Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, Romance, YA

Five Minute Book Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, ApproximatelySometimes one needs to relax and unwind and be carried away on a light breeze of someone else’s problems–someone else’s not-too-big-to-be-overcome problems, that is. For me, this is what a perfect escapist read is: good writing, good story, minor issues and a tidy little ending. I use these kind of stories for palate cleansers in between heavier books and for days where I don’t want to be disturbed or sad (birthdays, holidays, vacation). So when I read about  Alex, Approximately in several review journals, where it received lots of good reviews, I mentally filed it away for a day that I would need it.

That day, it turned out, was this past Saturday, during my Birthday weekend. It was a warm and sunny day, one of the few we’ve had this season, and I just wanted to relax on the porch with a book. Alex, Approximately, turned out to be the icing on this relaxing cake of a day. Described as a kind of YA version of You Got Mail, this delightful teenage romp follows 17-year old Bailey “Mink” Rydell, as she moves across the country to live with her Dad in an idyllic California coastal town. Bailey is a classic movie buff and has made online friends with a fellow movie buff named “Alex,” who also happens to live in this idyllic coastal town. Unsure whether she is ready to tell this online person that she has moved close by,  the guarded and (literally, it turns out) gunshy Bailey decides to scope him out in person before revealing herself as his online friend. He could be a creep for all she knows! As you can imagine, hijinx ensue as Bailey quickly falls for her cocky, handsome surfer boy coworker.  I’ll let you fill in the You’ve Got Mail parallels for yourself.

I fully expected the usual romantic comedy plot line of meet cute, misunderstanding/breakup, resolution/reunion. While some of the usual tropes exist in this sweet story, it features an edge and a depth that I didn’t expect. Both Bailey and her love interest have a traumatic experience in their past that keeps them from being completely straight forward with each other and others. And a troubled local teen with a serious drug problem frequently shows up to bring real menace to their otherwise idyllic life. Still, Bennett has written an entirely pleasurable story that will keep you interested, invested and most importantly, distracted. I was sad to see it end!

Prescribed for: Anyone in need of a sweet pick-me-up of a story who doesn’t mind teen drama and perspectives. And all YA fans.

Posted in Inbox / Outbox

Inbox/Outbox: My Week in Reading / Listening / Watching

It’s been a full few weeks of work, family life, and of course, reading, listening, and, occasionally, when I can sneak it in, watching!  I’ve decided to start including blurbs about my favorite podcasts, music, movies and TV because they tend to compliment what I’m reading.

OUTBOX: Just Finished.

Simon vs the homosapiens agendaAudiobook: Simon Vs. The Homosapien’s Agenda by Becky Albertalli. Read by Michael Crouch.

I just loved this story so damn much. It’s hard to convey the way I felt these characters in my heart, but I’ll try. Fifteen-year old Simon Spier has been exchanging emails with a mysterious boy called “Blue,” whom he met through his school’s Tumblr page. Their true identities are unknown to each other, but they confide their deepest fears and concerns and eventually, their feelings for each other. Both are gay but not out to anyone but each other… until Simon slips up and leaves his email open one day, and a classmate who sees his emails with Blue threatens to out him unless Simon helps him get closer to a girl he likes. The friendships and characters in this book are so well drawn and so emotionally satisfying. I love Simon’s relationship with his family, his friends. I love how he relies so heavily on music to get him through the rougher patches of his life. The whole experience of listening to this audiobook was like watching a John Hughes movie. Wonderful wonderful wonderful.  And it is being made into a movie as we speak! So excited.

big little lies tvTV Show: Big Little Lies on HBO.

This was definitely worth the wait. Although there were a few changes to the story that I had trouble with (Madeline’s affair), I was ultimately very satisfied. Each character was perfectly cast and every single woman involved gave an amazing performance. The men were alright, too. Everyone has been talking about how great Nicole Kidman was in her portrayal of Celeste, and it’s true, she was sensational. But I would just like to point out that Nicole Kidman has ALWAYS been sensational. Did you see The Hours? I mean, come on. She takes on such a wide variety of interesting characters and refuses to be type cast. I really admire that. Anyway, Big Little Lies was great! I’m sad it’s over.

