Swing It, Sunny

by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Sunny Side Up
Content: There’s some teen smoking (offscreen mostly) and some difficult issues with a troubled sibling. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Picking up where Sunny Side Up left off, Sunny’s older brother has been sent away to military school. Which means things are different around the house. Quieter, sure. But also… weirder. Sunny misses Dale, misses having him around. But, when he comes home for Thanksgiving, he’s changed. And not for the better. Sunny has to figure out who this new Dale is, and how she fits in his life. If she even fits at all.

I really do love the Holm siblings, and they way the can balance the darker parts of life with humor and just plain silliness. I loved visiting the 70s (historical fiction!), with all the pop culture references. I liked Sunny’s inner conflict about Dale; it felt very real and honest. (Not that I had that problem, being the oldest in my family.) And the art fits the story. It’s not super-fantastic-amazing-blow-your-socks-off, but it suits Sunny and her family and the 1970s.

A really good sequel.

 

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Jane, Unlimited

by Kristin Cashore
First sentence: “The house on the cliff looks like a ship disappearing into fog.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 19, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are six (or so) f-bombs, some mention of sex (none actual). It will be in the Teen Section (grades 9+).

Jane’s guardian, her Aunt Magnolia, made her promise one thing before Magnolia left for Antarctica (and then subsequently died): don’t turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens, the home of the eccentric millionaire Octavian Thrash. Jane promises, and so when her former tutor, and Thrash child, Kiran invites Jane to a gala the mansion, Jane agrees to go, unsure of what she’ll find.

At this point, the book reads like your typical YA novel: a girl who’s trying to find herself, a dead “mom”, a mansion with secrets. But, at one point, Jane is asked to make a decision of which person to find and talk to: Mrs. Vanders (the housekeeper), the little girl (whom Jane has seen around the mansion), Kiran, Ravi (Kiran’s twin), or Jasper (the basset hound). And from there the novel diverges into incredibly unique territory. Jane is allowed, throughout the course of the novel, to make each of those decisions, and in doing so, lives five different versions of the day.

I’ll be frank: it took a bit to settle into this. But, as the different versions went on, I caught on to what (I think) Cashore was exploring. One version of “reality” bled into the next, and it got more and more fascinating as it went on. I liked the exploration of the idea of multiverses, I liked seeing how Jane reacted to each of the situations she found herself in. And I found myself getting caught up in each version. Of course, Cashore’s writing is impeccable, and while I caught the Jane Eyre and Winnie the Pooh references, I missed the biggest homage: to Rebecca. (Which means, I should reread this one!)

It really was a delight to read.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming

by Chris Harris, Illustrated by Lane Smith
First sentence: “A door.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Oh, it’s SO silly. And no potty humor. It will be in the poetry section of the bookstore.
Release date: September 26, 2017

I loved Shel Silverstein’s poems when I was a kid. I would read Where the Sidewalk Ends over and over, giggling at all the silliness. And when my kids were little, I discovered Jack Prelutsky, with much the same result for them: we loved the ridiculous poems.

This book is this generations Silverstein and Prelutsky. I know that’s a HUGE statement to make, but that’s what it reminded me of. I picked it up late one night, not knowing what to expect. And ended up not only giggling madly, but sharing with both A and K all my favorite poems. And there were a lot of poems to share. From the “Alphabet Book (By the Laziest Artist in the World)” to (one of my personal favorites) “The Duel” and “Re-Verse” and “Trapped!” and  “L-O-V-E” and and… it was full of things to giggle over and share.

There were some sweet moments, too, like Harris’s observations on grownups in “Grown-ups Are Better (I)”, where he ends ” Grown-ups are better at most stuff, you see,/From tying a shoelace to chopping a tree./But children are gooder and grown-ups are badder/At just about all things that matter.” Or the (almost) final poem “Let’s Meet Right Here in Twenty-Five Years”.  And Lane Smith’s illustrations were perfect for this. Again, equal parts silly and ridiculous, but with a dash of wink-wink on the side.

There was really so much wonderful about this.

It’s My Birthday, Version 4.5

After nearly 13 years of blogging, and 11 years of writing these birthday posts, I’m finding it challenging to come up with something new to write. I’m pretty much in the same(ish) place as I have been the past couple of years, though I’ve made the dream of getting  a MLS a reality (but now it’s a Masters of Information Science with an emphasis in librarianship, *sigh*) though I’m taking this semester off for various reasons. Life has been challenging this year. Not always bad (though there have been some genuinely bad days); there are have been some definite bright spots, but definitely more stressful than in the past.

So, in the wake of a stressful year and because I’m turning 45, here are a few things that have brought me joy.

1. I fell hard for a few things this year, particularly these:

 

I wasn’t a fan of Wonder Woman when I was a kid, though I do have vague memories of watching the show a few times. (Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of much of anything when I was a kid. I did like Star Wars and unicorns but that’s about it.) But I fell hard for the movie this time around (I’ve only seen it twice, though) and I happily spent money on merch (ALL of it please) to show my support for the incredible character that Diana Prince is.

I don’t know why  I fell in love with Moana. Something about the story and the Polynesian feel and my love of all things ocean and beach and island all combined to make this movie something that I adore.

My sister and M both told me I needed to watch this, and you know what? They were right. I love the baking, but I also love the Britishness of it, as well as Mel and Sue. K and I watched all of the seasons that were on Netflix together (and the most recent one on PBS) and have loved every minute.

