Monday Reading Check-In

I missed last week, so let’s do a little catch up, shall we?

 

Since my last post, I read:

Destiny's EmbraceDestiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t typically read traditional romance stories, but this one seemed to check all the boxes pretty well. I was more intrigued by the character of Alanza than Mariah, but it was fun reading about life on a ranch and all of the other fun historical tidbits that you get from historical fiction.

Read Harder 2016: Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900

View all my reviews

 

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and ScientologyTroublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so I listened to this on audio, which I think made it just that much more amazing.

Leah is a complete badass and spills ALL THE TEA. All of it. Every last drop. My girl names names and everything. ALL OF THE NAMES.

I love this book. Love, love, love. Remini is fierce and funny and also a little hood, which I completely appreciated.

Read Harder 2016: Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)

View all my reviews

 

I also went to see:

Zootopia

Zootopia! I don’t make it to the movies often, but my daughter’s birthday was Wednesday, and she really wanted to see Zootopia, so off we went. It was a lot of fun and also a really practical look at how structural racism and sexism (and other forms of discrimination work). Allegory, yay! Anyway, my daughter liked it so much that she has already seen it again, so I can highly recommend it.

 

As of today, I’m reading:

I’m still making my way through Something Wicked by Alan Gratz. Poor Banks (Banquo), man.

I also started Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud, which is all about recognizing when it’s time to move on from situations in your life. I was introduced to the book through a small group study at my church, which I got a lot out of, so I figured I should probably read the book to get a little more understanding, so here we are. This article provides a little bit more info about the concepts covered in the book, if anyone is interested.

I’ve been reading House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (the last book in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy) at work for the past week. I like the book well enough so far, but I legit keep forgetting about it until I get to work or unless I’m at work. So I guess this is the equivalent of a bathroom book in that way. We’ll see if it picks up. Or if I give up on it altogether. (I will probably finish it since I keep being amazed at how far into it I actually am. Maybe.)

Original now hosted by Kathryn @ The Book Date. Children's lit version hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.
Original now hosted by Kathryn @ The Book Date. Children’s lit version hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

Happy reading this week, everyone!

 

February 2016 Reading Wrap-Up

This is actually a combo post! It’s a day late, so an It’s Tuesday! What Are You Reading? deal instead of IMWAYR. Plus, the monthly to-do. Let’s get to it.

This past week, I finished:

Blue Eyes and Other Teenage HazardsBlue Eyes and Other Teenage Hazards by Janette Rallison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was super cute and fun, even though I hate both the title and the cover. There is a smidgen of fake dating in this book–but not enough to make it a fake dating book. I will say, though, that every single one of the fake dating scenes filled me with glee. Fake dating for everyone!

Janette Rallison is now one of my go-to authors when I need something fun and light to read, for sure.

View all my reviews

 

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The first half of this book bored me and the second half infuriated me.

I could buy that a woman out of her mind with grief and living in isolation could think a baby washing up on shore was the answer to her prayers.

I could buy that her husband would feel guilty and responsible for his wife’s loss and isolation and go along with not reporting the found baby.

However, I could not buy that (view spoiler) I mean, SERIOUSLY. That is where the book 100% lost me.

Anyway, the book club discussion was lively, so there’s that.

View all my reviews

 

So, all in all, February was:

A solid reading month. I finished 7 books, which is actually more than I thought I had read. Granted, I did DNF one book (Re Jane) and another one was slow-going (The Light Between Oceans), so it happens.

I read three books for Diversity on the Shelf, which is about half of my reading for this month, so I met that goal for the month. However, I’m at 8/21 for my overall reads, which is not keeping me on track to my goal of 50% by or about POC for the year. I’m sure it’ll correct itself eventually, but that’s where I am.

After giving it some thought, I’m going to count Proposal by Meg Cabot for the Read Harder Challenge. It’s not by or about a POC, but, quite frankly, I don’t see myself reading any other non-kid lit books under 100 pages any time soon. If I do, I’ll note it, but for now, I’m good.

