Sunday, October 13, 2019

Small Great Things: A Novel


by Jodi Picoult
Ballantine Books, 2016. 470 pages. Fiction

Ruth, a labor and delivery nurse, is charged with a serious crime even though she is innocent. But, is she? After over twenty years of experience, Ruth is faced with the toughest situation of her professional and personal life. She happens to be African American and the parents of her newest patient are white supremacists. Ruth is quickly reassigned to a different case, but not before a terrifying situation turns her life into an unrecognizable nightmare.

This book addresses important topics like race, justice, white privilege, and ignorance. My heart broke for Ruth as she struggled to make those around her - the white, privileged people around her - understand her innocence and be sympathetic to her situation. This book is for anyone who is not afraid to visit the ugly parts of our world and come out the other side with a stronger passion for creating positive change.

LKA

Thursday, October 10, 2019

With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
HarperTeen, 2019. 392 pages. Young Adult

Emoni knows that as a teen mom, odds are stacked against her. So she works hard, at school, her job, and at raising her daughter, determined to not be a burden on her Abuela or an absent parent like her own father. Anyone who knows her also knows that she has a near-magical gift for cooking. When her school offers a culinary arts class, Emoni's excitement turns to frustration; the more she learns, the more her long-buried dream of becoming a chef comes bubbling to the surface. Her teachers and friends encourage her, but Emoni knows she chose a life of responsibility and sacrifice when she had her daughter. Does she dare let herself dream now, with all that rests on her shoulders?

I really loved this author's debut novel last year, THE POET X , so I was excited to get my hands on this one. WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is a little different, being written in prose rather than in verse, but shines equally bright. With wonderfully developed characters, especially protagonist Emoni, and relatable and immersive storytelling, Acevedo also has a talent for addressing complicated topics in an honest, realistic way that never feels too heavy. Emoni is a wonderful soul, a loving, introspective girl ready to take her place in the world, and you'll be better for knowing her.

MW

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cannery Row

Cannery Row
by John Steinbeck
Penguin Books. 2002. 181 pages. Fiction.

The "story" of Cannery Row follows the adventures of Mack and the boys, a group of unemployed yet resourceful men who inhabit a converted fish-meal shack on the edge of a vacant lot down on the Row.

The lesson found in this Steinbeck novel is to "roll with the punches" and be content with where you're at. The characters in Cannery Row live unglamorous lives filled with problems, and yet they are worry-free. They don't allow themselves to be strangled by money and by the idea of reaching the top run in all aspects of life. They find joy in being honest with each other and kind to their fellow men. In reading this book, I have had a little bit of faith restored in humanity. I recommend this book to those looking for a unique, yet relatable story that won't take very long to read. 

NS

Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered

Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide
by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
Forge, 2019. 300 pages. Nonfiction

The creators of the hit comedic true crime podcast (it works, trust me) "My Favorite Murder" came together to make this one of a kind dual-memoir. With their signature charm, humor, and honesty, the women reflect on the life experiences - mistakes, struggles with addiction, mental health journeys, family dynamics, and more - that taught them the valuable lessons of self-advocacy, self-care, and being better humans.

I'm already a devoted fan of the "My Favorite Murder" podcast and of Karen and Georgia, the marvelous hosts and authors of this book, and was hungry to get my hands on this book since it was announced.  Murderino Approved! Translation: This book blew all my expectations out of the water! Don't be afraid if you're not into true crime though - some crime stories are included of course (on-brand for true crime podcasters), but this is a book full of empowering stories for anyone trying to get through life in one piece. And being decent to oneself and others in the process.  Ever relatable, hilarious, and frank, Karen and Georgia will feel like old friends by the time you finish reading. I highly recommend the audiobook as well, read by the authors. It'll feel like an ultra-bonus podcast episode!

MW

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising (Red Rising #1)
by Pierce Brown
Del Rey, 2014. 382 pages. Science Fiction

Darrow, a Red Helldiver whose sole responsibility is mining Helium-3, a gas mined on Mars that is used in the terraforming process for mars and other planets in the solar system, loves his people and his wife. After a few heartrending events, Darrow discovers that many of the things he's believed his whole life are false and have been for hundreds of years. To correct those falsehoods, Darrow sacrifices his life and identity and becomes the people he hates, all for the love of his people and the dream of the woman he loves.