2. Graphic Novels and Audio Books

I’ve always read graphic novels and listened to audio books, but I found that as my life got busier, my time to actually sit and read a “real” book went away. But, there was always time to sit and read a graphic novel, and audio books (and podcasts) kept me company with all the time I’ve spent driving around. Both have been a lifeline to reading (which I don’t want to do without) when my time read has diminished.

3. Sunday morning yoga and Meditation

We have afternoon church this year, and although it took a while, I eventually discovered a routine I absolutely love. I get up, take the dog for a walk with hubby (it’s a good time to just talk), and then take a half hour and do yoga in my backyard. I enjoy being outside (and it was never too hot for me this summer) in the morning, and while I prefer a real person running yoga, I’ve downloaded the Gaiam app  and do a routine or two. It’s heavenly.

4. Back in January, a local restaurant (the Wichita Brewing Company) decided to team up with other restaurants around town for a specialty pizza every month. And thus, #12pizzas12months was born. It gives Hubby and I a chance to go out every month, and we’ve really liked experimenting with all the different pizzas (and slowly working our way through the regular WBC menu). Some have been weird, many have been good, and I’ve enjoyed the foodie experience.

5. Trips by myself

Actually, this is something I discovered a while back: I love going places by myself. I enjoy the time alone to read and take long baths and watch TV and, sometimes, go to the beach. Granted, all my trips this year were to Texas (twice to school, but I extended with a couple extra days at the hotel to unwind, and once to the beach) so it’s not like I’m branching out and going lots of places. But I enjoy the time on my own, which is the real important thing.

So, that’s what’s making me happy at 45. Here’s to another year!

The First Rule of Punk

by Celia C. Pérez
First sentence: “Dad says punk rock only comes in one volume: loud.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some lying (by omission) and some middle school drama. It’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, though 6th-7th graders might like it too.

Mariá Luisa (call her Malú please) is NOT happy about moving to Chicago. She wants to stay where she is, in her own school, splitting her time between her house and her father’s record store. But, her mom got a job in Chicago teaching Mexican literature, so they’re moving. And so she has to start over. Which is additionally hard because she’s in a school with a large Mexican American population, and Malú is struggling to find her own identity, especially with her mother always harping on Malú’s love of punk music.

But, she slowly finds her crowd in this new school, and maybe even some friends, although she makes some enemies as well (inevitable). Maybe she can find a balance in this new place.

I loved this one! Malú is a seriously great character, and I loved how Pérez wove in Mexican culture and history through the work. I loved the inclusion of punk music (and lifestyle) and actually really liked the conflict between Malú and her mom (it’s SO hard to let kids be themselves and not what we want them to be). I loved the zines in the book, and Malú’s slow acceptance of her new school and neighborhood. It was just an excellent story all around.

Brave

by Svetlana Chmakova
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some bullying, but it’s really appropriate for 4th-6th graders. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section.

I really don’t know what inspired me to pick this up; perhaps it was lack of time, and a graphic novel is easy to get through… I’ve not read Awkward, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this one.

Jason is a 6th grader, and in his dreams he’s got big plans to be an astronaut at NASA and help figure out sunspots. In real life, however, he’s not so great. He’s bad at math, his friends (such as they are) are constantly poking fun at him, he’s often left out of groups, and he’s got two bullies on his tail. But, as the story progresses, things start to look up for Jason. Because he’s left out of the art club planning, he gets to help out at the newspaper. He makes a friend in Jorge, with whom he has nothing in common, but who is kind and interested in what Jason has to say. And, perhaps most importantly, he realizes he’s being bullied (not just by the kids on his tail, but also by his “friends”), and stands up for himself.

It’s that last thing that made this book so good for me. It’s easy for adults to say “stand up to bullies”, but honestly, not many kids realize they’re being bullied. (I sure didn’t, when I was in middle and high school. Neither did C when she was bullied in middle school) A lot of people brush it off as “jokes” or “criticism” but, honestly, it’s just plain bullying. I loved that Chmakova addressed that, that Jason had to REALIZE he was being bullied in order for him to take ownership of his own world. It makes me want to give it to all kids — because maybe those who are doing the bullying don’t realize they are hurting other people — just to get a conversation going.

I really enjoyed this one.

Posted

by John David Anderson
First sentence: “I push my way through the buzzing mom and freeze.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some bullying and some mild swearing. It’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, though it’s probably better for the upper end of that age range.

Eric Voss has found his “tribe”, the people in middle school that he would literally die for. There’s four of them, all of them with nicknames — Wolf, the piano prodigy whose nickname comes from Mozart; DeeDee, an Indian fantasy nerd, whose nickname comes from (you guessed it) D&D; and Bench, who gets his nickname from, well, sitting on the bench on all the sports teams he’s on. Eric himself is Frost, because he wrote an award-wining poem in 5th grade. He doesn’t mind. Frost (he goes by his nickname mostly in the book; they all do) thinks everything is good, until three things happen: 1) the school administration bans cell phones; 2) sticking post-it notes on lockers/walls/people becomes a Thing; and 3) Rose moves in and joins Frost’s “tribe”, at the invitation of Wolf and over the protestations of Bench. Then everything comes to a head, and Frost is left wondering who his real friends are.

It sounds like a simple plot, but it’s an engrossing one. I loved that Anderson caught the angst of middle school, the challenge it is to be the New Kid in the school, and the real desire to, well, fit in with everyone. I liked that the post-it phenomena when viral, and then turned negative, as many things often do. I liked that it was, ultimately, about friendship and fitting in, but there were also side issues like dealing with conflicts at home and how we perceive each other.

I’ve really liked both of  Anderson’s realistic fiction books; he’s got some chops. Definitely worth reading.