery Town: Big OIl, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City
Steve Early
If you enjoy political stories of the David and Goliath nature this book will be appealing. It goes beyond the company controlled town to the grassroots efforts to return the control to the people. Who also must face that in doing so they risk the gentrification that has overtaken neighboring areas and would put the homes beyond affordability for new, young buyers.
The Red Notebook
Antoine Laurain
A short book to be savored, wonderfully written it appears nothing was lost in translation. Just a delight to read. A lost handbag containing a red notebook of personal jottings, found by a passerby who takes it as a mission to locate the owner.
 
 

The President's Hat
Antoine Laurain
Another delightful book from Laurain. This time involving a lost hat, one that belongs to the President of France. The story details the journey of the hat and the lives of the finders, with a surprise at the end.
A World Lost
Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry is a master at storytelling, this tale is set in 1944 and introduces some of the many characters who populate Port Royal, Kentucky. Young Andy Catlett is the narrator and shares with the reader his emotions and sense of guilt over the murder of his uncle. This is a wonderful book to start with in the Port Royal series
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Rachel Joyce
A wonderful book of a conventional man doing a most unconventional thing for a friend. Step by step Harold covers more than just the country as he walks from south to north after receiving an unexpected letter from someone from his past.
 
 

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
An amazing, heart-wrenching novel
The Fault in Our Stars is the story of two 16-year-olds who meet at a cancer support group. Hazel Lancaster, the narrator, is afflicted with terminal thyroid cancer which has severly compromised her lungs enough to necessitate the use of an oxygen tank wherever she goes. It is during a support meeting that she is introduced to Augustus Waters, whose leg was claimed by a malignant bone tumor and who soon becomes the object of her affection. Augustus' friend Isaac, also in the support group, plays an important role in the story as well. Through the lives of these characters Green writes an even bigger story, and shows us that we are all in fact terminal, but that we largely decide how to spend our brief moments in life.

The likeability factor of these characters is one of the reasons the rest of the story can be so heartbreaking to follow at times. Even though I was fully aware from the beginning that Hazel's condition is terminal, she doesn't behave in a way that constantly reminds the reader of that fact. Instead, her sarcastic wit and outlook on life draw me to her as someone I could easily be friends with (if only there wasn't that problem of her being a fictional character). From very early on, I was sucked into an emotional attachment to the characters in the story that made it very difficult to actually put the book down. One the the best books I've read in a long time. If you don't read this one you're missing out.

The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodrigues

This is the true story of Gaby Rodriguez, a high schooler from Toppenish, Washington, who faked her own pregnancy for a senior project.

Gaby is the youngest child in a large family. She has seven siblings - and more than thirty nieces and nephews, some of which are older than she is. Her family history was filled with teenage pregnancy: Her mother had been a teen mother. Her older sisters were teen moms. Many of her older brothers were teen fathers. 

Gaby's pregnancy project was an idea she came up with herself in an attempt to make people take teen pregnancy seriously and explore how people are influenced by stereotypes and rumors. Gaby shared the truth with very few others in order to get the most accurate results and make the largest impact: her mother, her boyfriend, one close friend, a few administrators who had to give her project their approval, and only one of her siblings. Everyone else - including the rest of her family and her boyfriend's parents - thought that Gaby and her boyfriend, Jorge, were about to become teen parents. The few people who knew the truth were going to be her eyes and ears, and report what they heard. Gaby wanted to feel what teen moms felt in order to make people aware of the struggles teen moms went through. She wanted to see if her friends and loved ones would stand by her when she needed them and if her teachers and other classmates would look down at her. 

Six long months later, Gaby revealed everything in an all-school assembly. She started her presentation off with facts and figures, with statistics and stories about teenage pregnancies and stereotypes. Then she announced that she was not pregnant. People were surprised and had mixed reactions to her deception.

Gaby's presentation was captured on camera, leading the story to be picked up not only by local papers but also the Associated Press, which in turn led to national and international news broadcasts. It also led to a book deal and a movie deal. Lifetime's made-for-TV movie based on Gaby's story aired shortly after the book was released.

The book is essentially divided into three parts: an intoduction to Gabby's life and family background, her conception of the idea and the six months of faking pregnancy, and the after effect including what it was like dealing with the media as the story gained national attention. It offers lengthy insight into Gaby's home life.  She is frank about her school and her hometown, however I found myself rushing through the first 60 pages when she was describing her family history to get to the part about the actual project.  When I finally made it to the part that described the project I found myself wanting more details about what it was like for Gabby during those 6 months. This part of the book lacked essential details, which lessened the impact of the book overall.  I found the book disappointing, not really worth the time.


The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
When her parents move to England her senior year, Rory Deveaux agrees to go with them as long as she can attend boarding school in London. The school and the people in it are a far cry from her tiny southern hometown, but Rory likes her new roommate and is enjoying her school (well, except for maybe the field hockey part). The day Rory arrived in London also marked the first day of a series of murders mimmicing those of Jack the Ripper that took place in in England in the autumn of 1888. As more murders occur it doesn't take long for everyone in London to realize that there is a Ripper copycat on the loose, throwing the entire city into mayhem. Rory thinks that she's safe from it all, despite her proximity to the murder scenes, but when she is questioned by a secret branch of the London police, Rory finds that she is a lot closer to the real killer than she thought. 

This is much different than Johnson's earlier, more humor-driven stories, but the writing is still good and the characters entertaining. Rory is a lovable character and a great narrator--funny, loyal, hard-working, and tough. The book is slow to get started as Johnson focuses on Rory and her friends at boarding school. Things start to get interesting about a third of the way through and then really pick up as the plot thickens. The book ends with a cruel cliffhanger. You'll learn a lot about London and the history of the Jack the Rippers murder's throughout the book. Though not quite the thriller it was made out to be, the quirky characters and historical facts combined with a paranormal twist make it worth reading. Not my favorite book but I'll probably read the next in the series, The Madness Underneath, expected to come out early next year.

The Lost Song by Caroline B. Cooney
In this haunting and lyrical novel Caroline B. Cooney weaves together the stories of four teenagers whose paths cross in a small South Carolina town. Lutie Painter is struggling to come to terms with a terrible knowledge about her mother. Doria Bell just wants someone—anyone—to see her as more than the accompanist on the bench. Kelvin Hartley is happy to enjoy everything and work at nothing. And Traine Greene is on fire, just waiting for the chance to truly burn. 

The book grabs you from the beginning as you yearn to know more about each character and become invested in their decisions. The unique voice of each character and Cooney's vivid portrayal of a Southern town where troubles simmer just under the sleepy exterior brings the story to life. A bit of a different approach for Cooney, but one that pays off.