Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

 Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

My kid read this as a classroom read in 4th grade and said I would like it too. 

And I did! 

It’s pretty quick and surface-level in terms of characters, but I think that works for younger readers because they focus more on the differences between people initially, then the commonalities to learn the lesson of the book. 

I think it’s a great book to help kids remember to be kind to everyone. It's really relatable because it shows the two main characters both at home and at school, putting them in positions children will be able to relate to.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Charlotte Illes Is Not A Detective by Katie Siegel

Charlotte Illes Is Not A Detective by Katie Siegel

I started this book thinking it was by Katey Sagal for some reason?! It's not, but I still enjoyed it.

I was hooked with the initial premise of a child detective grown up. I loved Encyclopedia Brown and other detectives and spies when I was younger, so I thought this would give the same satisfaction.

While I did finish the book - and feel compelled to finish it based on the story - I don't think the case was enough to carry this long of a novel. Though I also thought the book was too long - lots of filler conversations between the friends and brother that felt either pointless or like an info dump. So maybe a shorter book to solve this case, or a different/more cases for a book this length? The second book is already in the works so it'll be interesting to see how that one is. Honestly, if the case as it was first presented (with the notes) carried throughout the book, I think it would have been a lot better. I understand why that clue was handled as it was, but think the author could have easily done something else to still make that same point.

I don't watch the author's TikToks so I'm not sure how this character comes off on screen, but I thought she was pretty believable on the page. Overall, I liked the book enough to see what happens next, thanks to a nice (yet low stakes) cliffhanger.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Brutally Honest by Melanie Brown

 HAPPY BIRTHDAY MEL B! Now let's talk about your book.

I recently got on a Spice Girls kick after listening to their albums, remembering how amazing they were, and realizing I’ve never read any of their memoirs! Mel B had me tearing up from the first page with her honesty about her marriage, insecurities, and struggle to overcome everything. She said it was hard to act like an empowered woman with this happening behind the scenes but I think sharing it now makes her more empowered and relatable than ever before.

It jumps around a lot and in some places is difficult to follow the thread. I kept having to google some of her relationships to grasp the timeline and files the stories from the book into the right place. However, she's open about ADHD and Paris Hilton was the same in her memoir, so I can appreciate the authenticity of feeling like you're getting inside the people's minds.

Selfishly, I wanted a lot more information about the Spice Girls days, but this is Mel B's book and it focuses more on her personal life and relationships, especially her abusive marriage. I just need to get my hands on Catch a Fire from 2003 which apparently covers her early fame.

Still, this was a compelling read and I can't wait to find her earlier book, along with others by Spice Girls.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

So as Not to Die Alone by Lisa Johnson Mitchell

 The book club I run with two friends focuses on short fiction - typically flash fiction in chapbook or novella-in-flash form. These books come from independent presses, so it's basically the opposite of the big-name children's/YA/adult books I share on this blog. However, I love shining a spotlight on good writing no matter what form it's in. And if I help other people discover flash, small presses, or specific authors, then YAY! Win-win!

Since I love this form, I like to write reviews of the books to help spread the word. This month, I reviewed So as Not to Die Alone by Lisa Johnson Mitchell.

In So as Not to Die Alone, Lisa Johnson Mitchell shares stories of people yearning for a human connection to, arguably, not die alone. The stories are filled with quirky characters who are off-putting yet endearing and full of potential. 

The characters show the author’s skill in capturing the complexities of the human experience with compassion. Each person is portrayed with depth and subtlety as they carry their own burdens, allowing readers to empathize with their struggles and root for them despite their flaws. 

Friday, May 17, 2024

Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth

 Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth

Over the past few months, I've been re-reading Sally Hepworth's books. I first read her more literary novels when they came out in 2015 and 2016. I really loved how she handled realistic topics and wrote so eloquently. She pulled at my heartstrings without trying to be overly emotional.

Some of her later books veered into domestic thriller territory, which is fine! I love those books too. But I usually love the stories in those books more than the writing style, and I did feel like Hepworth's writing changed accordingly for that market. I still read each of her books because I'm a fangirl, but they didn't hit me the same way her earlier work did.

The truth is, I'll never turn down a Sally Hepworth book, even though I've rated two of them (The Family Next Door and The Younger Wife) as two stars (after her first three being solid five star reads in my opinion). So when I saw Darling Girls at the library, I knew I'd read it.

I feel like this is getting back to her literary roots. There's still a fair amount of suspense, but it's more of a buried mystery than current danger. The story is told between four points of view - three foster sisters and another person who is revealed later. I think the mystery was woven into the story really well and the resolution was satisfying and realistic.

