Book Reviews by Author: A – M

Alcott, Luisa MayLuisa May Alcott

(November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

Friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, Ms. Alcott had to work to help support her family, and like Jane Austen before her, she spun stories for her supper. Well known for her one transcendent novel, she also contributed sequels to the well-loved classic.

Little WomenLittle Women Norton Critical Edition

This is the story of four American sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, during and just following the Civil War.  Shepherded by their mother (Marmee), they become friends with their neighbors, Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Teddy (Laurie).  The book follows their lives, as well as various men they become involved with, but the book is concentrated in the person of Jo, the bookish second daughter, who is fifteen at the beginning of the story.

Isaac Asimov


Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Sanditon and Other Stories

Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre

Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game

Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games

Deborah Kay Davies

Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful

Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time

Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer

John Fowles

The Collector

Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust

Barbara Holland

Katharine Hepburn

Katelan Janke

Survival in the Storm:

The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards

Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You

Rebecca Kanner

The Sinners and the Sea

Jack Kerouac

On The Road

Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams

Ron Koertge

Stoner & Spaz

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Billie Letts

Where The Heart Is

Anne McCaffrey

An Introduction to the World of Pern


The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy



The White Dragon

The Harper Hall Trilogy




The Renegades of Pern

All the Weyrs of Pern

Jack McDevitt

The Academy Novels

An Introduction to the Series

The Engines of God





Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge

Stoner and Spaz Book CoverAlthough classified as a breakthrough novel in the Young Adult genre, Stoner & Spaz–like all good novels–can be read and enjoyed by anyone.

It’s a short book, very lean and very well-written.  Maybe my own experience with cutting a large novel down to size has colored my point of view, but I have grown to really appreciate storytelling that gets right to the heart of the subject.  The characters are bold, the Southern California landscape spare, and the theme explored relentlessly.

Told from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Ben Bancroft, a survivor of Cerebral Palsy, it relates his experiences with Colleen Minou, a stoner girl at his high school.  Ben is a true nerd, a cinephile who lives through his experiences with movies.  He has seen so many that he understands the form intimately.  He knows why tracking shots are used, how black and white enhances certain movies, why characters act the way they do, and he deeply wishes he could live his own life as if he was one of those powerful, charismatic characters.  But he doesn’t.  Instead, he feels the weight of that half of his body that is completely unresponsive.  He stays away from the other kids, lost in his own little world.

That changes one night at the Rialto Theater when Colleen asks to borrow a couple of dollars because they won’t change the hundred dollar bill in her hand.  To his surprise, she tracks him down in the theater and sits with him.  Although he’s mortified, he’s also a little turned on, especially when she falls asleep with her head on his shoulder.

Thus begins an unlikely relationship that turns Ben completely around–and opens him up to the possibilities of his own life.

There are several great things about the book.  One, obviously, is the interaction of two kids who are complete opposites, each discovering the other’s world and opening themselves to change.  But secondly, and most important, is Ben’s character arc.  For me, the best stories involve a character that must go through dramatic changes in order to realize his or her potential.  And the more barren the character at the beginning, the deeper and wider the potential for change.  By using an introverted character with Cerebral Palsy, Koertge begins in a pretty deep chasm.  To deflect potential darkness, he gives the character a quirky, smart, self-deprecating sense of humor.

The leanness of the book also works to advantage in that it could be a movie itself.  Think how some movies fail because a director is in love with long, tracking shots, mood shots, unnecessary character background, and long scenes.  Successful films are edited down to what matters–all of the unimportant stuff lays on the cutting room floor, rather than padding out a 90 minute film into a two hour bore.

Stoner & Spaz is a wonderful little novel, something that all writers should read and something that will entertain and enlighten every one who reads it.  Highly recommend!