HPL Recommends

Cover of This Is How You Lose the Time WarPicked by Michelle N.

What if Michael Moorcock had decided one day to rewrite the Spy vs. Spy comics as an epistolary novel set in his Dancers at the End of Time universe, but aimed it at poets and at fans of The Hunger Games or maybe early Anne Rice? (Not that those are necessarily mutually contradictory.)

This book, like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, gives the impression of being a triumph of style over substance—but only if you don’t know better. Style *is* substance, sometimes. And when it’s not, well, what’s wrong with having your substance conveyed by an absolute torrent of luscious prose, profusely elegant and full of biting wit? 
 
Nothing, I say. And there’s nothing wrong with a slim epistolary novel, surreal and crystalline-dense like a crazy fractal oil-spill diamond built up of fragrant slabs of impassioned ugly/beautiful imagery like slam poetry, whose setting is hard to grasp and flicks past like a universe-sized slideshow and whose characters know full well they are stereotypes.
 
So: our protagonists, Red and Blue. Each is a… well, not a soldier. More of an MI6 agent in a time of war. A time war. Each is fighting for the future they were born in—and, not coincidentally, for their own individual existence. Since of course if things had gone differently, neither of them would have been born in the first place. If things *do* go differently (and causing things retroactively to have gone differently in the other faction’s timeline is what Red and Blue are each hired to do), at least one of them will never have existed. Neither can live while the other survives.
 
Which is a problem. Because in the course of a playfully vicious cat-and-mouse exchange of letters between realities, engaged in at first purely because it made the game more fun, Red and Blue fall in love.
 
Yes yes yes. It all sounds very predictable except maybe where it’s just incomprehensible, and I won’t deny that it starts out that way. I enjoyed it from go, but saw it as frivolous, a guilty pleasure. But as time went on and more of the story rushed past me, with me just paddling along as best I could to keep up while all this improbable scenery whizzed by, I began to fall in love with it. Much, I think, as Red and Blue fall in love with each other: unwittingly, unexpectedly, ineluctably.
 
Here’s the exact passage where I fell in love with the book. Red, from the machine universe, had written to Blue, from the biotech universe, about how she enjoys eating, which is optional for people in her time. This taste sets her apart from her contemporaries, who find the whole idea of food not just unusual but actually revolting and even shocking. Blue replies:
 
“Absent from your mention of food—so sweet, so savory—was any mention of hunger. You spoke of the lack of need, yes. No lion in pursuit, no animalistic procreative desperation. And these lead to enjoyment, certainly.
 
“But hunger is a many-splendored thing. It needn’t be conceived only in limbic terms, in biology. Hunger, Red—to sate a hunger or to stoke it—to feel hunger as a furnace, to trace its edges like teeth—is this a thing you (singly) know? Have you ever had a hunger that whetted itself on what you fed it? Sharpened so keen and bright that it might split you open, break a new thing out?”
 
Right??? To desire a thing without needing it, with no skin in the game, is surely pleasant. It gives one a sense of safety in the enjoyment. But to actually hunger, to need, to want so deeply that it’s physical—that’s a knife’s edge, dangerous. And it’s on the threshold of that danger that you are truly alive, that new things can be born.
 
And, I mean. Such precision of language, unafraid of using the perfect word, the exact phrase to convey the meaning, even if it might be seen as trivial or highfalutin’ or a little odd or antiquated or (heaven help us) trite. Even if the reader might have to look up one or two of those words. Words are to prose what brushwork is to painting, and the fashion in prose at least since Hemingway has been to make that brushwork as invisible as possible so that the scenes and characters and plot shine through with as little distortion as possible. 
 
That’s begun to change, in spots at least, in the here and now. I mean, there have always been oddballs, cranks, and geniuses who wrote whatever they wanted however they wanted, gods bless them. What’s changing is that stylized and individualistic writing styles are more an accepted part of the everyday literary landscape than a couple of decades ago. This isn’t *always* a good thing in individual cases (*coughMichaelChaboncough*) (sorry-not-sorry if you’re a fan of Telegraph Avenue, which I desperately wanted to be), but it is definitely a good thing overall as it encourages creativity and diversifies what’s out there for us all to choose from.
 
El-Mohtar and Gladstone aren’t constantly that brilliant. I mean, who could be? To understand and convey so brilliantly the nature of desire, to depict in strobe-light flashes a conversation about desire and hunger between denizens of different realities who haven’t yet admitted to each other that their subject matter concerns them so deeply—to do all of that *constantly,* for 200 pages, is almost certainly impossible and would probably leave the reader bleeding and raw by the end, not in a good way.
 