That means I’ve completed the following categories for that challenge:

  • Read a middle grade novel
  • Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)
  • Read a book under 100 pages
  • Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
  • Read a food memoir
  • Read the first book in a series by a person of color

I’m feeling pretty good about my progress there. I was kind of stressing out about it at first, but then I remembered that I basically read from all of the categories last year, so if I just read the way I usually read, I’ll probably wind up doing the same if I don’t overthink it. There are a few categories that take me out of my comfort zone, and I have to be more aware there, but I am confident that I’ll complete the whole challenge.

As of today, I’m reading:

My hold on the Leah Remini audiobook came in at the library yesterday, and I am loving it so far. She narrates it herself (of course!), and it’s stellar. If you want to know how cults work, definitely check out her book. Not only that, but she’s funny and real and raw. And so, so Brooklyn.

I read Something Rotten by Alan Gratz (Hamlet retelling) years ago and remembered the other day that I never read the second book, which is why I’m now reading Something Wicked, a Macbeth retelling. I like how Gratz is playing with the names and characters so far (Macbeth is Mac, Lady Macbeth is Beth, and there’s a dog named Spot–obviously, at some point, Beth is going to have to tell Spot to get out of something, and I am super looking forward to that moment).

One of the Read Harder categories is historical fiction set before 1900, and I absolutely 100% did not want to read a book about slavery. Enter Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins. (Thanks to my friend Jasmine for the rec!) I just started this today, and it’s working for me so far.

Original now hosted by Kathryn @ The Book Date. Children's lit version hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts &  Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.
Original now hosted by Kathryn @ The Book Date. Children’s lit version hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

I’m on spring break this week, and I think I may wind up reading more than these three, but we’ll see. Happy reading, everyone!

Book Review: The Wicked and the Just

If I’m to be ruled, may it be by those who see.

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats is different from most books I read. For one thing, it’s historical fiction–set in 13th century Wales. And, well, really that’s all that makes it different. I don’t think I’ve ever read historical fiction set in this era before and certainly not in that particular locale.

The basic premise is that Cecily’s dad moves them to Caernarvon from Edgeley Hall. She is none too pleased by this since she has to leave her best friends and potential suitors behind. You know who else isn’t pleased? Gwenhwyfar, the Welsh servant who has to wait on Cecily and her dad.

What I Liked

– The setting. Like I said, totally new to me. I was unfamiliar with the historical context/time period so it was fascinating to think about how the British went around imposing their imperial will on oh so many countries and not just the US and India and parts of Africa, etc.

– The language of oppression is the same all the time and everywhere.

– Something Coats really brought to life for me was just how unjust, humiliating, and unbearable the taxes imposed on the Welsh were. I teach Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” almost every semester and when he talks about how the English have taxed the Irish into starvation, I have a general understanding of what that means, but Coats makes me SEE and EXPERIENCE it. So for that alone the book was worth reading for me.

– I really like the way Cecily and Gwen’s relationship is handled and especially the way the narrative is shaped around the two girls. The book shifts between both of their points of view, and through that narrative structure, Coats shows how invisible servants and lower class people are to those they serve (unless they screw up, of course). Cecily rarely, if ever, mentions Gwen even when the reader knows Gwen is around. However, almost all of Gwen’s sections are explicitly reactions to or mentions of how she is treated by Cecily.

– There’s this sense of impending doom in the narrative. The reader knows it’s a pressure cooker situation, but Cecily is so blind to what’s going on around her. What I like about this approach is that (a) it shows Cecily’s privilege, but (b) it also shows how much she’s kept in the dark. She’s willfully ignorant in some ways, but in other ways, she is clueless and her father fails to inform her of all kinds of things about the way her new town works as opposed to her old.

– Cecily’s relationship with her father is handled brilliantly.

– If you wonder why women were called busybodies, etc., just take a look at the fact that Cecily has nothing to do during most of the narrative because she has no education so can’t read/write, and she has no trade/job. She spends most of her time bored and then starts stirring up trouble just because she can. The narrative never explicitly says anything about her lack of education, but if the reader starts wondering why Cecily doesn’t read a book or something, it’s like a little lightbulb moment. She has needlepoint. That’s it.

– I love the tension between the nouveau riche (Cecily) and her more established neighbors who find her unmannered–adds some levity and garners some sympathy for Cecily.

What I Didn’t Like

– Cecily is a hard character to like. The saving grace here is that I could tell she wasn’t privy to what was going around her, which doesn’t make her sympathetic but does add a layer of mystery to the text that kept me reading. I wanted to know when she would figure it out and how/if knowing would change her.