You can read my reviews of Hepworth's other books on Goodreads.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston

First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston

My mom got this book from the library and said she read 3/4 of it in one day. I feel like I've been in a reading slump since the new year, so I was definitely in the mood for a book I couldn't put down.

And this really delivered! It's something I would call a cozy thriller, in that it doesn't really mess with my emotions but the suspense does keep me turning pages. (Okay, is there really a sub-genre called cozy thrillers? I love me some cozy mysteries but I won't lie - some of these thrillers almost give me a heart attack because they're so over-the-top. I want the suspense but I don't want to put my health at risk.)

In all seriousness, I call it that because I didn't really care about the main character. She was interesting and unique and I had no clue what her backstory was or what she would do next, but I wasn't invested in her survival. She was somewhat flat, and I mean that in a good way! I didn't want to care about her - I just wanted her to entertain me.

And she did. I read this book on Sunday, start to finish, and I genuinely had no idea how it would end. I call that a job well done.

With that said, I feel like trying to explain the story would either confuse you or give it away, so I'd suggest reading the blurb and seeing if it strikes your fancy. And if it does, comment so we can talk about it because I got lots of thoughts!

Friday, April 19, 2024

Gridlock by Brett Biebel

The book club I run with two friends focuses on short fiction - typically flash fiction in chapbook or novella-in-flash form. These books come from independent presses, so it's basically the opposite of the big-name children's/YA/adult books I share on this blog. However, I love shining a spotlight on good writing no matter what form it's in. And if I help other people discover flash, small presses, or specific authors, then YAY! Win-win!

Since I love this form, I like to write reviews of the books to help spread the word. This month, I reviewed Gridlock by Brett Biebel.

Brett Biebel’s stories always have a deep sense of place, and that is true in Gridlock, even when the place is a 200-mile-long traffic jam. His latest collection explores the kaleidoscopic view of the human condition through a satirical yet poignant exploration of the American experience.

The collection starts with the contained setting of the congestion on I-94 before taking “an on-ramp to America and all the little shards that might somewhere still be left.” That includes a group of roommates who pool their resources to invest in a robot sex doll, a University of Minnesota student who hacks the United Nations website, and a community of men who move into stadiums and post about their lifestyle on Reddit.

Read the full review here.

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Finlay Donovan Series

 The Finlay Donovan Series by Elle Cosimano

I read Finlay Donovan is Killing It as a Kindle Unlimited book and was immediately hooked! The library had the second but not the third, even though it was out already, so I played the waiting game.

Actually... I kind of forgot about this series until someone mentioned the fourth book was out.

Fourth?! I wasn't sure how I had missed that, but I knew it was time to re-read the series and catch up. By that time, the library had the third book but not the fourth. Once I found out there was also a digital short story as "book" 3.5, I figured I'd just buy that and the fourth book on Kindle so I wouldn't be waiting forever to finish the series (to this point anyway).

The first book makes me think of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series... or at least the first few books, before it seemed like she was phoning it in. I do think Cosimano is a better writer though. 

When I initially read the second book, it felt like a placeholder (as many second books are!), but when I re-read it recently, I really enjoyed it! The third one seemed a bit out of place and the storyline was a bit confusing to me, but I liked that the stakes seemed higher than in the previous books. I also loved how Mrs. Haggerty played a more prominent role!

Vero's short story might be my absolute favorite from this world, funny enough, since it's the shortest. I just love the character and it seemed like a nice cozy mystery with the bank issue. I felt like her sorority issue wasn’t really fleshed out in the books, and even here it’s a bit thin so I hope it gets wrapped up later.

Book four was a lot of fun. While book three took Finlay and Vero away from their home turf with the police training, I think the trip to Atlantic City in book four seems more natural for them. And I especially loved that everyone came along! Again, it gave Stephanie Plum vibes with Finlay's mother filling Stephanie's grandmother's role, but I think it's just different enough to work. The corpses seemed like overkill (no pun intended) but the cliffhanger made it worth it - I can't wait to see what comes next!

Have you read this series? What did you think of it? Do you have any book recommendations that read like these?

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

One Summer in Savannah by Terah Shelton Harris

One Summer in Savannah by Terah Shelton Harris

This book caught my eye as a "Together We Read" selection on Libby at the beginning of March. The start of the new year is typically a slow reading period for me and I know this, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating. I hadn't been reading much at all, and the books I was in the middle of weren't engaging. I didn't feel compelled to finish them. So seeing that I could check out One Summer in Savannah without a waitlist made me grab it to give it a try.

I'm so glad I did. This book blew me away. I read it in just a few days, dying to know the full story while also not wanting it to end. It’s a unique take on rape, forgiveness, life and death, and I love how Harris treated every character as human - there are no clear villains because almost everyone could have been “bad” and selfish in their own ways. I highlighted tons of quotes that got me thinking. I can’t wait to read more from this author. (I also love that Harris is a librarian since I am too.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Read and Weed

It's March! It's Spring! It's time for spring cleaning, bookworm-style!