No, the authors do it just often enough, and in intervals that decrease just enough as the narrative goes on, to make the reader remember that sometimes bleeding is a good thing. And to make you willing to bleed just a little more so that you can have just another chapter. Just one more.
 
Hungry yet?
 
Read this book.
 
To borrow the downloadable audiobook for free, click here or download the Libby app.
Cover of The Great Believers by Rebecca MakkaiPicked by Michelle N.
 
It’s 1985. Yale’s career as the development director for an art gallery has just begun, his friend Nico has just died of AIDS, and almost everyone he knows is terrified or in denial or both. Nico’s little sister, Fiona, has become the key to a coup that could make or break Yale’s reputation in the art world.
 
It’s 2015. Fiona is trying to find her daughter, who disappeared into a cult years ago; a random bit of footage has led her to Paris. She’s staying with an old friend, Richard Campo, a photographer who famously documented the ravages of the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s and 90s.
 
Days pass in Paris. Fiona is frustrated at the pace of the private investigator’s search for her daughter and heads out to seek her on her own. Meanwhile, Richard and his partner urge her to just enjoy the city while she’s there. She’s not so sure she’s ready for the sorts of enjoyment that are on offer, though. Romance, trips through her own past—that’s not where she’s at. She's in too much pain, too worried about her daughter.
 
Weeks pass in Chicago, and then months. Disaster looms over Yale’s entire community; some people flee, some descend into debauchery, and some get political and fight to be seen and heard. But for Yale, there’s nothing to do but soldier on, try to close the next deal, try not to feel too alone and scared as his friends get sick, one by one. Meanwhile, he’s getting to know the elderly benefactor whose art collection may or may not be a windfall for his gallery. And she seems to know more about him than he thought he was revealing.
 
This story winds a sinuous path back and forth, back and forth, between a past when nobody knew who would be struck down next and a today shaped by the loss of a generation of young men. We get to be there in that past with Yale. We see what it does to him, what it feels like on a daily basis to be subject to irrational hatred and constantly on the edge of existential terror, meanwhile going through all the normal growing pains of being a young man just getting started in the world. 
 
And we get to see, 30 years later, what carrying all that history, all the stories of all those extinguished lives, has done to Fiona, how it has scarred her—and, through her, scarred her daughter, who was only a baby during the worst of it.
 
I wasn’t there for the AIDS crisis in the same way Yale and Fiona were. Although I lived in San Francisco, or within an hour’s drive, during the 80s and 90s, and a relative I hadn’t seen in years died pretty early on, I was in middle school when things really hit the fan. So I was a little young to be very deeply affected, though of course I was aware of what was going on all around me.
 
I did work at a dry cleaning shop a few blocks from the Castro during the mid-90s, and I remember watching a lot of customers get sicker and sicker and eventually disappear. It was horrible, but they weren’t my community, my family, my friends. I knew I could become infected if I wasn’t careful, but I also knew I wasn’t at high risk. It wasn’t *personal* to me. It was just how things were. (I never believed I’d make it to age 30, but I didn’t think a virus would take me; I thought it would be that cowboy running the White House with his finger hovering a little too near The Button that would get us all in the end.)
 
The Great Believers makes AIDS personal. You will walk away from this book shaken. You’ll have some appreciation, if you didn’t before, of what a loss to us all was the loss of those young lives. What living in the middle of it was like—it was like a war, but one that you had to be ashamed of being the victim of, one that you kept to yourself as hard as you could if you wanted to have any chance of a happy life. What caring about and caring for so many young men who didn’t make it was like, what it was like to survive and try to build a life after losing literally everybody you cared about.
 
The book does this all unsentimentally, cleanly, without tear-jerking melodrama. It just lays the stories out, one beautifully-formed slab after another, each atop the last in ways that seem impossible because of the way the story goes back in time, and yet somehow perfect. 
 
Read this book. Once you start you won’t be able to walk away, and it will hurt, but that lost generation deserves to be mourned. You’ll be glad you didn’t turn away.It’s 1985. Yale’s career as the development director for an art gallery has just begun, his friend Nico has just died of AIDS, and almost everyone he knows is terrified or in denial or both. Nico’s little sister, Fiona, has become the key to a coup that could make or break Yale’s reputation in the art world.
 
 

Celebrate César Chávez's birthday with this selection of excellent children's books!

Chávez was born on March 31 in 1927, and was a migrant farm worker from the age of 10. Chávez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in the early 1960s. He focused attention on the plight of migrant farm workers and gained support to have his organization be the first successful farm workers’ union in the United States. He used principles of non-violence, with strikes and boycotts. César Chávez remained president of United Farm Workers of America (AFL-CIO) until his death on April 23, 1993. 

