Figure it Out, Henri Weldon

by Tanita S. Davis
First sentence: “Fluorescent lights really, really sounded like bees, Henrietta decided, shifting in her seat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Disclaimer: Tanita and I are both on the Cybils board, but I purchased the book.
Content: There’s some mild bullying. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Henrietta – Henri for short – Weldon feels like she has a lot to figure out. She’s in 7th grade, but she’s just transferred to a public school, so the family could afford for her mother to get her Ph.D. It’s an adjustment, to say the least. On top of that, Henri and her older sister, Kat, are always arguing, though Henri feels like it’s always Kat picking on and nagging her. Kat has, especially, told Henri she is not to be friends with the Morgans – a group of foster kids living in the same home. Except the Morgans are nice to Henri. And then there’s math, which Henri just doesn’t get. As things start piling up, and she feels less and less like she has support at home, Henri wonders: Will she ever figure things out?

This was such a charming book. The sibling rivalry felt realistic, even though I felt bad for Henri – she was really trying her best, and her family just kept piling on. Families do that, though. And I can see how the youngest child would especially feel that. I liked the way Tanita depicted Henri’s learning disability; there are a lot of books out there on dyslexia and other reading disorders, but not much about dyscalculia, and I appreciated learning how Henri dealt with it. But, mostly it was a book about a girl trying to figure things out, which feels very 7th-grade. And I really really liked it.

Monthly Round-up: January 2023

What do you do, if the first book you finished this year is not just your favorite of the month, but you know will be on your top 10 of the year? it’s a high standard to live up to.

Even so, this will absolutely be one of my favorites of the year:

As for the rest:

Adult Fiction:

Now Is Not the Time to Panic (audiobook)
Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone (audiobook)
The Flatshare

Young Auldt:

Saint
Seraphina (reread)
Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute (audiobook)

Non-Fiction

My Hygge Home (audiobook)
Spare (audiobook)

What was your favorite this month?

The Flatshare

by Beth O’Leary
First sentence: “You’ve got to say this for desperation: It makes you much more open-minded.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is lots of swearing, including f-bombs, and some almost on-screen sex, as well as talk of sex. There are also references to emotional abuse. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore

Tiffy has just broken up with her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Justin. This time it was because he got engaged to another woman, and even though her heart is broken, she knows she needs to get out. The problem is her job working for a small publishing house isn’t going to get her anything fancy in London, and everything in her price range is, well, unsafe for habitation. That is until she finds an ad: Leon, a night nurse, is looking for someone to share his flat. The deal: he gets it during the day, and Tiffy will get it nights and weekends. Sounds ideal. But, then Tiffy and Leon start leaving each other notes, and over the months they realize that they’ve formed a sort-of relationship that actually blossoms into something more when they actually (well, accidentally) meet face-to-face.

There’s more to the story than that: Leon’s brother is in prison for something he didn’t do, and it’s Tiffy’s barrister friend who helps with that. Tiffy’s ex-boyfriend turns out to be abusive, and it’s Leon who helps (along with a therapist, yes) Tiffy process and deal with the emotional trauma. And there are side jaunts involving Welsh castles, knitting and crocheting, and a search for a lost love of a dying man. 

i heard a lot of good stuff about this one when it came out in 2019, but I stuck it on my shelf and said “I’ll get to it eventually” and then never quite did. It was only when I let my social media friends choose my current TBR pile that it actually made it on there, and I’m so glad it did. O’Leary is a good romance writer, hitting the tropes, but also giving us characterizations beyond the tropes. I liked that Leon and Tiffy seemed like real people and that O’Leary surrounded them with an excellent support system. It was all a big, happy found-family, and I adored it. 

I’m so glad I (finally) got around to reading it.

Tiffy has just broken up with her on-agan off-again boyfriend, Justin. This time it was because he got engaged to another owman, and even though her heart is broken, she knows hse needs to get out.

