Category Archives: fiction

Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers

Vanessa Diffenbaugh

335 pages

Published in 2012 by Ballantine Books, a Random House imprint

Source: Publisher

For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like a hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Carolina and Indian jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.

Ever since she was abandoned at birth, Victoria Jones has been a ward of the state of California. Shuffled from one foster home to another, Victoria hasn’t found a home or a family to call her own. Life seems to change when she’s ten and is in the care of Elizabeth. The two are alike in many ways with no one to call family but each other. Nothing lasts forever; tragedy soon strikes and the two are separated. Now, Victoria is 18 and has aged out of the foster care system. She has no money, no job, and no place to live. All she has is the skills that Elizabeth taught her so long ago: the language of flowers, the Victorian notion that every flower has a meaning. But will this be enough to help Victoria lead a successful life and become a person who can love others?

This year, my reading has involved people and places that I normally don’t read about. With The Language of Flowers, I realized that I haven’t read many books that dealt with kids in the foster care system. It’s a system has taken a toll on Victoria. Readers learn about the many homes she’s been in from the foster dad who locks a young Victoria out of the house on a winter night to the foster mom who refuses to feed Victoria anything but frozen peas to teach her that “food isn’t comfort”. It’s heartbreaking as Diffenbaugh goes back and forth between Victoria’s past and present to show us how she became the person she is.

This isn’t just a story about heartbreak but possibilities. Redemption is possible even though it’s often pointed out though the book, that many of the kids who age out of the foster care system don’t get a happy ending. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Chopsticks

Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

272 Pages

Published in February 2012 by Razorhill books, an imprint of Penguin Group

Source: Library

Gloria “Glory” Fleming is a world-famous pianist, who sells out concert halls all over the world. She’s also only seventeen. Her days are filled with practice as demanded by her father, Victor. It’s all she knows until Francisco Mendoza moves in next door. Now Glory’s world is filled with not only music but art, late-night movies, and text messages. She’s finally becoming a normal teenager. After a while, Glory falters because of her father’s demands and is unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks”. Everything is not what it seems and when Glory disappears, it’s time for everyone –Victor and readers – to figure out what really happened in Glory’s life.

I picked up Chopsticks because I heard a lot of positive things about it on Twitter. The bloggers, who have read it, didn’t say much about it except that more people should read it. After reading this book, I understand so I won’t tell you much about the plot. Chopsticks  is a love story but also a mystery. The mystery isn’t easy to solve, which I love, so you’ll probably have to read it twice. But it is a fast read.  If you’re a reader who shies away from YA because of melodramatic teenage angst, there’s none of that in this book. Readers of all ages can enjoy.

Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral give this unusual teenage story a great format. It’s told through not only words but also postcards, text messages, newspaper articles, piano recital programs, and more. The format reminds me a lot of The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. I was left wondering what kind of novel I should call this. Is it right to call it a graphic novel? I called Frankie Pratt a “scrapbook novel” but Chopsticks doesn’t fit that description. Maybe it should be called a “novel in collage”? Either way, I would love to see the authors write more novels in this new format.

If you’re looking for a great read in a unusual format, Chopsticks is your book. My rating: 4 out of 5.

Spring Reading Thing 2012

March 20, 2012 – June 20, 2012

Hosted at Callapidder Days

If you didn’t know that today was the first day of spring, you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking out my window. It’s nice and cold outside, perfect winter weather. So it seems a little funny to be making a list of books I want to read for spring. I missed last year’s Spring Reading Thing, a seasonal “challenge”, and I refuse to miss it again this year.

I decided to dedicate this year’s SRT to my many stacks of unread books. This idea came to me yesterday after “finding” an under-bed shoe storage filled with books. I think that’s one of the great things about Spring Reading Thing is that participants are encouraged to make goals. It’s not just the amount of books to read but anything else you can think of.

One of my goals is to read at least fifteen of my own books within the next three months. It doesn’t have to be the fifteen books on this list but it needs to be fifteen. I’ve own The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot since its publication in 2009. I even pre-ordered it and still haven’t read it. If I don’t read it by the end of this challenge, I’m going to give it away to my local public library. Which leads me to my second goal:

  • Give away at least ten books by June 20th. If I don’t miss the 30+ books under my bed, I won’t miss the ten that I plan on giving away. I’m thinking of this as my own bookish spring cleaning.

Last but not least is to have at least one read-along with my daughter. She’s ten and hasn’t read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett yet. It’s been a reading tradition of mine to read it every spring. I already bought her the book and movie version. Now it’s time to read it to her. Maybe I’ll give her a package of seeds to go with it. I think she’ll like that. If the read-along is a success, we can add Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting in June. It’s one of my favorite summer reads.

My pool of books:

  1. Head Off and Split by Nikki Finney (poetry)
  2. Land to Light On by Dionne Brand (poetry)
  3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (non-fiction)
  4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (non-fiction)
  5. Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (middle grade)
  6. The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
  7. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
  8. Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech (poetry)
  9. The Humming Room by Ellen Potter (middle grade)
  10. Sula by Toni Morrison
  11. Alcestis by Katharine Beutner
  12. What Looks Like Crazy on An Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
  13. No Regrets Parenting by Harley A. Rotbart (non-fiction)
  14. The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
  15. Among Others by Jo Walton (young adult)
  16. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
  17. Wonder by R.J. Pollacio (middle grade)
  18. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (young adult)
  19. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (middle grade)
  20. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (middle grade)
  21. The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon (middle grade)
  22. Cousins by Virginia Hamilton (middle grade)
  23. An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor (non-fiction)

So that’s what I’m planning this spring. Have you started thinking about your spring reading? Are you joining Spring Reading Thing this year?

Review: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures

Caroline Preston

240 pages

Publication Date: October 25, 2011

Publisher: Ecco

Source: Publisher

 

When Candace over at Beth Fish Reads featured Caroline Preston’s The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, I knew this was a book for me. I love journaling and art so reading a book that’s told in pictures though in a new format, sounded too good to pass up.

It’s 1920 and Frankie Pratt is an eighteen-year old girl who dreams of being a writer. After her high school graduation, she’s given her father’s typewriter and a scrapbook as a way to realize her dream. Frankie would love to attend Vassar but on her widowed mother’s salary as a home nurse, there’s just no way that will happen. Fortunately for Frankie, her situation changes and her new life begin.

The subtitle, A Novel in Pictures, is a perfect fit. Frankie’s story is told with ephemera from the 1920s. Though it fits my definition of a graphic novel (pictures + words), I wouldn’t describe the book in that manner. The author coined Frankie Pratt, a “scrapbook novel” and I think that’s the perfect term for this new format. Preston does such a fantastic job at matching pictures with Frankie’s life that I wondered what came first, Frankie’s story or the pictures. Not only that but while reading this, I didn’t feel like there was pieces missing to the story or that I had to fill in the blank spaces. Readers get enough of everything for this book to be a satisfying read.

Being that this is the 1920s, there’s mention of famous people and places of that time like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and the bookstore Shakespeare & Co. I thought it was all interesting and the story kept me rooting for Frankie all the way until the end.

After reading The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, I was happy to find out that Preston is currently working on her next scrapbook novel.

Here’s an excerpt that I found on NPR about poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s visit to Vassar while Frankie was a student there. Click on the pictures to enlarge.