I'm excited to announce a personal reading project called Read and Weed.

Basically, that means that I have too many books on my shelves, and instead of quietly reading through them and donating the ones I don't want to keep, I need to make a big deal about it, complete with cutesy rhyming name.

My problem is that I love to buy books. It used to be much worse when I'd frequent library book sales and used bookstores, but I now avoid those as best I can. However, I still buy a lot of books from independent presses to support authors I know and love and have good stuff to read for Shorter is Better book club.

But if I'm already ordering one book, I often buy one or two others, either because they sound good or I want to get free shipping or just, you know, buy more books?

That means I have a lot of books that I haven't read. Because then I inevitably get distracted by other new books, or want to revisit an old favorite, or find something that looks good at the library. So while I might not continually spend money, I'm still bringing more books into my home. Even when the library books are returned, I still rarely turn to those unread volumes on my shelves.

Until now.

I may have gorgeous built-in bookcases that can handle this load, but I want to curate a library I love. And that means I need to assess what I already own.

It's my goal to read at least two books I already own each month, meaning this project should take about 20 years to finish. Okay, not really. But maybe?

At the same time, I'm going to try to curtail my book-buying so it's possible to actually have an end date for this project.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Pretty Ugly by David Sedaris and Ian Falconer

Pretty Ugly by David Sedaris, illustrated by Ian Falconer

I'm a huge David Sedaris fan and am usually aware when he has a new book coming out. However, even with this being a picture book (aka right up my alley!), it wasn't on my radar until recently, despite being on the Most Anticipated Books of 2024 List from Kirkus Reviews. I must be living under a rock!

Anyway, I was glad to get my hands on it because this house has tons of Toon books so even if Sedaris and Falconer weren't behind the scenes, you know it's gonna be good.

The first few pages reminded me of Saturday Night Live's take on The Twilight Zone with Pamela Anderson, to the point where I was thinking, "At least kids who haven't seen that sketch may think this book is a fresh take on the issue."

Then came the twist.

I should have known Sedaris wouldn't go with the standard idea of monsters finding true beauty to be repulsive, though I definitely thought the book was going to be a letdown at a point.

But it's not. I can't say much more because I don't want to give it away---and this twist is worth it. Let's just say... my son had to hold his hand over the page because it grossed him out so much, while I thought it was delightful.

Overall, this is a funny twist on "beautiful on the inside" with amazing final illustrations from Ian Falconer, especially lovely if you grew up loving Olivia like I did.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Adult Books by Black Authors

These are a mix of fiction and nonfiction, short story collections and novels, old favorites and new favorites. Have you read any? What would you recommend to me if I loved these books?

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

The cover of this book hooked me first. I saw it posted all over #bookstagram. The title piqued my curiosity too, but when I actually read it, it blew me away.

I’ve been on a short story kick for the past year, but this collection is the best of the best. The plots are unique and engaging, the characters are too real, and the topics are timely. I keep thinking about these characters and stories and will probably have to re-read the whole collection soon. I can’t recommend this one enough.

The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel

I worked as a library page in high school. One shift I was “reading” the nonfiction section and this title caught my eye. I have to admit, I started reading it right then on the clock and then checked it out and took it home with me.

At the time, I was envious of Nissel. Not because she was broke - I was too! But how she had so much humor about it, and such an engaging writing style. I remember taking the book to school and showing the girls in my math class and they passed it around and laughed at the entries.

I actually bought the exact copy I first found, years later after the library discarded it. It’s been on my shelf since, and I read Mixed too, but The Broke Diaries remained my favorite.

I wanted some humor in my life after all of...this, and I can’t believe that the book still cracks me up so much. Like laughing out loud reading on my front porch, because now it’s in the 60s after last week’s ice and snow. But I digress. This book is hilarious and makes me miss the 2008ish period of blogging because that’s exactly how it reads now, even though it was written way before then. You should read this. Then let’s laugh about it together.

Just to note, if you don’t believe me about Nissel’s humor: she’s been a writer on Scrubs, the Boondocks, and Mixed-ish.

Luster by Raven Leilani

I really really enjoyed this book, but it’s so hard for me to get my thoughts together about it. There’s something that is just so raw yet so guarded, with wonderful language that really sets the pacing. I loved the run-on sentences and how the story was broken into vignettes. I loved how the book made me experience something new, while also feeling understood. It’s a truly unique book that deserves that attention it’s getting.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This book totally lives up to the hype. I absolutely loved the story itself, but Bennett’s writing is so seamless that you get sucked in completely, and then a beautiful, profound line will stop you in your tracks.