Audio book: Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

by Talia Hibbert
Read by: Amina Koroma & Jonathan Andrew Hume
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is talk of sex and lots of swearing including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Celine Bangura is a driven person. She wants to succeed, be the best, and — not least on her list — show her deadbeat dad who left her, her sister, and their mother to start a new family that he’s better than he is. So, she signs up for an elite scholarship opportunity that will not only allow her to study law but will also give her that prime opportunity to show up her dad. But when her ex-best friend-turned-traitor Bradley Graeme decides to do the program as well? It’s just become that much more important that Celine get one of the coveted golden compasses.

However, once they get into the program, Celine and Bradley discover that not only do they work together well, their old friendship – once everything has been explained and forgiven – just might be something more.

This one was super cute. I liked that both characters were driven and smart, and that they didn’t sacrifice their goals for the sake of “being together”. I liked that neither character was perfect: Celine was dealing with the trauma of her dad leaving, and Bradley has OCD and anxiety and has to deal with at. But, most of all I adored listening to the narrators. They were delightful to listen to, and made an already fun story even more entertaining.

Highly recommended, and I may go check out some of Hibbert’s adult books too!

Reread: Seraphina

by Rachel Hartman
First sentence: “I remember being born.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is violence, bigotry, and talk of sex (but none actual). It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to precocious younger readers.

I picked this one up again because Hartman released a new one in the series last year and I realized it had been too long, and I didn’t remember anything about the series. I don’t have much new to say about it from my gushing post when I first read it, nearly 10 years ago. Everything I said still holds: The writing is gorgeous, and the story is a slow build but worth it. The dragons are unlike anything you will have ever seen before. And ten years on, this is still incredibly relevant, dealing with bigotry and the attempt to quell discrimination against a different species. Hartman has an incredible imagination, and I wish more people knew about this series.

If you haven’t taken he time to experience this world, do. It’s absolutely woth it.

Audiobook: Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone

by Benjamin Stevenson
Read by Barton Welch
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are deaths (it is a murder mystery after all), some swearing, including a few f-bombs, and talk of kidnapping. It’s in the Mystery section of the bookstore.

Ernest Campbell is a writer of how-to books: how to write a murder mystery, specifically. So, as he starts this story, he lays out the rules. And then, he strictly adheres to them (well, mostly) as he describes what happens at a family reunion in a ski chalet in Australia one winter. There’s history: no one in his family is completely innocent, but there are also murders happening at the chalet: A cop ends up dead to begin the book. We follow along with Ern as he attempts to unravel the mystery.

Oh, this was so much fun! Seriously. I love it when a book is the thing while satirizing the thing, and this absolutely was. It’s poking fun at all mysteries for having a “formula” while following the formula. The idea that our main character (only by default, because he’s writing the story down, as he reminds us) is someone who knows how to pick a mystery apart was fresh and funny. There are asides and snarky comments, and explanations (“I told you there was a plot hole in the book. I just drove a truck through it.”). It also helped that Welch was a particularly delightful narrator. He has a lovely Australian accent (which is appropriate, since it’s set in Australia), and is super engaging which keeps the story rolling.

I had a grand time with it, and have looked at the book as well – it’d be a fun read in either format.

Audiobook: Spare

by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some swearing, including a few f-bombs, as well as talk of drinking and drug use. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

Okay, I recognize that by reading this book I’m caving to peer pressure – everyone is reading this to find out the gossip. But, in my defense: I love celebrity memoirs (especially on audio), and Prince Harry is probably more of a relevant celebrity than, say, Bono. So, it was probably inevitable that I was going to listen to it.

Is this the point where I mention that while I’m not ignorant of the royals, I’m also not a super royal watcher. They’re interesting because, well, they’re the Royal family, but I’m not super invested in what Kate’s wearing right now.

That said, I was floored by the life Prince Harry has led. He had some smart observations on the nature of celebrity, musing at one point that the only thing he ever did to deserve having paparazzi chase him was be born. He’s not talented, he’s not a musician or an actor. Why is he a “celebrity”? Because he was born into this particular family. It’s a smartly written memoir (I’m assuming he had a ghostwriter help him), and he reads it well. And, well, if the purpose of the book was to work through the trauma surrounding his mother’s death and to explain why, ultimately, he and Meghan had to leave the family, then he did his job. It starts with his mom’s death, and moves forward through to the present day, and let’s just say that he has a deep resentment of both the paparazzi (who more than once just made up lies about him, his girlfriends, and now his wife) and the monarchy as an institution. He loves his family, and wishes he didn’t need to fight with them, but the monarchy? It’s not that great. It messes with people’s lives, it’s complicit in the bad press, and it desperately needs to be updated. And maybe Harry’s the person to do it.