  

Thoughts on The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

Heidi W. Durrow

256 pages

Publication Year: 2010

Publisher: Algonquin

Source: Bought it

 

It’s a funny thing to think about: moving toward extinction. And I think of how maybe I’m already extinct in a strange way – there’s no way to make another me: at least I can’t do it. But that doesn’t matter anyway because I never want to have kids.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky is the debut novel from Heidi W. Durrow. It’s also the winner of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, which was founded by Barbara Kingsolver.

The story tells the life of Rachel, the only survivor of tragic, mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of her three siblings and their mother. Rachel is also biracial, the daughter of a white Danish mother and African-American father. After the death of her family members, Rachel is sent to live with her paternal grandmother and has to learn how to navigate in a country where she’s considered black, something she didn’t think much about before. Told from the perspective of Rachel, her mother Nella, and those who knew their family, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is an engaging read of one girl’s struggle to live after the death of those she loved most.

This year I’m learning a lot about my reading. I’ve learned that I don’t read many books that feature:

  • the elderly as protagonists
  • mother-daughter relationships
  • bi-racial characters

Where have I been? In today’s society with so many people being of several races and cultures, I can’t believe I’ve ignored this. Luckily reading this book brought it to my attention. As a young girl, not only does Rachel has to deal with everything that has happened, she also has to learn how to deal with so much attention to both who she is physically, her long fuzzy hair that makes girls in her class want to fight her, blue eyes, and light brown skin to who she is as a person, someone who loves to read and tries to understand what being black means in America during the 1980s.

The problem is that as interesting and engaging as the book was, I didn’t connect very well to Rachel. Readers understand this character through her words and interactions with others but it wasn’t enough.

I had the same problem with Rachel’s mother, Nella. Nella is a young Danish woman living in Europe when she meets Roger, an African-American man stationed at a nearby base. They soon marry and have children before Nella leaves Roger and flees to the United States with their children. She struggles with everything before she finally makes a terrifying decision.  I wish there was more pages dedicated to this fierce woman.

 *spoiler spoiler spoiler 

I need to understand her decision with the same depth that I understood a similar decision in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

*spoiler over

Though I didn’t get the connection I needed, I still think this was an excellent read. My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Graphic Novel Mini-reviews: Anya’s Ghost, Cinderella, and Hera

Anya’s Ghost

Vera Brosgol

224 pages

Publication Year: 2011

Publisher: FirstSecond Books

Source: Won it.

Anya Borzakovskaya is your typical teenager: she would rather be anywhere else instead of school or church, her mother embarrasses her, and she thinks no one understands her. One day while ditching school, Anya falls down an old well and meets Emily Reilly, the ghost whose bones lie at the bottom of the well for the past ninety years. Anya may have thought her life was dull before, but after meeting Emily, things will never be the same again.

Any adult who reads this book remembers what it’s like to be a teenager who doesn’t fit in. As the daughter of a Russian immigrant, Anya does all that she can to fit in better with her peers: learns English, loses her accent, smokes, and ditches school. What Anya forgets is that being yourself is better than fitting in any day.

Anya’s Ghost is a book that was perfect for the R.I.P. Challenge and this autumn weather. The black/white/purple illustrations blend well with the content of this story. I love how Brosgol starts this story off so simple and normal before the creepiness of Emily the ghost inches slowly through the storyline, scaring both Anya and the reader. Anya’s Ghost is a book that’s great for middle school readers and their parents alike. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love

Chris Roberson and Shawn McManus

114 pages

Publication Year: 2010

Publisher: Vertigo

Source: Public Library

I’ve been a reader of Bill Willingham’s Fables series for years, so when I saw that there was a spin-off of the series featuring Cinderella, it was a no-brainer for me to read this.

 Though many in Fabletown think Cinderella is just some dumb blonde who spends as much money as she can, she’s really a super spy who sabotages Fabletown’s enemies at every turn. When someone starts smuggling magical items from the Homelands into the real world, it’s up to Cinderella and Aladdin to put a stop to it.

Cinderella is a character that you don’t see much of in the Fables series, so giving her a spin-off was a great idea. She’s smart, not scared to get in a fight, and has some baggage of her own to deal with. The writers did a great job with keeping the same style as the Fables series while giving readers something different.  My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory

George O’Connor

80 pages

Publication Year: 2011

Publisher: FirstSecond Books

Source: Public Library

Author George O’Connor is on fire with his Olympians series. The first two books in the series were Zeus and Athena. Hera is the third volume. The problem with dedicating a whole book to Hera, the Greek goddess whose story is intertwined with the infidelities of Zeus and the hero Hercules, is that not much of her story is hers. There’s not a lot known about the goddess outside of her role of wife which is the reason why most of Hera is about Hercules and Zeus. Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory was a great read but not finding out more about the goddess left me disappointed. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan

288 pages

Publication Year: 1989

Publisher: Vintage

Source: Public Library

And I think now that fate is shaped half by expectations, half by inattention. But somehow, when you lose something you love, faith takes over. You have to pay attention to what you lost. You have to undo the expectation.

The Joy Luck Club is the story of four mothers, Chinese-born women who migrated to the United States, and their American-born daughters. The book focuses on the women’s childhoods, loves, heartbreaks, and their relationships with each other.

The novel begins after the recent death of Suyuan Woo. Her daughter, June, is asked to replace her in the Joy Luck Club, a group of long-time friends who often meet up to play Mah-Jong, among other things. As honored as she is, June doesn’t know if she can take her mother’s place. June and Suyuan’s relationship was filled with love but also misunderstandings and doubts. June is a woman who’s given up on her talents and potential at a young age while her mother always saw the potential especially when her daughter didn’t.

I had always assumed we had an unspoken understanding about these things; that she didn’t really mean I was a failure, and I really meant I would try to respect her opinions more. But listening to Auntie Lin tonight reminds me once again: My mother and I never really understood one another. We translated each other’s meanings and I seemed to hear less than what she said, while my mother heard more.

June and Suyuan’s problems aren’t unique, though they feel that way. Every mother-and-daughter pair in the group has the same problems.  They were women who came from two very different cultures and had a bridge to cross in order to understand and appreciate each other. With every pair it was as if the mother understood her daughter, but the daughter felt as if her mother was a puzzle.

I can remember countless times as a teenager when I felt like my mother and I were speaking two different languages. Now as a mother, I wonder how much of what I say to my daughter will be remembered and in what way.  I think that’s part of timelessness of this book. Mother-daughter issues are going to be around as long as human beings are here. It’s something most women can relate to. Though The Joy Luck Club was first published in 1988, it’s not dated. It reaches across age and culture to give readers a satisfying story.

As sad as I was to let these characters go, I’m glad that I’ve finally read this brilliant book. My rating: 5 out of 5.

Review: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

Jenny Wingfield

352 pages

Publication Date: July 12, 2011

Publisher: Random House

Source: Publisher

John Moses couldn’t have chosen a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he’d planned it for a lifetime. Which was possible. He was contrary as a mule. It was the weekend of the Moses family reunion, and everything was perfect−or at least perfectly normal−until John went and ruined it.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake starts out with the patriarch of the Moses family but luckily for all of the book’s readers, it doesn’t end there. Every year on the first Sunday in June, the Moses family hosts their family reunion. Family from all over come back home to Columbia County, Arkansas including Willadee Lake, John’s only daughter and favorite child. Willadee married a traveling preacher, Samuel Lake, and now can only visit Arkansas once a year. But when tragedy strikes and Samuel loses his parish back in Louisiana, the Lakes are forced to stay in Arkansas longer than they counted on. But what happens next is an amazing story of love, faith, and joy that affects not only the Lakes and Moses but the community around them.