– I mentioned that the narrative switches points of view, which is fine. What isn’t fine is that the only marker of the change is that the font shifts. That’s it. No chapter headings, no label at the top of a new section with the girls’ names. Nothing. It didn’t take me long to figure out, but it was completely jarring.

One of the members of the book club I’m in read on her Kindle and the font change doesn’t even show up on there, so it was even more jarring for her.

– While I was fascinated by the look into all of the characters’ lives and relationships, I never really fell in love with any of the characters.

In conclusion: Well written historical fiction with excellent world building and characters, focusing on a time and place I rarely read about in fiction.

Source: Library

Book Review: Belle Epoque

Before I get to the review, I just signed up for Bloglovin’, so feel free to follow my blog with Bloglovin. Which I know you could do anyway, but still. It’s, like, official now or something.

Like any person, an ugly woman’s looks are transformed by her conversation, humor, intelligence, and even grace. But all this reverses during the selection process. When a client enters the salon, I’ve seen a girl change from her giddy, laughing self to her repoussoir guise in an instant.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth RossI was so excited to read Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross. For starters, the premise speaks to my soul. Some dude starts a service for rich women to hire less attractive women so they can appear more attractive. Which, hello, totally speaks to my life experience of always having pretty friends but feeling like I fade into the background when I’m around them because I’m not even a fraction as cute as they are. Then, the main character (Maude) is hired as a beauty foil for Isabelle, but Isabelle doesn’t know that Maude is the help because her mom wants her to think Maude is her friend, which also adds female friendship stuff and mother/daughter drama. So excited!

But then the book was a total letdown, sigh.

First, while the premise is excellent, Maude is so, so boring. She moves to Paris to follow her hopes and dreams! She reluctantly becomes a repoussoir because it pays a whole lot more money than working in a laundry! And then she fades in the background whenever Marie-Josée or Isabelle are in the same scene. What I’m saying is that I wasn’t particularly interested in Maude or her journey.

Second, I don’t understand why this story isn’t told from Isabelle’s point of view. Maude really doesn’t do anything. Yet, Isabelle has all these interests and is full of personality and gets betrayed by her mom and Maude and is courting and and and. I’m not saying Maude couldn’t have been an interesting character whose arc through her relationship with Isabelle could have taken the reader someplace interesting; she just wasn’t. Isabelle seemed to have the true conflict. I think part of the problem is that Maude is just so passive.

Third, the relationships are not well-developed at all aside from Isabelle/Maude and Isabelle/her mother. Maude’s closest friend at the agency is Marie-Josée except I don’t think they’re really friends. M-J serves as a mentor to Maude, yes. Maude wants to run things by M-J. But I get no idea whatsoever of why Marie-Josée would be disappointed because Maude has to work on Christmas. Seriously, why does she care? Because I didn’t feel like I as a reader would be missing out on M-J’s dinner nor did I feel betrayed that Maude blew it off.

The same goes with the love interest. They have maybe three or four interactions and suddenly he’s pissed at Maude and disappointed in her, and she has to apologize. And I was honestly like, “Who cares what this drunk dude that I’ve spent maybe three scenes with thinks?” But I guess the reader is supposed to, which means that relationship was shallow at best.

Fourth, Maude goes to a lot of parties and balls and thinks a lot. That’s really what happens in the whole book. Oh, and she’s kind of taken with the glamor of it all. I guess there was some kind of conflict with Maude thinking she might one day belong in that world or something? I don’t know. I didn’t really care about her.

Fifth, the love interest is so terrible. He’s drunk all the time, and he’s judgmental, but he’s nice once or twice, so I guess that’s all that matters.

Sixth, I wanted to stop reading about 3/4 of the way through, but I really did want to know what happened to Isabelle at the end.

Also, is it wrong that I wish Maude had really been ugly instead of plain? I guess that would have made her more interesting.

SO DISAPPOINTING. The language is lovely, and the premise is great, but the underdeveloped relationships made it difficult for me to like this one. I did enjoy Isabelle a lot, though, so there’s that.

Source: Library

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”

The next time I say that I don’t like literary fiction remind me that it’s my favorite genre of young adult literature. REMIND ME. Because holy crap, I loved Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell so much. SO MUCH.