It really was an interesting and engaging book, and surprised me with how engrossing it was. I definitly don’t regret reading it at all. And I wish Harry and Meghan all the happiness in the world. They deserve it.

Audiobook: Now Is Not the Time to Panic

by Kevin Wilson
Read by Ginnifer Goodwin
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some talk of violence and sex, and some swearing (maybe a couple of f-bombs? I can’t remember). It’s in the fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s the summer of 1996 in Coalfield, Tennessee, and there isn’t a whole lot to do, especially if you were 16. Frankie is resigned to another boring summer until she meets Zeke. And the two of them create a poster – Frankie comes up with the words and Zeke the art – that, once they start putting it up all over town, creates a panic. Two people end up dying, and there is talk of the poster coming from a Satanic cult. Frankie and Zeke promise to never tell, but 21 years later, Frankie is contacted by a reporter who has discovered that she is behind the Coalfield Craze of 1996. Now, it seems, the story needs to be told.

On the one hand, the book is an interesting musing on the purpose and reach of art: did the poster mean what everyone thought it meant? What responsibility do Frankie and Zeke have for others’ reactions to their art? There was a bit of coming-of-age, as Frankie had a first love, and her dreams were crushed, and realized that maybe everything isn’t perfect. But – I had issues with her as a 16-year-old. She felt… young. Obsessive. I hated the use of “weird” – she was “weird”, she felt “weird”, and she had a “weird” brain. It was a lot. I liked the narrator; she was sweet and read the book well, but in the end, I wasn’t sure I really got what Wilson was getting at.

Saint

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “There was a blue door with a black lantern on Forsyth Street.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Fable, Namesake, The Last Legacy (which I read but never wrote a blog post for!)
Content: There is some mild swearing, violence, and one off-screen sex scene. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

In this prequel to Fable, we follow her father Saint, and her mother, Isolde, as they start out and first meet. Saint is a scrappy helmsman with a dream and a bit of a legend surrounding him. He’s not ruthless, but rather willing to get the job done no matter what it takes. He has dreams that the Narrows can be so much more than it is. Isolde is on the run from her mother, Holland, a master gem merchant and a terrible parent, someone who uses Isolde for her skill as a gem sage rather than caring for her as a daughter. When Isolde and Saint meet she is contracted to Zola, Saint’s nemesis, but things go sideways when Zola steals from Saint and he gets Isolde to get it back. From there, it’s history. 

Look: it’s not a great book. But it is a fun story, and I’m invested in this world that Young has built. I’ll read pretty much any story set in the Narrows, even if it’s kind of lame. But, there is something about these characters, and I really did enjoy getting to know a different side of Saint. So, no: not high literature. But it was fun.

Audiobook: My Hygge Home

by Meik Wiking
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s pretty tame. It’s in the Design section of the bookstore, but it would work in the self-help section as well.

In this one-part design book, one-part explanation of what Hygge is, and one part self-help book on happiness, Wiking gives readers a layout of how to make their home their happy place. It’s got recipes, it’s got ideas on how to better develop communities (I feel like that’s a whole book in itself), and how to make your home a cozy, homey, inviting place. More hygge.

I did get some good ideas – more plants! more light! create nooks, and remember the functionality of the rooms – but mostly I was just delighted with Wiking’s narration. He was surprisingly delightful (I wasn’t expecting dad jokes!) and, well, Hygge, as he talked about his research at the Happiness Insitute in Copenhagen. Being Danish, he knows hygge (they invented it after all), and uses the philosophy and design elements to help stave off the dark winter months up there.

It’s not life-changing, but it was enjoyable, and I’ve found myself thinking about ways I can make my life this winter more hygge. So there’s that. At any rate, it’s a delightful listen, especially on a dark, January day.