The Incredible Shrinking Woman by Athena Dixon

This essay collection is amazing. You can tell Athena Dixon has a background in poetry because the language is so beautiful, while still being so raw and matter-of-fact. So many of these pieces made me feel seen and understood. I know this is a collection I’ll come back to time and time again. The essays are honest and powerful and emotional and poetic, all wrapped up in this gorgeous package. If you haven’t gotten your hands on this one, you need to. Now.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Deesha Philyaw read part of “Peach Cobbler” at an event I attended years long ago and I was hooked from the first line: “My mother’s peach cobbler was so good, it made God himself cheat on his wife.”

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this collection, and once I got it I was torn between racing to finish it and wanting to drag it out so I’d have longer with these multi-layered characters. I can’t pick a favorite from this collection because they’re all that. damn. good. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know, and that includes you. It’s the perfect mix of gossip, drama, and breathtaking storytelling you need in your life.

I usually try to not re-read a book until a year after my last reading, but this is one I’ll be coming back to more often than that. I can’t stop thinking about it and I want more.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

How Dinosaurs Went Extinct: A Safety Guide by Ame Dyckman

by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Jennifer Harney

My son doesn't read picture books much anymore; he's too busy devouring a chapter book a week. And since I'm not working as a children's librarian right now (though I'll always be one at heart), I don't really have much reason (or time!) to pick up new picture books.

So when my son saw this book in the Scholastic Book Fair catalog, he circled it and said it was one he wanted to read. We found it in the library system and checked it out immediately. He thought it was funny but only read it once before he was ready to return it.

Of course, I read it too. We've read so many of Dyckman's books over the years, and they're always funny and enjoyable.

However, this one started off a little iffy to me.

I rolled my eyes at the typical dad mansplaining, then figured I was being too sensitive. After all, it's a picture book. And maybe Dyckman was trying to make a statement? But I wish he hadn't interrupted the mother, who was actually trying to teach her child a lesson. The dad speaks up and uses the rest of the book to share stupid reasons dinosaurs went extinct. They're funny, yes. But I could imagine this happening to me, and I would prefer the child learn the truth while in the museum since there's so much to explore there. On the drive home, the dad can be as silly as he wants with the rest of the reasons. 

That said, I know I'm projecting based on my own personal experiences. I still wish this page wasn't there. What if it was just the dad and kid at the museum that day and he was offering silly explanations? Why does he have to interrupt the woman?

The reasons are pretty funny, though, because they're things kids do, like picking boogers, running with scissors, and tipping backward in a chair. And you can probably imagine how Gasosaurus went extinct.

So I can admit that I might be taking this book a little deeper than intended, but I'll still argue that this plot point could have easily been rewritten to not have a man interrupting a woman just to share a lot of nonsense, since that's already so prevalent in everyday society. I've shown the page to two friends (females, one librarian, one writer) and they felt the same way, so it's possibly an issue beyond my personal bubble.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Favorite Picture Books by Black Authors

YA books are my sweet spot, but I also wanted to highlight some picture books by Black authors as well.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

I thought I was obsessed with Vashti Harrison's artwork in Little Leaders, but then I went to her IG page and WOW. This is an amazing book to read to kids to get them interested in Black history and a great jumping off point for further research. If you don’t have a kid to read it to, you should still check it out for the gorgeous artwork.

“Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders book first started off during a social media challenge to create art throughout Black History Month. Eventually, these drawings became the beginning of Harrison’s first bestselling book. Harrison created images of black girls dressing up as different female role models from history and turned them into a book in which she tells these women’s stories. She says she wrote these books with her younger self in mind, imagining the types of people she would have wanted to read about, the people who would inspire her to keep dreaming.”

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

My son and I loved Crown and the King of Kindergarten, and hearing Derrick Barnes speak was especially inspiring. I was really looking forward to I Am Every Good Thing, especially after the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. I watched footage of local protests on the news, and my son wanted to go "walk with everyone." It only seemed natural that the conversations that inspired would also have a powerful book to really hit the point home.

The Black boy that tells this story is showing us every unique thing that makes him who he is - something that is often overlooked when it comes to news stories and biases. The book is dedicated to Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, EJ Bradford, Jordan Edwards, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, and Julian Mallory, all Black boys who were senselessly killed, often by police officers.

Kirkus called this book “a much-needed book for Black children when society demonstrates otherwise,” and I agree, while also finding it important for white children (AND adults) to read so they can develop empathy and understand that Black children are just as important as they are, especially with the current racial climate and ignorance some people have about basic human rights.

The Power of Her Pen by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Ethel L. Payne was born in 1911. She went to school with white people, even though she was harassed and beaten for it. The school paper wouldn’t let her work for them because she was black, but they published her first story. Payne went to college and studied writing. She went to Japan and wrote about how Black American soldiers were treated.

