Sex and Vanity

by Kevin Kwan
First sentence: “The trail was lit by tall flickering torches, but Charlotte Barclay still felt like she could have fallen a thousand times on the pathway.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, plus a tasteful sex scene, a very awkward sex scene, and some talk of oral sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

First off, you’re going to want to compare this to Crazy Rich Asians, and it’s not. Sure, it’s crazy rich people and there are the same comparisons of old vs. new money that cropped up in Crazy Rich Asians, as well as the subtle racism that BIPOC — in this case, very wealthy BIPOC — get when running around white circles — in this case, very rich, white circles. But, this is so much more than that.

Kwan has taken E. M. Forester’s book, A Room with a View and thoroughly updated while keeping all the charm from both the book and the Merchant Ivory film, both of which I have loved for ages. (Seriously: he changed details, but the beats of the plot were exactly the same. It felt familiar and new all at the same time.) And he did it so seamlessly. The characters were their own individual characters, and yet I could see the original Charlotte, Lucy, George, and Cecil laid on top of them. I adored the modernization, I adored the homage to Italy and New York. I adored Kwan’s obsession with fashion and food and how new money can be both crass and understandable. It really was the perfect retelling of a classic story, and a perfect book to read on a hot summer day.

Absolutely recommended.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy

by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some situations with bullying. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

If you can’t tell from the title, this is a modern adaptation of Alcott’s Little Women. It’s a blended family: Meg’s dad married Jo’s mom and they had Beth and Amy together. That doesn’t stop the sisters from being incredibly close. Their dad is deployed in the Middle East and their mom is working hard to make ends meet. As we follow the March sisters over the course of a year — from one Christmas to the next — anyone familiar with the original will catch all the highlights: there’s Laurie and his grandfather across the street. There’s crotchety old Aunt Cath that Jo works for. There’s Brooks that has a relationship with Meg, as well as Meg’s aspirations to be part of the rich social set. Beth shy and quiet and Amy loud and obnoxious. t

There are differences from the original, but mostly because it’s modernized. Meg and Jo are making decisions that diverge from the original, reflecting today’s society, but I felt Terciere and Indigo stayed true to the spirit of the original work.

I did feel like this one fell short a bit, but mostly because I felt it wasn’t really it’s own thing. It’s an excellent adaption of Little Women, but I’m not sure it’s much else.

That said, I really enjoyed reading it.

The Bookwanderers

by Anna James
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s not long and it doesn’t have a lot of hard words, though it does seem to lean in to bookish kids, even if one of the characters has a hard time reading because he’s dyslexic. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Tilly has grown up in her grandparents’ bookstore, Pages & Co. (a quick real-life interjection here: they have a bakery and a store, but no evidence of customers? How are they paying the bills? I know, I know, it’s a kids’ book…) surrounded by books. She is an avid reader, partially because you can’t grow up in a bookstore and not be and partially because it’s a connection to her mother, who disappeared when Tilly was little.

And now that she’s 11, something unusual has started happening: characters are coming out of books. And she’s been pulled into them, not just metaphorically, but literally. It turns out that her grandparents and mother are part of this group called Bookwanderers, people who can literally travel between the pages of a book. And now, Tilly and her friend Oskar find they can travel in books too, which means, maybe that’s where Tilly’s mother went? And maybe they can find her.

On the one hand, this is super charming. I was charmed by the presentation, by the idea of taking something metaphorical (getting lost in a book) and making it literal. I liked Tilly and her willingness to take chances, even though she had a good support system with her parents. I liked that it wrapped the story up, but also left a thread open for more books in the series.

But. I’m not sure how much kids are going to like it. (Which makes me sad.) Because of copyright issues, James can only use the classics, which makes sense, but I’m sure that kids would much rather read about falling into books they love, and not Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, and A Little Princess. It makes sense why she used the classics, but it is a drawback, and one I’m not sure many readers could get past. Which means it’s more for adults who love reading and have a fond memory of reading as a kid, and that’s kind of sad.

Even so, I was happy I read it!

Wyrd Sisters

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “The wind howled.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Equal Rites
Content: There’s some brief talk about sex, and the more Shakespeare you know the better this one is. It’d be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore if we had it in the store.

