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April's booklist

1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznik

I was skeptical of the format at first - I tend to find graphic novels harder to read than text, much less stories told only in picture form. If you're not familiar with this book, it's about half text, half pictures. And it totally works - and it's very cinematic (there's a reason the movie Hugo worked so well).

The story itself is charming and wonderful - combining a bustling French railway station with an orphaned boy, the history of the first movies, a sad toy-maker, and a slightly creepy automaton.

2. Beaten, Seared, and Sauced, Jonathan Dixon

An older man (he never stops reminding us of this fact) goes to the Culinary Institute of America to learn to cook and muses about food, age, and making it in the very young and very hard world of the professional kitchen.

This was okay but not great, and cemented my desire to pursue food only in an amateur manner. I admire people who can do it professionally, but it would take all the fun out of it for me.

3. The Plain Princess, Phyllis McGinley

A wonderfully quaint and moralistic tale of a bad-tempered princess who learns that beauty comes from the inside.

4. Imagine, Jonah Lehrer

I REALLY enjoyed this while I read it, but I honestly can't tell you much about it now. When I unearth the notes I took, I'll share. But it is an interesting look at some of the more surprisingly things about creativity - what makes some people more creative than others, and how to encourage and even train yourself to be one of those people.

5. The Scottish Prisoner, Diana Gabaldon

I think I love Jamie and Clare too much to ever be content with the Lord John novels, but this one pleasantly surprised me. For one thing, it has a healthy dose of Jamie, and fills in some of the 'lost years' between Clare's first and second appearances in the 1700s.

However, I liked it for the characters, not the plot. Which was ... kind of boring.

6. Talking with my Mouth Full, Gail Simmons

I haven't watched enough of Top Chef to recognize Gail from the show, but her entertaining food-based memoir is a treat, and I imagine it would appeal even more to fans of the show.

7. Divergent, Veronica Roth

Not the best YA dystopian by a long shot, but nothing to sneeze at and notable for the use of AWESOME CHICAGO LANDMARKS. (The bean makes an appearance!)

(Fyi, I rate this above Matched and below The Hunger Games.)

8. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

Confession: I've seen this book around since 2009 and dismissed it because it looked "boring."

Don't make the same mistake I did. 11-year-old precocious-but-not-annoying budding poisoner solves mysteries and generally outsmarts everyone. SUPER well written. The main character's voice is amazing. This was definitely my favorite book for the month.

9. Thee, Hannah! Marguerite de Angeli

Although the emphasis on the vanity of wanting to wear pretty clothes rubbed me a bit the wrong way (I guess we know one of my besetting faults now, eh?) I always admire the sensitive way de Angeli portrays plain religious groups. This one is about a young Quaker girl (a Quakeress?) and has an added dash of adventure involving the underground railway.

10. Wonderstruck, Brian Selznik

See #1 regarding the format, and as for content: it tackles deafness, Deaf Culture, lost parents, and ... a bunch of other things. Yeah. The only quarrel I have with Selznik is this: his drawings are generally so beautiful, but all his closeups of little girls look ugly!

11. Princess Academy, Shannon Hale

And then I rediscovered Shannon Hale. <3 <3 <3 Strong female protagonists, a very satisfying but not cookie-cutter ending, and a way with words that yes, made me weep.

12. Unorthodox: the scandelous rejection of my Hasidic roots, Deborah Feldman

I agree with some others who've said that this title is misleading - very little of the book is actually about how she rejected her upbringing and her life afterwards. And I also think it's worth noting that as far as I understand, the Satmar sect are considered radical and extreme even by other Orthodox Jews. So don't take Deborah's experiences (which are quite horrible) to be representative of all conservative Jews.

That said, what strength she had to leave! I hope she finds much happiness.

13. The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale, I love you FOREVER.

14. The House at Tyneford, Natasha Solomons

I seem to be alone in disliking this, but I found it to be littered with discarded plot lines, one of the main love interests to be distinctly unlikeable, and what ended up as the actual main relationship to be completely flat. And I dunno, it just felt like it couldn't make up its mind if it was a gritty, realistic WWII story, a coming-of-age story, or a romance. Not that something can't be all three, but it just felt fragmented and off.

audiobooks: 1
ebooks: 2
from the stack: 3