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.

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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.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love

by Maurene Goo
First sentence: “When I was seven, I thought I moved a pencil with my mind.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There’s a propensity to use the s-word. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8; I debated, but decided that it ultimately wen there) of the bookstore.

Desi does it all: she’s student body president, involved in practically every club, soccer star, valedictorian, and a model daughter for her dad (especially since her mom’s sudden death seven years before). The only thing she doesn’t have (and hasn’t ever had): a boyfriend.  And then Luca shows up at her school: reserved, artistic, with a shady past, and that… something… that makes him completley desirable to Desi. The problem? Desi is absolutely lousy at flirting. (Or as her two best friends, Fiona and Wes, call what she does: flailure.) So, Desi turns to one of her father’s passions to get help, and starts binge-watching K-Dramas. She comes up with a list of 28 tried-and-true (and also a bit cliche) steps to Get the Guy and starts her project.

The best part of this incredibly sweet book is that you don’t have to know K-Dramas (though I suppose it helps) in order to enjoy that this is parodying K-Dramas while also following the formula. (It’s  Jane the Virgin in book form!) Yes, there’s a definite arc to the book, but it feels, well a bit wink-wink-nudge-nudge about it all. It’s very self-aware, and that was something I really enjoyed about it. That, and the father-daughter relationship. Sure, there’s a dead mom, but Desi’s dad is the most well-adjusted adult in a YA novel I’ve read in a while. I liked that he was a mechanic with a passion for funny shows (Desi was named after Desi Arnez) and K-Dramas. I liked his relationship with Desi, and the love that I could sense between the two.

It’s cute, it’s sweet, it’s a little silly, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Framed: A TOAST Mystery

framedby James Ponti
First sentence: “My name’s Florian Bates.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: The names might be tough for younger/not as strong readers to manage, but other than that, it’s great for the 3rd to 5th/6th grade range. It’s in the Middle Grade section of the bookstore.

Florian has this theory he calls T.O.A.S.T, which stands for Theory of All Small Things. The idea is this: if you observe the little things, it adds up to the bigger things, which helps you make deductions of situations. So, yeah, Florian is pretty much Sherlock Holmes. Which comes in handy when he and his parents move to Washington, DC, and get involved — with Florian’s new friend, Margaret — in helping the FBI solve an art heist at the National Gallery of Art.

Oh, this was so much fun! Seriously. No sick or dead parents (though Margaret is adopted). A pretty straight-forward mystery to solve, with clues along the way. A bit of action — Florian does get kidnapped at one point — and some intense moments, but it was never really dark. And I loved the friendship between Florian and Margaret. They make an excellent team. I’m sure I’m not the first one to come up with the Sherlock Holmes comparison, but that’s really what it reminded me of. There’s not a lot of really good middle grade mysteries, and so this one definitely fills a hole.

And it’s a lot of fun.

Two DNFs

I suppose each  of these could have gotten their own post, but I didn’t want to work that hard.

hatersThe Haters
by Jesse Andrews
First sentence: “Jazz camp was mostly dudes.”
Review copy provided by publisher
Content: So many swear words, including a bucketful of f-bombs. Realistic, sure, but it lands it squarely in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Wes and Corey are at jazz camp. They’re not the world’s best musicians; mostly what they do is mess around on the bass and drums, respectively, and be super snobbish about the music they listen to. They figure it’s going to be a halfway decent camp, until they meet Ash, who is a lead guitarist. But not a jazz one. She’s also the only girl at the camp. And then, one night, she talks Wes and Corey into ditching camp and going on a “tour” as a band — just the three of them.

I wanted to like this one, and sometimes I did. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I thought that Andrews’ observations on music and hipsters and snobs and possibly even teenagers were spot-on. But, that just wasn’t enough to make me care. I made it nearly halfway before I realized that I had no desire to find out what happens on this “world tour of the south” or how Wes, Corey, and Ash deal with everything. It was funny at times. It just wasn’t interesting.

Which is too bad.

maestraMaestra
by L. S. Hilton
First sentence: “Heavy hems and vicious heels swooped and clacked over the parquet.”
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: Um. Well. Let’s just say that it’s a smarter 50 Shades of Grey.  It’s in the Mystery section of all places.

I think there’s a plot to this one. By day, Judith works at an art house as a lackey — she’s super informed about art, smarter than everyone else at the art house, but she just doesn’t get respect. So, by night, she works at a house of pleasure (of sorts). I’m sure more stuff happens, but I bailed after she accidentally killed a guy in France (or was it Italy?) and went on the lamb.

I’ll admit I don’t mind sex in my books. I like sex when it’s smart, when I like the chemistry between the characters, when there’s a plot to attach itself to. I don’t go in for erotica, mostly because it’s sex and no plot. This one, I was assured, balanced the both: hot sex, interesting character, good plot.

Um. I never got past the hot sex part to see the other two. Sure, Judith was intriguing, but 100 pages in there really wasn’t much of a plot. And it’s rumored that this is a series? Seriously? I decided I was much too innocent for this one (the sex wasn’t so much hot as it was disturbing), and since the characters and plot weren’t enough to hold my interest, I bailed.

Audio book: Big Magic

Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a few f-bombs (around fourish, if I remember right) and other mild swearing. It’s in the Creative Non-Fiction section of the bookstore.

Big Magic is what Elizabeth Gilbert calls the act of creation. Sure, she’s a writer, someone who makes their living off of creativity, and so this book — much like The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer — is nominally written toward those who want to live an artistic life. But, as Gilbert argues in the book, who wouldn’t want to do that?

It’s not a new message: find time to be creative. Make space in your life to be creative. Be open to creative inspiration and connection You will be a happier person for it. And you can just add Gilbert’s voice to that message. She has no patience for people who say they Can’t (that’s a very limiting word) do that. And she has no patience for people who want to Suffer for their Art. She believes — and I buy into this — that happy people are the most creative, and conversely, creative people are happiest.

(As a side note: I used to be more creative, both cross-stitching as well as decorating the house and other projects. They’ve all fallen by the wayside. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I like doing story time every Saturday: it allows me to have a creative outlet.)

It’s an interesting look at art and is incredibly practical about how it can be a part of your life. And while I enjoyed listening to Gilbert read her work, I think this is one I want to buy, to have on hand to read and to share with the children. For while I don’t think it’s an absolute Recipe for Happiness, it’s a good reminder that I enjoy being creative and that I can, in fact, make time for that sort of thing in my life.

Audiobook: How to Be Both

by Ali Smith
Read by John Banks
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s probably six or so f-bombs spread through the whole book. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I knew very little about this book before picking it up, only that it made for an excellent book group discussion in one of the book groups at the store, and that a couple people on staff really loved it. It was enough for me to use my last audiobooks.com credit to get the audio. The other thing I knew was that this book is two novellas in one, and that half the books printed have one first, and the other half are reversed. You don’t know, previous to picking it up, whose story you will get first.

The two stories are interconnected looks at art and perception. One is contemporary, the story of a mother-daughter relationship. The other is a stream-of-consciousness from the perspective of an Italian Renaissance painter in the 1400s. I really don’t want to say much more than that, except I read it Camera-Eyes, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way the two stories weaved together. It gave me much to think about.

Also, once I got used to the narrator (and the book), I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this one. I enjoyed his style, and that he didn’t try to do falsetto female voices. Everything was pretty matter-of-fact, which took a bit to fall into the groove with, but once I did, was quite lovely.

An excellent read.