Pierce Brown uses a unique mixture of dystopian fiction tropes such as castes of people (each referred to by a single name) that are controlled for the betterment of a ruling class, violent games played by kids, a system of government that uses obfuscation and fear to keep the slave class slaves, rebellion against the system, a corrupt and hypocritical society that participates in the very activities they claim to be wrong, etc. in order to show that even tropes can still be impactful.

For those who like Hunger Games and The Giver, this is definitely a book to pick up.

SMM

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Rework
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Crown Business, 2010. 279 pages. Nonfiction.

It's easy to get bogged down as a new business owner. You have so many things to manage while trying to keep your enthusiasm up for the whole process. This process can make it hard for your biggest plans and dreams come true, even with years of planning and operation. Fried and Hansson present a different perspective that small business owners can adopt as they get started and continue to operate. When you're still small as a business, instead of trying to grow as fast as you can, only focus on the immediate needs of the business, the things that can be done today, this week, or this month. If you do so, you will get closer to achieving your goals than if you use the same time to plan for the next 6 months or to focus heavily on finding investors. Fried and Hansson display the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that are important for a small businesses, like the fact that isn't okay if you stay small, or its okay not never ever hire employees in order to assuage the feelings new entrepreneurs can have from traditional advice. They strike at the very heart of traditional business advice and give a fresh perspective on what it truly means to be an entrepreneur in any market, not just tech startups, real estate, or ecommerce.

Any small business owner (or those thinking about starting a business) should read this book in order to relieve some of that stress that plagues the beginning and continued operation of any venture.

SMM

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Halloween Tree

The Halloween Tree
Ray Bradbury
New York : Knopf, 2007. Young Adult Fiction. 

A group of children and a "spirit" go back through time to discover the beginnings of Halloween.

This book has that classic Halloween feel. Think Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but for Halloween.This story is spooky, fun, and imaginative.You can listen to the audiobook on the Libby appBronson Pinchot did a fantastic job narrating as well. He breathed emotion into the characters and added detail to Bradubury's beautiful imagery.

NS


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Song for the Stars

A Song for the Stars
by Ilima Todd
Shadow Mountain, 2019. 296 pages. Romance

Maile has lived an idyllic life on the island of Hawaii but things start to change when the explorer James Cook and his crew arrive. Many of her people believe Cook to be their God, but Maile is glad when they leave. Soon they are back the the islanders aren't as welcoming this time. Maile's fiance is killed in a battle by one of the explorers and she takes that man hostage and hides him on the island. John Harbottle loves the island and the people and is devastated by what has happened. As the two are forced to spend time with each other they find a mutual understanding that soon grows into more.

This book was based on a true story. It was fascinating to learn of the early Hawaiian culture before explorers started to influence the area.  The novel was slow moving but the descriptions of the island made me want to go visit. This is part of the Proper Romance series of books but it is a stand alone novel. 

AL

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

They Called Us Enemy

They Called Us Enemy
George Takei
Top Shelf Productions, 2019. 204 pages. Graphic Novel

Takei is typically known for his work on the original Star Trek series as Hikaru Sulu.  What fewer people know about him is that as a child, he and his family were imprisoned in Japanese Internment camps during World War II.  Written as a graphic novel, this book brings to life the story of his family as they were taken from their home and held in one of ten "relocation centers" at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Held for years, Takei watches as his father and mother work tirelessly to lessen the load on their family and many others despite their unthinkable circumstances.  After being released and as he grows into a young adult, Takei works to process what he saw and experienced in the camps, inspiring a lifetime of purpose and activism.

You may be familiar with many Holocaust stories taking place in Europe during this time in history, but it's chilling to see how many of the same situations played out on US soil, and how it was omitted from recorded histories for many years afterward.  As a result of his experiences, today Takei is an activist devoted to equal rights, and this book represents an important contribution to a critical and too-often disregarded chapter of American history, with continuing relevance today.

