That Time I Loved You

by Carrianne Leung
First sentence: “1979: This was the year the parents in my neighbourhood began killing themselves.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some sex (on-screen but not graphic) and swearing, including a few f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Set in a suburb of Toronto, specifically on one street in a particular neighborhood, this collection of connected short stories  follows the inner workings of a dozen people of all ages.  The characters are mostly women, except for one black teenage boy, and many of them are immigrants. Leung explores immigrant expectations and prejudices toward them. She explores female dynamics both with other females and with males. She touches on sexual assault and racism and emotional abuse. It’s a lot. And yet, it works.

I usually have problems with short stories, but I think because these are connected — the characters in the stories appear in their own as well as in the background of other stories — it felt more like a novel. We got to know the characters, we get to know the neighborhood, and because each story focuses on a different person, we get to know them intimately and it means more when they show up in a different story.

I really enjoyed this one!

 

Spirit Hunters

by Ellen Oh
First sentence: “‘Harper! Come quick!'”
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Content: There’s an abusive relationship, and it’s quite scary in parts. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I wouldn’t give it to the faint of heart.

Harper and her family have recently moved from New York City into a Washington, D. C. house. It’s nominally for her parents’ jobs, but it’s also because Harper had a couple of incidents — at school and at the mental health hospital — that were kind of sketchy. However, she can’t remember anything about the fire at school that landed her in the hospital. And now, her younger brother is acting unlike himself, and no one can quite figure out why.

(Though you can probably guess from the title!)

This was SO good! I loved the characters, even the clueless/controlling/close-minded parents, and I loved that the main character not only figured out the problem, but also solved it, with the help from her friend and her estranged grandmother. I liked the historical detail that Oh wove into the book, and I loved the suspense that she built throughout the book. An excellent ghost story.

 

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.”
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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.

Audiobook: Flying Lessons

flyinglessonsedited by Ellen Oh
Read by: An Ensemble of Narrators
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Content: The stories are all set in middle school, and some deal more explicitly with “older kid” problems. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’m considering moving it to the YA (grades 6-8) because I’m wondering if that’s more the audience.

I’m not a huge fan of short story collections, but when I saw the audio book of this one, I couldn’t resist. I’ve been neglecting reading books by non-whites this year (I shouldn’t be!) and I thought since diversity is the point of this collection, I’d give it a try.

And I loved it! Sure, I loved some stories more than others (The titular story, “Flying Lessons” was one of my favorites, as was “How to Transform an Everyday Hoop Court Into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” by Matt de la Pena, and “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents” by Kwame Alexander, and “”Sol Painting, Inc.,” written and read by Meg Medina), but that’s to be expected. I loved that there were different readers for each story, which helped me tell the stories apart as well as giving them their own, distinct voice. I loved hearing the diverse stories, from the inner city, from the suburbs, from rural people to rich people to poor people to disabled people. It really did embrace the diversity that’s out there. Which is really the best thing.

Now to make sure that kids read it!

The Sun is Also a Star

sunalsostarby Nicola Yoon
First sentence: “Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: November 1, 2016
Content: It’s mostly swearing; there’s a lot of swear words, plus a handful of f-bombs. There’s some penis jokes as well, and references to wanting sex, but none actual. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Natasha is being deported. They came to NYC from Jamaica when she was eight so her father could pursue an acting career. It didn’t work out the way he envisioned and now (after a drunken night and several missteps) they’re being deported.

Daniel is being forced into a life he doesn’t really want. His parents, Korean immigrants, want him to go to Yale (“second best school”) and be a doctor, so he can have the life they never really had. He knows this, he wants to make his parents happy, but his life seems so… narrow.

Then on one fateful day, Natasha and Daniel are in NYC at the same time, and they just happen to bump into each other. And they just happen to connect. And, well, the  rest is history.

