Audiobook: Sing Unburied Sing

by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Kevin Harrison Jr, Chris Chalk, and Rutina Wesley
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, drug use, and violence. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s not often I end up reading the National Book Award winner for fiction, and to be honest, I was surprised that I did. (I started listening to it before the awards…) I picked it up because people were talking about it, because I’ve never read Jesmyn Ward before, and because I was curious.

It’s basically a slice of life portrait of Mississippi. A black woman, Leonie, takes her two children — Jojo, whose story this is, and Kayla — on a road trip from the Gulf to Parchman, where their dad is getting out of jail after serving time for drug charges. It’s a hot mess of a road trip, partially because Leonie is a drug addict, and partially because she just can’t parent, interspersed with reflections from Jojo, his grandfather (Leonie’s father), and Leonie. It’s about relationships — Leonie’s brother was killed in a race-related shooting by her boyfriend’s (and baby daddy’s) cousin — and surviving and growing up and expectations.

I enjoyed the narration; there were three different narrators, one each for Jojo (I liked him best), Leonie and a ghost who shows up halfway through, but I wonder if this was a book that would have gone down easier read than listened to. It’s not that I didn’t like it; I just felt like I missed things — connections, imagery, story — and I could have taken it slower in print than in audio.

Still, a worthwhile read.

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Daughter of the Pirate King

by Tricia Levenseller
First sentence: “I hate having to dress like a man.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some violence, some mild swearing, and references to torture. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Pirate captain, and daughter of the pirate king, Alosa is on a secret mission to retrieve a part of a map from one of her father’s enemies. Which means, she is deliberately captured in order to search the ship. This is not a pleasant experience for her; Alosa is used to 1) commanding her own ship and 2) besting everyone around her. She knows her father is placing his trust in her, though, and she’s determined to succeed. At whatever cost.

Oh heavens, this was fun. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good pirate book (and this IS a good pirate book) where the girl gets to be awesome (and gets to do it mostly on her own terms; the ship Alosa captains is made up mostly of women, and it’s just amazing. She’s just amazing!) AND gets to have the guy (oh the banter was delightful). It was well-written, well-paced, and just OH so much fun.

And the bonus? The sequel’s coming out soon. (In fact, that’s entirely why I picked this one up: I got an ARC of the sequel at work.)  I can’t wait to dive into that!

Nevermoor

by Jessica Townsend
First sentence: “The journalists arrived before the coffin did.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 31, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary moments, and it’s a bit long (almost 450 pages). It will be in the Middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Morrigan has grown up thinking she was cursed. Everyone — from the townspeople to her own father — blames her for everything that goes wrong. No one speaks to her, and worst of all, she is slated to die on Eventide. It’s a miserable existence.

So when, on Eventide, a mysterious man named Jupiter North swoops in and takes her away (with permission; but that’s a long story), Morrigan doesn’t know how to react.  She’s swept away to a city called Nevermoor to not only live with Jupiter in a magical hotel, but to compete in the trials to become part of the Wundrous Society, an exclusive magical society/school. There are conflicts and challenges, and Morrigan makes friends as she goes along.

So, I know what you’re thinking: it sounds an awful lot like Harry Potter. And you’re right: it is. But, it’s also its own thing. It’s not just that it’s a different sort of magic, it’s also lighter. More like Sorcerer’s Stone, even though that’s darker than this one is. Nevermoor is a delightful sort of fantasy, with a wonderful world kids can fall into. Yes, this is a beginning of a series (argh!), but it’s also a complete story on its own. There are delightful characters to meet and get to know, and the trials themselves are interesting and fun.

In short: it’s a fun read. Definitely hand this to those Harry Potter fans.

