Thursday, April 8, 2021

Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process

 


Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process 
by Sheryl Ziegler 
Dey St. 2018. 311 pages. Nonfiction 

A practical handbook for the modern mother who feels constantly overwhelmed, tired, and plain burned out. This is filled with funny and relatable real-life stories, explains what burnout looks like and how mothers get there, and of course has lots of advice for avoiding the pitfalls that lead to burnout such as isolation, social media, perfection, and a constant state of busy. For working moms and stay at home moms alike, and includes a chapter on how mom’s burnout can lead to her kids burning out too. 

The writing style is conversational, and I liked how the anecdotes provided both relatability, humor, and real-life examples of the chapter’s principle. At the end of each chapter there’s a “Mommy Prescription Plan” that sums up the suggested actions to address that chapter’s aspect of burnout. I listened to the audiobook version on Libby and have no complaints with the narration. Great read for moms that feel constantly tired, overwhelmed, or “over” being a mother; this book is for you. 

ER

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Braiding Sweetgrass

 

Braiding Sweetgrass

by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Tantor Media Inc. 2016.

As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to this land, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as "the younger brothers of creation." As she explores these themes, she circles toward a central argument: The awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the world. Once we begin to listen for the languages of other beings, we can begin to understand the innumerable life-giving gifts the world provides us and learn to offer our thanks, our care, and our own gifts in return.

Robin Wall Kimmerer provides us with a refreshing and in-depth perspective on our relationship with the earth. I love that she asks us as humans to become interwoven in our relationship with the earth (hence, braiding sweetgrass) rather than having a give and take relationship. Kimmerer has quite the talent for turning hard science into beautiful art. Her words are like poetry and are a pleasure to read. The knowledge she shares about indigenous culture and practices is so beneficial to the wellbeing of the earth and the human race. That having been said, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in ecology, botany, nature, science, anthropology, and in exploring the relationship between humans and the earth. I would also highly recommend listening to the audiobook, which is available through the Libby app.


NS 


Monday, April 5, 2021

Fangs


Fangs 
by Sarah Andersen 
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2020. 100 pages. Graphic Novel 

Elsie the vampire is three hundred years old, but in all that time she has never met her match. That is until she meets Jimmy one night in a bar. Jimmy is a charming werewolf with a wry sense of humor and a fondness for running wild during the full moon. Together, Elsie and Jimmy enjoy a genuine fondness for each other’s unusual habits, macabre lifestyles, and monstrous appetites. 

 This was my first time really diving into one of Sarah Andersen’s works and I really enjoyed it. It was a quick read but told a fun and cute story about a couple as they navigate their relationship and become accustomed to one another’s differences. It shows the awkwardness, humor, and love that all relationships go through with a paranormal twist. If you have enjoyed Sarah Andersen's Adulthood is a Myth or if you are just looking for a good Saturday morning graphic, then be sure to check out this book. 

 ME

Friday, April 2, 2021

Amelia Unabridged

 


Amelia Unabridged

by Ashley Schumacher

Wednesday Books, 2021. 293 pages. Young Adult Fiction

Amelia and Jenna are brought together by a book store and a book. They were meant to be best friends forever. They were going to go to college together and take all the same generals. They were going to be roommates. Jenna had it all planned out, and Amelia needed to be tethered to someone, so she gladly followed the plan.

The summer after graduation, Jenna and Amelia, super fans of N.E. Endsley's amazing Orman Chronicles, find themselves waiting for the panel that will announce the last book in the series, made by N.E. Endsley himself. Amelia heads for the restroom and while she is gone, Jenna meets the terrified Endsley, right outside of the authors' green room. He is having a panic attack. When Amelia returns, she hears the announcement that the Orman panel is canceled. Jenna is strangely quiet about it all. Later she tells Amelia that she tried to help Endsley by telling him to do what was best for him, which led to the panel cancelation. Amelia is devastated and angry. She hold’s Jenna accountable for all her dashed hopes and dreams about meeting Endsley. She is slow to forgive Jenna, so when Jenna is killed in a car accident a week later, Amelia is devastated again.

