Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott

twenty chickens The Power of One meets Cheaper by the Dozen in this hilarious, heart-breaking memoir by Robyn Scott. When Robyn was seven, her New Zealand hippie parents moved her and her brother and sister to live in rural Botswana, where her father took a job as a bush doctor. He flew a small engine plane three days a week to different far-flung clinics where he would see more than 100 patients a day, and treat everything from pnemonia (real) to witch doctor’s curses (fake) and soon, the terrifying symptoms of AIDS. Robyn’s mother was into holistic food, medicine and home schooling, and her wacky lessons were like nothing you’ve ever seen in OR outside a classroom. Robyn and her sibs grew up swimming with crocodiles, taming house snakes, and riding bareback on half-broken horses. But they all managed to make it to adulthood with their limbs intact. This well-written and rollicking memoir may be just the ticket next time you’re feeling a little bored with your suburban existence. I guarantee you’ll get at least ten giggles and ten lumps in your throat from reading Twenty Chickens!

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

kingdom on the waves
I already know what you’re going to say: “Jen! Why do you post about books that aren’t coming out for MONTHS, knowing full well I won’t be able to get my hot little hands on them anytime in the near future?” I know, I feel your pain and I apologize, but I just couldn’t wait to share my joy after reading the sequel to Octavian Nothing, the most amazing historical fiction ever. I was gifted with an early review copy and promptly sped through the 500+ pages in just a few days, dying to know what became of the experimental slave man-child raised by 18th century philosophers who used him as an example to prove that an African slave had all the same intellect and reason as a European man. After escaping his captors with the help of his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, at the end of the first book, now Octavian and the good doctor find themselves trapped in the besieged city of Boston, where resources are scarce and the rebels await just outside the city’s fortifications. Then Octavian hears that Lord Dunmore, the exiled Tory governor of Virginia, has issued a proclamation that promises freedom to all slaves who will join with his troops against the rebels. So Dr. Trefusis and Octavian travel to Norfolk, Virginia, where Octavian joins the Royal Ethiopian Regiment, in service to the King of England. But Octavian has a hard time fitting in with the rest of his escaped colleagues, as his exquisite manners and proper speech make him seem fussy and prim. In addition, the REG seems to spend more time sitting around and waiting in the hold of a stinky ship as they do actually fighting their former slave masters. Soon Octavian begins to wonder, “Rebel or Redcoat, were there none who needed to use us sufficiently to save us?” Beautifully written in the vernacular of the 18th century, this throughly researched sequel both stands alone and also answers all the questions readers had at the end of the first volume of Octavian’s unusual history. The action is fierce, the philosophy thought-provoking, and the characterizations complex and compelling. The incomparable M.T. Anderson poses questions about the meaning of liberty and the relativity of loyalty in the midst of war, while making connections between the American Revolution and the society we live in today. While they are in no way easy or quick reads, if you are a student of history or life, it would be well worth your while to read both volumes of the Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.

Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Rebeck

Four upper crust NYC siblings take on the stone cold world of celebrity in this brilliant debut novel by playwright Theresa Rebeck. After a picture of the three girls in the title is published with much fanfare in an issue of the New Yorker, the newly minted celebriteens must learn how to navigate the shark-filled waters of fame. Each sib takes his or her turn at telling the story of how reporters staked out their school, how their aging ex-beauty pageant mother sold them out, and how they finally brought their borderline evil agent to heel. After her wild ride on the unstoppable fame machine, eldest sister Daria decides that fame “feels like a disease to me, and everyone is sick, the reporters, and the photographers and the commentators and the people, everyone has this disease, and what the disease does is it makes them hungry all the time…only for everyone else in America, me and my life and my family’s lives are the things that they’re hungry for, and they can never be satisfied, and so there is no ending.” Consider THAT next time you snap open your latest issue of People magazine! Sharply observed and incredibly well written in realistic and riotous teenspeak, this is THE novel for fans of Britney, Perez and Entourage. Consider it the perfect beach book for you AND your mom.

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet by Joanne Proulx

Seventeen-year-old Luke is a self-described loser skate punk who begins to ponder the meaning of life after he correctly predicts the day, time, and method of his best friend’s untimely demise. Hailed as “the prophet of death” by the media and hounded by the local minister to come to Jesus, Luke nearly self-destructs under the intense public scrutiny. Until he finally figures out what it is he wants to live for–his dead friend’s girl. Can Luke handle both the guilt of loving dead Stan’s gorgeous girl Faith and the feeling (if not the seeing) of dead people who keep passing through his nerve endings on their way out? This outrageous, day-in-the-life chronicle of a basement-dwelling, pot-smoking burn-out turned modern day mystic manages to be philosophical, sad, and uplifting all at once. It powerfully reminded me of one of my all time fav teenage male manifestos, Rule of the Bone. Take a walk on the Other Side with Joanne Proulx’s semi-supernatural debut.