This is an Epic Love Story for the ages. Seriously, people. It’s got fate, chemistry, romance, angst, second chances, near misses, and a whole lot of heart. I adored both Natasha and Daniel, and it was absolutely delightful watching the wonderfully messy way they fell in love. It’s not a simple love story, and it goes deeper than just fluff; Natasha and Daniel talk about the immigrant experience, how it’s hard being in this country, and the ways in which things are different, and sometimes difficult, for children of immigrants. There’s science and poetry and karaoke, and it’s absolutely wonderful.

And I loved that the ending wasn’t perfect. There was no magical save or happily-ever-after, but rather a peek and a hope. It made me cry honest tears, which are the best kind.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful story.

Outrun the Moon

outrunthemoonby Stacy Lee
First sentence: “In my fifteen years, I have stuck my arm in a vat of slithering eels, climbed all the major hills of San Francisco, and tiptoed over the graves of a hundred souls.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some violence (done my Mother Nature) and some horrible people saying horrible things. Also, an illusion to sex (by minor adult characters). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Mercy Wong has Aspirations and Goals. She wants out of Chinatown, where the whole of San Francisco in 1906 wants to keep her and her family. She wants more than marriage (though she does like Tom, the son of a respected apothecary). She wants to Be Somebody. And, she’s decided that St. Clair’s School for Girls is the way to get it. She bargains her way in, and discovers that things aren’t always as simple as they seem. Then the earthquake hits, and when everything comes crashing down around Mercy, she discovers that perhaps the best things in life are friends and a bit of determination.

This really was a nice combination of historical — the dresses and rules of etiquette and restrictions on women — and modern, with Mercy’s progressive ideas and determination to do things without the permission of authority figures. Lee did a great job balancing the two, so it never felt too modern, nor too old-fashioned. I appreciated seeing San Francisco through a Chinese girl’s point of view, and Mercy really is one of those characters you just want to root for. I liked that while there was a romance, it didn’t dominate the story, and that Mercy was enough of her own person to make the romance believable rather than sappy.

I should go back and read Lee’s first book; I’ve heard good things about it. And if it’s anything like this one, it’s sure to be good.

Genius: The Game

geniusthegameby Leopoldo Gout
First sentence: “The night Teo disappeared started off just like any other.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing. It feels more like a YA book, so it’s in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’d give it to an interested 5th-grader.

Three friends — Mexican-American Rex, Nigerian Tunde, and Chinese Cai — are at the top of the game when it comes to technology. Rex is a top-notch programmer and hacker, Tunde a brilliant engineer, and Cai a blogger who goes by Painted Wolf and exposes corruption in the government, and together they are LODGE, and have a massive on-line presence. Then they get word: the CEO of a major tech corporation is having an invitation-only competition for the world’s best and brightest. And Tex, Tunde, and Cai all need in, for different reasons. Not the least of which is to win.

On the one hand: this book is SO cool. It’s nice to have a tech-laden book that isn’t scifi, but rather just people using advanced technology the way it’s supposed to be used. Bonus points, as well, for an effortlessly diverse cast. (I did find Tunde’s chapters a bit odd, but I eventually warmed up to it.) It makes sense that all the people at the competition wouldn’t be white boys, and so I appreciated having not only a good ethnic mix (the CEO’s Indian, on top of it all!), but a good mix of girls and boys. The design of the book is cool too, from the sleek cover, to the art and graphics mixed in, depending on which narrator’s POV we’re reading. (Tunde’s was the most elaborate, Rex the most spare.)

But, I’m not sure cool is enough. For one thing, I was expecting a stand-alone, and about 2/3 of the way through I realized it wasn’t, and I’ll admit it: I lost interest. *sigh* The characterization lacked a bit, especially of the Big Bad; why on earth is he trying to bring the world’s tech down, and what does he want with our super-smart, capable kids? Questions that were, unfortunately, left unanswered. It’s not that it was bad — I finished it after all — but it just didn’t make me super enthused. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t super great either.

Everything Everything

by Nicola Yoon
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 1, 2015
Review copy picked up at CI3 and signed by the author.
Content: There is a few mild swear words, and one sort-of on-screen, sort-of-off-screen sex scene. The publisher has it listed for grades 7 and up, which puts it in the YA section, but I might move it to the Teen (grades 9+).

