Top Ten Reads (So Far)

I present to you this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. On a Thursday! Because I really wanted to participate, but I was bogged down in grading. So! Here are my favorite new reads so far this year. (I did reread some amazing books. It doesn’t seem fair to include them.)

1. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (review pending) – This book was like Rowell’s gift to me. Excellent characters, terrific parents, and a slow-building and engrossing love story.

2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple – A fun and imaginative exploration of a nutty woman and her nutty family and nutty neighbors. Love the narrative style.

Top Ten Tuesday3. Junie B. Jones collection by Barbara Park – As established, I love Junie B. Jones. She is amazing. This audio collection is fun and funny just like she is. ❤

4. Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson – The relationship between Tiger Lily and Tik Tok won this for me. Beautifully told. (Not sure if I’ll review this one since it has been so long since I’ve read it.)

5. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – The story of two girls with the same father: one who knows they’re sisters; the other who doesn’t. A really interesting look at different types of family and privilege.

6. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – I read this ages ago, so not sure if I will review (though I really should). A very well-researched and thoughtful examination of not only the origin of the HeLa cells so important to scientific discovery, but the implications of race and class in patient rights.

7. A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty – This story is just lovely. Jaclyn Moriarty blends realistic fiction and fantasy for a cross worlds tale about loneliness and family. Review pending.

8. Permission Slips by Sherri Shepherd – If you like funny women, memoirs, and/or self-help books, this one combines all three. This book was so fun to read.

9. The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding – I love lists. I LOVE THEM. So the title alone got me. Then, you add in the delightful characters and the vibrant setting (seriously, I felt like I was there), and you have this quiet gem.

10. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – If anyone ever tries to dismiss children’s lit as being silly or frivolous or just for children, have them read this epic journey of a rabbit who learns to love by encountering people from all walks of life. I almost cried is what I’m saying.

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

The next time I say that I don’t like literary fiction, remind me how much I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Just remind me, okay? Because I really kind of loved this book.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria SempleWhy did I like this book so much?

The first person narrator is Bernadette’s daughter, Bee. However, the bulk of the story is told through a bunch of found documents: letters, emails, newspaper clippings, web pages, and notes. So, immediately, we’re drawn into Bee’s head as she tries to cobble together what happened to her mother. Where did she go? And why did she leave?

I loved that the story is more about why Bernadette left than anything. She seems happy, she loves her daughter, she’s getting along okay. Or at least she appears to be. I mean, she’s also a great big mess living a great big messy life. But that’s not what Bee sees. What Bee sees is a mother who loves her daughter, period. So the found documents really work to create a full picture of all of the people around Bernadette and how they see her versus how Bee sees her versus how she sees herself.

One of the best things about the use of the found documents is seeing the many facets of Bernadette but also the myriad ways different people can see one situation. Also, I loved seeing how all these different people are lying to themselves or creating their own fiction about their lives. And also how they’re blind to their own flaws and their own messes because they’re so wrapped up in other people’s lives. It’s really kind of brilliant.

Mostly, though, I had so much fun reading this book. It was fun and funny. The characters are all mostly terrible people (except for Bee), but they all felt so real, and I could imagine them actually occupying the world we live in. (What makes them terrible, btw, is that they hate each other.)

Bee reminds me so much of my daughter. SO MUCH. So I have a real affinity for her.

Oh! I also dug the look at creativity and what happens when creative people stop creating. Bernadette is a brilliant architect without a project. Most of her life is avoiding people who know her previous work because she’s embarrassed/upset/sad that she has been stagnant. She hides inside her house and avoids people so she doesn’t have to talk about her work or lack thereof. I really appreciated that and I loved that Semple showed us that Bernadette was a genius and why she was instead of just being all, “She won a MacArthur, so obviously.”

P.S. Audrey’s turnaround is fantastic and believable.

Anyway, I am trying to get my book club to read this book because the core is serious (a woman who is lost–figuratively and literally), but it’s so playful and fun in the way Semple puts it together. My kingdom for a chance to pick the book club book. I swear.

Audiobook Review: Junie B. Jones Collection (Books 1-8)

Junie B. Jones (the book series and the character) is so great, you guys. SO GREAT. I wasn’t sure how she would fare on audiobook, but she is great there, too. Mostly because she acts as an excellent pick-me-up if I’m feeling a little bummy AND she helps brings families together (i.e., me and my daughter whose moods improved in the car because Junie B. was on.)

Junie B. Jones by Barbara ParkHere are just a few of the reasons Junie B. Jones is so great:

  • She and her best friend Grace take turns sitting by the window on the bus, unless they can’t remember whose turn it is. Then, they settle it with their fists.
  • She loves her baby brother but just wishes he could live somewhere else.
  • She loves her grandparents.
  • She has a best friend Lucille who is a pretty, pretty princess and whose grandmother must be loaded.
  • She used to be scared of going to the principal’s office, but she’s spent so much time there that it’s no longer scary and he’s sort of a friend now.
  • She wants to grow up to be a janitor because janitors are superheroes who save teeth, paint things, and have great big flashlights.
  • She’d rather hide in a classroom than ride the school bus.
  • She wants a tool belt like her grandpa Frank Miller.
  • She calls her grandmother by her first name when she feels like her grandmother is ignoring her.
  • She has contempt for the crybaby kid and is pretty sure she can beat him up.
  • She’s a nutball.
  • When she realizes that her diet may be causing her nutball tendencies, she skips the sugary cereal that day, but realizes that was stupid because sugary cereal is delicious.
  • She thinks too much.
  • She talks too much.
  • She observes the world even if she doesn’t always understand it–especially those wacky grown-ups.
  • When a boy is nice to her, she realizes that he is secretly in love with her so she calls him her boyfriend. The boy will have no idea she considers him her boyfriend.
  • When a new, cuter boy moves to town, she will dump the other boy who was only her boyfriend in her mind.
  • She’d rather stay home and fix the toilet than go to a stupid, meanie boy’s birthday party, even if she does want to be invited.
  • She will jump out of a hamper when she’s spying on you.
  • If she says something first, tough for you because you cannot think, like, or do that thing. Because she said it first, see?
  • She exasperates her parents.