BHG

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe
Heather Webber
Forge Books, 2019. 336 pages. Fiction

Anna Kate's grandmother has died, prompting her to travel to the small town of Wicklow, where Granny Zee lived and ran the Blackbird Café.  Known for its mysterious blackbird pie, the café draws a steady crowd of locals and outsiders alike each day.  Although Anna Kate only intends to stay in town long enough to settle her grandmother's affairs and sell the café, she can't help being drawn into the quirky community as well as her family's history, especially the mystery surrounding her father's death before she was born.

While essentially a fiction novel, this story has elements of fantasy and mystery, and plenty of Southern charm.  Ultimately, it's a sweet story about the importance of community and family in our lives.

BHG

A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
Sonia Purnell
Viking, 2019. 368 pages. Nonfiction

Virginia Hall was born a Baltimore socialite, but sought more excitement from life.  After traveling extensively in Europe and pursuing a career, she found herself in the right place at the right time to make a difference at the outbreak of World War II.  Virginia became a Special Operations Executive for England, working behind enemy lines in occupied France, providing support to spies sent in from Britain, establishing resistance networks throughout France, aiding operatives who had been caught and imprisoned, leading a victorious guerilla campaign, and dodging German detection - sometimes only narrowly avoiding capture.  She did all this with a prosthetic leg, acquired in a hunting accident before the war.

If you have read other spy stories from World War II, there is a good chance those operatives were at some point directed or aided by Virginia.  She was a linchpin of the Resistance, and operated the most successful spy networks in occupied France during the war.  Yet her life has been mostly a mystery until the dedicated research of author Sonia Purnell, who pieced together bits of information found from a multitude of sources to paint a picture of Virginia Hall's life and critical work.  This is a fascinating story and a much-deserved spotlight on a remarkable and important woman.

BHG

The Anatomist's Apprentice

The Anatomist's Apprentice
Tessa Harris
Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2012. 310 pages. Mystery

Dr. Thomas Silkstone is a young anatomist from Philadelphia, visiting England to study under an esteemed surgeon.  His unconventional methods have caused some buzz in English society, and caught the interest of the beautiful Lydia Farrell, who is in desperate need of help when her husband is accused of the murder of her brother, Sir Edward Crick.  She appeals to Dr. Silkstone to help solve the murder and absolve her husband.  When Dr. Silkstone reluctantly agrees, he unwittingly enters a web of danger and mystery.

This is the first in a series of mysteries based on Dr. Thomas Silkstone.  Those with an interest in period mysteries will enjoy the sights and sounds of 1780 England come to life, especially when the characters of the book react to Dr. Silkstone's more "modern" scientific approach.  Anyone familiar with today's forensic processes would recognize his methods, but at the time of the book they were suspect to say the least.

BHG

Children of the Sea 2

Children of the Sea 2 
by Daisuke Igarashi
Viz, 2009. 314 pages. Graphic Novel

Umi is distressed over Sora’s disappearance, and no one knows how to help him or how to find Sora. Jim reveals the source of his interest in the boys; 40 years ago, he met another young boy like Sora, but let the boy die. Since then he has been searching the world for children like that mysterious boy to understand them when he finds Sora and Umi. Anglade, Jim’s previous research partner and nephew, also wants to understand the mystery of the boys, but his methods differ from Jim’s. Ruka is determined to help Umi find his brother despite an approaching typhoon. They all are desperately trying to discover the connections between the boys, the meteorite, and the fish that disappear into light, but time is running out.

Since the scene has already been set, book two has more storyline than book one, making it more satisfying to read. I like that in this one Ruka gets more of a defined role in the unfolding events, even though the whole thing is still a little confusing. Translated from the original Japanese, this graphic novel series keeps the original right to left format.

 ER

Friday, September 27, 2019

Angelfall

Angelfall
by Susan Ee
Skyscape, 2012. 288 pages. Young Adult


Penryn's life has never been easy, but things got a lot harder once the angels came seeking vengeance for archangel Gabriel's death, leaving nothing but fear and destruction in their wake. At 17, Penryn shoulders the weight of her family's survival because her 10 year old wheelchair bound sister, Paige, needs her and their mentally ill mother is rarely capable. Penryn is small and scrappy and has learned how to scavenge and stay out of sight and trouble. But when a beautiful white-winged warrior angel is thrust from the sky in front of her and then brutally de-winged by an opposing gang of angels, she finds herself in the thick of trouble. Her unstable mother bolts leaving the Paige defenseless. The gang of angels kidnaps Paige; and Penryn, desperate to get her back, makes a deal with the wounded enemy angel at her feet.