Amelia becomes obsessed with searching for signs from Jenna. When the 101st out of 100 copies of the leather bound Orman Chronicles shows up for her at her book store with no information about the sender, Amelia knows she needs to find out who sent it. She thinks it’s from Jenna, but she has to be sure. So, she heads to Michigan, to another bookstore that might know where the book came from. Little does she know that this bookstore will bring her together with none other than N.E. Endsley!

This book starts out devastatingly sad and ends impossibly. It's beautiful. With writerly prose that evokes vivid images like sky whales that surface whenever Amelia is feeling something deeply, this book uses the language of anxiety and trauma. It resonates deeply with those who have been through similar tragedies. But the book is also just so fun and lovely. If you can get to Michigan with Amelia, you have a big chance of loving this book. For fans of Sara Zarr and Jandy Nelson.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Hilarious World of Depression

The Hilarious World of Depression
By John Moe
St. Martin's Press, 2020. 285 pages. Nonfiction

John Moe does vital work in combatting the discrimination and difficulty that people with mental illnesses have to struggle against just to function. With a realistic and stark honesty about his personal experiences, Moe builds a compelling narrative for readers (or listeners) to get an insider's look at the world of living with depression inside your own head.

The audio book is narrated by the author, who has years of public radio shows and a podcast (of the same name) behind him to make the audio engaging and fun to listen to. By including actual interview segments from the individuals he quotes throughout the book, Moe's experiences are further supported and joined by a chorus of celebrity and professionals that struggle with depression and illness every day. Topics discussed throughout the book include living with symptoms while undiagnosed, the weight of thinking there's something fundamentally wrong, thoughts of suicidal ideation, and living in the wake of a family member's suicide.

The Hilarious World of Depression provides a necessary window into how it is impossible to just "bounce back" when struggling with depression and pulls apart societal stigmas surrounding medication and therapy. Supported by a tapestry of voices the author encountered in his own interviews for his podcast, listeners will walk away with an understanding, validation, or renewed hope that help is possible.

AS

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Sky Painted Gold

A Sky Painted Gold
By Laura Wood
Random House Children’s Books, 2020. 376 pages. Young Adult 

Lou has dreamed of a fancy, high society life, but her family farm in a quiet Cornish village doesn’t exactly exude glamour. She often sneaks into and reads in the Cardew house, a grand house that has stood empty for years. Then, one day, Caitlin and Robert Cardew, the owners, return for the summer. When Lou hides in a tree one evening, watching one of the Cardew’s fancy parties, Robert Cardew surreptitiously walks over and starts chatting with her. Soon, Lou is swept into the hustle and bustle of high society, all the while feeling both excited, and like an outsider. 

This is a lovely coming-of-age story. Although the story is relatively predictable and the characters fit nicely into their roles, it was fun to get swept away with Lou into the high-life. The setting is immersive and expertly crafted, and the budding romance adds a nice touch. The bitter-sweet nature of growing up, discovering oneself, and becoming independent of our families really tugs at the heartstrings. For those who have enjoyed PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, or THE GREAT GATSBY, or perhaps aren’t quite ready to venture into those classics, A SKY PAINTED GOLD is a great option. 

ACS

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Light for the World to See

Light for the World to See 
by Kwame Alexander 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 96 pages. 

Kwame Alexander is well-known for his slam-dunk poetry in his Newbery Award winning book The Crossover. Light For the World comprises three of his latest poems, “American Bullet Points,” “Take a Knee,” and “The Undefeated.” This book may take you less than an hour to read from start to finish, but these bite-size poems pack a powerful punch. Alexander speaks out on racial injustice and the current struggles of Black lives in society, and he calls this book a “roll of thunder, a call to action. A rally in verse.” 

These poems beg to be read aloud, and I highly suggest listening to recordings of Kwame Alexander himself reading them. These recordings are available free of charge online. If you enjoy this book, you may also enjoy Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb.

ALL

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Juliet Takes a Breath


Juliet Takes a Breath

By Gabby Rivera

Dial Books, 2019. 304 pages. Fiction. 

