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 Five Minute Book Prescriptions

Five Minute Book Prescription: All we Have Left by Wendy Mills

all-we-have-leftThere are several new books for young people out about September 11 this year. Incredibly, this is the 15th anniversary of that terrible day. The significance of what happened that day is different for kids, who weren’t yet born but have grown up in the world it created. Wendy Mills’  All We Have Left is a sad, intense and action-packed read for kids about September 11. The story is engagingly told through a split narrative.

In 2001, 16 year old Muslim teenager Alia lives in New York City, where she dreams of being a comic book artist. Proud of her faith, but unsure whether or not she will wear the hijab (her mother chooses not to and has left the choice up to her), Alia struggles with being herself  and balancing both her parents expectations and desires for her and her own hopes and dreams. In other words, she is a typical teenager girl.  Until September 11. After an argument with her parents, Alia impulsively decides to visit her father at work, where she can talk to him more. His work? Inside an office near the top of the twin towers.

In 2016, Jesse is a troubled teenager girl whose brother died in the attacks on September 11.Maddeningly, his family has no idea what he was doing in the towers that day. Since his death, when Jesse was only a toddler, her family has been slowly unraveling. Her father drinks too much and yells at the news on TV, distorted with rage and pain over the loss of his son. Her mother soldiers on, seemingly oblivious to the disorder at home and frustratingly absent when Jesse needs her the most. Jesse gets wrapped up with a group of hateful kids who spend their evenings tagging local businesses and landmarks around town. After a split second decision to help them deface a new Muslim Peace Center in town, Jesse finds herself in BIG TROUBLE.

And so the story goes. Alternating chapters tell of Alia’s harrowing experience inside one of the towers on the day of the attack and Jesse’s rapidly disintegrating home life and fallout from a foolish act. At the center of the story is a mystery. As she fights her way out of the towers, Alia has a companion, a blonde, blue eyed boy who just happens to be Jesse’s lost brother.  What was he doing there ? Will Alia make it out alive? Or will she die along with Jesse’s brother?

This was a truly great read that really picks up in pace as you read it. In the beginning, it feels a lot like any other teen story. The setting and the problems are familiar. But as the action unfolds and the characters’ backgrounds are revealed, you will find yourself more and more invested. Wendy Mills does a wonderful, sensitive and nuanced job of portraying a difficult subject matter. You will feel for Jesse, despite her poor decision making and Mills does a fantastic job exploring her confused, complicated emotions about September 11 and what might make a young person participate in a racist act. Similarly, Alia is an incredible likable character who you will love spending time with . It was a pleasure to read about some of the customs and beliefs of  Islam through her wonder-filled voice.

I started the book late Friday night and finished it Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and a good cry.  Despite the teen protagonists, the language and interaction between them is mild, making this a perfect read for middle school and up.

Prescription: A worthy addition to the growing canon of 9/11 literature and a story that kids will relate to. With all of the anger-fueled hate and misunderstanding still broiling in this country, All We Have Left, feels powerful and relevant.