It gutted me. Gutted.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellHere’s what I loved about this book:

  • Eleanor
  • Park
  • Eleanor & Park
  • Park’s mom
  • Park’s dad
  • Park’s mom and dad
  • DeNice & Beebi
  • All of the relationships, basically
  • All of the character work, basically

What I’m saying is everything was A+. I believed all of the relationships. I loved the way everything was resolved. I mean, the way things ended with Tina, holy crap.

Rowell has this way, too, of giving a lot of information with small details. Like, Eleanor is poor, right? And it’s like, okay, so she has to share her room with all of her brothers and sisters. But you really understand just how poor she and her family are when she wishes she could save pads from a prank girls play on her because “what a waste.” Maxi pads touched by another person are a waste. Or how you understand that her mom’s boyfriend beats the mom and then forces her to have sex with him because she has a bruise and a hickey. Small details.

The sexual abuse is well-handled as are the hints that maybe it has happened before. Oh, and that Eleanor thought her father was terrible until she realized there are worse things than selfish. (That doesn’t mean her father is good or even decent, but just that he could be a lot worse.)

I was also quite impressed that even though Richie is a terrible, terrible, terrible person, Rowell still managed to make him a little sympathetic in the end. I mean, I hated him, verily, but still that sliver of humanity she gives him makes all the difference.

Oh! Another thing I liked is that my attachment to the characters grew as they grew more attached to each other.

Park’s parents are seriously the best. Flawed, yes, but excellent parents.

I also love that Park is embarrassed because they’re so affectionate, and you get the whole ugh annoying parents, but then there’s Eleanor not bringing people home because, again, worse than embarrassing.

I think, ultimately, that I liked this book so much because aside from the awesome characters and the fantastic relationships and all of the A++ writing, I completely bought Eleanor and Park’s growing attraction to each other. I liked that it didn’t quite make sense because these things don’t always makes sense, and I loved that the characters were aware of how much it didn’t make sense, but that it didn’t quite matter whether or not it made sense because they got each other.

Oh, and the last thing I absolutely loved is how Rowell would show how different characters saw the same situation: Eleanor’s gym suit, Park’s mom seeing Eleanor at the store, etc. Oh and good Lord, everything with Eleanor and her siblings broke my heart.

Also, I love how every time I think I’m done saying everything I love (and these are the non-spoilery bits!), I keep thinking of something else. I mean, Eleanor’s makeover! Park’s fight! So many things to talk about!

So what I’m saying is this book is awesome and you should read it. Easily my favorite read of the year so far.

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Like so many things Henry had wanted in life—like his father, his marriage, his life—it had arrived a little damaged. Imperfect. But he didn’t care, this was all he’d wanted. Something to hope for, and he’d found it. It didn’t matter what condition it was in.

bittersweethotelI joined a book club! Did I mention I joined a book club? Anyway, yes, I joined a book club and their selection for March (March! Can you tell I’m a little behind on reviews?) was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, the story of a Chinese boy and his Japanese best (girl) friend during WWII.

What I Liked

– The characters are so great. Henry, Keiko, Sheldon, Mrs. Beatty, Henry’s dad, Henry’s mom, Ethel. SO GREAT.

– Do I have to pick a favorite character? I can’t. Mrs. Beatty owns my heart, though.

– I loved the relationship between Henry and his father. It was heartbreaking, yes, but I understood both of their positions, and the tension was so palpable and real. I also loved that Ford doesn’t really condemn either. I mean, okay, we’re on Henry’s side, but I get why the father is the way he is. And as much as I want him to let go of his old prejudices and outlook, I see why he can’t or is unwilling to.

– Henry’s mom, oh man. The way she has to play the mediator and obey her husband while not turning her back on her son. Oy.

– “I AM CHINESE.”

– Since this is a story about first love, I have to admit that Keiko and Henry’s relationship is SO ADORABLE. At first, Henry read a little young to me, but then I remembered that he’s 12/13 during much of his developing relationship with Keiko, so, of course he’s young. Duh. Everything between them is so great. The adventures they go on, the experiences they share. Keiko’s frustration with Henry’s unwillingness to rock the boat, Henry’s confusion and embarrassment when she doesn’t seem to understand his position. AH SO GREAT.