The night before she leaves for her dream internship, Juliet Palante comes out to her Puerto Rican family as a lesbian. Leaving behind her shocked and disappointed parents, she travels from the Bronx to Portland, Oregon to intern for her favorite feminist author, Harlowe Brisbane. Juliet spends the summer making friends with other women authors of color, exploring her sexuality, learning to communicate with her mom, and getting over her first break-up. She finds that Harlowe’s brand of feminism isn’t as inclusive as she thought and that sometimes your heroes will fail you. Juliet discovers more about who she is as a “closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx” and learns to love herself, “even the shameful bits”. 

This book is a delightful coming of age and coming out of the closet story. Juliet’s narration is honest and unfiltered which makes it feel really refreshing. She’s got a lot to say and a lot to learn about the world, and I like that the reader gets to discover this along with Juliet. The reader and Juliet learn about intersectionality, white feminism, and how to navigate the queer community. I like the complex, multi-dimensional characters and feel that they, and their experiences, mirror real life.

SR

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Dry

Dry: Delicious Handcrafted Cocktails and Other Clever Concoctions: Seasonal, Refreshing, Alcohol-Free
by Clare Liardet
The Experiment, 2018. 143 pages. Nonfiction.

A little book with a lot of flavor, this collection of alcohol-free cocktails is a must for anyone interested in exploring sophisticated flavor profiles of the world of mocktails. In addition to the perfect primer on mixology that covers common terms and gear, each simple recipe walks you through either the flavor profile or benefits of the particular mocktail. From dessert to clever pick-me-ups, there is sure to be a new favorite drink for you to add to your week.

I'm always on the lookout for interesting flavor combinations and this recipe book doesn't disappoint. One of the things I love about mocktails is that you can make them for anyone. Good mocktails are an experience both lovely and delicious. Each recipe is accompanied by vibrant photos that provide serving suggestions, as well as a range of flavors from creative sodas like a Blueberry-Mint Julep to adventurous remakes like a Beet Virgin Mary. If you're curious about what is beyond soda and syrups, then Dry: Delicious Handcrafted Cocktails and Other Clever Concoctions is a good place to start.

AS

Monday, March 15, 2021

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It


Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It
By Ethan Kross
Crown, 2021. 242 pgs. Nonfiction

Ethan Kross is an award-winning psychologist and a professor at the University of Michigan. He studies how to control emotions in order to have more self-control in daily life. In the book Chatter, he explains the importance of the inner voice in our daily lives. Using groundbreaking research from his own lab as well as case studies and his own experiences, he explains how the conversations we have with ourselves shape our lives, our work and our relationships. 

Let's be honest, most of us have a voice in our heads. This book helped me realize that it is normal, but that it is very important that we learn how to interact with the voice. Sometimes that voice can be our inner coach that encourages us to do something scary or hard. Other times it turns into our inner critic that spirals us into fear and inaction. When we give in to the negative self-talk, or as he refers to it, chatter; our health is worse, our mood goes down, and our relationships are not as good. I really liked that he had science to back up what he was teaching but that he did it in a way that was easy to read. 
 
Kross gave specific examples of things we can do to control our chatter. One of the simplest recommendations is to use your name or the word "you" when you are talking to yourself and don't use "I" or "me". It helps distance yourself from the emotion. For example, instead of saying, "I am really mad." I could say, "Amber is feeling really mad." It's a simple change but it works! I also loved that the back section is a categorized summary of the practical tips that were covered in the book. I learned a lot from this book and plan to start using many of the tools to control my chatter.

AL

The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids

 


The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids 
by Jessica Joelle Alexander 
Penguin Audio, 2016. Nonfiction 

 Danes are consistently rated the happiest people on Earth. We know it’s not because of sunshine or warm weather, so why are they so happy? Author Jessica Alexander is an American married to a Dane, living in Denmark, and uses her personal observations as a parent on Danish approaches and her professional knowledge as a licensed psychotherapist to connect Danish parenting with happier kids and adults. She builds her book around the word PARENT as an acronym: Play, Authenticity, Reframing, Empathy, No ultimatums, and Togetherness. 

 Danish culture emphasizes we over me, or the whole over the individual, especially in family time and this is heavily reflected in their parenting. Other than some culturally influenced differences, the principles described here are positive parenting strategies. If you enjoy the principles in this book, I’d recommend looking at some other positive parenting resources for a more in-depth look at how to add these tools to your parenting toolbox. My personal favorite is How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber. 