Books: I was swamped with a box of books to review for The Horn Book Guide and didn’t get in much pleasure reading for the past few weeks.

INBOX: Currently Reading / Listening

princess xI am Princess X by Cherie Priest.

I kept coming across this book at the library and was very curious about it based on the cool cover. When I finally picked it up and brought it home, I realized that the story was just as cool and unique. After sitting out gym class together in 5th grade, two girls become best friends and co creators of an imaginary character named Princess X. Libby draws the pictures and May tells the stories. Then Libby dies in a tragic car accident, and May is left sad, lonely, and an outcast once again. Then one day, a few years after the accident, Libby starts noticing Princess X stickers all around Seattle, where she spends summers with her dad. Then she finds a website: http://www.IamPrincessX.com, on which an elaborate web comic has been written…one that begins with the story of a girl who seems to die in a tragic car accident but has actually been captured by a deranged man. May is transfixed with curiosity and hope. Could Libby be alive? With the help of a teenage computer hacker who lives in her building, she dives head first into an absorbing mystery and search for her lost best friend.

This story is utterly original and compelling. Readers get May’s narrative as well as full panels of the I am Princess X web comic. I’m halfway through and desperate to have more time to read…

Podcast: S-Town

I finally gave in and started listening to S-Town, the hot new podcast from the creators of Serial and This American Life. Everyone is talking about this podcast right now, and I decided I needed to jump on it while I was in between audiobooks, before someone spoiled the ending for me. I can’t say much of what it’s about without giving away too much already. I’m three episodes in (there are 7), and it feels like a modern day Flannery O’Connor story crossed with William Faulkner. A southern gothic tale filled with (mostly) unsavory characters and mysteries.

Up Next

Books: So many books. So little time. Seriously, it’s a problem. I have several ARCs that I’ve been approved for through Edelweiss, that I really need to read. They include I Liked my Life by Abby Fabiaschi, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. So many!!! We are going on vacation for four days next week. It will be a glorious weekend on the beach in Florida (hopefully) with my whole extended family present. I’m bringing along a loaded Kindle and hoping to power through a lot of those books.

TV Shows: I’m going to finish up The Crown on Netflix, which we watched half of and start 13 Reasons Why, also on Netflix, which is an adaptation of one of the very first YA novels I ever read.

And that’s me! What about you? Please tell me what you’re reading and watching. I really want to know.

 

Posted in Inbox / Outbox

Inbox/Outbox : My Week in Reading

I had another busy week, and then I had a cold, and well, I am so lazy when I have a cold. I didn’t do a whole lot of writing, but I did keep reading. Here are the books I am currently reading (Inbox)  and the books I just finished (Outbox). And thanks to Book Riot for giving me the idea for this column.

Currently Reading (Inbox)

See you in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng 

see you in the cosmosHonestly, when I first started reading this, I found the voice of the 11-year old narrator a bit precious and I almost abandoned the book. I persisted, however, and MC Alex grew on me. The story follows Alex as he and his dog, Carl Sagan, travel to a rocket launching festival. Inspired by his hero Sagan, Alex has been using his ipod to record and capture information about life on earth  to send to other life forms through his rocket. More than a few surprises and changes of plan occur as Alex forges a makeshift family for himself wherever he goes. I have a few quibbles, mostly surrounding the intended audience, but overall, I am enjoying it. More later.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tabir 

ember in the ashesI have been waiting for this audiobook from the library for months! It is finally here, and I can’t wait to start listening. I have heard from several sources that the audio, in particular, is really well done.One devoted audiobook listener even referred to it as her “favorite audiobook ever. ” I will keep you posted! I’m starting this on my work commute tomorrow.