Learn more about César Chávez at History for Kids

eBooks available on Hoopla 

Cesar Chavez in His Own Words by Sarah Machajewski
Cesar Chavez was one of the most influential labor leaders of the twentieth century. His story, from migrant field worker to champion of the voiceless, is a fascinating one that resonates today. Readers will be able to learn about the man Robert F. Kennedy called one of the "heroic figures of our time" through this account which interweaves Chavez's own words throughout the biographical text. Historic photographs bring the man to life, while sidebars and fact boxes offer more background information on his important work.
 
What’s Your Story, Cesar Chavez? by Emma Carlson Berne
Why did Cesar Chavez want to help farm workers? How did he get people to care about farm workers' rights? Cub Reporter interviews him to find out! Learn how Cesar fought to make the United States a fairer, safer place to work and live. Readers will see how to use interviewing skills and journalistic questions to reveal the story behind a famous American.
 
Cesar Chavez by Joeming Dunn 
Graphic novels aren't just for superheroes! Cesar Chavez has been plucked from history books and his life and accomplishments have been depicted in an informative nonfiction graphic novel. The subject's birth, childhood, education, and humanitarian efforts have been skillfully told with detailed art. Further reading lists, timelines, glossaries, and indexes make these titles useful in classroom discussion.
 
Yes she could! Dolores Huerta inspired workers and led the way for change in wages and working conditions. This low-level text follows her journey from teacher to activist, and the challenges she had to face as a woman in these roles. A timeline, inspirational quotes, and other features add to this engaging title for beginning readers.
 
Explores the history, events, and aftermath of Larry Itliong's role in the fight for farmworkers' rights. Through insightful text, "In Their Own Words" special features, and critical thinking questions, this title will introduce readers to a historic example of social activism.
 
Related Reads 
 
Where Our Food Comes From by Baby Professor
These days, food comes out frozen. Factories create processed meals and moms will just need to put them together or put them in the microwave. But where does food come? This is an interesting book that will lead your child to the true origins of food. Expect to hear requests to plant soon!
 
How Do You Raise a Raisin? by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Craig Brown
People have been gobbling up yummy, nutritious raisins for centuries. Ancient Greeks and Romans awarded them at sporting events and astronauts have taken raisins into space. Find out how grapes become raisins, who introduced the seedless grape, and the many uses for raisins.
 
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
The fascinating story of the life cycle of a flower told through the adventures of a tiny seed. Young readers will cheer at the happy outcome of this exciting tale.
 
And Then the Seed Grew by Marianne Dubuc
A story of growth and change (and tomatoes!). In an ordinary garden full of flowers and plants, some creatures have made their homes above the ground, while others live below it. Everybody lives happily. Until one day, a new seed arrives, which sprouts into a plant. And as the plant grows (and grows, and grows), its stalk and leaves get in the way of those who live aboveground, while its roots disrupt those who live below. It is a huge problem. So, the garden's residents decide that it must be chopped down. Unless … wait! What's that growing on the plant?
 
Seed Man by Aiko Ikegami
When a mysterious stranger carrying a bag of seeds comes to town, magical things start to happen. After Seed Man plants the seeds, a wonderful tree grows, bearing special "fruit" such as toys, musical instruments, and even a puppy! With assistance from some helpful fairies, Seed Man's gifts are delivered all over town. Each gift perfectly suited to its recipient. And even if someone didn't know they needed a special gift, Seed Man and the fairies knew. But not all the gifts are welcome at first, especially to someone whose heart has been broken.
 
Yum! MmMm! Que Rico! by Pat Mora
Peanuts, blueberries, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and more-here is a luscious collection of haiku celebrating foods native to the Americas. Brimming with imagination and fun, these poems capture the tasty essence of foods that have delighted, united, and enriched our lives for centuries. Exuberant illustrations bring to life the delicious spirit of the haiku, making Yum! ¡Mmm! ¡Qué Rico! America's Sproutings an eye-popping, mouth-watering treat. Open it and dig in!
 
Hoopla Search Tip: After logging into Hoopla, click on KIDS at the top right of the webpage or app to get a list of children’s titles only for your keyword search.  
 
Titles Selected by Xenia

 

cover of eternal lifePicked by Michelle N.

Rachel Azaria can’t die. Two thousand years ago, she and Elazar sacrificed their own deaths so that their son might survive a terrible illness—and for two thousand years, Rachel has lived life after life and raised family after family, loving them all, changing very little.