– Also, I really, really loved that Keiko wanted Henry to maintain his relationship with his father. Her basic position is “Yes, he’s ridiculous. Yes, he’s antiquated. BUT HE’S YOUR DAD.” It just really spoke to the differences the two of them had in their relationships with their parents. I found it quite authentic. (Henry’s response, of course, is “Yeah, but you don’t understand what he’s like because you don’t have to live with him.”)

– Awesome first kiss. And that’s all I’ll say about that because spoilers.

– I also quite liked the juxtaposition of the discovery of first love (Henry and Keiko) with the reality of forever love (Henry and Ethel).

– So what I’m saying is A+ relationships and characters.

What I Didn’t Like

– All of that said, this story is told mostly in flashbacks with present day (1986) Henry remembering his youth. While I’m fine with the flashbacks as a device, I found that the WWII bits were much more developed in terms of relationships than the 1986 bits. For example, Henry has a strained relationship with his son. I know because he keeps telling me. But I never get from their interactions that this relationship is so strained. It’s all tell and no show.

– Henry’s son is pretty bland overall. His fiancée is great, though.

– Keiko’s father was just a touch too perfect. (Although he does sound like he’s super fly, and I approve of that 100%. I can just see him rocking a fedora, creased pants, and a button-down.) I understand that most of what we learn about him is through Keiko’s point of view, but, seriously, this is an actual thing she says about her parents:

“And they’re Americans first. They don’t see you as the enemy. They see you as a person.”

And I was just like, “Oh, is that how Americans are?” Because I so was not buying that. I don’t think I would’ve minded so much if her parents were just that way–you know, seeing Henry as a person and not the enemy–but the idea that that’s the way Americans think in 1940-whatever was just a bit too much for me.

Keiko’s dad does seem like a pretty cool dude but this idealistic portrayal of Americans and American thinking made me roll my eyes.

– Perhaps because the story is told from Henry’s point of view, the Japanese internment camps are presented a little bit more positively than I would have liked. I wanted a bit more of just how much they sucked, but, again, Henry’s POV, so they mostly suck because he’s away from his friend.

Ford does present enough information so that the reader can see they suck in other ways (Keiko’s family lives in one room, they move to Idaho [!!!], the humiliation of walking through the streets of Seattle, her father can no longer practice law, etc.), but Henry is just like “Keiko’s so far awaaaay.” Which I get it, I do. I’m just noting.

– I’m not so sure Henry’s son would be part of an online grief support group in the mid-1980s. Or that he’d look up Keiko on the internet. Small, but distracting details.

In conclusion: A sweet and heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful story with awesome characters and complicated relationships.

Source: Library

Mini Book Reviews: Summer Fiction

    

Parents are too easily frightened by the world their children live in. We have to protect them from harm, keep them safe as long as we can, no matter how we feel about them. It’s our duty.

The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin: Set in Idaho at the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, The Girls of No Return is narrated by Lida who has been sent to the Alice Marshall School because she has a Thing. I have mixed feelings about this book. Mainly because most of the other girls at the camp are far more interesting than Lida. In fact, I spent most of the book wondering why on earth Lida was telling the story. I will say, though, that Saldin does pretty deftly show why Lida’s story is important when the climax and resolution occur. And I thought it was cheating that Lida’s Thing isn’t revealed until really late in the narrative.

On the plus side, the story was beautifully written and easy to read. Loved the setting. LOVED. The wilderness just sounds beautiful and awe inspiring. I wish Saldin had used the majesty of the setting even more. Especially because Lida talks about feeling so good out in the wilderness. And! I want to know how that translates into her life after Alice Marshall, especially since the framing device is her writing about the events after the fact.

Source: Library

It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: Ah, there is so much I want to say about this book, most of which is spoilery. I will say that it took me a long time to read/finish (maybe because I was in end of the semester hell), and I almost put it aside. But when I got to that line about best friends, I had to finish. I just had to.

I’m glad I stuck with the book. The plotting is ace, and I found myself flipping back and forth from the end to the beginning to pick up clues I had missed about some of the twisty elements. I love that this book looks at non-traditional roles of women in the war effort (on both sides) and how it plays with expectations. Mostly, I love it because it’s about best friends and their fierce love for one another.

