Audio book: The Bookshop of Yesterdays

by Amy Meyerson
Read by Ann Marie Gideon
Support your local bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some mention of sex, and swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the fiction section of the bookstore.

Miranda Brooks is happy with her life. She has a good job teaching history to 8th graders in Philadelphia. She has a good boyfriend she just moved in with. She doesn’t want to shake things up.

Then she gets a package in the mail — a copy of the Tempest, her estranged uncle’s favorite play — and a note that said uncle has just passed away. Suddenly, she’s off on a plane to LA, the land of her youth, to follow the clues her uncle laid out, to find out the mystery of her past, and how her once-beloved uncle was pushed out of her life.

In addition, Miranda is left sole ownership of the bookstore, Prospero Books, that she has fond memories of when she was a little girl. Through the quest her uncle set, and through the regulars at the bookshop, Miranda slowly finds meaning in what she assumed was a pretty good life.

Oh I enjoyed this one! The narrator was perfect, the story sufficiently bookish, with a side of mystery and romance. It hit all my happy buttons. Not sure it’s high literature, but it was definitely fun.

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The Library Book

by Susan Orlean
First sentence: “Even in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some mild swearing and a few disturbing moments. It’s in the History section of the bookstore.

In the spring of 1986, in between the Challenger explosion and the Chernobyl disaster, the Central Library in Los Angeles caught fire. It was a huge fire, burning for hours and destroying hundreds of thousands of books. It’s something that people in LA remember, but outside of LA? Who knew? So Orlean, who is a masterful non-fiction writer, tackled the story. It’s not just an investigation into the fire — they suspected someone and arrested him, but they never had enough evidence to charge him, and then he later died from AIDS — but a history of the LA library system and an exploration of what the LA library is now.

It’s probably no surprise, but I loved this one. It’s incredibly well-written and utterly fascinating. I think part of me was hoping that she’d “solve” the arson — though she did have a chapter talking about arson crimes, and how investigating them has changed in the last 30 years, and speculated that maybe the LA fire wasn’t arson — but, really, I was just along for the wonderful ride.

And do pick up a real copy of this book. The package is absolutely beautiful. It’s a reminder why books — and libraries! — are important.

Audiobook: Finding Yvonne

by Brandy Colbert
Read by Maya Barton
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, pot smoking by an adult, some teenage drinking and off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Yvonne is a senior at an LA prep school, and has been putting her heart and soul into her violin playing ever since her mother left when Yvonne was seven. Now, though, she’s at loose ends: her violin teacher dropped her because she wasn’t “good” enough, and she feels like she has lost her passion for playing. But, without playing, who is she?

On top of that, Yvonne hardly sees her father, a successful chef. And she’s wanting to take the next step with Warren, who’s hesitant because of their age difference and because he works for her father. And so, when Yvonne meets a street musician, she explores a relationship there, mostly to see if it can help her figure things out.

I liked this one, but mostly because I think the narrator was really good. She kept me engaged in the story, and helped propel the narrative — which is super complicated, but then again, so are many senior kids’ lives — forward. I liked that Yvonne was a musician and a cook, and that she was looking for connection anywhere. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but it wasn’t terrible either.

Front Desk

by Kelly Yang
First sentence: “My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content:  There are some uncomfortable and intense moments, but nothing too graphic. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Mia Tang and her parents are immigrants from China. Which means, even though her parents are highly educated, they’re scrambling for jobs.So, when one comes up managing a hotel — for $5 a room per night, not counting the first week, but they can live there for free — they jump at the chance. Except it’s not as easy as all that. It’s a lot of work for two people (no cleaning staff!) to handle, so Mia takes to running the front desk. Even though she’s only 10. And even though she learns to love the hotel and the weeklies — the people who pay by the week, not by the night — she can’t talk about what her parents do or where she lives at school. Because she’s not like the other kids.

There is a small plot to this one: Mia’s parents take in Chinese immigrants who have fallen on hard times, usually for only one or two nights, and hide them from the owner. Mia wants to be a writer, except her mother doesn’t think she can because English isn’t her first language. and she enters a contest to run a hotel in Vermont. She makes friends and makes choices and learns the power of the written word. There’s not much going on plot-wise, but the characters are compelling, and it’s an excellent look into the things immigrants do (and white/rich people do to them!) in order to make it work here in America. It was definitely enlightening.

So, while there’s not much to talk about, it’s an important — and excellent — book.

Dear Mr. Henshaw

by Beverly Cleary
First sentence: “Dear Mr. Henshaw,  My teacher read your book about the dog to our class.”
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Content:  It’s simple without being simplistic, and deals with some tougher themes like bullying and divorce. It’s in the Newbery Medal section of the bookstore.

Even though I was the perfect age when this came out (I was 11 in 1983), somehow I missed it. Maybe I didn’t pick it up because by the time I was 11 I was reading Agatha Christie and trying to read War in Peace, and this would have seemed too simplistic for me. (Also, maybe the boy on the cover turned me off? I don’t know.) But, having read it now (for the first time!), I’m sorry I missed out on it.

It’s the story of a boy, Leigh Botts, who writes to his favorite author, and over the course of the book, figures out a bit about himself. His parents are divorced; his dad’s a trucker and his mom works at a catering company. He doesn’t see much of his dad at all, and because he’s in a new school, he’s finding it difficult to make friends. And so he turns to Mr. Henshaw, his favorite author, writing him letters. Eventually, those letters become a journal, and eventually that journal helps Leigh figure out things. At least a little bit.

This is the sort of book I needed when I was 11. We had just moved and I was starting a brand-new school in sixth grade, one where everyone had grown up together and I was most definitely the outsider, so I could completely empathize with Leigh. No, my parents weren’t divorced, but I understood his loneliness and his desire to be accepted and loved. I loved that there was a teacher who was good to Leigh, but didn’t play the “inspiring teacher” role. Leigh did figure things out by himself, with just a bit of guidance by the author and his teacher and his mom.  It was delightfully different from the other Cleary books I read this summer, more weighty and less, well, simplistic. It ended hopefully but not happily, and it gave me things to think about. And I think it definitely deserved the Newbery Medal it won.

Excellent.

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.

Like a River Glorious

likearivergloriousby Rae Carson
First sentence: “Sunrise comes late to California.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Walk on Earth a Stranger
Content: There are some difficult scenes of emotional and physical abuse. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’d let people know about the abuse before handing it to them.

Lee Westfall and her friends have made it to California, and Lee, with her “witchy” gold sense, have found them a pretty prime spot for gold hunting. Things are going well, until Lee’s awful (doesn’t even begin to describe it) uncle sends his henchmen to fetch her. They kill a couple of her friends, set fire to the camp, and basically kidnap Lee and a couple of others, including her beau, Jefferson. They end up at Lee’s uncle’s camp, which being run horribly, to say the least. He’s kidnapped Native peoples to do the work, and beats them while keeping them in squalor and nearly starving them. He’s “hired” Chinese workers, but doesn’t treat (or pay) them well at all. Lee is horrified, and doesn’t want to help this awful man, but he beats up Jefferson and her other friends in order to gain her cooperation. It’s awful, but it works. The question is: how can she survive in this situation while looking for a way to get out.

I’ll be honest: this one was slow starting. I picked it up and put it down several times, but after about 50 or so pages, it picked up considerably. So much so, that I didn’t want to put it back down. Carson doesn’t airbrush the treatment of the native peoples, and she is quietly feminist as well. Hiram (Lee’s uncle) is horrible, awful, and downright scary (I was thinking he was going to rape her at one point…) and while the ending is a bit too pat, it does wrap things up nicely.

A solid historical fantasy.