How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mylnowski, & Lauren Myracle

how to be badThis. Is. One. Badass. Book. Seriously. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Maureen Johnson had also joined in the fray. So, three awesome chick lit. authors banded together to write this hilarious Florida roadtrip story via email, each adopting a different alter-teen-ego: “Christianpants” Jesse, tough-girl Vicks (who is described as having b & w hair, and I imagined her looking like voted-off-too-soon A.I. Season 7 Amanda Overmeyer), and shy, upper-class Mel. I won’t be the one to spoil the surprise of who wrote what, but friends, it was ALL good. Vicks’ s boyfriend Brady has gone off to college in Miami, which would be fine except he hasn’t texted or called in two weeks and Vicks is worried. So worried that she can’t even share her fears with her best friend, Jesse. Jesse, whose fine-looking Mama can still compete in wet t-shirt contests, has just learned that same sassy Mama has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is so worried about her mother’s possible demise and loss of her eternal soul (according to Jesse, wet t-shirt contestants go straight to Hell, without passing go or collecting $200 dollars) that she doesn’t tell Vicks. Instead, Jesse suggests a road trip to see Brady as a distraction for them both. Third wheel Mel invites herself along because wants a taste of the BF love that Vicks and Jesse share (and also, she’s the only one with an AmEx who could spring for the hotel). After three stinky days in a broken down Opel, an unsupervised house party, two ‘gator “attacks” (one stuffed, one real), a melt-down in a pirate themed-hotel room, and a glorious all-expenses-paid trip to EPCOT, they’re not just friends—they’re badasses (or “badbottoms” as Jesse would say) to be reckoned with. Not since Thelma and Louise has it felt so good to be this bad. The perfect title to be tossed in your backseat next time you hit the open road with your best buds!

Madapple by Christina Meldrum

madappleAslaug, homeschooled and raised wild in the rural woods of Maine, never knew who her father was. She tried asking her mother, a strange woman obsessed with plant lore and pagan religions, but the muttering odd woman took that secret to her grave. After her mother’s death, Aslaug, desperate for answers, hunts down the rest of her family, an aunt and cousins who live in the neighboring town. She hopes they will be able to tell her where she came from, but to her dismay, Aslaug discovers that in many ways her aunt’s house is just as strange as the home she just left. The secrets multiply until Aslaug doesn’t know what’s real and what is only a dream. But even as she plans her escape from the safe haven that has become her prison, the two people closest to her leave first–by dropping dead. And Aslaug is accused of their murder. As she enters the confusing and terrifying world of the legal system, the only source of comfort she has left is the Divine. But not even God may be able to help Aslaug now. This brilliant, densely written amalgamation of botany, religion, murder mystery, courtroom drama and dark family secrets is the twisted brainchild of newbie author Christina Meldrum. Now, I read a LOT of YA fiction, and this one stopped me dead in my tracks with its utter bizarreness. So if you want a challenging read that’s so far off the beaten track it’s practically in the MILKY WAY, dig up Madapple at your local library or bookstore.

Ten Mile River by Paul Griffin

Jose is small, fast, and knows how to use his impressive six-pack to charm the neighborhood shorties into giving him more than the time of day. Ray is big, slow-moving (but not slow-thinking) and can usually ONLY get the shorties to give him the time, nothing more. These two best friends, complete opposites but brothers in every way but blood, found each other after they were lost in the NYC foster care system. Now, far from the dubious care of over-scheduled social workers and grim foster parents, Jose and Ray have formed their own family off of Ten Mile Park, past 145th Street in Harlem. There, they share a vacant station house with a pack of abandoned pit bulls and enjoy all the comforts of a real home, courtesy of a streetlight feed that powers their stolen appliances. But when Ray meets Trini, she of the dreamy black eyes and warm laugh, Ray and Jose’s relationship shifts from a comfortable twosome to an uneasy threesome. Trini makes Ray want to do something more with his life than commit petty crimes for pocket change. But how do you tell your best friend that you’ve outgrown him? And were do you find the tools to survive in the straight world when all you know is the street? This gritty debut novel by newbie author Paul Griffin reminded me of my favorite book by E.R. Frank. If you like her work, or that of Coe Booth, you’re definitely going to want to take a sail down Ten Mile.