Also, it just cannot be said enough that war sucks so hard.

Source: Borrowed from a member of book club

“I’m going to tell you a secret. Our lives are shaped by the future, not by the past. Once you decide how you want your life to be, all you need to do is live into that future.”

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass: This book was a lot darker than I thought it would be (the cover and title are cutesy), but I enjoyed it so much. Told in verse, the story recounts Tessa’s life through different items she got from the mall (where both of her parents work). Hanging in the balance between life and death, Tessa has a lot to learn about herself and how she wound up in a coma from a dodgeball accident.  That makes it sound heavy, but it’s really not. Everything is handled with a light touch and, while I understood Tessa’s disconnect, she wasn’t hopeless as a character or narrator.

I love Tessa. She’s so flawed and honest. The way she feels about her family and the way they treat her are brought out in really interesting ways. The book also has one of the best opening lines ever, endorsed by Judy Blume. So there’s that.

Source: Library

If I couldn’t name it, would I even know what it is? Would I even feel it at all?

Matched by Ally Condie: I am on a dystopian fiction hiatus, but this was a book club choice. I enjoyed it for what it was. I mean, making it a romance with a bonafide love triangle was the certainly the way to go to keep my interest. So I appreciated it for that alone. I also appreciated that this book is more like The Giver in its setting (we’re keeping you from pain!) than some of the darker dystopian fiction that’s out now (kill all the children!). That said, I won’t be seeking out the other books in the trilogy.

Oh, and I’m Team Xander. Obviously. Although I have nothing against Ky.

Source: Library

    

“It was a mistake,” you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt like the mistake was mine, for trusting you.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan: Gah, this is a book experiment done right. The book chronicles a relationship in the form of dictionary entries, in alphabetical order. I love this book so hard. I love that it’s non-linear. I love that it’s heartbreaking and painful and joyous. I love it. Love, love, love it. Such a great read.

Source: Library

The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes: I read this book a while ago, so I’m iffy on the details, but I know it deals with the aftermath of a bad accident which left one friend exiled to France, one disabled, and one physically unscathed. I had a hard time with this book, though there are things I like about it. Mainly, the girls’ focus on being elected Homecoming Queen and campaigning for it and how much the mother cared and that they were preparing for it their WHOLE LIVES just never connects with me–mostly because that’s so opposite of the experience I had in high school. Any book/movie/TV show with that sort of popularity contest at its core makes me roll my eyes, unless it’s played for ridiculousness. I do appreciate that the main character is over it all, but all the role playing and campaigning and angst about it with the perfect hair and perfect boyfriend stuff just…whatever.

But, on the plus side, this is a book about the impact of an inspiring English teacher and I can’t help but love that kind of plot/character. Not that I’m biased or anything. And! It’s about female friendship! So another mixed feelings book.

Source: Netgalley

    

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce: My first Tamora Pierce! Ever! I was underwhelmed by the book, and I’m not sure if I would’ve loved it as a kid. (Probably.) Everything just moved kind of fast, and I didn’t really care about Alanna that much. In that sense, the book felt more like a plot outline, especially because the characterization was so flat. The premise is so cool, though.

Off the Shelf: 6/30

Source: My shelf

Now and Zen by Linda Gerber: Story of a Japanese-American girl who goes to Japan and finds herself. Liked the look at Japan. Everything else was pretty forgettable.

Off the Shelf: 5/30; POC Reading Challenge: 5/25

Source: My shelf

I mean, if my mother were introducing us she would say, “My daughter Jill, the actress. My son Douglas, the musician. My son Dennis; would you like to hear him do the Anacin commercial?”

But when she got around to me, what could she say? “And this is Laura. She’s twelve.”

And This Is Laura by Ellen Conford: Ellen Conford is so great! She takes this idea of a girl who feels invisible in her family, gives her a special gift (she’s psychic! maybe!) and then still manages to make it all so realistic and like it’s happening right next door. So, clearly, I need more Ellen Conford in my life.

Off the Shelf: 4/30

Source: My shelf

Book Review: Revolution

There is only one thing I fear now–love.

For I have seen it and I have felt it and I know that it is love, not death, that undoes us.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly manages to be two novels in one. It’s the story of Andi, a girl consumed by grief. It’s also the story of Alexandrine, a girl from the French Revolution whose journal Andi finds and reads.