Okay so I didn’t really tell you much about The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, did I? Like that Willadee and Samuel have three amazing kids Swan, Bienville, and Noble.  I also didn’t tell you how Willadee’s sister-in-law Bernice is one low woman who’s trying to win back her high school sweetheart which happens to be Samuel? I also didn’t mention that the Moses’ next door neighborhood, Ras, is a villain that I have no problem hating, a man beyond redemption or pity.

So now you know. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is only the second book (besides 32 Candles) that I stayed up all night and mid-morning to read until I knew what happened to each character. I loved the Moses family, who aren’t perfect but understand what it means to be a family and how loyalty truly works. Samuel Lake is a man who thinks he has somehow lost favor with God and don’t understand why he doesn’t have a parish to preach to. The book deals with faith in a straightforward way that doesn’t preach, which I appreciate.

My only problem with the book is that Bernice didn’t get her just desserts and that I wanted to know more about Willadee’s brother, Toy. Toy is a man who suffers throughout his life and though readers are told a lot about Toy’s past, I wanted to know even more.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is a great thick summer read that left me teary in some parts, laughing in others, and ready to hug it at the end. If you love books with Southern settings, you can’t go wrong reading this which is why I’m giving away one copy to a lucky reader. Let me know in the comments if you want to be entered in the contest. I’ll pick a winner in a few days. Good luck.

Goodreads rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review: 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

32 Candles

Ernessa T. Carter

342 pages

Pub Date: 2012

Publisher: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins

Source: Publisher

So you’ve probably heard of this thing by now. It’s called life. And it’s hard. Even when it looks easy, it’s hard. That’s pretty much everybody’s situation, and it was mine, too.

On top of the usual business of life, I was ugly.

Up until the age of fifteen, Davidia “Davie” Jones had a pretty hard life. According to everyone (and I mean everyone) in her small Mississippi town she’s ugly. Dark skin, nappy hair that’s rarely comb, and wearing nothing but oversized clothes from the thrift store, Davie couldn’t stand out any more than she already did. So it didn’t help at all that her mother Cora brought home a different man almost every night and lived on a diet of cigarettes, liquor, and sex.  When Davie discovers the Molly Ringwald movie, Sixteen Candles, she decides that she’ll have her own Molly Ringwald ending someday. Until then she takes her life in stride, becoming almost invisible until one day a cruel prank is played on her in high school. The prank makes Davie realize that she can never have her special ending in Mississippi and leaves in the dark of night with just a handful of belongings. After spending years in Los Angeles, the past comes back to haunt Davie and she needs to make her own ending once and for all.

I can’t say enough how much I love this book. I started reading it around 8 p.m. and turned the last page around 2 the next morning. I didn’t even think about sleeping until I knew just how Davie’s life turned out.

Davie is just one of those characters that make readers wish she was real. She’s an outsider looking in on the world around her, sees everyone for who they really are, and accepts them- faults and all.  That doesn’t mean she’s this innocent person – she’s not. And I think that’s a great thing about 32 Candles. Carter shows readers that there’s not one person in this book that doesn’t have bad qualities. From Davie to the secondary characters you see the good and the bad. That’s essentially life. Plus you see how people grow and become better with time, rooting them on.

I wondered if life would always be out of control like this, if I would have to live in fear for the rest of my days, my heart in my throat, my body tensed and braced for what was to come. And most of all, I wondered if I’d always have to force myself to go against instinct and be brave. 

If you’ve ever felt like an outsider, Davie is a character that will leave you feeling like you’re not alone. Highly Recommended.

Review: War and Watermelon by Rich Wallace

War and Watermelon

Rich Wallace

184 pages

Publication Year: 2010

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Source: Publisher

I look across the pond and see Patty Moriarity and Janet DeMaria hanging out by the refreshment stand. They’re in two-piece bathing suits, but not bikinis. They’re the type of girls that are over our heads. Not at the top of the list of coolest girls, but close to it. We’re pretty much near the bottom of the guys; low-middle at best.

It’s the summer of 1969 and Brody Winslow feels a change in the air. It might be because seventh grade means going to a new school where he’ll only know half the kids there and trying out for the school football team. Those are small changes compared to what his older brother, Ryan, is going through. Ryan will be turning eighteen in a little more than a month which means he’s eligible for the draft. Ryan knows that he doesn’t want to fight in the war that’s going on in Vietnam but he’ll feel like a coward if he takes the easy road and go to college though he’s not ready for it.

When I first start a book, I’m curious to see how the author lays out things like the plot, characters, and language. I wonder if the plot will do something different and/or exciting. I want to see whether the language of the story is interesting and beautiful enough for me to underline passages or dog-ear a page. I’m always hoping the characters are interesting enough to follow. Sadly, War and Watermelon disappointed me with almost all three aspects.

One of the problems with W&W is that it’s written for a pretty specific audience. Brody ends up on the football team of his junior high so there’s a ton of talk about football – a sport that I don’t follow at all. I understand sections of the book have to include the team and games but I found some of those sections uninteresting. I just waited for those parts to be over. I think any reader who doesn’t follow the sport might think so too.

Another thing that I had a problem with is the heavy inclusion of top 10 songs from that time. When done well it’s interesting to know what the protagonist is listening to at the time and makes the reader get to know the time period and characters better. But as someone who wasn’t born until almost twenty years later, I have no idea what any of these songs sound like and I wasn’t curious enough to find out. Towards the end of the book, I just skipped those sections. If I didn’t bother with those sections at the end, would a regular MG reader (ages 10-13) care about those sections?

Those two things would be minor complaints if the book was interesting enough but I found myself wishing I could quit reading after the first ten pages. If this was a book that I picked up at the library or bought it myself, I would have. There wasn’t enough going on to keep me interested in the characters – most of whom show little growth except Ryan. Even though I’m a heavy MG reader, I would have loved it if this book was YA and from the perspective of Ryan who had to figure out what he wanted at such a young age of seventeen.

War and Watermelon isn’t a bad book but it’s a “meh” kind of book, so my Goodreads rating for it is three stars out of five.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to review War and Watermelon.

Sunday Salon: Mini-reviews: Stitches, Horoscopes for the Dead, and The Violets of March

I have a confession to make: I read faster than I review. So I have a stack of books sitting on my desk, just waiting to be reviewed. I rather read than write so I’m posting mini-reviews to assuage some of the blogger guilt that I’m feeling.

Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems

Billy Collins

128 pages

April 5, 2011

Publisher: Random House

Source: Library

I picked up Horoscopes for the Dead for several reasons: a) I’m a judge in the poetry selection of the Indie Lit Awards, b) I enjoy poetry, and c) who can ever get enough of Billy Collins? Sadly this newest volume disappoints. Though several of the poems featured are memorable, many weren’t. I even skimmed a few towards the end. I don’t expect every poem Collins writes to be another “Litany” or “Forgetfulness” but damn; I don’t expect every poem he writes to be published either. If you’re someone who doesn’t read poetry often, I would say this book may not be for you though it’s still accessible. If you’re a fan of Collins (I still am), I think you could still enjoy the gems this volume holds. One of my favorite poems in Horoscopes for the Dead was Feedback:

The woman who wrote from Phoenix

after my reading there

to tell me they were still talking about it

just wrote again

to tell me that they had stopped.