This book had so many new and surprising elements I haven't seen before. I've read several dystopian books and I have never loved them. However, this book is considered apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic and I really enjoyed it. This book is literally angels and demons fighting on Earth with mankind stuck in the middle. I loved the relationship between Penryn and Paige. I also love the way Rafe's attitude and conflict come through actions and demeanor because he doesn't always offer much verbally. The plot was great. The characters are great. The audiobook was awesome. Check it out and read it.

-LH

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Children of the Sea I

Children of the Sea. I 
by Daisuke Igarashi
Viz, 2013. 316 pages. Graphic Novel

 When she was younger, Ruka saw a ghost, which disappeared in a sudden light, in the water at the aquarium where her dad works. Now after her summer plans are ruined, she feels drawn back to the aquarium and two boys she meets there, Umi and Sora. The boys were raised by dugongs, and all three hear the same strange calls from the sea. The three children get caught up in the mysterious disappearances of fish around the world, while the adults are only vaguely aware of the strange events the children experience.

 I would describe this book as very intriguing, although a little confusing. It sets the scene for the series, which is only five books long. While the first book didn’t completely set up the mystery that Ruka gets involved with, it certainly set up enough of the story to draw me in. Translated from the original Japanese, this graphic novel series keeps the original right to left format.

 ER

Pumpkinheads

Pumpkinheads
by Rainbow Rowell
New York, New York : First Second Books, 2019.209 pages. Young Adult.

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends. Every autumn, all through high school, they've worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world.They say good-bye every Halloween, and they're reunited every September 1. But this Halloween is different -- Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye. Josiah's ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn't ready to let him. She's got a plan: What if -- instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut -- they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he's been mooning over for three years. What if their last shift was an adventure?

This book is a charming, beautifully-illustrated read that will get you in that fun and cozy fall mood just in time for pumpkin season. Pumpkinheads is full of lightheartedness with just the right amount of adventure, and I found the relationships between the characters to be quite relatable. This book bleeds autumnal atmosphere and would pair well with a sweet treat. 

NS

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities
by Mady G. & JR Zuckerberg
Limerence Press, 2019. 94 pages. Nonfiction

"Every person is worthwhile and valuable in their own way!" This guide begins positively and makes the reader feel welcome. The bright colors and eye-catching drawings are an excellent way to make a sensitive topic seem approachable. It covers significant topics like gender identity, coming out, and supporting others on their journey. It proclaims, "Living your own best life can really help improve the lives of others!"

For some, the characters in this short guide might seem cheesy or juvenile; I would challenge the reader to focus on the content of the book rather than the appearance. Inside this short illustrated guide is valuable information on the topic of queer and trans identities. It's a perfect starting point for someone who is unfamiliar with any of these terms or the essential details that go along with them. We all want to be our best selves and help others do the same. This book promises to help the reader to have a better understanding of: "Everybody pretty much just wants to live their lives happily."

LKA

Finale

Finale (Caraval, #3)
By Stephanie Garber
Flatiron Books, 2019. 478 pages. Young Adult

Legend now sits on the throne, but the newly released Fates are running amok, bringing chaos and fear to the empire. Tella struggles to make sense of Legend and her feelings for him, while Scarlett uncovers a secret that will shift everything she thought she knew about her past. Everyone has their own final journey to make, paths crossing and merging together, leading to one big, grand finale.

While CARAVAL was primarily from Scarlett’s point-of-view, and LEGENDARY was from Tella’s point-of-view, FINALE switches back and forth. The transitions were easy to follow, and story clues always helped subtly re-orient the reader to what was happening. The interactions with various fates were interesting, and their abilities increased the suspense drastically. In general, I felt like this was a satisfying end to the series. There are still a few loose threads that I’d like to see resolved in any future novellas, but for the most part I was satisfied. If you’ve enjoyed the series, you won’t want to miss this finale.