What I Liked

– I love a good story within a story, and Donnelly definitely pulls it off here. Alex and Andi are both fully realized characters with clear plot trajectories and character growth. Both stories are well-handled, and, although the parallels are not always obvious, Andi’s fascination with Alex makes perfect sense.

– Fantastic characters. Not just Andi and Alex, but the supporting players, too. Andi’s parents and friends, the different people Alex encounters. Love Vijay–I wish we got even more time with him.

 

– Virgil. Virgil is amazing fantastic and everything a love interest should be.

– Andi is a musician, and I love the way music is used in the story. I’m not that keen on Virgil’s mad rhymes, but they serve a purpose and are well used, so I’ll accept them. Just like I’ll accept the focus on how music connects us and is a universal language in this novel (and real life!).

– Alex is an actress (“player”) and she uses her art in the same way. Love.

– This is a book about grief and trauma and how both transcend time and class.

– I also super love the importance of connection, and, more specifically, how reading fosters a connection and can help us feel less alone.

– I found Andi a little whiny, rich girl in the beginning, and I think that Donnelly manages to make her more relatable as time goes on. Stories about depression are always hard to read anyway, and this book would have been a lot harder to bear if I just found Andi annoying, so I’m glad that issue is solved right away.

Think you only kings have power? Stand on a stage and hold the hearts of men in your hands. Make them laugh with a gesture, cry with a word. Make them love you. And you will know what power is.

What I Didn’t Like

– Purgatory. I just really could not get with this part of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it just did not work for me.

– I also felt the book could be a little shorter. But, again, that’s probably because I didn’t like the purgatory section.

– The book starts a little slow (see above comment re: whiny, rich girl) but once it got going, I was completely interested and invested.

– Okay, please excuse me as I vent a little about my own issues. I love the trope of the vacation romance in general. Well, at least I did until I realized that, you know, it’s a repeating trope that has no basis in my reality. It is so not real life, and I feel like Andi finding a hot guy in Paris that wants to deal with her and all her brokenness is just one of those things that continue to make me feel inadequate because I haven’t had a vacation romance. Why can’t I meet a Virgil is what I’m saying. DEAR TEEN LIT, STOP IT. IT’S NOT FAIR.

In conclusion: Very engrossing story with with great characters and a great plot, though it is a little sad.

YA Reading Challenge: 23/20; Support Your Local Library: 26/30

Book Review: One Crazy Summer

I wished I hadn’t opened up that newspaper. I wished I could go right on thinking we were having breakfast, painting signs, and learning our rights. I wished I didn’t know that I was marching my sisters into a boiling pot of trouble cooking in Oakland.

I can’t decide if I like One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia so much because it’s a really good middle grade novel about a girl who spends the summer trying to get to know the mother who abandoned her or because it’s a book about a girl who spends the summer at the Black Panther Party summer camp.

I mean, I really cannot decide. Because it is so hard for me to separate my love of the Black Panther Party from the rest of the novel, and the fact that this book is written, basically, about the experience of participating with the Panthers as a child just…I can’t even put it into words.

The setting and premise are awesome is what I’m trying to say.

It’s hard for me to talk about the book itself because I really want to just go off on a tangent about how into the Panthers I was in college. I think to understand how into them I was you need to know that when I went to Oakland two summers ago, I was really super bummed that I didn’t have enough time to take the Black Panther tour.

Really super bummed.

But this isn’t about me. This is about the book. One Crazy Summer, while about a girl’s experience at the summer camp, is more specifically about eleven-year-old Delphine, and the trip she takes to get to know her mother. I always have a problem talking about well-written books because there’s not much to say except: this book is good. The characters are well-drawn, the setting and tone are pitch-perfect, and the relationships are all clear as is the thread of conflict throughout those relationships.

One of the things Williams-Garcia does well is mention key historical moments about the Party without overexplaining. It’s more of an invitation to find out more. What is COINTELPRO? Who is Li’l Bobby Hutton? What happened the night he died? (I don’t think she mentions Eldridge Cleaver, but he was there. So: who is Eldridge Cleaver?) Why do they call the cops “pigs”? It also doesn’t come up that the FBI thought the Free Breakfast Program was the most dangerous aspect of the Panther’s activities, but it’s easy to see why Hoover wanted it shut down immediately. (Also, did you know that’s why schools serve breakfast now? You can thank the BPP for that.)

