Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review: "Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin

It is post-World War II, and like is manageable but not very promising in Eilis's small town in Ireland.  Her brothers have all left for England to find work, and her sister has a job in an office in town.  Eilis has studied bookkeeping, but can only get a one-day-a-week job in a shop to help earn money for her mother.  A priest from America knows Eilis's sister Rose, and offers to bring her to Brooklyn where a job is promised for her.  Eilis goes, and never expects to find herself happy there.  Meeting Tony could have something to do with it.  When tragedy hits her home in Ireland, Eilis is forced to question where she (and her heart) truly belongs.

This is the book that my library book group will be talking about this month.  I had been looking forward to it, as I was curious about the movie (which I wouldn't watch until I read the book) and I hadn't read anything by Tóibín before.

This is one story of an immigrant's experience.  Eilis comes to America and is surrounded by the unfamiliar, though she does have the benefit of speaking and understanding the language.  She finds herself thoroughly homesick and works through it by taking courses at the university at night after working all day.  She falls in love with a wonderful man and all looks good.  But when she is returns to Ireland for a visit, she is overwhelmed by the familiarity of it and it confuses her.  Where does she really belong?  Where is home?

This takes a good look at these questions through Eilis and the relationships she develops where ever she is.  The language is sparse and a little cold, which makes the rare emotional scenes pack a serious punch.  This is hugely character driven, which can make it seem slow otherwise.  It was all lovely to read, but I felt like the first time I was really engaged with what was happening was when she was on the ship to America.  It wasn't a pleasant trip for Eilis, but it was the first time I felt actually connected to her.  There are moments like this here and there through the novel, which made it not the best reading experience for me.  I liked it enough, though, and wasn't happy with it ending where it did.  I wanted to know more of what happens after that point!

*****
Brooklyn
by Colm Tóibín
Simon and Schuster, 2009
262 pages
Source:  Purchased
*****

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Review: "The Wednesday Wars" by Gary D. Schmidt

It is 1967 and Holling Hoodhood has just started 7th grade.  As you probably remember, there is a lot to figure out in 7th grade - friends, family, school, and pretty much how to make it through if not on top.  The Vietnam War is happening in the background and affects people he knows.  All the while, Holling, as the lone Presbyterian, has to spend every Wednesday afternoon alone with his teacher while the rest of the class goes to either Catholic School or Hebrew School.  So to pass the time, Mrs. Baker teaches him Shakespeare.  Holling sees the parallels between what he's reading and his life... and we a great story to read.

This is the third book I've read by Schmidt, and I heard him speak last fall at a library conference.  He creates this sort of calm atmosphere in his books and it is a wonderful feeling.  There is humor and drama and all that, but above all is this overarching tone that I just really love.

I read this book to help out with a weekly book group our teen librarian facilitates at a local school.  She had some vacation time scheduled, so I stepped in to keep the group running.  This added a new dynamic to the book for me - this group is 7th and 8th graders, and mostly males.  Now, they don't necessarily keep up with the reading schedule, but they do add some great things to the conversation.  One thread we talked about was the conversation Holling has with his teacher Mrs. Baker.  At the beginning of the school year, Holling is convinced that she hates him.  But by the end, they clearly have a great relationship.  The comments from the boys in the group was that "they wish their teachers were like that" and I felt awful.  This is where I *could* go on about the state of public education and my fears of its future with the current government, but I won't.  I'll let you think about that on your own.

This is a great book, and I think it suits this audience perfectly.  And I loved the Shakespearean parallels.

*****
The Wednesday Wars
by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion, 2007
264 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Book Review: "Long Way Home" by Katie McGarry

OK.  So if you've been reading along the Thunder Road series, you already know that this is Violet and Chevy's story.  If you haven't read the series...  you don't really need to.  You'll be fine.  Why are we so excited about Violet and Chevy?

Violet and Chevy are kind of like star-crossed lovers.  They have basically grown up together in the proximity of the Reign of Terror Motorcycle Club.  Chevy never knew his father, Violet's father passed away recently while involved in club business.  All Chevy wants is to protect Vi and love her...  but she broke up with him months ago, wanting her independence, wanting away from the club, not wanting to force him to choose between her and the club.  Enter the Riot MC - the Terror's archenemy (so to speak).  The Riot want to take the Terror down from the inside, and they target Violet to help them do it.  Threatening everyone she loves, she is forced to agree to their terms... but what will this cost her?