The Violets of March

Sarah Jio

304 pages

April 26, 2011

Publisher: Penguin

Source: Publisher

I read The Violets of March last month and I’m still at a loss of what to say about it. The gist: I loved it. The main character is Emily, a writer whose life is a mess: her last book sold millions and now she has a chronic case of writer’s block plus she’s getting a divorce. On a whim, she decides to visit her great-aunt on Bainbridge Island in Washington. While there she discovers a sixty-year-old diary of a woman named Esther whose own life at the time of the diary’s writing was getting even messier than Emily’s by the minute. Emily has no idea who Esther is or what happens to her. The result is a mystery that twists and turns, leaving the reader guessing all the way until the end. I didn’t want this book to end. If you’re looking for a great read this summer, you can’t go wrong with The Violets of March.

Stitches: A Memoir

David Small

329 pages

September 8, 2009

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.

Source: Personal Library

I have a tug-of-war relationship with this book. I bought when it was first published in 2009 because the author happens to be one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. I devoured this graphic memoir of Small’s childhood in 1950s Detroit. The author’s father was a radiologist, his mother a stay-at-home mom. His family was a family of silence and secrets. David and his brother had no idea what their parents were ever thinking. The author was a sickly child at a time when the medical profession thought that radiation could cure sinus problems. As a teenager David ended up with a huge cancerous mass on his vocal cords and the resulting surgery rendered him speechless for years. David was an outsider in a family filled with outsiders who acted as though they fit in with the world around them.

So the tug-of-war relationship with this book started the first time I read it. There was so much hype around this book that I had huge expectations and the book disappointed a little. After the first reading I gave this book to my library and ended up buying it back from them because I couldn’t bear for someone else to buy it. What? Yes, I know. It sounds weird but that’s the truth. I read Stitches again for the third time earlier this month and I’ve come to see how good this memoir is. Small’s black-and-white drawings are sparse but powerful. The drawings and words come together to convey this perfect story about childhood and loss, psychological damage and family dysfunction. It’s a pretty perfect graphic novel.

The book trailer of Stitches

Summer reading and looking ahead

Summer is almost here by Leland

Yesterday was the last day of the semester and I can’t tell you how relieved I am. I love the excitement of a new semester with teachers that I usually haven’t had before on classes that I’ve been waiting to take. But the end of a semester brings its own share of excitement: the stacks of books that I can read without interruptions.  For the next four weeks I can read as much as I want while the kids are still in school. After that I can still read a lot but not as much since the kids will be home with me most of the summer.  So I feel a little (just a little) pressure to make every second of this time count.

Last night I started reading Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write about Real Sex edited by Erica Jong (June 2011). It’s a collection of essays , short stories, and even a comic from a variety of writers and artists about sex and love and everything that comes along with it. Note: This is not romance. Romance is talked about in the book but don’t think of romance novels or anything of the sort when you think about Sugar in My Bowl. Some of the authors featured in the collection include Rebecca Walker, Eve Ensler, and Julie Klam.  So far the writing is smart and funny. I love Jong’s introduction and how she admitted that most of the authors featured wouldn’t agree to be a part of the collection until their partners said yes. It made me think: would a male writer asked his partner if it was okay to be in a collection about sex?

Review copies

I’m also reading The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey. The novel is about an English couple who have spent decades in Trinidad and their marriage in the midst of the country’s political unrest. It appeared on the Orange Prize for Fiction’s longlist along with Rosie Allison’s The Very Thought of You (July 2011). The Very Thought of You has been on my reading list since the beginning of the year when  Jill from The Magic Lasso shared an article about the book. Set during WWII the book is about a young girl, Anna, who’s  sent to the Yorkshire countryside to live with a childless couple. Anna ends up being a witness to an affair and the consequences of it. The book has received mixed reviews but I can’t wait to read it. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt is a book that I’ve read only positive things about. I don’t read westerns but if this book is half as good as the hype surrounding it and the cover, I know that I’m going to enjoy it.

From my tbr shelves and lists

I love reading stories by and about women so I’m looking forward to The Secret Lives of Bab Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin, Tillie Olsen’s classic short story collection Tell Me a Riddle, and The Girl who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow.

Read-alongs

Have you noticed that some of the best read-alongs are hosted during the summer?Allie over at A Literary Odyssey is hosting a read-along of The Iliad while the lovely Belleza is asking others to join her as she reads Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad that starts May 23rd, which is just a few days away. Atwood is an author that I’m pretty intimdated to read so I think The Penelopiad would be a great start. Of course there’s also my read-along  of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns which will be going on throughout June. There’s also the Woman Warrior (Maxine Hong Kingston) read-along over at Feminist Classics. It seems like this is a book that everyone read in high school – except me. I plan on changing that.

And last but not least, what would a summer be like without re-reading a few favorite books? I first read Beloved by Toni Morrisonduring last year’s Christmas break and it was easily the best book of 2010. I can’t wait to read it all over again along with American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I plan on giving it a dual reading once again: in print and audio. Every time I even think about this book, I wonder if I should change my major back to anthropology.

So that’s a few books that I’m looking forward to reading over my summer break. What books are you looking forward to tackling this summer?

Review: House Arrest by Ellen Meeropol

House Arrest

Ellen Meeropol

201 pages

Pub. Date: Feb. 1, 2011

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Source: Library

I tried to get out of the assignment. Prenatal visits to a prisoner? Okay, house arrest, same difference. I couldn’t believe that I was supposed to take care of a woman whose child died in a cult ritual. What kind of mother could get so involved in an oddball religion that she’d let her baby freeze to death? And what kind of name was Pippa?

Don’t get me wrong. Every patient deserves expert and compassionate care. Even the most despicable criminal. I learned that in nursing school and I believe it, really. Still, this assignment gave me the creeps.

Emily Klein is a home-care nurse assigned to Pippa Glenning, a twenty-something woman who belongs to a cult that worships the Egyptian goddess Isis.  Pippa’s on house arrest while other members are in jail after her daughter and another toddler die during a worship ceremony. At first it seems like the two women are so different but in fact Emily and Pippa are very alike- running away from their past in hopes of never having to face it. Though the two are strangers to each other Pippa is hoping that Emily will help her escape for a few hours to be a part of the next Solstice ceremony. There’s a lot at stake for Emily if she helps – the loss of her nursing license, her job, family, and the chance of possible prison time. But for some unknown reason, Emily is considering helping Pippa.

At just over 200 pages Meeropol packs a lot into this story of two women. There’s the Klan that haunts Pippa’s childhood, the activist parents of Emily’s past that almost killed a man, the politics behind Pippa’s house arrest and the way the local government deals with the crimes against this cult, a niece with spina bifida and much more. With so much going on in the story you think there would be times that the story would become overdramatic. Instead readers get this absorbing story told in a plain straightforward way.