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: Hillbilly Elegy

by J. D. Vance
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a LOT of swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

J. D. Vance didn’t have the best upbringing. That’s putting it mildly. The grandson of Kentucky to Ohio transplants, people who moved to work in factories to find a better life, he grew up in a small manufacturing town in southern Ohio. His mom, one of three kids, was a drug addict who bounced between guys, and so J. D. ended up with his grandma, whom he called Mamaw. He eventually found his way out of the poverty and abuse cycles, joining the Marines, going to Ohio State and Yale Law. But, as he points out in his memoir, his story is atypical.

It’s mostly Vance’s memoir of his childhood (insane as it is) and his family. But he also ties it into the larger issue of rural poverty. It’s something I’ve thought since the year we lived in Mississippi: it’s not (just) about race, it’s about class. And if we don’t do something about the working poor — and I don’t have the answers here — things will just get worse.

J. D. doesn’t have the answers either; just a lot of first-hand observations. The most striking of which is that interventions that happen in high school often come too late. They need to sooner. (Honestly, I saw a lot of our foster daughter in this story. And he’s right: if someone had intervened when she was younger, it would have saved her a world of hurt and trauma.) But it’s also complex: the politicians and agencies don’t always know or understand or assume things about the poor.

A fascinating book. And listening to him read it (he has a slight Southern twang) was a great way to experience this book.

Highly recommended.

Traitor to the Throne

traitortothethroneby Alwyn Hamilton
First sentence: “Once, in the desert kingdom of Miraji, there was a young prince who wanted his father’s throne.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Rebel of the Sands
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some almost off screen sexytimes and a lot of violence. It’ll be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s been a bit since Amani has joined the Rebel Prince to try and claim the throne from his father, the Sultan. Things aren’t going so great for them; they’ve had several setbacks and it’s starting to seem hopeless. Then Amani is kidnapped by her aunt and sold to the Sultan. Suddenly, it looks like things might be turning around for the rebellion.

Of course, it’s not as easy as it seems: the Sultan is crafty and conniving, and Amani finds herself more than under his control; she’s stuck in the haram trying to find a way out. And all she can hope is that she comes out on the winning side.

It took me a bit to get back into the world, to remember what I really liked about Rebel of the Sands, but once I got going, I found I couldn’t put this one down.  I loved Amani’s fierce style, her problem-solving, and the way she was able to make plans, even under the direst of circumstances. There wasn’t as much of her and Jin, and he was more in the background of this book, but I did enjoy the moments when he did show up.

Mostly what this book was about was the politics of leadership: what makes a good ruler, how firm or fierce one should be, and the reasons subjects do or don’t follow one. I found that part fascinating.

I am definitely committed to the story line, and curious about where Amani and her rebel friends will go next.

See You in the Cosmos

seeyouinthecosmosby Jack Cheng
First sentence: “Who are you?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some illusions to difficult situations, but they’re pretty vague. I’m waffling between putting this in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) or YA (grades 6-8) sections of the bookstore, because it could go either way. I’d definitely say it’s for 5th grade and up.

Alex, age 11 (but 13 in “responsibility years”), has a passion for science and rockets and Carl Sagan, the scientist. He wants to send his Golden iPod up into space in a rocket he built, which is why he’s headed out to SHARF (Southwest High Altitude Rocket Festival) in New Mexico. It’s where It’s All Going to Happen. And it does, though not in the way Alex thinks it will. He meets some broken and incredibly nice people, and that leads him to Las Vegas where he finds he has a half sister. Which leads him to LA before heading back home again. It’s part road trip, part family story, part musings on Life, the Universe, and Everything. And entirely delightful.

The best thing about this book was the voice. The chapters are a series of recordings that Alex does as he goes on his trip, talking to the aliens to whom he’s intending on sending the iPod. Cheng captures the uncertainty of being eleven, Alex’s passion for his family and his dog without much exposition at all. It was the perfect way to tell Alex’s story, to experience all the crazy serendipitous things that happen to Alex. (Seriously: he’s a magical being, Alex. It’s like he wills good things to happen to him, and they do.) Cheng captured the heart and soul of the book and reminded me that there are Good People out in the world.

And that, perhaps, is the best thing about this book.