Audiobook: Beyond the Bright Sea

by Lauren Wolk
Read by: Jorjeana Marie
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:  There are some instances of violence that could be intense for younger readers. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Crow has lived her entire life on a small island in the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. She lives with the man — Osh — who found her, washed ashore in a small boat,  as a new baby.  Her history hasn’t bothered her, but something about being 12 has got her wondering where she came from. Her questions lead to a chain of events that involves pirates, lepers on Penikese island, and finding her family.

I’ll be honest: I tried this one in print. It didn’t take. I just wasn’t compelled enough by the writing or the characters to keep going. So when I saw that it was audio, at first I was hesitant. But, I gave it a try, and maybe it was right place/right time, or maybe it was the fantastic narrator, but this time it stuck.

I loved hearing about Crow and Osh’s spartan life, getting the feel of life on the northern islands. I loved going with Crow as she discovered the history of her family, and felt for Osh as he struggled with his own feelings (maybe that was just the adult in me reacting).  I loved learning the history (of sorts) of the leper colony on Penikese, and to just get a sense of the place and time. Wolk is a good historical fiction writer, though I’m not sure her work is best suited for kids. (Well, maybe those precocious ones.) Even so, it’s a lovely book, and one I thoroughly enjoyed listening to.

 

Words in Deep Blue

by Cath Crowley
First sentence: “I open my eyes at midnight to the sound of the ocean and my brother’s breathing.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: June 6, 2017
Content: There’s some inferences to sex, some teenage drinking (it’s legal in Australia) and some swearing (I don’t remember there being any f-bombs, but don’t quote me on that). It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Rachel realized, three years ago, that she was in love with her best friend, Henry. So, she told him, via a letter in his family’s bookstore’s “Letter Library” (the coolest idea ever: leaving notes in books for strangers and/or friends). He never responded, having eyes only for another girl. And then she moved to the coast, so she figured (even though he wrote) they were over.

But, three years later, Rachel’s younger brother has drowned, and neither Rachel nor her mother are dealing with it well. Rachel’s flunked out of Grade 12, and it seems like perhaps the best thing would be to go back to the city and live with her aunt Rose and figure out what the next step should be. She ends up working at Henry’s family’s bookstore, and comes back into Henry’s orbit, again. Rachel’s dealing with too much to get into a relationship right now. But being back with Henry is comfortable, and maybe Rachel can figure out how to heal from her brother’s death. And maybe, this time, it’ll be different with Henry.

I loved this book, mostly because it hit all my sweet spots. Summer romance, bookish characters, second chances at love. I thought Crowley managed both grief and the healing process realistically. And I loved the letters that were scattered throughout the book, how the characters used the books to communicate with each other. I liked that the grief gave it an edge, and I really liked how it resolved.

An excellent summer romance.

Monthly Round-Up: May 2016

Greetings from Indiana! Looking back over the month, I read a LOT of adult stuff. Which is unusual for me. (Or not, maybe I’ve gone through spurts like this?) And most of what I read this month was good. Even so, my favorite was this:

Real Friends

Any graphic novel that makes me cry has to be the favorite of the month.

As for the rest…

Middle Grade:

Feliz Yz

Young Adult:

Alex, Approximately

Adult Fiction:

A Man Called Ove
A Conjuring of Light
The Light We Lost

Non-fiction:

Paddle Your Own Canoe (audio)
Make Your Bed (audio)
A Walk in the Woods

What was your favorite read this month?

A Walk in the Woods

by Bill Bryson
First sentence: “Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of swearing including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Creative Non Fiction section of the bookstore.

I read this, I think, when it first came out. Or soon thereafter. I don’t remember. I do remember liking it, quite a bit. But, something prompted me to pull it off the shelf and give it a re-read. Just to see if it held up.