One of my complaints about this story deals with the main character, Emily. As a child her father was sent to prison for burning down a building. Unknowingly there was a janitor inside who was badly burned and almost lost his life. Emily’s mother was the mastermind behind it but her husband took the full blame. Years later both die – one from guilt and the other from the prison’s lack of medical care. On the island that Emily grew up on, she was an outcast. There weren’t many people-children and adult alike-who would let her forget that her father was in prison. Fast forward to the present and Emily was this woman who could be so immature and naive at times.  When her grandfather dies and she needs to go back to the island of her childhood, she’s pouting almost the whole time. This doesn’t seem like the same woman who’s willing to help someone break the law. When she finally makes her decision on whether or not to help Pippa break the law, I couldn’t figure out what helped her to make her decision.

Even with its faults, I think this is a book I would recommend to others. If you have a few free hours and looking for quick but absorbing read, you couldn’t go wrong with House Arrest.

Review: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

David Levithan

The Lover’s Dictionary

211 pages

Publication Date: January 4, 2011

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Source: Library

Exacerbate, v

I believe your exact words were: “You’re getting too emotional.”

The Lover’s Dictionary is a book I’ve wanted to read for months before I was finally able to get my hands on it. I first heard about it last year through a few bloggers. I placed it on my TBR list and waited for what felt like forever to get a copy. Luckily my library came through for me.

The book is the story of two unnamed lovers, how they met, and their relationship through the years. Told through dictionary-like entries, The Lover’s Dictionary is really a breath of fresh air from what readers are used to when it comes to novels and  their structures.

There’s so much to enjoy about this book. First there are the little entries that make up this couple’s relationship. At just 211 pages long, the author is able to tell us just enough about this couple to keep us satisfied.  I love how readers don’t get to know their names, ages, or even what they look like. That’s up to our imaginations. In one of the reviews I read about this book, the blogger loved how even the gender of this couple could be questioned. We don’t know really know if this couple is a same-sex or not. I imagined them as a being a guy and a girl because of a fight that’s mentioned in the book.

One of my favorite entries in the book:

Qualm, n

There is no reason to make fun of me for flossing twice a day.

I highly recommend this book. If you haven’t read Nick and Norah’s Playlist which is also another great book written by  Leviathan which he co-authored with Rachel Coh, I suggest you add that to your tbr list too.

Thoughts: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

Please Look After Mom
Kyung-Sook Shin
Translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim
256 pages
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
Publisher: Knopf
Source: Bought it
It’s been one week since Mom went missing. . .

Park So-nyo is an elderly woman who’s trailing behind her husband in a crowded Seoul subway station when the two become separated as it’s time to board. It should have been a routine trip to the city from the country but turns into a mysterious disappearance as hours turn into days without Park’s return. What follows is a sometimes lazy, other times desperate search for Mom by her husband and five grown children as they reflect on their lives with her.

Usually when an author uses a second-person narrative, I can’t read past the first page.  I often find this point of view gimmicky and too distracting to become engaged in the book. I think it speaks volumes of not only Shin’s talent as a writer but Chi-Young Kim’s talent as a translator that PLAM doesn’t read this way.

There’s so much that I can say to describe PLAM. I can tell you that it’s about family and motherly love. I can also say that it’s about guilt and the role of mothers in any culture. As a mother, I can tell you that being a mom is one of the most rewarding roles that I have ever had but it’s also the most demanding and hardest. There’s no off-days, no breaks, and you’re “on call” for the rest of your life. Shin expertly illustrates how much women sacrifice for their children without children always being aware of it. Park is the mother who sells her wedding ring so that her child can have what they need and who’s constantly working in the fields to make sure her children have enough food to eat. I’ve read reviews about this book that described Park as a martyr and I think that shows how cynical people have become of mothers. A martyr is someone who accepts their suffering which is the opposite of this character. Park doesn’t accept her suffering but gets through it without harming others.

Shin does a beautiful job exploring the life of Park through the eyes of her family and herself. Readers learn about a woman who was slowly becoming sicker the older she became, who had headaches that were so bad she couldn’t cry when she learned that her only sister died. But readers also learn the roles about the family has played in Park’s disappearance: the husband who was so selfish that he refused to acknowledge the growing pain his wife was in; the daughter who’s also a famous writer and her inability to have a conversation with her mom about the places she travelled; or the son who was his mother’s favorite but never did enough for her.

You don’t understand why it took you so long to realize something so obvious. To you, Mom was always Mom. It never occurred to you that she once taken a first step, or had once been three or twelve or twenty years old. Mom was Mom. She was born as Mom. Until you saw her running to your uncle like that, it hadn’t dawned on you that she was a human being who harbored the exact same feeling you had for your own brothers, and this realization led to the awareness that she, too, had had a childhood. From then on, you sometimes thought of Mom as a child, as a girl, as a young woman, as a newlywed, as a mother who had just given birth to you.

Even with such a selfish family, I carried hope with each turned page that Park would be found. I hoped that her family would have a chance to write the wrongs of the past. I believe good writing does that: it makes you carry hope when there is none, it makes you even despair with characters as though they are real. I glanced through the eyes of these children as they saw their mother as a person not just a role and admitted their wrongs while wishing for a second chance.

Told with  tenderness, Please Look at Mom is a story that will have readers exploring their own relationships with their moms.

This review has been crossed-posted at Color Online.

Review: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

Elizabeth Stuckey-French

320 pages

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: February 2011

Source: Publisher

 

By the time Marylou Ahearn finally moved into the little ranch house in Tallahassee, she’d spent countless hours trying to come up with the best way to kill Wilson Spriggs. The only firm decision she’d made, however was that proximity was crucial. You couldn’t kill someone if you lived in a different state. So she flew down from Memphis to Tallahassee and bought a house on the edge of Wilson’s neighborhood.

In her twenties and pregnant with her first child, Marylou Ahearn was unknowingly part of a government experiment to study the effects of radiation. Marylou was one of hundreds of pregnant women who were given radioactive cocktails and told that it was vitamins to keep them healthy. The effects of the cocktails were devastating. Fifty years later and Marylou is finally getting the chance to get revenge on Wilson Spriggs, the doctor in charge of the study. She moves to a different state and the same neighborhood as Spriggs, changes her name, and begins to wreck havoc on the life of Spriggs and his family.

It wasn’t until I was in the middle of the book that I found out that the government study that’s talked about is based on one that really happened in 1940s Tennessee. Hundreds of poor, white, pregnant women were lied to and misled about the cocktails were given. Doctors, nurses, and the government didn’t even think to consider the lives of these women and their unborn children.

The book may sound sad but it’s not. It’s amazing to me how the author was able to take such a serious situation that involves death and revenge and turn it into a hilarious story. Once Marylou moves to Tallahassee where Spriggs and his family are at, she learns that the doctor has Alzheimer’s and is slowly losing his memory. How can you get revenge on your enemy who probably doesn’t even remember what he’s done to you? Marylou decides to get her revenge through his family, a group of oddballs who are dealing with Asperger’s syndrome, menopause, workaholism, and a nuclear breeder reactor. Getting revenge on this family may be harder than she thought.

If you enjoy quirky stories, Southern novels, or just strong female characters, this is a book to pick up.

Review: Someone Else’s Garden by Dipika Rai

Someone Else’s Garden

Dipika Rai

386 pages

Harper Perennial

Source: Publisher

 

“People are defined by what they love and what they hate” starts the story of Lata Bai and her daughter Mamta. Lata Bai lives a life of disappointment. Married to an indentured servant who can’t see a life for himself or his family beyond the farm he has to care for, Lata Bai knows that the only thing she can do is take pleasure in the small things in her life like telling her daughters myths and other stories from her childhood.