She moves from place to place as her apparent immortality became a danger to her loved ones because of the beliefs of the society around them, or as she is killed in a fire and finds herself renewed, a physically young woman again, somewhere in the world far from where she has “died.” The first time this happened was when she was burned to death at the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and it’s happened enough times since for her to have lost any fear of it.

What she does fear is that her life will never end. After this many centuries and this many lives, living has lost its meaning. It has also, in this age of social media and biometrics, become much harder to properly disappear and start a new life. And Elazar—who sacrificed his death alongside her, who has followed her and who has become a mysterious presence in the lives of her offspring—Elazar is stalking her, convinced that they are meant to be lovers throughout eternity.

Then her favorite granddaughter starts studying longevity, and Rachel begins to hope, for the first time in many, many lifetimes, that she can die after all. Maybe she can strike a bargain with this granddaughter.

This book is beautifully written—you really get the sense of what somebody born two millennia ago would feel and think if they were still alive today. You understand both the joy and the despair of unending life, the mystery of a terrible oath resulting in a miracle so huge that there’s no knowing whether it’s a blessing or a curse. Highly recommend.

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Picked by Ari N.

Jolie is finally about to have the surgery that she’s been waiting for her whole life: the one that will fix her underbite, thus ridding her of chronic headaches, jaw pain, trouble eating and speaking (not to mention making her look normal). But after watching way too much worst-case scenario reality TV, Jolie becomes obsessed with the possibility that she could die on the operating table. With the help of her best-friends Derek and Evelyn, Jolie creates a bucket list and races to finish it before the big day.

Although jaw surgery may seem like a rather specific subject, the plot of this novel is certainly not one-note. Jolie is also grappling with her older sister’s unplanned pregnancy, and is struggling to be there for her while she pushes Jolie away. And Jolie’s friends are not without problems: Evelyn is struggling in school and dealing with the reality that she may not get into college to pursue her fashion design dream, while Derek is still reeling from his father’s death four years prior.

Meanwhile, Jolie finds herself caught up in a school musical while trying not to acknowledge the spark she feels between herself and Derek —a spark that could ruin their friendship. The best-friends-turned-crush isn’t the most original YA plotline, but the charm of the rest of the novel was enough to make me forgive this cliché. There is a lot going on in Things Jolie Needs to do Before She Bites It, but Winfrey seamlessly weaves these storylines together. Winfrey excels at balancing light-hearted humor with a serious subject. 

Kerry Winfrey presents a cast of fleshed-out characters that feel authentic. Jolie’s two best friends have quirks, passions, and flaws that bring nuances to the book without overpowering Jolie’s story. Winfrey presents characters of color, fat characters, and queer characters, for whom these identities are just parts of their lives and are not treated as problems they must overcome. Jolie herself is an incredibly relatable and believable character. She longs to be rid of the health problems caused by her underbite, but she’s also a teen who desperately wants to be pretty. Throughout the book, Jolie struggles with what it means for her that she wants to change her appearance: is she shallow? Self-absorbed? Is she conforming to society’s expectations? The novel addresses self-worth, confidence, body-image, feminism, and agency. Jolie questions whether she is making the right decision for the wrong reasons, and Winfrey answers with a thoughtful discussion on the ability to make choices for one’s own body and the empowerment that comes with those choices.

While underbites and jaw surgery are perhaps not common problems, readers of all backgrounds will relate to Jolie’s fears, doubts, and her quest to love herself on her own terms. Through the support of her friends and family, Jolie works to understand that getting surgery can improve her health and well-being, but that it won’t “fix” her, because she was never broken. Jolie’s story will strike a cord with anyone who has ever felt different, and she’ll resonate especially with teens who are still trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

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Tags: young adult, realistic fiction, ari n,

cover of becomingPicked by Emily O.

Listen to it as an audiobook, with Michelle as the perfect reader. She certainly nails the right tone for every chapter and every moment, from humorous to poignant to outraged. It's a personal memoir; it's also an urgent message to save this country from the divisiveness and shame of a president who now wants to undo all the progress of his predecessor.

She deals with the unfortunate attacks both she and Barack suffered when they were in the political fray. But mostly it's a fascinating look at the signal moments of her coming of age, how Obama came to his position, and how she grew into her position as the first African-American First Lady.

I enjoyed hearing about the issues and causes she took on in her role and that she continues to care about, women and girls' issues and opportunities for education, and lobbying for a healthier lifestyle and food choices for kids and the American population as a whole. I think it's an inspiring journey, from the Southside of Chicago to the White House, that I could only guess at before listening to this book. Life within the White House is certainly an odd thing for any of us to contemplate and I have never read anything so honest and revealing about the specific constraints and privileges of being a Presidential family. 

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