ER

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Rich Dad, Poor Dad


Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Robert T. Kiyosaki
Plata Publishing, 2017. 352 pages. Nonfiction.

Robert Kiyosaki presents the basics of financial literacy by presenting the fiscal policies he learned from two men, his father and his friend's father. His father worked a traditional job, considered his house an asset, and believed in education (meaning a college degree) as one of the greatest driving factors behind lifelong success. His friend's father believed in taking financial risks when it made sense to do so, assets being only defined as things that make your money, and that and education (meaning a college degree) is only as useful as the financial education you pair with it. Kiyosaki walks you through the story of his own financial literacy journey from when he was a child and he collected toothpaste tubes to melt down and literally mint money with to today. He helps explain what assets should be, and how traditional assets like a house, often aren't an asset at all. 

After finished this book, much of the financial advice the flies around the internet finally made sense. Kiyosaki gives you a framework with which to evaluate and analyze financial information you hear in passing as potentially useful or potentially useless. It isn't a traditional book of finance that describes a specific type of investing or financial development. No, Kiyosaki presents the basics that schools don't teach, so that his readers can start to understand the financial world by its most basic units: assets and liabilities. This book is for anyone that might want to get started with becoming financially literate.

-SMM

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig
Viking, 2020, 288 pages, Science Fiction

At a moment when everything seems to be going wrong and she is looking for an exit, Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library—a library full of books detailing all of the ways Nora’s life could have turned out differently. Nora learns how her life would be if she’d stayed with an old boyfriend, become an olympian, made it big with her old rock band, or realized her dreams of becoming a glaciologist. With each new life Nora tries out, Nora searches for the answer to what makes her actual life worth living.

If you’ve ever wondered how your life would have changed if you’d made a different decision, this book is for you. Haig keeps the tone fairly light even when Nora discovers that there are timelines that are even darker than the one she’s currently living, and he shows that even brighter timelines have downsides. The result is that the book becomes a life-affirming celebration of the little details of our day-to-day lives, and a promise that we can always make new choices tomorrow.

Although I read the hardcover version of this book, there is a small part of me that wishes I’d had the audiobook version, which is read by actress Carey Mulligan

MB

Think Like a Monk


Think Like a Monk: Train Your Brain for Peace and Purpose Every Day
By Jay Shetty
Simon & Schuster, 2020. 328 pgs. Nonfiction
 
Jay Shetty is a social media superstar and also hosts a popular podcast. In this book he shares valuable wisdom he learned during the years he was a monk. When he made the decision to become a monk, his family considered him a failure. He had just graduated from college and had a promising future in a large company. Instead he decided to dedicate his life to meditation and service. During the long hours of meditation he learned to get to the root of his true fears and to become selfless. In the book, he also talks about the importance of learning to breath correctly, skills for having better relationships, and the value of service.

I really enjoyed this book! I listened to the audiobook on Libby and it is read by the author. It felt more like having a conversation with a really good life coach. A lot of what Jay Shetty shared wasn't new, but the way he explained things resonated with me and made me consider what I could change in my life. I also appreciated that he gave examples of different types of meditation exercises for various situations. He also helped remind me of the importance of writing down the things I am grateful for. The thing I enjoyed most from this book were his personal stories of being a monk. He admitted that it was not easy and he struggled with a lot of the things he was expected to do as a monk, like waking up early, doing menial chores, and serving and loving everyone without expecting anything in return. His main message was that we don't have to be a monk to think like one. We can make small changes every day to retrain our brain and learn a new way of showing up in our lives.
 
AL

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Eat a Peach

Eat a Peach
By David Chang
Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2020. 288 pgs. Biography

David Chang is best known as the chef and owner of Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan's East Village, although he has by now opened several more restaurants in addition to Momofuku.  Chang is surprisingly open about challenges he has faced, including serious struggles with mental health that nearly cost him his life.  Chang isn't afraid to admit when he was wrong or made mistakes, and what it cost him to learn those lessons.  What he has learned along the way is relatable and even inspiring, and his journey as a chef becomes almost secondary to the description of his growth as a person. 