 

 

Books Finished (Outbox)

My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

my diary from the edge of the worldGracie Lockwood lives in the world we know, except for one thing. And warning: it’s a big thing: Mythical creatures like dragons, mermaids, ghosts, and sasquatches exist. Dragons are migratory creatures that fly south every year, disrupting the life of everyone on Earth to the point where vast underground tunnels and travel systems have been built so that people can function when the dragons are moving. This is just one of the fascinating and fun to read details provided by Jodi Lynn Anderson. In this alternate world, black clouds come for people when they die. When a black cloud shows up on Gracie’s street, and it becomes apparent that it’s headed their way, Gracie’s family decides to run. But can anyone really outrun a  black cloud?

I really loved this book. The plot is ambitious and not without its problems, but it was so fun to read and emotionally resonant. I highly recommend it.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

big little liesYes, I know. Everyone and their mother has read this book. I was one of the last to pick it up! My opinion? So much fun. The story centers around a group of mums in a small, idyllic beach community in Australia and the tension caused when one kid accuses another of strangling her on the first day of school.

Liane Moriarty has a real gift for effortless, juicy prose and well drawn characters. I completely understand her appeal. Definitely worth reading!

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

What she KnewI don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I keep choosing mystery/thriller titles that seem to center around missing children. This is the third missing kid book I have read in a year. Single mum Rachel lets her son run ahead of her a bit on their regular walk in the woods and he disappears. We get her perspective as well as a detective’s who is assigned to the case.

I listened to this one on audio and, though I hate the sensationalistic title, I thought it was very well done. Two different readers (both English) read the two main perspectives in the story and it moved along very quickly. I even spent a few hours ignoring my family this weekend so I could finish it!

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
Tuesdays at the CastleI was first drawn to this book because of the beautiful, appealing cover. In paperback, it is one of those smooth, glossy covers that I find irresistible. (I know: Nerd Alert!)  I assumed it was a great pick for the K-2 set, but was delighted to find that it was actually much more complicated. Princess Celie lives in an enchanted castle with a mind of its own: every Tuesday, it grows new rooms or a new staircase, sometimes even a new wing. When Celie and her siblings suddenly find themselves threatened by usurpers, Celie must use her extensive knowledge of the castle to save everyone. Lots of fun and a great choice for young fans of palace intrigue and smart, strong female heroines.

That’s me. What about you? What are you reading?

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, YA

5-Minute Book Prescription: #ProtectTransKids or, Try a Little Empathy

When it comes to the experience of Transgender kids and which bathroom they should be allowed to use, I often hear people say, in an exasperated way, “What is the big deal with bathrooms, anyway? ” and “I don’t care if someone’s trans, I’m just tired of it being in my face all the time.”  In addition to making me grit my teeth, and clench my fists behind my back, this kind of sentiment crushes my soul a little bit. Folks, the issue is so much bigger than bathrooms. The bathroom thing is really just a symbol for a larger movement toward acceptance and understanding.

I get that it can be hard to understand the transgender experience, especially if you don’t know anyone who is transgender or gender fluid. But why not try to understand?  Books, as I’m sure you expected me to say, are an amazing resource for encouraging understanding. What better way to understand the trans worldview, than by walking in their (literary) shoes?   Here are two GREAT reads, aimed at younger readers but very accessible to adults, about being transgender.

George by Alex Gino

31ff9qjnbnl-_sx329_bo1204203200_When the world looks at George, they see a boy. But in her heart, George knows that she is a girl. She has kept this painful secret for a long time, but when her teacher tells the class that they will be doing a production of Charlotte’s Web, George is determined to play Charlotte. Her teacher tells her she cannot try out for the part, because she is a boy. George and her best friend Kelly, hatch a plan to show the class who George really is.

A very sweet, honest look into the mind and heart of a transgender kid. An ideal introduction to a different life experience for elementary-aged kids and grown ups  alike.

If I was Your Girl  by Meredith Russo
if-i-was-your-girlAmanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Fleeing a violent attack in her hometown, Amanda has come to live with her previously estranged father. With the fresh start, she quickly makes friends and attracts the attention of a few boys, one of whom she immediately falls for. But Amanda has a secret and she is terrified of the violence and hatred that might happen if it comes out: At her old school, Amanda was Andrew.

This is such a beautifully written, suspenseful love story. I really, really loved it. Highly recommended.