I really like Violet and Chevy.  I love that Violet's an awesome feminist who isn't afraid to stand up for herself in the face of the Terror's incredibly sexist ways.  And I like that Chevy isn't afraid of that, and is realizing the institutional sexism in the club culture.  I think that eventually they could effect some real change in that clubhouse.  But I probably won't be around to see it (if this series continues... I have no idea and haven't bothered to look into it).  I think I'm kind of over the whole MC thing.  It is all so so much that it is becoming harder to believe in it as a possible real world thing.  And I know that MC's are real, and I know that McGarry did a lot of research, but this one just seemed the most far fetched to me.  I think I'm done here.  Also annoying - the repeating of what happened in previous books of the series.  Once, sure - give me the reminder because I probably need it.  But please don't tell me the same thing twice by one character and then again from the other's point of view.  I don't need a reminder from a few pages ago.

But one very cool thing that happened was that a favorite character from her previous series shows up in this book, and even though the name is dropped early on - I didn't catch on until we were in the scene.  That was an interesting twist!

*****
Long Way Home
by Katie McGarry
HarlequinTeen, 2017
448 pages
Series:  Thunder Road #3
Source:  Library
*****

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Audiobook Review: "Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli

Leo Borlock moved to Mica, Arizona five years ago.  It is a young town, built around one company really.  Life at the high school is relatively simple.  Everyone is basically the same.  Yes, there are cliques and whatnot, but there is a constant degree of normalness that pervades the entire student body.  Enter:  Stargirl Caraway, the definitive free spirit.  She rocks the school with her quirky individuality that everyone sort of warms up to, until it becomes too much.  They turn on her.  Leo, however, is smitten with her, but he's not sure he can survive the evil eye of the other students.  Can he just be with Stargirl?  Or is he too concerned about what the others think?

I listened to this audiobook on a whim one Saturday afternoon.  It had been awhile since I heard a book, so I needed to pick a short one and this came in at around 4 hours.  I had wanted to read it anyway, so win-win.  The bonus to all this winning?  John Ritter is the narrator.  That was a lovely surprise, and he did a fantastic job.

Stargirl is such an interesting character!  She is a little over the top sometimes, a little aggressively different, but that is okay.  She has nothing but kindness for everyone she meets (and even those she's never met).  She has a beautiful outlook on life and it killed me to see that try to be squashed by high school social norms.  Leo was a typical high school kid, who rides the wave of being average like it's his job.  I really wish he had a stronger backbone, especially toward the end, but I was glad to see the permanent lasting effect that Stargirl had on him.  I'll admit, I shed at tear at the very last line.

I'm thrilled that this book is basically timeless.  It is fifteen years old at this point, but doesn't show it.  Stargirl could be a symbol or metaphor for any high school kid who is outside the "norm".  I don't want to say that Leo is a symbol for an ally, but maybe for someone who is trying to be an ally?  Or for someone who needs reminding that in order to be someone's ally, you have to get out of your own head and make supporting that person more important?  In any event, this is an older book that still deserves it's space on the shelf in upper middle grade and young adult collections.

*****
Stargirl
by Jerry Spinelli
Scholastic/Listening Library, 2002
186 pages, ~4 hours
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Review: "Some Assembly Required" by Arin Andrews

I remember when this book was published a few years ago.  I was very curious about it, purchased it for our library's collection and promised myself to go back and read it.  Fast forward a bit..  and here I am reading this (finally) so that I can lead the teen book group discussion while our Teen Librarian is enjoying a well-deserved vacation.  I feel bad that this fell off my radar, but I am so glad that I read it!

This is the memoir of Arin Andrews, a transgender teen from Oklahoma.  He was born female, and it was a struggle for him growing up.  He was bullied, he had trouble finding trusted people to talk to regarding the questions he had about his gender identity and sexuality, and he attempted suicide.  He was a student at a Christian school (until they kicked him out because they thought he was a lesbian), and his mother was not very supportive - at first.  Things changed at home for Arin once he came out at transgender and was able to truly talk to his mom about it.

I am really impressed by Arin.  He has had a rough time becoming his true self, but is still able to recognize that he has still had it easier than some.  He did get support from his mother and the rest of his family.  His area has some great community centers and resources to support him.  And he has some really good friends.  Keep in mind - actually, I didn't mention this - but this was published as Arin was graduating High School and entering college.  He's pretty young here.  Sometimes that shows through in the writing, but he is still very impressive.  It is a wonderful thing to have such an open and honest person share his story with the world.  I hope this is available in school libraries and public libraries everywhere, because it really should be.

I can't wait to see what the teens in the book group have to say about this!

*****
Some Assembly Required
by Arin Andrews
Simon & Schuster, 2014
248 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys

This is the story of Antoinette Cosway and her life in the Caribbean until her English husband brings her to England and locks her up in his attic.  That's right, she's the madwoman in Mr. Rochester's attic in Jane Eyre, and this is her imagined backstory.

A few things stood out to me:  first, we all know who she is and therefore who he is, but I don't think he is ever actually named in this book.  Second, in Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is the victim - stuck married to a lunatic that he can't divorce to marry Jane.  But here, he is not exactly an innocent man.