Madeline has spent her entire life inside. White furniture, white walls, filtered air, the whole deal. It’s because she has Severe Combined Immunodefiency (SCID), which basically means she’s allergic to the world. Any little disease, any little microorganism will kill her. So, she stays inside, reading, doing her online school.

And then Olly moves in next door.

Okay: yes, the plot is predictable. Boy moves in next door, they meet and have instalike, and suddenly the girl is questioning her Life Choices and Taking Risks.

But I ate this up. I don’t know if it was the short chapters, snippets of Madeline’s thoughts and observations, interspersed by some charming line drawings. Or the parallel worlds between her being trapped inside her house because she’s sick and Olly being trapped because of his abusive father. Or just the chemistry between Madeline and Olly, which was fantastic. Or the fact that Madeline was Afro-Asian, and yet it wasn’t really an issue. She just was. Her mother is suffenciently controlling (for good reason), and I adored Carla the Latina nurse, who was really more of a mother figure to Madeline.

And all of this added up to overcome the predictable plot and make me fall for this book. Another absolutely amazing debut.

Momo

by Michael Ende
First sentence: “Long, long ago, when people spoke languages quite different from our own, many fine, big cities already existed in the sunny lands of the world.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: If you can read The Phantom Tollbooth, then this one is for you. It’d be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This book is one of the reasons why, busy as I am, I won’t give up an in-person book group. (I’ve been a slacker with my on-line one lately…) While I read The Neverending Story by Ende as a child (when the movie came out…), I had no idea (and no inclination to find out, for some reason) that he’d written any other books. But, because it’s probably been 30 years since I’d read Neverending Story (or seen it for that matter; we may have tried showing it to the kids), I had no idea what to expect.

What I got was a sweet little fable. Momo is a little orphan girl that shows up in this town and moves into the old amphitheater. What endears her to the people in this town to Momo is twofold: she has a remarkable imagination, and she truly listens to them. Then one day, the grey men show up and infiltrate the town, stealing time from people. Suddenly, no one has enough time for Momo to listen to them, and everyone except the children stay away. And even the children are different. Momo happens to find out the grey men’s plan, and then sets out on an adventure to get her friends back.

It reminded me most of The Phantom Tollbooth: it was a bit on the preachy end — YEAH I get it, unplug from being busy and actually CONNECT with people — but it was also sweet and tender and had that late-60s/early-70s feel to it. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it is very sweet.

Red Butterfly

by A. L. Sonnichsen
First sentence: “Mama used to have a piano
with an on/off switch
and a dial to make drums beat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: It’s pretty long, which will turn some readers off, though it’s in verse, which makes it easier to read (but also might turn readers off). The Chinese words, while spelled phonetically, might also be a deterrent. It’s in the middle grade (grades  3-5) section of the bookstore.

Kara was abandoned at birth, and in China, that generally means certain death. Especially since she is a girl and born with a deformed hand. But a kind, elderly American woman living in Tianjin took Kara in. Now, eleven years later, Kara is wondering why Mama never leaves the house, why she has never gone to school, and why they can’t leave to go join Daddy in Montana.

It takes a while for things to spill out: Mama is always telling Kara to be content with what she has, and not long for something more, but things do eventually come to light. In China, one needs papers to be a legal resident. Kara, because she was abandoned and rescued, has none. And so, they’ve been in hiding all these years.

On the one hand, I enjoyed this peek into China, especially the lives of those children who are neglected and abandoned to the orphanages because of the one-child laws. It’s told in verse, which suits Kara’s contemplative nature and her desire to figure out who she is and where she belongs.  I liked the people Kara met and her interactions in the orphanages.

However, while I got to know Kara and her story, it felt, well… too American. An American pulled her off the streets when she was a baby. She befriended a New Zealander worker in the orphanage (not American, but English-speaking/Western). She ended up in Florida with a second adoptive family. There were Chinese characters, but they were almost afterthoughts in Kara’s life. And while I understood why, I was sad not to get to know China or the Chinese.

It wasn’t bad, overall, but it wasn’t my favorite either.