When she returned to the United States, Payne worked for the Chicago Defender, one of two Black daily newspapers at the time. After 3 years of covering politics, Payne became one of three Black journalists to be given a White House press pass. She was outspoken and became known as the “First Lady of the Black Press.” Payne died in 1991 and has since been honored on a US stamp - one of only four female journalists to be featured.

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

I can’t believe I didn’t know about Mary Walker, but I’m glad I learned about her in this book. She was born into slavery in 1848. After being freed at 15, someone gave her a Bible. She wanted to read it, but had never learned. She couldn’t write, so she just made marks in the front to note her sons’ birth dates. She outlived her entire family and finally decided to learn to read. She was scared she was too old to learn, but she worked hard and never gave up. At 116, she could read! She lived to be 121.

Mora’s illustrations are amazing, showing the reader the way Walker sees scribbles all around her, then words after she learns to read. The endpapers include real photos of Mary Walker.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Happy International Book Giving Day!

And Happy Valentine's Day, sure. But who doesn't LOVE getting a book as a gift?

This year, I gave my son My Golden Ticket, a personalized Willy Wonka book from Wonderbly. I actually bought this book back in 2017 when I first saw it, since I'm a huge Roald Dahl reader. I was just waiting for him to also fall in love with the author. A few months ago, he read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and saw the play, so I figured the time was right! He loves how this book makes him feel like part of the story he already knows so well.

For previous International Book Giving Days, I've combined the holiday with Valentine's Day and given (and received!) heart notebooks. The Pete the Cat bookmark was one of the Valentines my son gave him class one year, as was the bee paper and bee with a heart. The bee paper is seed paper, so his friends could plant their Valentine and watch it grow instead of simply recycling it after the holiday passed.

And, of course, there were the good ol' days of my kid being so little that he wanted to have me read countless picture books to him. These were just a few of our favorites. Check out a few others we loved, along with some books and a craft I shared with adults with disabilities.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Scott Smith Books: A Simple Plan and The Ruins

I read The Ruins when it first came out back in 2006. I was a writing student in college and it blew me away. It stuck with me over the years and I thought of it often. I figured it was time for a re-read and I was so happy that it stood up to the test of time. I didn’t remember all of the details, nor the ending, so it was almost as good as reading it for the first time. I can’t recommend this enough. It sticks out as having such a unique concept and writing style.

I mentioned it to a friend in passing and he mentioned Smith's first book, A Simple Plan, saying it was just as good. I don't know how I'd managed to read just one book by an author and then skip the other, but I was glad to have a new one to read now!

I re-read The Ruins first, just because. As I mentioned, I remembered just enough to have the basic concept of the story, but the specifics and the writing style felt like new in the best way.

In A Simple Plan, I could definitely tell that Smith has a set writing style and it works so well for the stories he tells. I love how it feels so natural as it builds up. It's a great example of how one small moment can truly change the course of your life. And with his signature writing style, there’s no time to pause and think, “There’s no way this would happen in real life” because it’s totally realistic. Even as the characters make their choices, you’re not trying to steer them in a different direction because it seems like there IS no other direction. I recommend this just as highly as I do The Ruins.

Have you read one or both of these books? What did you think?

If I loved these books, do you have any similar titles in mind you'd recommend?

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Young Adult Books by Black Writers for Black History Month

I wanted to kick-off Black History month by spotlighting some of my favorite young adult books by Black authors.

The Track Series by Jason Reynolds:

GhostPatina, SunnyLu

    Since I am not the sportiest person, I wasn’t sure what I’d get out of a book about a kid joining a track team, but I should have known that Jason Reynolds would always win me over with his words. I don’t think he can write a bad book, and if you’re not reading him, you gotta pick some up.
    After Ghost, I was totally hooked by the Track series. Patina is so well-done, with characters going through things you don’t typically see in fiction, but do see in real life. It’s so refreshing to see real struggles represented in fiction.
    I think Sunny has been my favorite of the Track series so far, and that’s saying a lot. Sunny has such a distinct style, and the way everything sounded like music to him is an infectious way of thinking. Since I finished this book, I’ve been hearing beats and rhymes everywhere I go, and it’s just what I need to bring a smile to my face. Can’t wait yet am sad to finish the Track series soon...
    I’m so sad to end the Track series, so it seemed appropriate that I cried through the last few pages. This book was so good, and the whole series is so good. I love how the characters had truly unique voices and situations and experiences. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Powerful and emotional. Rashad is absent again today. It's spray painted on the sidewalk in front of the high school after Rashad is beaten up by a cop on a Friday afternoon. Some people take the cop's side and say Rashad was stealing, pointing to his sagging jeans as evidence. Other people take Rashad's side, saying he'd never break the law, pointing to his ROTC uniform as evidence. No matter who's side you take, the proof is in the video footage sweeping the internet: Rashad is restrained while he is being beaten, accused of resisted arrest. But how can you resist if you're already cuffed on the ground? Who knows how the case will turn out once it hits the courts, but before that, Rashad's high school classmates are hitting the streets for a good old fashioned protest, and they hope other citizens will join the cause.

Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance

These short stories of resistance are fiction, but they are incredibly realistic and could happen to anyone. The characters are diverse, in regards to skin color, religion, gender, and more. They all have some adversity in life and react in different ways, whether they quietly stand up for themselves or the underdog, or protest and push for change on a large scale. Because of the scope of the diversity and the reactions, I think all readers will feel empowered to make a difference in their daily lives, however they can. This is definitely a must-read for tweens and teens, but I think adults need to read it, too.

Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle

This book is AMAZING. I love YA books but YA romance is so hit or miss—it’s either over-the-top romantic or very sex-oriented. This book had just passing mentions of sex and the “love” aspect was incredibly realistic. Not to mention Dani and Prince are both fantastically real, wonderful characters. I think I’ll re-read this often, and can’t wait to read more by the author.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

This book is AMAZING. So powerful, so necessary, and such a unique verse novel. But unfortunately, the story told is not unique - a black teenager imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I love that YA novels are being written about situations like this so our teens will grow (or hopefully continue) to be empathetic people and anti-racists.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

This book was so beautiful; I wish it was possible to see Jade’s art because it sounds so exquisite and meaningful. I love how relevant and powerful the story was, and recommend it to everyone. It’s a quick read but it will drag you in and squeeze your heart.

How It Went Down and Light It Up by Kekla Magoon

Loved How It Went Down! Written years before Dear Martin and The Hate U Give but tackling a similar subject of a black teen being killed by a white man. The great part of this book is that it’s so real - no one knows for sure if the teen was armed, if he threatened someone, if he was a thief - we hear from everyone involved with the main character and his city block, and nothing is certain.
    Reread 2020:  I read this book two and a half years ago and thought about it so often that I knew it was time to re-read it. It’s sadly still relevant, telling an all too familiar story of a young black man being killed by a white man who gets off unscathed. The most fascinating thing about this book is how it’s told - so many different characters who saw what happened and/or knew the main players are telling what they saw and what they know. Which, of course, is a whole bunch of conflicting information. I can’t say enough good things about this book, I’m just pushing you to read it yourself. And let’s talk about it.
    I loved How It Went Down for how concise it was in telling the same story from the points of view of a whole neighborhood. The sequel, Light It Up, tells a story about another shooting incident that is too timely - a cop somehow finds a 13yo Black girl a threat and shoots her in the back. This takes place in the same neighborhood as Tariq’s shooting, so the same characters are back. It’s nice to see what they’ve been up to, and I love how this book delves a bit more into their lives.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I love Love LOVED this book! It was really engaging - I was immediately drawn into the story and cared about the characters. No one was all good or all bad, and I really appreciate that because I feel like that can be hard to portray. I think this showed a unique side to senseless shootings - a side that needs to be heard and read and understood. Beautiful book, and I’ve heard the audiobook is amazing as well, so I might actually re-read it as an audiobook. HIGHLY recommended.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

It took me a minute to get into this one because I couldn’t remember as much of The Hate U Give as I wished I had. When I re-read this, I’ll definitely re-read The Hate U Give to get some perspective. But once I got into the story, it was amazing, as Thomas’s writing always is. I love the world she created and how it meshed with some of Nic Stone’s characters in a very slick way.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

I think I loved this even more than The Hate U Give! Angie Thomas is brilliant at creating realistic characters that draw you into their world, and Bri is no different. I heard her raps in my head and fell in love with how her mind made rhymes from one random word jumping out at her from a train of thought. Can’t recommend this one enough!

Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones

As someone who struggles with “blue periods” and has been in relationships with depressed people, this book really hit home. It was very well-done and on point, while keeping its finger on the pulse of the underlying issue.

Odd One Out by Nic Stone

This book is so good! Just enough drama to remind me of the fun times of high school (…now that I’m far away from them!). I like that it was told from three different voices so the reader has the insider’s scoop of what’s going on, and you keep rooting for them in your head, but of course you can’t help them, you gotta let it play out. So so good. Read it if you want a fun escape and some delightful drama.

Jackpot by Nic Stone

Nic Stone is absolutely amazing. I love how the “romance” in this book wasn’t full blown - it helped it seem more realistic, and I think it’s important for teens to know that not every romance needs to be true love or long-lasting or even sexual. But of course that was just a small part of the overall story, which was so well done and suspenseful. I’d kind of like to see the ending go the other way, but who doesn’t like a happy ending?