This book took a bit to get into, to understand the pacing is just as important as the story.  The majority of this book takes place in Jamaica and Dominica (where the author was born and raised).  The days are hot, the forests lush, the flowers fragrant, and the rum abundant.  Both Antoinette and Mr. Rochester have suffered from "fevers" at different points in the book, and the writing has a feverish, dreamlike quality to it.  There are passages that are lazy and slow with the heat, and others that are hot with passionate emotion (and I don't mean the loving kind).  It is no wonder that Antoinette went crazy, as well as her mother before her.  The hatred they were surrounded with could certainly make anyone go mad.  

I may need to reread Jane Eyre now (though I won't be in a rush).  I didn't particularly like it very much the first time.  But I wonder if reading it again would change my mind at all.  But, no rush... I am not at a loss for things to read!

*****
Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
W.W. Norton & Company, 1982.  First published 1966.
171 pages
Source:  Purchased
*****

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Book Review: "History Is All You Left Me" by Adam Silvera

Adam Silvera is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine.  I loved his debut, More Happy than Not, and I am deeply in love with History Is All You Left Me.

Griffin's best friend, first love, and ex-boyfriend Theo has died in a tragic accident.  Griff is absolutely gutted... he is still very much in love with Theo and only broke up with him because Theo was headed off to college across the country.  But Griffin didn't count on the possibility of Theo finding a new boyfriend at school - Jackson.  And now Griffin and Jackson face each other at the funeral... and decide to keep talking as they are the only ones who understand what they are going through.  Stories are told as well as secrets, and each has the power to destroy.

Silvera has absolutely nailed that feeling of grief.  I lost several people while in high school, one of which was a boy that I enjoyed hanging out with (like many girls at our school).  That loss was tragic and huge and made a loose group of acquaintances a very tight knit group through our collective grief.  I felt that again in Griff and the way he was reaching out for Jackson.  I was sad that he couldn't find that in Wade - the third in the Griff-Theo-Wade squad, but that reasoning is revealed later.

And, oh, Griffin.... Theo...  even Jackson...  Wade...  these boys are so much.  I loved and cried for them all.  I recommend this highly to all of you.

*****
History is all you left me
by Adam Silvera
SOHO Teen, 2017
292 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Review: "We Should All Be Feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I think I first saw this in a bookstore not long after it was published.  I was curious about it, but was quite frankly too cheap to pay so much for such a skinny book.  Fast forward to this year, where I'm reading all that I can, and I came across this title and realized that I never did go back and read this.

So I corrected that oversight on my part.

And I think everyone should read this.  It should be required reading in schools.

Adichie reworked her 2012 TEDx talk of the same name into this print version.  It is just shy of 50 pages and succinctly breaks down why being a feminist is not an insult, tears apart common counterarguments people use against feminists, and does so in such a simple way that anyone can understand.  She does this using her perspective as a woman from Nigeria, and proves to me that gender inequality can look the same anywhere.

So, in all sincerity, go out and read this.  This is important.

*****
We Should All be Feminists
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Anchor Books, 2014
49 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review: "The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison

Jodi and Todd have been together for twenty years.  Jodi is a part time psychotherapist who takes great pleasure in caring for Todd, cooking elegant meals for him, and keeping their condo in pristine condition.  Todd has built up his property development company from nothing, and he takes great pride in what he has built.  He knows that he lives as comfortably as he does in large part to having Jodi by his side.  But he has a bawdy side too, with a list of regular bars he frequents as well as a mistress and a list of prostitutes he can call.  However, when his mistress (his best friend's daughter) becomes pregnant and wants to be married, Todd spins out of control and Jodi becomes something she never dreamed she could be:  a killer.

We are told straight away that Jodi is or will become a killer by the end of the book, so much of my reading became a game of "is it now?"  which is odd.  I'm not used to cheering on a killer.  And she is so unlikely!  She is basically a doormat, and a stuffy, uptight one at that.  She reeks of pretentiousness and is not anyone I could ever like or feel bad for.  At best, I pitied her for being so naive.  But I didn't think she would really become a killer.

Todd, on the other hand, is an asshole.  He treats Jodi like crap, actually he treats every woman like crap.  He is a sexist pig who drinks too much and would scream "mid-life crisis" if this wasn't how he acted his entire life.  He has no idea what he really wants in life and becomes a door mat himself when anyone (the mistress in particular) asserts dominance over him.  (Imagine what it could have been like if Jodi asserted herself in any way whatsoever?)

ANYWAY, this is billed as a psychological thriller.  It is psychological alright, but I'm not so sure on the thriller part.  I was interested, engaged - especially toward the end - but everything was all laid out in the implausible ending.  At least, I didn't buy it as anything that could ever really happen.  It will make for an interesting book group discussion, I hope, but in the end I'm pretty much meh about the book.

*****
The Silent Wife
by A.S.A. Harrison
Penguin, 2013
326 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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