In 1996, soon after Bryson moved back to the US from the UK (for a bit; he’s moved back across the pond again), he stumbled upon the Appalachian Trail, and decided (kind of on a whim) that what he really needed to do was hike the length of it. His high school friend, Stephen Katz, volunteered to go with him, and with some preparation (of sorts), they were off. It’s very much a “we’re out of our depth” book — neither Katz nor Bryson are experienced hikers, and the AT isn’t just a stroll in the woods. But, Bryson makes it thoroughly entertaining. Interspersed with the history of the AT as well as general observations (some are obviously outdated) about the state of nature in America, this one is definitely quintessential Bill Bryson. (In fact, if you’ve not read his books, this is a good place to start.)

Which means: it’s thoughtful, entertaining, funny, and interesting. And I’m happy to say that it’s held up these past 20 years and is as good as I remembered.

Felix Yz

by Lisa Bunker
First sentence: “I almost talked to Hector today.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: June 6, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s handling some more mature themes, so is probably not appropriate for the younger set (but you know your own kid). It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section, but it might do better in the YA (grades 6-8).

When Feliz was three, his father was doing experiments and, well, accidentally fused Feliz to a fourth-dimensional alien. Unfortunately, his father died in the process, but Felix and his alien, whom he ended up calling *zyxilef, or Zyx for short were left to figure out an existence together.

Which they have for ten years. But, things are getting harder for Felix, and he will die if they stay fused. So, his family — Mom, Grandy (his gender fluid grandparent), and sister Beatrix — has talked to researchers who have decided that the only way is to de-fuse Felix and Zyx. The only problem: Felix might die.

The book is Felix’s “secret” blog: a history of how he was fused, what life with Zyx is like (alternately good and kind of tough), and his hopes and fears for the future.

On the one hand, this gets bonus points for progressiveness: a genderfluid and a bisexual supporting character, plus a gay main character. I loved the new invented pronouns to talk about Grandy (“vo, ven, veirs, veinself”). I enjoyed Felix’s voice, even though he was often petulant. But then again, what 13 year old isn’t? It was lacking in the action department, and I didn’t feel Felix’s anxiety for his life as much as I thought I could. But it wasn’t a bad book, and I did enjoy many aspects of it. Even if it’s not perfect.

Alex, Approximately

by Jenn Bennett
First sentence: “He could be anyone of these people.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some talk of drug use (by a minor character), some teenage drinking, and some non-graphic sex. There is also some mild swearing and two f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Bailey has just moved to California to live with her dad, and it just happens to be in the same northern California surfing town as her on-line BFF (and crush), Alex. He’s everything she thinks she wants: they share the same taste in movies, they love to banter… the only thing is that she doesn’t know who he is.

And then she meets Porter Roth. He’s everything Alex is not: annoying, irritating, and a surfer. And Bailey’s stuck working with him at her new summer job. But then, she finds herself falling for him and starts to wonder whether or not she needs Alex after all.

That kind of sounds lame, doesn’t it? But, truthfully, it’s the perfect mix of retro, sassy repartee, and romance (with a few steamy bits). There’s California surf culture (though it felt more southern than northern, but that’s nit-picky), there’s a bad egg of a former best friend to keep things exciting. There’s a friendship story as well as a boyfriend story and it’s summery and just perfect. And yeah, the “big” reveal at the end is pretty obvious (you can figure it out a mile away), but you know what? I didn’t care.

It hit the spot.

Audiobook: Make Your Bed

by Admiral William H. McRaven
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s nothing that wouldn’t be applicable to anyone ages, say, 14 and up. It’s in the giftbook section (graduation, really) of the bookstore.

This slim book is based on a graduation address Admiral McRaven gave back in 2014 to the University of Texas at Austin. It’s a simple premise: 10 life lessons McRaven learned while training and serving as a Navy SEAL commander. It’s direct, no-nonsense, and incredibly insightful. The lessons really are easy: make your bed, work together, look at a person’s heart not their size, don’t lose yourself in adversity, and so on. In the book, he expounds on these points with stories from his experience as a SEAL, both in training and in combat. It’s excellent. (In short: it’s the military book I’ve been wanting to read.) McRaven reads his work, and he’s a good reader as well: he knows how to draw a listener in, and it gives it that personal touch that puts this short book (the audio was a little over an hour) over the top.