Dear Martin and Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

Dear Martin was phenomenal. I loved The Hate U Give and this is a great book to read along with it. I felt like this one had a bit more depth and exploration, but that might be because Justyce, the main character, was more immersed in different situations that rounded out his character quite a bit.
    I had to re-read this one so I’d be in the right frame of mind to read Dear Justyce. I think I loved it even more the second time around, though maybe that was due to the current climate? I’ve also been reading more Nic Stone books since I first read this one, and I absolutely LOVE her writing style. Her characters are always so realistic, which makes it a more emotional book than you might be expecting.
    I have to admit I went into Dear Justyce thinking “Ok, another companion novel that won’t be as good as the first.” But DAMN this one blew my mind. I absolutely loved how it was from Quan’s point of view, and the use of flashbacks was so powerful. Nic Stone is an amazing writer and her foreword and afterword absolutely made this book 10x more powerful and emotional than the story was on its own. I can’t recommend both Dear Martin and Dear Justyce enough - for teens, sure, but also I think it should be required reading for adults to (hopefully??) help us change how we see things.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

I went down an Aaliyah rabbit hole and people were recommending this book for insight. I know it’s fiction, but it definitely rang true, especially since the author twice said in the end that it’s NOT about R. Kelly… then called for a boycott against R. Kelly in the last line. Reading Wikipedia gives enough info to clarify. It was a really good book, though I did hate the implication that Enchanted had mental illness because it seemed tacked on and almost like a potential cop-out that the author eventually decided she didn’t need, which is what I disliked about Monday’s Not Coming, the other book I’ve read by her.

Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes

I loved how this book was a mash-up of poetry and narrative. The characters were developed just enough to have dimension without being too involved or hard to keep track of. It was a very moving story that makes me wish I could re-live my high school years in this environment.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Loved this book, how the text moved with the story. Interesting subject matter, and I think it will grab a lot of young boys and reluctant readers. The ending was a little overly sentimental and dramatic, but it was a good book overall.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Interesting book about a young black man who is on trial for participating in a crime. It’s written from his point of view, as if he were writing a movie script based on the circumstances. I love that we never really know his role in the crime.

You Don't Even Know Me by Sharon G. Flake

Poems and short stories from the points of view of several different young African-American boys. Very well-done and interesting.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

The Family Upstairs and The Family Remains

I love a good suspense book, especially when nothing else seems to be catching my attention. Lisa Jewell is always a good choice when I want something well-written and twisty.

I first read The Family Upstairs as a Book of the Month choice in 2019. I loved it back then, but once I heard there was a sequel, I knew I needed to re-read the first so I could appreciate it completely. Thankfully, my memory is pretty terrible, so while I knew I read the book and loved it, I didn't remember anything beyond the general storyline. This is actually a great quality as an avid reader because it means re-reading felt pretty darn close to reading it for the first time!

I love how Jewell creates storylines that are full of mystery, but the pacing keeps the suspense like a rollercoaster so you don't feel exhausted and ready to flip to the end. Her characters are all really vivid, which helped make the twists seem more organic. They each had distinct voices, too, which I feel like a lot of authors struggle with when they have alternating narrators.

The end was a great twist with some loose ends, but it didn't feel hokey. It felt realistic, like the way things wrap up in real life that makes you think, Ok, that's done... for now. And thankfully, Jewell felt that way, too, and wrote a sequel!

Even with the loose ends, I wasn't sure what was going to happen in The Family Remains. I think it's a great storyline, though, giving Jewell a chance to fill in some holes left by the first book without making it seem like she's retelling the same story.

I also love that she wrapped up all the loose ends and then, at the very end, tugged one loose.

Will there be another book? I don't know, but I'd read it! The story and characters now live on in my imagination, so I'd love a chance to peek into their lives again.

Have you read these books? Share your thoughts in the comments! Recommend some other suspense books, too!

Monday, January 29, 2024

A Brief Natural History of Women by Sarah Freligh

The book club I run with two friends focuses on short fiction - typically flash fiction in chapbook or novella-in-flash form. These books come from independent presses, so it's basically the opposite of the big-name children's/YA/adult books I share on this blog. However, I love shining a spotlight on good writing no matter what form it's in. And if I help other people discover flash, small presses, or specific authors, then YAY! Win-win!

Since I love this form, I like to write reviews of the books to help spread the word. This month, I reviewed A Brief Natural History of Women by Sarah Freligh.