At 20 years old and unmarried, Mamta is looked upon by all as being too old for marriage. If she receives any offers of marriage, it wouldn’t matter what her future-husband is like, her father will take it. The author doesn’t shield readers from the harsh lives that mothers and daughters live through. Arraigned marriages are the norm and it’s in a woman’s best interest to produce as many sons as possible or they could be thrown out of their houses so their husbands can get a new wife. It’s not usual for some wives to have fatal cooking “accidents”. Someone’s Else Garden is the story of not just the cruelty of social norms for mothers and daughters but also the love that the two can have for each other.

Rai’s writing is so real that I felt heartbreak when Lata Bai gave Mamta away at her wedding. Often times a mother will never see her daughter again once she’s married. I also felt heartbreak for Mamta who dreamt of having a husband who loves her instead of one who ends up beating her. Rai doesn’t hold back from describing everyday life in rural India but readers are never overwhelmed either.

I think this is an excellent book for readers who want to know more about cultures other than their own. Someone Else’s Garden is a book that took me out of my reading comfort zone and placed me firmly in the shoes of great characters.

Thoughts: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The Weird Sisters

Eleanor Brown

318 pages

Publication Date: January 20, 2011

Publisher: Amy Einhorn

Source: Publisher

 

We came home because we were failures. We wouldn’t admit that, of course, not at first, not to ourselves, and certainly not to anyone else. We said we came home because our mother was ill, because we needed a break, a momentary pause before setting off for the Next Big Thing. But the truth was, we had failed, and rather than let anyone else know, we crafted careful excuses and alibis, and wrapped them around ourselves like a cloak to keep out the cold truth. The first stage: denial.

When I first read this paragraph from Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters, I had to stop and read it again. After reading it the second time, I knew I was in for something different. I was right.

The Weird Sisters is the tale of Cordelia, Bianca, and Rosalind Andreas also known as Cordy, Bean, and Rose. The three sisters grew up in the small college town of Barnwell with their father, a professor of Shakespeare and their mother whose recent diagnosis of breast cancer is the perfect excuse for the girls to tuck in their tails and come back home.

As the oldest sister Rose has never left Barnwell, choosing to stick around in hopes of becoming a tenured professor at the local university though better opportunities are probably awaiting her aboard with her fiancé. Bean, the middle sister, prefers the thrill of New York but after losing her job as well as her dignity, her fantasy has disappeared along with her identity. Youngest sister, Cordy, is their father’s favorite. She’s spent the past ten years traveling around the country, working at dead-end jobs to escape from having to grow up. But something unexpected makes her return home to figure out her life.

The Weird Sisters is about being around the people who know you the best. The people who have seen you at your worst and want you to succeed against all odds even when they doubt you will. Brown has given readers a family that is so authentic that I forgot that they weren’t real. It was a pleasure reading this book, becoming lost in the story of the Andreas sisters and their failures, loves, and triumphs.

This book is the second perfect debut novel that I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a great light read, The Weird Sisters is the book to pick up. I won’t hesitate to read anything else by Eleanor Brown and you shouldn’t either.

Review: The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

The Night Bookmobile

Audrey Niffenegger

40 pages

Publication Date: September 1, 2010

Publisher: Abrams ComicArt

Source: Library copy

After a fight with her boyfriend, Alexandria is walking the streets of Chicago when she finds a bookmobile and Mr. Openshaw. Mr. Openshaw is the librarian of this particular bookmobile which is housed in an old ratty Winnebago. During her first visit, Alexandria realizes that what’s so special about the bookmobile is that it exclusively houses everything she has ever read: from Pat the Bunny which she read as a child to The Complete Stories of H.G. Wells. Over the years, the bookmobile changes with each visit just as Alexandria changes. Now she’s single and a librarian herself but the real job that she desires is to be a librarian for the bookmobile.

I really enjoyed reading this. The Night Bookmobile contains some beautiful passages about reading and being readers.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

After reading this book I wondered how my own bookmobile would look like, what books would fill the shelves. Just the thought of it makes me want to read more, to fill those shelves with more books. I love the imagery that Niffenegger uses and also the questions she ask. In the afterword the author asks “what is it we desire from the hours, weeks, lifetimes we devote to books? ” Alexandria gave up human companionship for books, looking for something that could only be found between pages. I think for each reader the answer is different.

Review: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters

Tatjana Soli

389 pages

Publication Year: 2010

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Source: Publisher

When readers first met American photographer Helen Adams, it’s Vietnam 1975. Adams and her lover, Linh are fleeing Saigon. As they make their way through the city to the American embassy, chaos is all around them. They’re not the only ones fleeing. After making it to the embassy, Helen makes a sudden decision though it may be one that kills her. Before readers can find out what happens, we need to understand Helen’s decision.

Readers are transported twelve years before when Helen arrives in Vietnam as an amateur photographer. Haunted by the death of her younger brother Michael who died the year before in Vietnam, Helen wants to know what the country is like and why are Americans there. She wants to become famous, proving something to herself and those she left behind back home. In her words, “failure is not an option”. Placed in combat zones, Helen thrives with her photos making the cover of magazines all over the world. Falling in love with famed photographer Sam Durrow changes things.

The Lotus Eaters is the debut novel from writer Tatjana Soli but once you read it, you wouldn’t think it was. The characters are believable, there’s a ton of passages you are going to want to underline or note for their beauty, and the setting. . . The setting is so realistic you’ll think you were in Vietnam.

Helen is a great character to follow. She’s filled with doubts about whether or not her photography can help change things, whether she’s becoming the person she wants to be, and her relationship with Darrow then Linh.

Looking around, she wondered how she had gotten there, why she needed this. Such a cliché to expose the war, or even wanting to test oneself against it. Whatever else, the place was a magnet for evil, or had they, Americans, brought it with them, like European colonists brought pox in their blankets to the New World? Nothing she would do, including photographs, could have any effect on it. Such a nunnish urge to find purpose or clarity or even to bring ease. Since she had arrived, she had merely been running from illusion to illusion-by turns obsessed, deluded, needy, full of herself, thinking she had achieved some small understand. . . but not she was simply lonely and tired and confused.

There’s so much that’s explored in this 300+ paged book. Our treatment of one another, the psychological, emotionally, and physical cost of war of those affected by it, cultural differences, grief, and obsession.

The Lotus Eaters is a book that I highly recommend.

Mini-Reviews: Children’s Books

Immi’s Gift

Karin Littlewood

32 pages

Publication Year: October 1, 2010

Publisher: Peachtree

Source: Publisher

Summary: Immi is a young lonely girl living in an icy land. One day as she goes fishing, she finds a little wooden bird. The bird is just one of several mysterious presents that she starts to find and changes her world into a place that is less lonely.

My Thoughts: I thought the book was okay. It didn’t offer anything different or memorable. The illustrations by the author are beautiful, perfectly showing readers Immi’s cold winter world as how it goes from being a place of loneliness to one of comfort and friendship. The colors are brilliant and give young readers pages they can easily look at over and over again.

My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood

Rosemary Wells and Secundino Fernandez

65 pages

Publication Date: August 10, 2010

Publisher: Candlewick

Source: Library

Summary: Secundino “Dino” Fernandez is a young artist who loves his city, Havana. He loves the architecture, the vibrant colors, and its history. As a child, he spends hours drawing Havana over and over again. But at the age of six, his family moves to Spain where everything is different – the food, the culture, even the colors which aren’t vibrant but drab. To get through his homesickness, Dino makes a miniature version of Havana. It helps and eventually, his family moves back to Cuba. But when Fidel Castro takes over the Cuban government, Dino and his family leaves Cuba for good and move to the United States.