ACS

Monday, September 23, 2019

Imperfect: A Story of Body Image

Imperfect: A Story of Body Image
by Dounya Awada
Zuiker Press, 2019. 95 pgs. Young Adult Comics

Dounya Awada is a 24-year-old devout Muslim and is very much alive. But just a few years ago, she nearly starved to death. Growing up, Dounya wanted to be perfect just like her mother, which meant being the prettiest, smartest girl in the room. Being perfect was exhausting, and Dounya fed her insecurities with food, reaching over 200 pounds at 15 years-old. After facing mocking from her peers, she became obsessed with exercise and dieting, losing over 125 pounds. With the help of her family and others, Dounya was able to overcome her eating disorders and now is an advocate for others facing the same trials.

I found this a beautiful, simple story about the real-life experiences of one girl and eating disorders. It is a quick read, but carries a powerful message about loving yourself and being willing to ask for help. The illustrations help to explain the emotions and perceptions that can be difficult to understand. This is an impactful story that could resonate with teens struggling with self-esteem, addictions, or peer pressure. Other books in this series cover topics like racism, cyber-bulling, and divorce.

TT

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Four Dead Queens

Four Dead Queens
By Astrid Scholte
Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 413 pages. Young Adult

In the land of Quadara, four queens rule in tandem, one over each of the four quadrants. Keralie makes her living as the top pickpocket, hiding in the shadows and delivering her goods to the black market. When she steals a “comm disk” that shows the murder of all four queens, her life takes a turn and she no longer knows who to trust. Can she figure out who’s behind the assassinations, and more importantly, can she stop them before they happen?

This is a fantasy book with mystery elements, and multiple plot twists kept pulling me back to the book even after my bedtime. The chapters alternate POV between several characters, some of which don’t appear until quite late in the book. While this was an enjoyable, compelling read with engaging and diverse characters, some pieces of the story fit together better than others. The final conclusion left me a little unsatisfied, but I think this author has a lot of potential.

ACS

All You Need Is Kill

All You Need Is Kill
Hiroshi Sakurazaka
VIZ Media LLC, 425p, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction

All You Need Is Kill is the source material for the Tom Cruise / Emily Blunt, Science Fiction, Action movie Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat). The story follows Keiji Kiriya who is just one of many recruits hoping to help mankind push back an alien scourge that the army calls Mimics. They have mechanized Exo-suites akin to Iron Man (without the flying) that allow them to fight the Mimics on a more level playing field. Without spoiling the story, Keiji's dies in his first ever battle, but instead of being dead dead, he wakes up the morning of the day before the battle. Forced to relive that day over and over again, Keiji trains himself to be an amazing fighter while working to discover two things: 1) How can he get out of the time loop, and 2) Why Rita Vrataski, the US Special Forces poster child of what a soldier should be, seems to know how the time loop works.

For fans of the movie based on the book, reading the source material is an interesting exercise to see how movies have to adapt their source material.

SMM

Monday, September 16, 2019

One of Us is Lying

One of Us is Lying
By Karen M. McManus
Delacorte Press, 2017. 360 pages. Young Adult

Five high profile teens walk into detention, but only four walk out alive. Simon, the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app has been murdered, but who did it? Everyone has secrets they want to keep hidden, and as preprogramed blog posts go up, gradually revealing secrets, the question remains. Who killed Simon? Those with him in detention are now the primary suspects, could it have been Bronwyn, the smart, Yale-bound student; Addy, the beautiful homecoming princess; Nate, the criminal who’s already had several run-ins with the law; or perhaps Cooper, the all-star athlete everyone loves? One thing’s for sure, no one is quite as they seem.

I really enjoyed the characterization, even though it depended heavily on stereotypes. That’s something that normally bothers me, but I felt it was done well and the characters were still well developed. The story definitely had me suspecting everyone, and even then there was still a twist at the end. Overall a well-done mystery, and one that I could easily recommend to others.

ACS

Friday, September 13, 2019

Super Late Bloomer

Super Late Bloomer
By Julia Kaye
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2018. 158 pages. Graphic Novel

Julia Kaye made short comics documenting the early period of her gender transition. This touching and personal memoir includes episodes dealing with gender dysphoria, reactions from friends and family, the small actions and comments from strangers that affected how she saw herself, and a variety of other circumstances and emotions.