It seems like the chef biographies I have read have all included stories of hard work and overcoming big challenges.  But Chang's book stands out from the pack.  There is a vulnerability, a readiness to admit imperfections, and a steely determination that I haven't often seen in biographies.  There were even a few passages that I wrote down because they paint the world in a light I hadn't considered before.  His observations have an unexpected wisdom, insight, and depth that make this an inspiring read.  There is plenty of adult language in the book, but fans of biographies and stories of overcoming hardships should find a lot to love here.

BHG

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

A Court of Silver Flames

by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 757 pages. Fantasy.

Sarah J. Maas returns to her Court of Thrones and Roses series with a new installment following Feyre's oldest sister, Nesta, and the Night Court General, Cassian. Following the events of the Hybern War, Nesta still hasn't made peace with her new body and new life. Nesta, always quick to anger, turns her hate inward with a deep dive into self-destructive behaviors until her family has had enough. She is forced to train with Cassian, which ignites her anger and the passion she's determined to ignore.

As Nesta fights to find peace despite her hatred, she discovers that the end of the War only brings a different type of battle, and the power to end it lies deep within herself. If only she can find the courage to confront it.

A Court of Silver Flames fits perfectly with the story and characters the author developed previously. Nesta and Cassian's story is filled with emotional tension, ethical dilemma, and steamy romance. With masterful narration and action, this book is a fun read and impossible to put down.

AS

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Best-Laid Plans

The Best-Laid Plans
by Sarah M. Eden 
Covenant Communications, 2021. 134 pages. Romance 

Newton Hughes has long dreamed of pursuing a career in law, an acceptable choice for a gentleman of status and wealth. His parents, however, disapprove of his ambition, urging him instead to take his rightful place as a gentleman of leisure—with a suitable wife of their choosing, of course. 

 Ellie Napper would like nothing more than for her parents to abandon their incessant efforts to marry her off to the greatest possible advantage. Her lack of matrimonial enthusiasm drives her family mad, but she refuses to feign frivolity in order to make herself more palatable to potential suitors. When Ellie and Newton are introduced through their mutual acquaintance, Charlie Jonquil, they commiserate over their shared plight. In desperation, they hatch a plan: Ellie and Newton will feign an interest in each other—enough to convince their parents not to push them toward unwanted matches but not enough to cause whispers or expectations. Their plot quickly spirals out of control, but the greatest complication is the one they didn't see coming: their plan never included falling in love. 

This is the perfect book to read if you are a fan of Sarah Eden’s Lancaster and Jonquil series. It introduces new characters that will lead into a new series of books and the romance is so sweet and simple. The story has a Cinderella quality and is fast paced and keeps you glued to the pages. It is a short book so perfect for those searching for a quick and fun read. If you have not read any of Eden’s books you don’t to read them in order to understand and enjoy this book. 

 ME

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Knitting the Galaxy

by Tanis Gray 
Insight Editions, 2021. 207 pgs. Nonfiction 

Tanis Gray and Insight Editions have done it again. In this first official Star Wars knitting pattern book, there are 28 beautiful patterns based on and inspired by the Skywalker Saga films. Projects are divided into four sections: toys, costume replicas, inspiring apparel, and home décor. In addition to the full color patterns, there are photos and behind-the-scenes information from the Star Wars films. A wide variety of techniques are used, including cabling, double knitting, beading, and stranded colorwork in a range of sizes and difficulties. 

This is a fun, beautiful, and creative book with a variety of projects. One of the biggest additions to this title is the costume replica section. It was difficult to pick just a few projects that were my favorites, but I love the “Rebel Alliance Shawl” for its subtlety and the “Yoda Mittens” and “Wookiee Socks” for their playfulness. The colors and photographs are beautiful for each project and evoke the magic and wonder of the Star Wars galaxy. There are projects for all skill levels, but it does not have a beginners’ guide, so a basic knowledge of knitting is needed. This is perfect for knitters or Star Wars lovers and simply beautiful to browse through. 

