Wednesday, November 21, 2018

(Belated) Reads for Young Readers Week

Once upon a time, I was going to read some J Fiction for National Young Readers Week. The calendar I used said it is this week. However, the interwebs have informed me that it was actually last week. Regardless, I read three new children's books and a throwback, and I'm going to tell you about them now. Also, did y'all know Pizza Hut BOOK IT! sponsors this week?!? I'm now craving a personal pan pizza as I type this.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate was incredible. Regardless of age, Katherine Applegate (who also wrote the phenomenal The One and Only Ivan) knows how to make her readers feels all the things in the most unique of ways. This story focuses on Jackson. Jackson's family has encountered significant financial struggles in his life. When his family falls on hard times yet again, Jackson's invisible friend/cat Crenshaw shows up. Jackson is confused by his re-appearance and tries to figure out what it could mean. He does find comfort in his old friend as he navigates the newest hardships his family has encountered. This book is amazingly powerful as it is the struggles of poverty told through a child's eyes. It's full of Jackson trying to understand why and wanting to help, especially as his family must resort to living in their mini van. For a fiction read, this was an authentic read on the tolls of poverty. I kid you not that I'm tearing up as I write this review as I reflect on the depths of emotion in this one. This is true beauty in words y'all.

Read this book if - You want a book that explores poverty and the emotions of family through a child's eyes. You want a book that introduces a unique element to explore emotion.

Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Vardarajan is the story of two boys struggling at Albert Einstein Elementary School in different ways. Also, let me just say before I review the book that this cover is one of my favorites of the year. It's just perfect! Ravi has recently moved from India to the United States. He is anxious about his new school and hoping to quickly find his place. Meanwhile, Joe has been at this school for some time. He's never quite found where he fits in, and he struggles with relentless teasing mostly from Dillon Samreen. Ravi's plans to find his place don't go as planned, especially his plans to buddy up to the other Indian in his class - Dillon. Told in alternating chapters, Joe and Ravi find their paths crossing more than expected in the course of a week of school. They come to realize that a common foe and want to find a friend are causes they can get behind. This book did a great job of talking about the realities of the social dynamics of an elementary school. Being both a new kid and an "old" kid who doesn't quite fit can be tough, and I appreciated how this book explored the perils of both situations. This was another book that was full of all kinds of emotion as being a kid can be so hard, but finding your people can be a gamechanger.

Read this book if - You want a book that reminds you of what it's like to be the new kid. You want a book that reminds you of what it feels like to want to fit in. You want a book that honestly explores the emotions of relationships in elementary school.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell was a book I'd read before, but it's been a legit 25 years. Y'all, this was way more intense than I remembered. First off, Karana loses her dad. Then, she stays behind with her brother on the island only to have him killed by wild dogs?!? Karana is then alone to make her life on the island. She builds her own shelter, finds her own food, befriends a wild dog, and she just does all the things. As a kid, I don't remember truly processing what a feat this all was! As an adult, I definitely did not dig the ending though. White dudes show up, Karana puts the unmarried mark on her face, and she's off the island just like that. For all the independence she had, that was just a "Really?!?" kind of bummer ending for me. 

Read this book if -You want to revisit a book from your childhood - assuming you've read this before? You want a book that explores a true independent woman. . . until the end.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson was SO. MANY. FEELS. I know, I know, I mention "feels" in reviews a lot, but this one was so much beautiful and tragic emotion. Ms. Bixby is a beloved teacher, especially by Topher, Brand and Steve. The boys and all her students are stunned when Ms. Bixby announces she is sick and cannot continue teaching. The boys make it their own mission to let Ms. Bixby know just how special she is to them. With chapters narrated by each of them, the boys share just how Ms. Bixby has changed their life for the better. They have each found some struggle, and there are little things Ms. Bixby has done to help and support them when they most needed it. This book was just incredible, and I forgot I was reading a children's book as the storytelling of what Ms. Bixby meant to the boys and how they were seeking to honor her was so well done. This story is just masterfully told. It weaves humor and love and sadness and joy in a way that's hard to do. Regardless of age, this is a book that's worth finding your way to. It makes you think of who the Ms. Bixby in your life might be, and it's also a beautiful ode to the teachers who take the time to put their whole heart into the work they do each day.

Read this book if - You've ever had a teacher who's changed your life. You want to read a book about the power of people to change lives. You want a book that will make you feel all the feels and then some.

Y'all, these three new reads brought such unexpected emotion to my reading. I've not read J Fiction (or any fiction really!) that's hit me in this way in awhile. I'd highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend finding your way to these soon-ish.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Tears, Fears & Cats

Y'all, I usually know what I'm getting into when I start reading a book. The first two of these were so unexpected. I felt literally all the feels I could. I followed up with a thriller just for a good emotional cleanse. Then, I jumped right back in with a Jodi! This was a special quartet where I dug all four, and I think y'all can find something in here, too!