Thoughts: I thought this was a great story. I don’t think I’ve read many books about Cuba, so reading My Havana was a great introduction. Wells, Fernandez, and illustrator Peter Ferguson do a great job helping readers to “see” Havana for themselves. My only problem with this book is that I wished this book was at least two hundred pages longer so I could know more about Fernandez’s life in Cuba and Spain.  After reading this book I want to read more books about Cuba.

 

The Horned Toad Prince

Jackie Mims Hopkins

32 pages

Publication Date: September 1, 2010

Publisher: Peachtree

Source: Publisher

SummaryThe Horned Toad Prince is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Set in the southwest, the main character, Reba Jo is a cowgirl who loves lassoing anything she can find. But when she loses her brand new hat in a well, she makes a deal with a horned toad to get it back. But will she stick to her end of the bargain?

My Thoughts: I thought this was a really cute retelling. Reba Jo is a girl with a lot of spunk even though she doesn’t always do what she promised. In the end a deal is a deal, but this ending has a little twist to it. This is a book that young readers will really enjoy.

Review: Flight Vol. 7

Flight Vol. 7

edited by Kazu Kibuishi

284 pages

Publication Date: July 20, 2010

Publisher: Villard

I’ve read the previous six volumes in the Flight series, so it was a no-brainer to check out volume seven from the library. Flight 7 is one of the better volumes in the series but it’s still not better than my favorite which is volume 3. This volume included stories from series veterans like Kean Soo who returned with another “Jellaby” story and Michel Gagné with “The Saga of Rex”, an intergalactic story of a lovable puppy.

One of the great things about the series is that most of the volumes are suitable for young kids to read and entertaining for adults to pick up too. I found this true for volume 7 also. It’s a volume that my kids can easily read and I won’t feel uneasy about it.

Another great thing about the series is the beautiful artwork with each story. I don’t think I’ve ever read one story from this series and hated the artwork. The stories match the artwork beautifully. Some of my favorite stories in this volume include “Premium Cargo” by Kostas Kiriakakis about an airman who steals a very special package and realizes that it’s time to send it back. It’s definitely a tear-jerker that left me wanting to know more about the characters.

Click to enlarge the image.

Cory Godbey’s “Onere and Piccola” is a mythology story about love that is so beautiful.

Click to enlarge picture.

So if you haven’t read any of the volumes from this series, what are you waiting for? Each volume is a stand-alone so you don’t have to worry about reading them in order. The Flight series is one of the best graphic anthologies you can read. Highly recommended.

Review: Bookhunter by Jason Shiga

  • Bookhunter
  • Jason Shiga
  • 144 pages
  • Publication Date: May 2007
  • Publisher: Sparkplug Comics
  • Source: Library

 

 

The year: 1973.

The place: Oakland, California.

Special Agent Bay is a detective for the Library Police. Chasing down bad guys, finding priceless books, and arresting people who steal library books is all just part of the job. But when he’s called to the scene of a thief at Oakland Main Library, the case may be too hard even for him to solve.

I really enjoyed this book. Bookhunter is definitely a book geared toward librarians and anyone’s interested in libraries. There’s a lot of technical terms in the book about bookmaking, cataloging and other things. I wasn’t used to the terms and became a little bogged down in them, but they’re pretty important for the story.

(click on the picture to enlarge)

I loved the concept of a library police that’s dedicated to book thief and other book-related crimes, especially now as libraries all over the country are dealing with budget cuts. For a graphic novel about libraries, there’s a lot of action and it was so much fun to read.

I highly recommend this book.

Thankfully Reading Weekend

It’s that time of the year again! Time for  Thankfully Reading Weekend which is hosted by Jen from Devourer of Books, Candace from Beth Fish Reads, and Jenn from Jenn’s Bookshelves. The event officially starts this Friday but since the only homework that I have is to read a few articles and poems, I decided to start today!  I have a stack of books lined up for this week. I wanted to do something a little different, so instead of just showing you my stack I want to also give you an excerpt from one of the books I’m reading.

 

The Weird Sisters

Eleanor Brown

Publication Date: January 20, 2011

We came home because we were failures. We wouldn’t admit that, of course, not at first, not to ourselves, and certainly not to anyone else. We said we came home because our mother was ill, because we needed a break, a momentary pause before setting off for the Next Big Thing. But the truth was, we had failed, and rather than let anyone else know, we crafted careful excuses and alibis, and wrapped them around ourselves like a cloak to keep out the cold truth.

Isn’t that a great excerpt? Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Mini-Reviews: I Kill Giants, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Life of Pi, and Read Remember Recommend

Life of Pi

Yann Martel

Publisher: Harcourt

Source: Personal library

I picked this up because it’s required reading for my Philosophy of Religion class. This is a wonderful story about a young boy, Pi Patel, who’s stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker after the ship he was on with his family sunk. There’s a lot in the book about religion, life, and God which was a perfect fit for my class. It’s not a book for everyone but I thought it was a great read.
 
 
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Aimee Bender
Publisher: Doubleday
Source: Personal library
 
What if you had the ability to know what people felt by tasting the food they made? That’s the question behind the story of Rose and her amazing ability. Rose is nine years old when she discovers her gift but at the time it doesn’t feel that way. With an emotionally detached father, an unhappy mother, and a older brother named Joseph who prefers not to have any part in the world, Rose doesn’t know what to do or how to cope with this new abilities. Bender gives readers a great coming-of-age tale about love and loss. I highly recommend this book for readers who love magical realism. It’s also a great companion read to Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, which features a protagonist with a similar ability.
 
Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens: A Reading Journal for Book Lovers
Rachelle Rogers Knight
Publisher: Source Books
Source: Publisher
 
I thought this was a great book for teens who really love to read. Read, Remember, Recommend is divided into several parts featuring awards and notable lists, a place to write down recommendations and tbr lists along with everything you’ve read. My favorite part of the book was the awards and notable lists because it featured the lists of winners from such diverse awards like the Eisner Award to the American Indian Youth Services Literature Award.
 
 
I Kill Giants
Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura
Publisher: Image Comics
Source: Personal Library
 
I Kill Giants is probably my favorite graphic novel of the year. Barbara is a young teen girl obsessed with killing giants. A girl who’s practically friendless, Barbara spends her time playing fantasy games and ignoring the growing dysfunction in her home. But when a new girl named Sophia wants to be friends with Barbara, it starts a chain of events that change everyone involved. What I love about this book is how it deals with grief and love. I highly recommend it.

Review: Revenge by Taslima Nasrin

Revenge

Taslima Nasrin

Translated from the Bengali by Honor Moore

176 pages

Publication Date: September 7, 2010

Publisher: The Feminist Press

Source: Personal library

Jhumur is a young physics student living in Bangladesh when she meets Haroon, a businessman of the same age. In Haroon, Jhumur thinks she’s found everything she’s looking for and marries for love. Once she becomes his wife, life changes drastically. No longer can Jhumur work or leave the house unaccompanied, she must wear a head scarf at all times, and is expected to be the perfect bou: daughter-in-law. When Jhumur becomes pregnant, it’s a dream come true. That is until Haroon tells her that her unborn child couldn’t be his. Shocked by this revelation and unable to get her husband to believe her, Jhumur starts to plot her revenge with a neighbor who’s unaware that he’s the key to Jhumur’s revenge.