TT

How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time
By Matt Haig
Penguin Group, 2019. 352 pgs. Sci-Fi

Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41-year-old man, but due to a rare genetic condition, he's actually over 400 years old.  He has recently moved back to London to begin teaching history, but London hides memories around every corner, some centuries old.  Tom keeps his condition a secret, which isolates him from everyone except the Albatross Society, a small and secretive group of people who, like Tom, age slowly over centuries.  The Society has one rule: never fall in love, as forming attachments leads to trouble.  But for the first time in centuries, Tom is captivated by a woman, the school's French teacher.  The only way to keep her safe is to stay away from her, but Tom is finding that more and more difficult.

This book bridges the gaps between several literary genres: science fiction, romance, and historical fiction.  Tom's present-day story is interspersed with glimpses of his life through the centuries.  Some cameos from famous historical figures enliven the text, but the observations about the changes in society over time and the nature of time itself offered some of the most interesting moments of the book.

BHG

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Pan’s Labyrinth


Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun
By Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 256 pages. Young Adult 

Ofelia and her pregnant mother go to live with her new stepfather in a remote forest in Spain, where he is trying to flush out a group of rebels. Upon arrival, Ofelia discovers there are various magical beings in the area, and finds the entrance to a nearby labyrinth. Her arrival awakens a faun who has been searching for the lost Princess Moanna, the daughter of the king of the underworld. He believes Ofelia is the princess, and has her engage in a series of tests to prove her identity. All the while, Ofelia’s mother becomes increasingly sick, and her stepfather shows himself to be an uncaring and harsh man. Ofelia’s only hope to get away from the chaos of her surroundings is to prove her identity and claim her rightful place on the throne. 

This is the novelization of Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s been several years since I’ve seen the film, but it felt like the novel followed it quite faithfully. That said, it provided a somewhat different experience being directly inside of Ofelia’s head, such as when she justified the eating of food in the lair of the Pale Man. The world building is fantastic, layering fantasy on history, and the reimagining of fairy tales. There are a lot of layers that can be explored and considered, which is why, despite the fact that I had to take breaks because it was so emotionally visceral, I really liked it. If you like dark-fantasy/horror, this is definitely one to pick up, especially if you’d prefer to get the story without watching the movie. 

ACS

Monday, February 8, 2021

As Old as Time

 


As Old as Time
 by Liz Braswell 
Disney Press, 2016, 484 pages, Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy 

 What if it was Belle’s mother that curse the Beast? Following the storyline of the beginning of the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, readers also get alternating chapters of the story of Belle’s parents. Until the story diverges from the movie when Belle touches the Beast’s enchanted rose and is flooded with her mother’s memories, who is in fact the beautiful enchantress that cursed the Beast and the castle. With the time to save the castle inhabitants from the curse quickly dwindling, Belle and the Beast must quickly unravel a dark mystery that began 21 years ago or the Beast and his household will be lost forever. 

 Part of a series that reimagines classic Disney tales, this book is actually a stand-alone novel. I like that this book took Disney’s Beauty and the Beast story and added substantial depth to the original characters and their backstories, especially Belle’s mothers since mothers are notoriously missing from many Disney classics. Most Disney fans will appreciate this retelling, as well as readers of Young Adult fiction interested in fantasy. 

 ER

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books, 2020, 343 pages, Historical Fiction

Chafing at the confines of growing up in the small black community of Mallard, Louisiana, in the 1950s, the identical Vignes sisters, Stella and Desiree, decide to run away together and make a new life for themselves in New Orleans. Ten years later, Desiree lives back in Mallard with her mother and her daughter, Jude. Stella has cut all ties with her former self, and secretly passes for white, living in Los Angeles with her white husband and blonde daughter, Kennedy. When Jude and Kennedy cross paths in the 1990s, Stella and Desiree are forced to examine the decisions that led them down such diverse paths.

At its surface, The Vanishing Half is an exploration of the idea of “passing” as one race when you identify as another. But at its heart, this book is about the relationships of parents and siblings, and a discussion of how you define your family. It’s also about the ways we change ourselves in order to make sense of our place in the world. These are tough topics to cover in one book, but Bennett covers each story delicately and with great balance, so that the stories of the past and the future, although entwined together, shine evenly.