This is an easily digestible graphic novel with a short, four panel comic on each page. Each vignette is special and impactful in its own way. Whether it shows the devastation of the Amazon delivery person saying “here you go, sir,” or the elation of her parents finally getting her pronouns correct without correction, these comics highlight small moments that can be hard to express in other ways. When I picked this book up I didn’t intend to get sucked in right away. I thought I’d just read a few pages and move on, but it went so quick that I couldn’t put it down. An hour later I finished it and wanted more. This is easily something I could recommend to others, especially for someone looking for a quick foray into graphic novels.

ACS

The Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World's Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West

Cover image for Aloha rodeo : three Hawaiian cowboys, the world's greatest rodeo, and a hidden history of the American West
The Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World's Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West
by David Wolman and Julian Smith
William Morrow, 2019, 242 pages, Nonfiction

Cheyenne, Wyoming, is famous for hosting the biggest rodeo in the West. When it first started, it drew acts like Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, and sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Surely, this was the place where the prowess of the American cowboy was best on display. But in 1908, three paniolo (cowboys) from Hawaii competed in the Wyoming rodeo as well, and proved that they had just as rich of a cattle tradition as the American West. This is the story not only of an historic event in history, but also of Hawaii’s cattle culture and the rise of the paniolo.

I have to admit that I had no idea that there were cattle on the Hawaiian islands until I read this book. Although this is a microhistory focused on Hawaii’s cattle culture, that culture was wrapped up in the Hawaiian monarchy, in the effects of world trade on Hawaii, and in America’s eventual takeover of the Hawaiian government.

Learning of the complexity of Hawaii’s cattle culture was fascinating, but mostly this book focuses on the prowess of Hawaii’s paniolo, or cowboys, and I gained a lot of respect for them. Hawaiian paniolo had to manage not the rocky terrain of the high desert, but mountainsides made of lava rock and dense with forests. One of Hawaii’s best paniolo spent much of his career with only one hand. This was a fascinating way to learn about the history of Hawaii, and to see how the introduction of ranching in both Hawaii and the American West had both similar and vastly different outcomes.

MB

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Hope and Other Punchlines

Cover image for Hope and other punchlines
Hope and Other Punchlines
by Julie Buxbaum
Delacorte Press, 2019, 306 pages, Young Adult Fiction

On Abbi Hope Goldstein’s first birthday, she became a national treasure. On that day, September 11, 2001, a picture of her holding a red balloon as she was being carried from the wreckage of the Twin Towers made national headlines. Even now, when people find out that Abbi is Baby Hope, they all feel compelled to tell her their September 11th stories. This is especially hard since Abbi lives in the town that experienced the most deaths per capita on September 11th. Looking for a chance to get away from it all, Abbi gets a summer job two counties away as a camp counselor.

When Noah Stern, aspiring comedian, head of the school newspaper, and fellow camp counselor recognizes Abbi, he sees this as his lucky break. Noah has been obsessed with the photograph of Baby Hope as long as he can remember. With Abbi’s help, he wants to find out as much as he can about all of the other people in the iconic Baby Hope photograph. But Abbi isn’t interested in revisiting the day she became Baby Hope. Noah will have to do all he can to charm himself into Abbi’s good graces.

I was really impressed with the way Buxbaum balances the elements of a light teenage romance with a heavy subject. She’s not afraid to discuss topics such as the health effects survivors of 9/11 face, or the trauma and loss that they experienced. At the same time, this book is full of the promise and possibility that new friendship and love brings. In doing so, this book becomes a great way of honoring the people who went through a horrible tragedy without becoming too depressing. But the main reason people will read this novel is because Abbi and Noah are both likeable and real (and slightly nerdy). It was fun to see their grudging friendship turn into something more.

MB

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Forward Me Back to You

Forward Me Back to You
By Mitali Perkins
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. 432 pages. Young Adult

Katina King is strong, skilled in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and stands up for herself. When a traumatic event leaves her broken, her mom doesn’t know how to help her. Robin Thornton was adopted from Kolkata, knows nothing about his past, and is reluctant to commit to future plans. When both teens visit India on a service trip to help survivors of human trafficking, they are forced to face the most difficult parts of their lives as they help others overcome their own haunted pasts.

I love this book for the straightforward way it addresses things like sexual assault and the identity crisis of a foreign adoptee. Despite difficulties, the teens find hope and strength as they serve others. The characters are well developed, engaging, and relatable in a variety of ways. Even with such heavy topics, this was a clean read that I could easily recommend to others.