After I read the book’s synopsis, I thought Revenge could be a really interesting read and it was. Jhumur is a girl with hopes and dreams of being a physicist. Raised in a somewhat non-traditional family, Jhumur had parents who gave her freedom that is usually given only to men. She was encouraged to stick up for herself, fight if she had to, dive into whatever career that she wanted, and marry for love instead of money. But when Jhumur marries Haroon, all of that goes out the window. She isn’t content to stay at home and care for her husband’s family, but she doesn’t think about not going against her husband’s wishes and stay an individual. One of the great things about this book was the peak into Bangladeshi culture readers are given. Without it, I don’t think we would have been able to understand why Jhumur didn’t get a divorce (which would have labeled her an outcast), and instead plotted a revenge in the only way she could in her culture.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

He was utterly impervious to the fact that he violated me. He had shattered my dreams and destroyed my belief in love, which was my only excuse for marrying into a situation in which all that my life and education had prepared me for was wasted! Instead of taking a job in a physics lab, I took care of my in-laws. I had dreamed of a happy married life that would not deprive me of individual freedom that respected differences, allowed contradiction-a venture built on trust, sympathy, honesty, and compassion. How naïve I had been! How blinded by desire! How stupid not to have asked ahead of time what Haroon’s dream of marriage was! Yet even in the midst of these thoughts, I was feeling a bit sorry for him.

Readers see a change with Jhumur after she starts going through with her revenge. It’s not a change for the better and she becomes cold and calculating, very different from who she is in the beginning of the book or when she’s around her best friend or new neighbor. The change was interesting to read about and it pushed me to read to the end. For such a small book, it packs a punch that leaves readers thinking about women and the roles that a society wants women to fit into – usually perfectly, without the thought of the consequences behind those roles.

Highly recommended.

Review: Bone: Tall Tales by Jeff Smith

Bone: Tall Tales

Jeff Smith and Tom Sniegeski

128 pages

Publication Date: August 1, 2010

Publisher: Scholastic

Source: Personal Library

 

Bone: Tall Tales is a collection of tales about a larger than life ancestor of the Bone cousins from the Bone series. Big Johnson Bone is a guy who isn’t afraid of anything but sitting still. In the stories Big Johnson goes on one adventure after another fighting the personification of winter, rat creatures and more. The tales are humorous with plenty of outrageous twists to keep readers entertained. Any specific details about the plot and I’ll just spoil the stories.

Bone: Tall Tales is not another volume in the Bone series but a companion book. These stories don’t have any of the darkness that the series has, so I think it’s a perfect read for children who haven’t read the series yet. I also think that fans of the series will enjoy this book though it’s not as great the series.

Readers of the Bone series shouldn’t pass this companion book up.

 

Review: Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon

Zora and Me

  • Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
  • 192 pages
  • Publication Date: October 12, 2010
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • Source: Personal Library

Young Zora Neale Hurston can spin a story in a way that no one else can. Whether she’s talking about the pine tree that she loves so much or about gators that can turn into men, once you hear Zora’s stories the world looks different. Zora has a passion for storytelling and a curiosity to know all that she can. With best friends Carrie and Teddy, Zora explores their hometown of Eatonville, Florida which is the first all-black town to be incorporated. Things take a sinister turn when a body is found on the railroad tracks beheaded. Zora thinks she knows who committed the murder but what adult will believe her story of shape-shifting men?

What I really liked about this book is that the many storylines that are introduced in various parts of the story feel so authentic and blend together easily. There’s Zora and her stories, her best friend Carrie and her grief at the father who has abandoned his family, the murder of a drifter, the issues of passing and racism, along with figuring out who you really are in a world that wants you to stay in your place.

Zora’s curiosity about the world outside of Eatonville is something her mother understands. Her father wants her to stay in her “place” as a girl and an African-American. He thinks because she isn’t white, she doesn’t have a right to want the things that she desires. But Zora isn’t happy with that and in a suspenseful moment, she sticks up for herself even when the consequences could be painful.

Walking home later, I thought about the difference between a mama’s girl and a daddy’s girl. I decided that a daughter who belongs to her daddy expects gifts, while a daughter who belongs to her mama expects a lot more. Not from her mama. From herself.

My only complaint about this book is that it wasn’t enough description for me. I wanted to know exactly what Eatonville and the characters looked like. Other than that, I found Zora and Me to be a great read. Highly recommended.

Other reviews:

Review: Too Late by Clem Martini

Too Late
Clem Martini
57 pages
Publisher: Annick Press
Source: Publisher
YA fiction

 

Everything I touch is dust, everything I touch crumbles, everything I do goes wrong.

In a story that’s only fifty-seven pages long, Clem Martini gives readers a story that is heartfelt, powerful, and like all good stories, observes the complexity of life by asking hard questions and giving no easy answers. A young boy is living in a facility for young offenders. Readers don’t know why or how this child is sent there. As the story unfolds we learn that the young boy is Greg, fifteen-years old, and sent to a facility for underage sex offenders after having sexually assaulted his stepsister. After a mentally draining meeting with counselors, his mom and stepdad, Greg runs away from camp.

This may sound like a depressing book but it’s really not. It is sad. The author asks a lot of hard questions that readers need to think about. Until this book, I didn’t think about what happens to these kids after they have committed a horrendous act at such a young age. Or what causes them to commit these acts to start with.

During the group therapy sessions that Greg has to attend, readers learn the stories of some of the other kids there and the abuse they suffered by family members. Readers learn about the sexual abuse that Greg himself endures as a child, his relationship with his family, and how Greg comes to be who he is and why he did what he did. Learning the stories of those who committed such horrible acts doesn’t take away any of the pain that their victims suffer or lessen the horror of the abuse. But this story can start a dialogue about sexual abuse and youth offenders.

Highly recommended.

 

Sunday Salon: What are your three books?

Good morning! Right now I’m sitting at my desk with a hot cup of coffee and enjoying the start of my day even though it’s still dark outside. My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow so I’m spending the next two days running around getting her tea party and presents ready. But for now I’m relaxing before the chaos starts.

As you all know I’m a college student. Next year I plan on transferring to the college of my dreams (there’s six colleges on my list!).  I’ve been spending time every week researching different colleges, application deadlines, and also the personal essay statements or required critical essay. One essay statement stood out more than the others. It asks for students to look back on their reading for the past few years and pick the three best books. Three.

Though it’s a hard question, I was so excited. A book-related question! I started compiling a huge list of possible titles to write about: Persepolis, Wit by Margaret Edson, the Fable series by Bill Willingham, and more. I started thinking about titles I could write about that might impress the admission committee but I changed my mind. I love discussing books especially those that aren’t well-known. I decided to just be me and discuss the books that I really love.  I still haven’t picked three books but my list is down to four: Bayou by Jeremy Love which is a graphic novel, Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama a few years ago, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I really think these are the four best books I’ve read in the past few years, books that have stayed with me and that I still think about months after reading them. I’ll probably spend the next few months reading these four over and over again as I write my essay.

My question for you: What are the three best books that you’ve read in the past few years? I know that’s a hard question but I’m curious to see which books you would pick. Can you pare it down to just three books?