“You Come Here Often / And often alone” but you won’t feel that way after diving into the first story in Sarah Freligh’s collection A Brief Natural History of Women. These twenty-three pieces examine women’s lives through their relationships with men, mothers, friends, children, and alcohol. You may be a singular reader but the “we” of characters addressing everyday issues like lipstick, kissing, reputation, and pregnancy welcomes and understands flawed, realistic people in ways society often overlooks.

Read the full review here.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Books featuring Characters with Disabilities

After posting the MG/YA round-up, I was sure I'd find twice that many adult books on my "Read" shelf... But I didn't. So if you have recommendations, PLEASE share! I think there are some I've read but overlooked, because two were late additions after I saw them mentioned in an article I used for research.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

I loved this book. Eleanor’s frankness had so much humor to me, and it made me think of how we talk and act in daily life and how much of it is unnecessary. I do understand much of it was supposed to be sad, but it really hit me in the right way and I enjoyed it so much. Already feeling nostalgic for it, so it will probably be one I re-read every few years.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

I read this book so often in high school, college, and up to my mid-twenties, when I also saw the movie. I haven't read it in awhile, so maybe it's time to revisit. I remember loving it because it seems so simple on the surface, but when you read it more purposely, you really get to know the characters and feel for all they've been through. I think George and Lennie have a really powerful relationship that really makes this stand out in terms of characters with disabilities.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Read this book. Seriously, you must read it. I don't want to give this book the short end of the stick when it comes to writing a review, but I don't actually think there's much that can be said about it. Or, more accurately, there's so much that can be said about it, once you encounter someone else who has read it. I think it's best to open the cover knowing as little as possible about the subject matter. Let yourself go in with no expectations and be overcome with the characters and the story. One of those books where you read it as quickly as you can, savoring the prose while needing to know what happens, though you don't actually want to reach the end.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

This was required reading in high school and I remember worrying that it would be the most boring thing I'd ever read. But I immediately loved the unique storytelling approach and was so invested in Charlie's progress. This is another I haven't read since my mid-twenties that I now want to revist and see how it holds up and if it still impacts me as being so profound.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I loved the matter of fact writing style of this book. It was a bit chick-lit, but it was interesting and, like I said, I liked the voice. I thought the ending was forced and a little hokey, more like a romantic comedy movie than a book, and it made me not interested enough to read the sequels.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

A book I've been wanting to read for a long time. Working with adults with disabilities, I love the chance to get inside their heads and see how they function best. This book has a nice little mystery and some drama, and it was very well done. I loved that we got to see how Christopher works best when relating to math and patterns; he's very systematic. A great book I'd recommend and read again.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Ok, let me start with my rave review of the book in general. I read it in my 20s even though I saw the movie several times as a kid because my dad loved it. Therefore I loved it. But when I read the book, it was like a totally different world. Lee has this style of writing that is so Southern, but so...not. I can't describe how she makes you feel like you're in the South without depending on the dialect. You can feel the slow pace and the dusty roads, you can hear the neighbors gossiping on the porch and lowering their voices to whispers as you walk by. She accomplishes all this and more without employing an excessive amount of y'alls, ya hears, ain'ts, and other Southern phrases that are often overused to try and set the scene.

And the characters, wow. I fell head over heels for Atticus. So smart and reserved, a good father, an honest man. Jem is a really realistic pre-teen boy, if I remember my brother at that age. Scout is the typical tomboy, trying to hold on to her brother as long as she can, if I remember me at that age. Scout reminds me of Ramona Quimby, and for a long time I wanted to be each of them. Good role models.

I think it also says something about the characters and the writing (as much as the power of the story itself) that I could read it and still feel the punch in certain scenes, still cry in certain scenes, still get my hopes up, even though I already knew what was going to happen. This is a novel where the fun is in reading it, not knowing it. It's timeless.

Anyway, I always thought of Boo Radley as something as a loner, but these articles made me see him in a different light:

The Single Feather by Ruth F. Hunt

Rachel is a thirty year old woman who uses a wheelchair, and after escaping from a heavily-guarded home, she lives independently in a new town in England. To try and get her old life back, she joins a local art group and makes friends with some of the locals. The story is really compelling, and I was very drawn in to find out what happened in Rachel’s past as her disability was caused by an accident, and she doesn’t reveal much about the home she escaped from. The ebook I read had a lot of punctuation errors, especially with quotation marks, which occasionally took me out of the story, but overall it’s a great book.

Share your recommendations in the comments! Because of course I already posted the MG/YA round-up before realizing I had books reviewed on Goodreads but not my blog, so I didn't include them. You can see all the books I've shelved as involving disabilites on my profile. They include fiction, nonfiction, and all audience age levels.

I used to work in a learning center for adults with disabilities, and when I left to study library science, I held library programs for them, which you can read about here. You can also check out all posts with a disabilities tag.