Prescription: These two books are essential reads for anyone struggling to understand what the “big deal” is with transgender bathroom rights. Or for anyone curious about what life is like for a transgender person, particularly a child or young adult.

 

 

 

Posted in Read and Resist

Resist and Read

There is so much to be angry about right now. As President Trump methodically guts the nation,  it feels hard to go about ordinary life without, I don’t know, doing something! There are lots of guides out right now providing instructions, including this one, at Daily Action, where you can sign via text to receive relatively simple instructions for one action item per day against the Trump agenda.

For those quieter moments in your life, when you are ready to read and reflect, or you are looking for ways to share information with your kids, consider some of these excellent book lists:

Children’s Picture Books about Protest and Civil Disobedience. 

Erica over at What We Do All Day provides tons of wonderful book lists for kids, from picture books all the way up to chapter books. I use these daily in my job as a librarian and when I’m looking for inspiration for my kids. She has several great lists including books about Peace, books to inspire kids to change the world and books about kindness. Her index of book lists is a treasure to have in your back pocket.

 

The folks at Book Riot can always be counted on to come through with a good list. (Full disclosure: I also write for Book Riot!) . The lists below have already come in handy for me. Remember to watch their page for more great lists to get you through the next four years.

Short reads on Race and Activism 

Must Read Immigration Stories by Latinos 

Books to Help get you through a Trump Presidency 

 

 

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions

Five Minute Book Prescription: Something In Between by Melissa De La Cruz

something-in-betweenWith the recent actions on immigration by President He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, I keep thinking about Something in Between,  Melissa De La Cruz’s excellent and timely novel about an overachieving high school senior who discovers that her family is undocumented. Eighteen-year old Jasmine de los Santos has worked  hard throughout her school career to ensure that she will get into the  best college.  A nearly perfect student and the captain of her cheerleading team, Jasmine wins a coveted national scholarship and can’t wait to share the news of her achievement with her Filipino immigrant parents. Only, they seem less than pleased to hear the news. In fact, they seem crushed. Turns out, Jasmine and her entire family are undocumented. Her parents came to the U.S. with legit work visas, but did not leave when they expired. Jasmine has no social security number and is therefore unable to redeem her scholarship.

What’s worse, her family is in imminent danger of being deported if they are discovered, or if her father gets pulled over while driving. Jasmine is in shock. And to top it all off, she has just met a cute new boy whose father  happens to be a Republican Congressman dead set on crushing an immigration bill that would give her family a path to citizenship.

With all of these these things swirling around, Jasmine is forced to re-examine her life and goals. She must decide what steps to take and how to take them. Melissa De La Cruz does has written an excellent character in Jasmine, whose thoughtful, compassionate and level headed decisions make her sympathetic, relatable and admirable. De La Cruz expertly balances the drama of a teen romance with the practical concerns of a family in crisis.

A great read for anyone interested in, or even going through an immigration crisis of their own. Would also make a great read for someone who lacks sympathy and understanding of the plight many illegal immigrants with families. The Trump administration has a tendency to paint “illegal immigrants” as dangerous criminals, which is completely untrue and dangerous. Something in Between does a fabulous job of portraying a complex and difficult reality that many families are facing right now. Highly recommended.

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions

Five Minute Book Review: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

accident-seasonI started reading this book from my library’s digital audiobook collection mostly because it was immediately available and I needed something to listen to right away! Turns out, it is a story that hits so many of my literary sweet spots. Read by excellent Irish narrator Colbie Minifie, this eerie story follows the lives of one family who, every October, are mysteriously afflicted with what they call “the accident season,” in which family members are subject to injury and disaster. From minor bumps and bruises to fatal car accidents, the accident season wreaks havoc physically and psychologically.  This year, 17-year old Cara is particularly anxious as she investigates why a missing classmate has been showing up in the background of every photograph she takes with her phone. Dark family secrets and clues to the origin of the accident season will rise to the surface. Spooky, atmospheric and overflowing with lush prose, this book will transport you to the cobblestone streets of Dublin, broken down houses in the countryside, and the chilling quiet of an Irish forest. Fanastic!