ACS

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

I Am Still Alive

I Am Still Alive
By Kate Alice Marshall
Viking, 2018. 314 pages. Young Adult

After a car crash takes her mother’s life, Jess bounces around in foster care until her father can be contacted and asked to pick her up. Jess hasn’t had any contact with him since she was young, so when she meets her dad in the middle-of-nowhere Canadian wilderness, she’s resentful and angry. Her dad tries to make the best of it, but he has his own reasons for living off the grid, and warns Jess that if she ever sees anyone out there she doesn’t recognize, to hide and stay away. When he’s murdered and Jess is left alone, she does everything she can to survive, not knowing if or when she’ll meet another friendly face.

The beginning of the book bounces between two time periods, before her father’s murder and after. Even with the nonlinear timeline Marshall’s pacing is excellent, making the story clear and suspenseful. All of the pieces gradually come together to show the whole picture of what Jess experienced as she prepares to cope with new predicaments, like the Canadian winter. She’s resourceful and smart, and really an interesting character. If you like stories of wilderness survival and revenge, this is definitely something to check out.

ACS

Figuring

Figuring 
by Maria Popova
Pantheon Books, 2019. 578 pages, Nonfiction

In Figuring, Popova introduces readers to a smattering of interconnected historical figures, from astronomers to sculptors, writers and poets to biologists, with varying degrees of notoriety. Instead of the standard format, describing their contributions to their fields or their life’s importance, she describes their work as their way to understand human connections that go beyond the confines and structures in place in society and describes their search to broaden their understanding of the ways poetry, art, science, and love all interconnect throughout our lives and to make meaningful interactions and experiences and shift the global consciousness.

Many, but not all, of the figures Popova profiles are women in the arts and sciences whose focus on unpopular ideas for their time, or themes such as feminism, religion and spirituality, and ideas like transcendentalism, intersected science, history, social issues and politics. Readers are introduced to the people included in this book through their own words, in their letters and correspondence with their loved ones and confidants for a unique, singularly intimate portrayal (some of my favorites included Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Emily Dickinson). This is a deeply moving and well researched book best enjoyed at a leisurely pace in order to really soak in the dense, somewhat academic concepts.

RC

Barely Missing Everything

Barely Missing Everything 
by Matt Mendez
Atheneum, 2019. 306 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Juan dreams of basketball stardom to lift himself and his struggling mother, Fabi, from poverty. His friend JD has similarly star-stuck aspirations and hopes to become a filmmaker, despite push back and pressure from his own home life threatening his success. When Fabi loses her job, forcing the pair to move back in with her father at the same time that Juan suffers an injury that puts his basketball career on hold, he discovers a startling fact about the man who may be his father and the course of his life takes an unexpected turn— one that leads JD to the perfect topic for his film.

What I liked most about this book was the underlying hope for a better life that each of the main characters believes in, despite the hardships they endure as Mexican-Americans in a time in this country when that fact adds turbulence. The book feels raw and real, the characters flawed and at times victims of circumstance doing their best to stay afloat, causing readers to feel their struggle viscerally. Not a light-hearted read, but an important one that I’d recommend to fans of YA books that take on social issues through story, like American Street, Mexican Whiteboy, or Long Way Down.

RC

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Uploaded

The Uploaded
Ferrett Steinmetz
Angry Robot, 2017, 445p, YA Science Fiction

In this book, the future has become a shell of the past. Generations of the dead now live out their lives as digital beings in an online game called the Upterlife. The living now exist solely to serve the dead, to take care of the Upterlife servers, mass produce the chips and computer boards needed to improve the Upterlife experience. Despite the living being ravaged by rebellion and plague, the dead seem content in their digital lives. For Amichai, the Upterlife represents both heaven and hell. His parents are there, and are so "busy" they don't take care of their kids. As Amichai allows his radical feelings towards the Upterlife grow within him, his unusual skills with tech and his flamboyant way of getting away with the impossible make him the center of a movement to stop the dead from ruling over the living.

Those who enjoyed Corey Doctorow's Little Brother and the Matrix movie trilogy, may enjoy this possibly predictive narrative of what happens when we can digitize the mind of a person completely.

SMM