Probably the best thing about the book (aside from Delphine, and, of course, the BPP) is Delphine’s mother, Cecile, and the complicated relationship she has with her children. As an eleven-year-old, Delphine’s understanding of her mother is perfectly rendered. As an adult reader, I appreciated that the reason Cecile left is as simple and complex as the fact that she couldn’t name her youngest daughter. Something Delphine doesn’t quite understand–nor would a reader in her age group–but that I can imagine her thinking about over and over as she becomes an adult.

I also enjoy we get an East Coast perspective of the Party as well as, through Delphine’s narration, how older black people (like her grandmother) see the Party.

So what I’m saying is I really enjoyed the story on its own terms. And I love, love, love that cover.

Now that that’s out of the way…

ADDENDUM, WHEREIN I TALK ABOUT THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY

Can I talk about my experience with the Black Panthers now? Basically, my gateway drug was Assata: An Autobiography. (And thinking about it, I really probably should have named my daughter Assata because THAT IS HOW MUCH I LOVE THE BOOK. And Assata. SHE IS SO BADASS AND I LOVE HER.) I read that in an intro African-American studies class and immediately wanted to know more. So I signed up for a seminar on the Black Panthers where we read pretty much all of their autobiographies and seminal works. We discussed their philosophies and their complicated relationships. We read books related to them. I forced my friends to watch Panther with me. It was pretty intense.

So, some books if you’re interested in learning more about the Black Panther Party in their own words:

Also did you know that Jesse Jackson got his whole Rainbow Coalition bit from Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago Panthers?

MY MIND IS FULL OF ALL OF THIS KNOWLEDGE.

(Fred was, tragically, assassinated by the police–there are pictures of them carrying his body out and smiling–as he lay in bed next to his pregnant girlfriend who did not incur a single bullet wound. SERIOUSLY.)

And we all know that Huey from The Boondocks is named after Huey P. Newton. So.

*****draws hearts around the Black Panther Party*****

Quirky Brown Challenge: 1/3; Support Your Local Library: 4/30; POC Reading Challenge: 3/15

Audiobook Reviews: December

The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, narrated by LeVar Burton:  This book is hilarious. We seriously spent most of the book laughing at all of the crazy situations Kenny and his family got themselves into. It starts with his brother Byron getting his mouth stuck to the car mirror in the freezing cold, and then it just goes on from there. There’s a lot of seriousness mixed in with the humor, of course, coupled with the fact that the Watsons drive south in 1963, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Even those moments, though, are handled with levity and grace, so that the story doesn’t feel bogged down or preachy. In fact, the story is about how the family came to head South, and, of course, the fallout of that decision.

Burton as narrator gives the book a real sense of nostalgia. He is a grown man narrating a child’s story, after all. That, and he’s LEVAR BURTON. So there you go.

POC Challenge: 25/15

Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice, narrated by Cherise Booth: This book. THIS BOOK. Okay, this book was seriously like reading about my life. Shay, the perfectionist overachiever, trying to navigate a relationship with her mother, a recovering alcoholic. The details of how it unfolds aren’t really important to me (thought it’s all handled very well and brilliantly), what gets to me is that Shay thinks things I’ve thought in the exact ways I’ve thought them. Not to mention the situations she encounters and just how she handles them.

I mean, I won’t get into all the ways the plot closely resembles my life because that would be like telling the whole world about my neuroses, and that’s not necessary. Also, I don’t need to put all my business out in the street. I’m just saying.

Anyway, as far as the book goes, I really think all of the characters are well-rounded and believable. The conflicts are authentic. I also love that it’s a delayed coming of age novel because, let’s be real. YA is my thing, and grown up lit that is practically YA makes my heart sing. Also, I love the romance so much that it’s kind of ridiculous.

The narrator is really fantastic. All of the voices are varied, the emotion is authentic, and I didn’t even have that moment of adjustment to her performance style. I was hooked from the beginning, and it was very easy to get into the story. So, yeah, I recommend this narrator.

POC Challenge:  26/15