Things You Save In A Fire by Katherine Center is a story that hit me in the feels in all the best ways. After reading my second of her books, I'm realizing Katherine Center is the kind of author who writes books that absolutely captivate me, and I love her for it. This book focuses on Cassie who is a firefighter in Texas. She relocates to Boston after an unwelcome blast from the past and need to help her mother with her ailing health. Her new fire station is full of challenge. First of all, they're not exactly excited about having a woman join their team, and they're also not shy about letting Cassie know. Second, there's "the rookie" who's started alongside Cassie. He makes her feel a certain kind of way, and she's not sure what to do with that. Y'all, this one had so much emotion. I was so into Cassie's story. At times, it was a hard read because I was so emotionally invested in Cassie's life - both personal and professional. Also, there were some twists at the end that made it so I literally had to sit down and catch my breath. I mean, y'all, my heart was racing as I was that into this one. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me get a sneak peek of this one that's not due out until August 2019. I'll be sure to remind y'all about this one as the release date approaches because I need others to feel these feels and then discuss said feels with me. Until then, find time to read How To Walk Away if you haven't already. 

Read this book if - You want a book that does an amazing job of building characters and relationships that you will become emotionally invested in. You want a story makes you feel so many feels - good and bad. You need to read a book about people - seriously.

If Cats Disappeared From The World by Genki Kawamura was yet another one that hit me in the feels. This one was so unexpected. I received this ARC in the mail, started reading that evening, and before I knew it, I was a mess of tears. This book was originally published in Japan, and the translated version is due out in March of 2019. The premise of the book is that the main character (a postman) is dying. The devil shows up, and he offers to give him one more day with a catch. That catch is that for him to get one day one thing is going to be eliminated from the world. This book was absolutely beautiful. Each day something else is gone, and the impact is explored. At the core of each day, there is a realization of why that thing really matters. Again, this book was just beauty all around. Also, if you're a cat lover, you'll love the role cats play in the story. It'll make you feel a special kind of way. This is one that'll get you thinking and talking and wanting to share it with those you love.

Read this book if - You want a book that will make you feel all the feels. You want a book that will make you think about life and love in a special kind of way. You need a book that when it's over will make you just want to sit and reflect.

The Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault was a thriller that was true to the genre in the best of ways. The story begins with a therapist being found dead in his office. The search then begins to figure out just who did it. This part of the story is narrated by the detective. Meanwhile, Nadine, a former patient of Dr. Fabian's, spends her narration talking to the doctor. She recounts her time in his care and what she did and didn't share. The story becomes complicated quickly as two files are in Dr. Fabian's office - Nadine's and Johnny Streeter who is in jail for a mass shooting. This is one that kept me reading. The two narrations have some overlap, and I had to know what the ultimate connect and resolution of this one was going to be. 

Read this book if - You are looking for a plain and simple, well-written thriller. 

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult is her latest. As I explained in my initial insta-review, this book is Jodi Picoult doing her best Jodi Picoulting. If you've read enough of her stuff, you'll know what this means. This isn't a bad thing, rather it's just that you know what you get when you pick up a Jodi. This one starts with a shooting at a women's reproductive health clinic. The shooter is still inside, and a hostage negotiator is on the scene. The situation becomes more high stakes as he realizes his own daughter is inside. The story is uniquely told in reverse. It begins at 5 PM, then each chapter winds back the clock an hour. With each hour, more is revealed about the staff and patients inside, as well as those who are outside. Jodi weaves a complicated web as only she can, and that kept me reading. I was bummed I figured out one of the twists, so I didn't get that excitement pop at the end. Also, because the twists were especially late, I had so many questions and resolutions I needed. When you become emotionally invested, sometimes you just need that, you know? 

Read this book if - You haven't yet read this Jodi Picoult. You want a book that explores a complex topic through complex characters and storytelling.

And onto the next ones!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

One Of These Books Is For You!

Y'all this is a round of four very different books, but I really like each of them. Pending the genre you're in the mood for/generally read, I can almost guarantee one of these will be your jam!

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss was a heaping, helping dose of nostalgia. This was my tween reading days revisited, and I just loved it. The book sub-divides the genre by explaining each of the themes/subgeneres of the time. From serious issues to horror (my personal jam) to BFFs, this had all the things I loved about  Best of all, there are all the pictures of the covers. I mean, so much of the genre was the covers! I loved the chance to remember books I'd forgotten (sorry I did that to you, Girl Talk) and to wonder how I never knew some of these were a thing. This book is such an awesome tribute to the books of this time, but more than that, it's a connection for the readers of that time. I was so inspired by this one, I even went out and found some throwback reads to check out! 

Read this book if - As soon as you started reading my review, you said to yourself, "I LOVED THOSE BOOKS!" You are a thirtysomething (and maybe older - I can only speak for my decade) that read in this lane and/or would love an excuse to read this genre again.

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern was an absolute treat of a read. This is a middle grade novel with a narrator I absolutely adored. Maggie is an 11 year old girl who is writing her memoir. With this, she takes you through the year that was. The biggest part of this story is Maggie's dad has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This means that he is no longer working, and he is in a wheelchair. Maggie is trying to understand what this means for her dad and her world. To see this through her eyes is emotional. Maggie always just has a unique spirit and humor. I laughed out loud many times as she went through her days. There's her first crush, her request for a share of stock for her birthday, and of course, her ongoing aspirations to be President.. And there's just so much. I loved how this story was told y'all, and I can nearly guarantee humans of all ages will fall in love with Maggie. Finally, I LOVE THIS COVER. It's easily one of my favorites ever.