Although these books don’t also explore the idea of Passing, readers who appreciate The Vanishing Half may also enjoy reading other contemporary fiction about the black experience, such as Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

MB

Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age
by Kiley Reid
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019, 310 pages, General Fiction

When a late-night grocery store run leads to being accused of kidnapping the white toddler she nannies, black, 25 year-old Emira Tucker just wants to put the incident behind her. But Alix, the toddler’s mother, is more surprised by the events. As a white Instagram influencer who has built her name into a thriving business, Alix hasn’t encountered hurdles like this one before. Alix becomes a bit obsessed with Emira, trying to figure out how much the experience has affected her, and if there’s anything Alix can to do to ensure that she keeps her part-time nanny. When video of the fateful day brings Emira in contact with someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves forced to confront problems that they’ve been avoiding for far too long.

Although the main premise of this book is centered on one fateful trip to the grocery store, this book is really character-driven. It’s seeing how those involved in the incident react that drives the story forward. Reid gives each character a unique voice and perspective that makes each character feel fully fleshed-out.  This helps you see each characters' motivations and makes you wonder what your own reaction would be. 

In the end, this is a book driven by the juxtaposition of racism and white privilege, but it’s also about the pros and cons of social media, and about friendship, relationships, the perils of adulthood, standing up for yourself, and standing up for others.

MB

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us
by Tricia Levenseller
Feiwel and Friends, 2020. 326 pages. Young Adult

Eighteen-year-old Alessandra Stathos, the second daughter of a minor nobleman, is tired of being overlooked and has a plan. 1) woo the Shadow King. 2) Marry him. 3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself. Sounds simple Enough. But she is not the only one in the castle who is trying to kill him. She needs to keep him alive long enough to become queen all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

This book was such a fun way to start the year. It was so different to have the main characters so ruthless and cunning and I loved it. The chemistry between Alessandra and the Shadow King was intoxicating and their interactions with each other were hilarious. Alessandra is a woman who knows who she is, what she likes, and what she wants and she doesn’t apologize for it. I listened to the audiobook version and the narrator did a wonderful job differentiating the characters and putting ream emotion into the words. The story came alive more due to the excellent narration. If you are a fan of Sarah J. Maas’s series, Throne of Glass you will enjoy this because it has a similar writing style and characters. 


 ME

Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute
by Emma Lord
Wednesday Books, 2020. 361 pages. Young Adult Fiction

 Pepper has a lot on her plate; she is a straight-A student, the captain of the swim team, and the secret weapon of the Big League Burger Twitter account. It doesn’t matter that her mother has people to do social media for her, Pepper always seems to get roped in. Then there is Jack: twin, class clown, and yet the dependable son who is always working the counter at the family restaurant, Girl Cheesing. When Big League Burger appears to have stolen one of Jack’s grandmother’s grilled cheese recipes, he strikes back at Big League Burger on Twitter, which leads to an all-out viral war.  Some of the major consequences of this war are Girl Cheesing gets more followers and customers and Big League takes a big hit in authenticity. All the while Jack and Pepper are fighting tooth and nail over Twitter, they also happen to be anonymously falling for each other on a social app that Jack created. The usual awkwardness ensues. As their relationship gets more serious IRL, Jack and Pepper must both decide what they really want.

This book is just what it looks like, a warm and fuzzy teenage romantic comedy with just enough parental and school drama to keep it from being too frothy. The writing is witty, the action is fast paced, and the laughs are many. In fact, you might want to be careful where you are reading this book, because I guarantee you will belly laugh several times. This is Lord’s debut and I foresee it becoming a classic in the genre. Her second novel, You Have a Match, just came out and I am super excited to read it.

AGP

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power 
by Pam Grossman Gallery Books, 2019. 288 pages. Nonfiction 

“Show me your witches, and I’ll show you your feelings about women.” 

This sentence from the introduction is the premise of Pam Grossman’s informative and illuminating celebration of witches. Grossman, a self-proclaimed witch herself and the host of the “The Witch Wave” podcast, takes the reader on a journey through history, mythology, art, and pop culture. She discusses the infamous witch hunts of Europe, pop culture witches like Sabrina and Hermione, and literary witches like Circe and The Witch of Endor. 

