Fun Comedy/Detective Hybrid from Carl Hiaasen

"Bad Monkey," by Carl Hiaasen, is nothing short of morbidly hilarious. An ex-detective named Yancy is determined to win his job back on the Monroe County police force by proving he can solve one of the most gruesome and puzzling murder cases the beach town has ever seen. Yancy suspects foul play and will do anything to see that the truth comes to light.

Hiaasen's private eye style mirrors the darkness of "The Big Sleep" while incorporating ridiculous characters more reflective of "The Big Lebowski," with many characters that offer a slightly offensive vocabulary. Readers will laugh to tears over their uproariously selfish acts, such as when an enormous spec home diminishes natural wildlife and blocks the beautiful Florida sunsets and Yancy subjects the builder to constant pranks to destroy his business prospects. The novel also features an incredibly detailed setting complete with side stories that only augment the main plot line.

In addition to being the author of numerous novels, Hiaasen is also a regular columnist for The Miami Herald and the author of the children's book "Hoot."

Teen Novel: A Cautionary Tale of Sexting

Thousand Words by acclaimed author Jennifer Brown is a wrenching piece of realistic fiction that shows – not in a preachy way – that sexting is stupid and dangerous. This new book, written for readers in about grades 9-11, stars tenth-grader Ashleigh, who is pressured by her friends into texting a full-frontal nude photograph of herself to her boyfriend. The photo is meant for his eyes only, but when he leaves for college, there is a nasty break-up. Seeking revenge, he sends the photo to everyone on his contact list.

Ashleigh is shocked to find herself arrested and facing community service, and her ex-boyfriend may be headed for prison. The community – where Ashleigh’s father is superintendent of schools – is an uproar. Gradually, Ashleigh is able to work through layers of issues and find hope in a future, with help from a shy, kind and troubled young man she meets in community service. This is an engaging, beautifully written novel that parents and teens probably should discuss together. I thought it was an utterly believable story and a valuable literary cautionary tale.

Blast from the Past: 'Eight is Enough'

Maybe it’s because I was an only child, but as a kid in the late '70s and early '80s Eight is Enough was my favorite TV show. I was devastated when it was cancelled after it’s 5th season in 1981.

Eight is Enough, originally based on the life and memoir of the same name by Thomas Braden, was a family comedy/drama about Tom, his wife Joan, and their eight children, David, Mary, Joanie, Susan, Nancy, Elizabeth, Tommy, and Nicholas, living in Sacramento, CA. Actress Diana Hyland played Joan, but the actress became ill and tragically died shortly after the first episode aired. The entire show was retooled and Tom Bradford became a widower.

Abby, played by Broadway star Betty Buckley became Tom's love interest in season two. Son Tommy, played by Willie Ames became a teen idol and would later appear on the Scott Baio vehicle Charles in Charge. The brightest star to emerge from Eight is Enough didn't arrive until the final season: Ralph Macchio caused hearts to go pitter pat when he debuted as Abby’s troubled nephew Jeremy. Check out seasons one and two at AADL. Seasons three and four are on order!

Terrifying and Poignant, 'Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock'

Matthew Quick is a talented and prolific author, having written The Silver Linings Playbook (2008), Sorta Like a Rock Star (2010), Boy21 (2012) and now Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. His new young adult novel will terrify many because the narrator, Leonard Peacock, takes a gun to school and plans to kill his former best friend and himself.

Leonard is a seriously disturbed young man. His father, a former rock star, has disappeared. His mother, a narcissistic fashionista, is in New York City. Leonard stalks adults to determine if they are happy; most do not appear so. He hangs out with his sick, elderly neighbor, who watches Humphrey Bogart films. In school, Mr. Silverman, who teaches Leonard's Holocaust class, urges him to write "Letters from the Future," to connect with imaginary future soulmates, as a strategy to find happiness in high school.

The dark action unfolds on Leonard's 18th birthday, which no one remembers. Carefully, Leonard moves toward executing his murder-suicide plan. Although it is hair-raising to read the thoughts of a crazy kid concealing a gun, readers are allowed to hope that Leonard's plan will somehow fail. I found the novel poignant and thought provoking. The New York Times review is
here.

Tumbledown by Robert Boswell

"Tumbledown," the most recent work by Robert Boswell, showcases not only the author's technical writing skill, but also his powerful storytelling. The novel begins with the story of James Candler, a counselor to people with mental disabilities. He embodies the American dream: he's a strong candidate for a promotion, he owns a large house and expensive car, and is engaged to a stunning woman. However, as Candler narrates his life story, it becomes clear that his ideal of happiness may not be so superficial.

Other powerful characters, whose development throughout the novel will have readers on the edge of their seats, include a cynical teenager, a man who struggles with personal identity, a woman hiding a dark past, and a lovable goon who can't seem to make progress in life. Hence, the title refers to more than just Candler; it reflects the lives of the entire cast of characters as well as the plot's disjointed sequence of events.