Read this book if - You want a uniquely told story. You want a story that has some heart (and some heartbreak) as well as humor. You want a book that's just a good book.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr was a book I almost don't need to review. This is mostly because I'm terribly late to reading this one. Y'all, how has this beauty of a read been out for literal years without me taking the time to read it?!?! Well, the good news is I know have been introduced to this one, and what a beautiful read. There are some books that are just darn near perfectly told, and this is one of those. For those of you who don't yet know and love this one, it is the story of a young German soldier and a blind French girl in occupied France during World War II. Their stories are told in alternating chapters. However, there is also intersection. This one was heartbreaking many, many times over, but there was also glimmers of hope and goodwill. It made me feels all the feels, and I loved it. 

Read this book if - You haven't read this book already. I don't give such general recommendations often, but this is one of those times.

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton was one heckuva thriller. I have often mentioned that a book reminds me of a Lifetime movie (and y'all, I LOVE Lifetime movies to be clear), but this belong in that genre more than any other. It's rare that I read a book, and as a twist happens I say (practically yell) out loud, "WHAT?!?" This book was that. The story is told from an ex-girlfriend who is trying to get her ex back. She is willing to go to extreme lengths to do that. However, that's only one part of the story. This one was revenge on revenge on revenge, and whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't want to give too much away because the twists are so much of the appeal. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me get these thrills early. Y'all will be able to see what I'm talking about when this releases in March 2019!

Read this book if - You love Lifetime movies in all their awesomeness. You love a good jaw-dropping twist or two.

Until the next round! 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Books of Feels & Fear

I totally intended to read four books for Halloween, but alas, I did not. 

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie was fantastic. Y'all, how is this the first Agatha Christie I've read in life?!? I picked this one up after it was on the Great American Read list, and I'm glad I did. This is the story of ten strangers who are mysteriously summoned to an island. They know very little about their host, but they all go. Shortly upon arrival, a recording is played. In this recording, a poem is read and a secret is revealed about each of the guests. From there, the doubt, the death(s), and the deception begin. From its first pages to the literal last one, this one kept me reading and guessing. The suspense and twists of this one were well done, and I dug the final twist of the ending. It's amazing that this was written 80 years old, and the mystery it cultivates still holds up. I will definitely read some more Agatha Christie (recommendations welcome!) after this rookie voyage.

Read this book if - You want a throwback thriller read. You like a mystery that keeps you guessing throughout. You're aspiring to read all/most/some of the Great American Read books.

You May Now Kill the Bride (Return to Fear Street #1) by RL Stine was a book I had high hopes for that just didn't come to fruition. With Fear Street in the title, I hoped this would be campy horror of the trade paperbacks of my youth. This just wasn't that. Honestly, this read more like a YA Goosebumps to me. This book revolves around two weddings - one in the past and one in the present. There are some spells, some cursed relationships, and some sibling rivalry full of draaaaaaaaama throughout. The advantage of this is that it's a quick read. If you want a brief thriller, then this should work. However, if you're looking for this to give you the nostalgia feels, it won't. If you're looking for a pageturning thriller, it's not quite that either. Really this is just a story about a family and the mystery in their relationships, and it was okay.

Read this book if - You want a quick, easy thriller-esque read?

The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White was an advanced read I received from NetGalley. This is an updated version of this book that is the love languages translated to the workplace. I really enjoyed this one. So often we forget that there are a variety of ways to appreciate colleagues. Even more than that, we should ASK others how they want to be recognized. We each know what fills us up, and we also know what doesn't do the trick. We need to take the time to have conversations around this in the workplace to make sure people truly feel appreciation like they should. I also liked that this translated the content to remote employees. As someone who works in this way, I found these considerations particularly helpful. I'm still reflecting on this book a few days after finishing it, and I'm planning on discussing the content with some of my coworkers soon.

Read this book if - You want to reflect on how you recognize and appreciate colleagues. You want a book that offers a unique perspective on how to improve workplaces.

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak is a book that is hard to describe. I can tell you it is beautifully written. The words and way these stories are told is absolutely mesmerizing. There is a way that the author writes that makes you have to keep reading. This is the story of the Dunbar family, and within the family, it's mostly the story of one of the brothers - Clay. It's hard for me to explain the plot to you other than to say this one is going to get way up in your feels. There is tragedy - y'all, there is so much tragedy. However, that heartbreaking emotion is written in such a beautiful way. Told in segments and snippets, this offers an authentic portrait of a family and the relationships within it through ups, but moreso through downs. The feels of this one are real. I'll also say that the last line of this book may be one of my all-time favorites. If you're a fan of the author, I think you'll find this is going to be your jam. I'm glad I got the experience (and goodness it was an experience) of this one thanks to an ARC from Penguin Random House. 

Read this book if - You want a book that showcases the beauty of storytelling.

And onto the next ones. . .