With each passage, Grossman deftly describes the direct correlation between persecution and the fear of female power. She invites the reader to think of the witch archetype and how it reflects society’s views on women. The witch is independent, she is powerful, and she is a force to be reckoned with. You don't have to be a believer in magic and witches to appreciate this book, as there is enough journalism and broad appeal to make this an informative read for those interested in history. This entertaining and fascinating read is sure to become a feminist classic.

ALL

Monday, February 1, 2021

Hench

Hench
by Natalie Zina Walschots
William Morrow, 2020. 403 pages. Science Fiction.

Anna has a boring job in an exciting industry. She's a data analyst by trade, but she uses that skill set as a hench. In other words, she works as a data scientist for supervillains. After receiving a traumatic injury from a superhero trying to stop her supervillain boss, Anna discovers that by the numbers, superheroes cause more loss of life than even natural disasters. Using her skills, and with the resources of a mysterious supervillain named Leviathan, Anna proves that you don't need superpowers to stand up to those in power. All you need is some clever math, a little social engineering, a well-designed spreadsheet, and a passion (or hatred) strong enough to overcome any obstacle that might get in your way. 

Hench is a very clever take on the superhero/supervillain genre of stories. Much in the vein of Marissa Meyer's Renegades or Victoria Schwab's Vicious, Walschots uses the traditional black and white fight between good and evil represented in most superhero media projects, throws it into a bucket of grey, and then uses the result to present an interesting commentary on the adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely." For those looking for superhero stories that go against the grain found in the MCU and DCEU, this book is exactly what you're looking for.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

Year of Yes


Year of Yes 
By Shonda Rhimes
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 311 pgs. Nonfiction

Shonda Rhimes is the creator of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal". In this book she tells about the year she realized she was saying "no" to almost everything in her life. She hadn't really realized how unhappy she was. She decided that for one year she would say yes to opportunities that presented themselves. She didn't fully anticipate the far reaching effect this decision would have on her life and how the momentum of a few "yes's" would carry over into other areas of her life. She also talked about how some of the experiences terrified her to death, but she went through with it anyway and was glad that she did. 

This was a great book to read at the beginning of a new year. I have to be honest and say that I've never watched any of the shows Shonda Rhimes created, but it was fun to hear some of the behind the scenes details. I listened to this book on Libby and it felt like I was sitting down with a friend for some helpful advice. I also enjoyed that she shared the actual audio of some of the speeches she gave. The way she writes, and repeats certain phrases, probably would have bothered me if I was trying to read the physical book so I'm glad I listened to it. This book encouraged me to evaluate my own life and see if there are some areas that I could start saying "Yes" more often.  

AL




Friday, January 22, 2021

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel 
by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff 
Atheneum, 2020. 208 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novels 

Will’s older brother, Shawn, has just been shot and his grief might overwhelm him. But, in Will’s neighborhood, there are THE RULES: No. 1: Crying. Don’t. No matter what. No. 2: Snitching. Don’t. No matter what. No. 3: Revenge. Do. No matter what. The morning following his brother’s murder, Will is on his way to get revenge on the person he thinks killed his brother when a 60-second elevator ride changes his life. He is reminded that bullets can miss. They can hit the wrong person. You can get the wrong guy. And there is always someone else who knows to follow the rules. 

This is a heart-wrenching story about one boy’s struggle to come to terms with his brother’s death and how he’s been taught to react a certain way. Much of the lyrical language from the original book is present, although it has been edited to fit the graphic style. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, with an incredible lever of detail, and the use of watercolors conveys the mood and setting perfectly. This is a deeply-moving tale about teen gun violence, and will appeal to both new readers and Reynolds’ fans. This is more than a simple retelling, but is a poignant adaptation that stands on its own. 

TT

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

You Are Not So Smart

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself
By David McRaney
Gotham Books, 2011. 302 pages. Nonfiction

McRaney uses studies and research to illustrate ways that we as humans can be not so smart sometimes.  There are a great many logical fallacies and failures of reasoning pointed out here, all things that even the best of us fall victim to from time to time.  This is an interesting study of human behavior and a humorous ego check to boot.  Recommended for fans of popular science and humor.

BHG