Basically, she is one of us.

This collection has the first eight books of the series on it. Narrator Lana Quintal sounds convincingly like a five-year-old girl and does the voices of grown-ups the way a five-year-old would hear them.

Listening to these books are SO FUN. I’m going on a road trip this summer, and I’m going to get the second collection to keep me company when it’s my turn to drive. I love this kid, and I love that my 14-year-old daughter who read most of them when she was younger can listen to them now and enjoy them.

If you have kids, these books are super for the car, especially because they’re short and silly. Ahhh, Junie B. Jones, you are the best. THE BEST.


Book Review: Permission Slips

So write yourself a permission slip to see the funny part first. Misery is patient, and will wait.

Permission Silps by Sherri ShepherdPermission Slips by Sherri Shepherd is so FUN. I know Sherri as a co-host on The View and Tracy’s wife on 30 Rock, but I didn’t know she’s a comedian, and I didn’t know that she is funny. SHE IS FUNNY. I spent a lot of this book cracking up at how ridiculous she is–in the best possible way.

The book combines memoir with self-help (my two favorites!). The framework for the book is that Sherri gives advice on how to handle all the crazy life throws at you, and she does that by sharing her own experiences. She talks about her relationships with her friends, family, God, religion, and her co-workers. She also, of course, addresses that time she made her infamous “the world is not round” flub on The View. Nothing is off limits, which is part of the book’s charm.

The funniest bits have to do with her struggle with food/diabetes and her dating exploits. Part of what makes the book fun is that Sherri recognizes her own flaws and is willing to share how complicit she was in her own crazy. One of my favorite anecdotes is the one she tells about a dude who she was in the process of dumping (in the most passive aggressive of ways) (i.e., she had started dating someone else and ignoring this dude whenever he called) who came and essentially kidnapped her from the hairdresser, and she was so elated that she made this man crazy that she stayed with him even longer than she should have–but that’s because she had a hard time saying no to people. Completely nuts, but she recognizes how nuts she was, so that makes it okay to laugh. Plus, she’s telling the reader not to be as crazy as she was.

While I enjoyed the funny bits a lot, she also included a lot of sad/poignant parts, especially when talking about the birth of her son who was in the NICU and that she and her ex-husband considered removing from life support.

I mean, I almost cried when I got to this bit:

Later, Jeff told me that when he prayed, he told God that he’d take whatever he could get. “Lord, if You just bless my baby to stay alive, whatever package he comes in, I’ll accept and be as happy as I could be. If he’s in a wheelchair, I’ll take him in a wheelchair to the football game. I don’t care how he comes wrapped. I accept the package.”

COME ON. I am not made of stone.

Ultimately, though, Sherri’s memoir/self-help book gives a lot of insight into how she broke into the business, how she keeps her head on straight, and why making mistakes is okay.

For me, this was a surprisingly fun read. I just saw it on the shelf at the library and picked it up. I didn’t even think I would like it. But I did. And I can recommend it to anyone who wants to read something fun.

Source: Library

Armchair BEA 2013: Children’s Literature

Ah, here we go. Children’s literature is kind of my jam. I’ve always, always read it and when I figured out I could study it in college and grad school, well.

So, basically, I love children’s literature is what I’m saying. My favorite thing about children’s literature is that most of it lacks the pretentiousness of adult literature. That doesn’t mean it can’t be serious or deal with serious issues, but just that, usually, I’m getting a good story without that air of trying too hard.

I have so much to say about this topic, but I’m going to try to keep it simple. Please keep in mind that these lists are by no means comprehensive. My daughter is 14, so I’m going to draw on what she used to read for the bulk of this list, except for the YA. Also, I want to apologize in advance to any books I may have unintentionally left out.

Picture Books My Daughter Loved

  • Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
  • I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont
  • Don’t Forget to Come Back! by Robie H. Harris
  • But No Elephants by Jerry Smath
  • The Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole

Question: I asked her about her favorite books, and we cannot remember the name of this picture book series that starred animals that all lived in the same neighborhood, and their names started with the letter of their species (e.g., Alan the Alligator, Ziggy the Zebra, etc.) (Of course, we can’t remember any of the characters’ names, sigh.) We remember two storylines clearly: one was about this dirty cat who wanted to throw a party so her friends came and cleaned up for her. Another was about the zebra or alligator whose bathroom tub overflowed. Then there was one about an animal who was trying to build a shed or something. Does anyone have ANY idea what I’m talking about? We read the entire series A-Z, and now I can’t remember them! Ugh.

Picture Books I Loved as a Child that I Shared with My Daughter

  • Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
  • The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats
  • The Great Big Elephant and the Very Small Elephant by Barbara Seuling
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel
  • Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff

Chapter/Middle Grade Books My Daughter Loved

  • Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park
  • Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  • The Wedding Planner’s Daughter series by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
  • Eleven (and the rest of the books about Winnie) by Lauren Myracle
  • The Frog Princess series by E. D. Baker
  • The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Ok, now when it comes to Young Adult Lit, there are TOO MANY to list. So just a handful of my favorites that I have reviewed here:

I left so many books off. It kind of hurts.