"Tumbledown" is a rare find; the text is worth re-reading for its rich literary quality. Boswell has published seven novels as well as numerous short stories, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships.

Call the Midwife Season 1 & 2

The winds are blowing colder, so as you're tucking in for winter and looking for new entertainment, take a look at the spectacular and riveting BBC/PBS production, Call the Widwife. The series, set in east London in the 1950s, is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth. Catch up with Seasons 1 & 2 this winter and you will be prepared for Season 3 when it airs on PBS in spring 2014.

The story follows new midwife Jenny Lee and the work of the midwives and the Sisters of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent that is part of an Anglican religious order. The women deal with the medical problems in the impoverished Poplar district of East London. Each episode includes the fascinating, sad, tragic, shocking, gritty and heartwarming stories of the pregnancies, births and challenges of the new mothers and their caretakers. As the series progresses, the friendships and relationships that develop between the midwives and the nuns pulls the viewer in as much as the complex stories of their patients. From Jenny’s culture shock upon arrival to London’s East End to shy, insecure Chummy and the glamorous Trixie, the midwives develop a closeness with the complex Sisters of Nonnatus House.

Mysterious and Magical Tale from Neil Gaiman

The highly-accomplished writer Neil Gaiman has again thrilled audiences with his newest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Originally intended as a short story, the work quickly became a full-fledged novel fueled by Gaiman's creation of the Hempstock family. The story begins with a seven-year-old boy who, through grim circumstances, befriends a slightly older girl from down the street. Lettie Hempstock brings the boy hope in a time when everything seems to be changing for the worse. With Lettie, he even has an escape from his new, creepily omniscient, babysitter--or so the youngster thinks.

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is a winding tale of magic, mystery, fear, and friendship, where psychological monsters lurk around every corner. The magic in the story is otherworldly but not far-fetched; it embraces the idea that children have a sense of perception that is lacking in adults. Abrupt entrances of spectral beings and conscious shadows seem completely natural in the world that Gaiman has created.

Neil Gaiman has written several award-winning books, including the Sandman series, Coraline, American Gods, and The Graveyard Book.

The Boy Who Could Fly

In 1986, the film The Boy Who Could Fly came out to decent reviews, although it didn’t make much of a splash. But over the years, it has become one of those movies that people remember and want to see again.

Milly and her family move next door to Eric after the recent, tragic suicide of her father. She quickly notices something unusual next door, from something flying by her window to Eric spending lots of time on the roof. Milly becomes intrigued and eventually befriends Eric, who is autistic and lives with his alcoholic uncle. Eric’s parents died in a plane crash, and Eric as been obsessed with flying since the tragedy.

The actors who play Milly and Eric give nuanced and effecting performances. Fred Savage is delightful as a kid whose strategy for coping with his father's death is both grim and comically engaging. The adults in The Boy Who Could Fly add breadth and depth to the story: Bonnie Bedelia as the frazzled mother; Colleen Dewhurst as the understanding Mrs. Sherman; and Fred Gwynne as Uncle Hugo, a loving guardian who is battling his own demons.

Whether Eric can really fly is open to discussion, but this heartwarming and delightful film tells a great story.

Introducing a Charming New Youth Heroine

Anna Branford has created a wonderful heroine in seven-year-old Violet Mackerel. This clever little girl is quieter than another popular youth protagonist, Junie B. Jones, but every bit as fun and engaging.

As Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot begins, we learn that "Violet Mackerel is quite a small girl, but she has a theory . . . Her theory is that when you are having a very important and brilliant idea, what generally happens is that you find something small and special on the ground." Who can resist this out-of-the-box thinker?

Violet's skills are challenged on a weekly trip to the market with her mother, sister, and brother, where her mother displays knitted wares. Violet is strongly drawn to a blue china bird figurine that she would love to own but doesn't have money to buy. The story that unfolds is gentle, thoughtful, and entirely entertaining.

Branford wrote this book for children in grades 1-3. A good choice for independent readers, It also would work well read aloud. To learn more, check out the author's website.

Giddy Read-aloud Picture Book: 'Dozens of Cousins'

This is my favorite book yet by Shutta Crum, the librarian, author, poet, and speaker who lives in Ann Arbor and has delighted so many readers with her writing. Dozens of Cousins, Shutta's latest picture book, is rhythmic, lyrical, warm, and hilarious.

As the annual family reunion approaches, the cozy chaos of cousins begins. "We are wild and fierce. We do not wait for invitations. We run through front doors, arms extended, slap dirty feet on cool linoleum, grab from plates thrust out at us -- and holler for more." Some wiggle their fannies toward distracted adults, in the cutest possible way. Splashy, rip-roaring illustrations are by David Catrow, editorial cartoonist and illustrator of more than 70 books for children.

Initial reviews are glowing, including one in The New York Times. Looks like another hit for the author, a former AADL youth librarian and storyteller. Check out Shutta's books and accomplishments on her website.

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