First off: you really don’t have to read these in order. I kind of am, and so I’m going to list them as part of a series, but each of these books stand on their own. (That said, there was a small footnote about a professor at the wizard school being turned into an orangutan and I was able to laugh because I *remembered* that, which makes it so much better.)

Things that make Wyrd Sisters fantastic: all the Shakespeare references. I know I didn’t catch them all, but they’re there. And the ones I did catch made me laugh. It’s not just that the whole book was loosely based on Macbeth, but other little things, like the theater being called “The Dyske” or various characters trying to speak Shakespearean. Or my favorite: “I’d like to know if I could compare you to a summer’s day. Because — well, June 12th was quite nice…”

I also thoroughly enjoyed the witches. I didn’t much care for Granny Weatherwax in Equal Rites, but I feel like, set against Nanny Ogg and Magrat (who I kept calling “Margaret” in my head), she was awesome. Super practical, very blunt and always Right. I liked the three witches together, how they worked with (and against, sometimes) each other, for the better of this silly little kingdom. I could definitely read more of this Granny Weatherwax.

And so I probably will. There’s a handful more in the Witches Discworld series before you get to Tiffany Aching and I’m planning on going through them all.

Pride

by Ibi Zoboi
First sentence: “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 18, 2018
Content: There is swearing, including a few f-bombs. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think a 7th/8th grader who was interested would like it, as well.

I’ll admit this up front: I’m a sucker for Jane Austen retelings. I adore them, especially when they’re well-done. And this one, set in Brooklyn with class tensions (but not race) and feisty girls who speak their mind, this one is extremely well done.

The fun thing about this is that if you know Pride and Prejudice, you smile as Zoboi hits all the notes of the original. A rich family moves into the neighborhood where the Benitez family — of Dominican/Hatian blend — live. The family — the Darcys — are well-off African Americans, and they completely re-do the house all fancy. Because they can. And yeah, they look down their noses at the Benitezes, with their loud, immigrant ways and their spicy immigrant food, and well… everything. Zuri is the second daughter of this crazy family, and is about to start her senior year in high school. She is fiercely proud of her neighborhood and her family, and she doesn’t want a snotty rich brat, no matter how fine he is, stomping on her turf.

And, if you know the original, you know how it turns out. What I loved was that Zoboi paid homage to Austen while making the story thoroughly her own, and thoroughly modern. While I could sense the Austen book in the background, the everything felt organic and natural, and the characters more than just caricatures. Even if you don’t know the original, the plot made sense on its own, and I loved that Zoboi was able to do that. And I thought it was interesting for her to highlight the class differences within the African American community; it gave the book a depth it wouldn’t have if she had gone with a rich white/poor black narrative. And I appreciated that.

It was a delightful dip into a story I love but looking at it in a whole new light.

The Tao of Pooh

taoofpoohby Benjamin Hoff
First sentence: “‘What’s this you’re writing?’ asked Pooh, climbing onto the writing table.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a primer on philosophy and the Tao Te Ching. If that sounds interesting, then it’s probably your speed. It’s in the Religion/Philosophy section of the bookstore.

Of COURSE one follows up Winnie-the-Pooh with The Tao of Pooh, right?

Right.

I’d read this once, a long time ago (probably after I was first married because the copy we have is Hubby’s), and honestly didn’t remember it much at all.

It’s an interesting hybrid of imitating the Pooh stories, an analysis of the stories and a comparison to the Tao Te Ching. I enjoyed the comparisons of Pooh to the principles of Tao, because it helped explain these admittedly foreign (at least to me) principles in a way I could understand. It reinforced the idea that meditation — the act of actively doing nothing — and being present in the moment are Good Things. And it reinforced the idea that not getting caught up in Ideas and letting your brain run away with itself is not healthy.

The only downside is that while Pooh (and sometimes Piglet) gets all the Praise, he kind of knocks Eeyore, Rabbit, and Owl, and I do have a soft spot for them. So it was kind of sad to see that, at least in the Way, they’re less valued.

Even so, it was a good reminder of helpful practices and good ideas that I needed.

Reader, I Married Him

readerimarriedhimEdited by Tracy Chevalier
First sentence: “Why is ‘Reader, I married him” one of the most famous lines in literature?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Some of the stories are sweary, including a dozen or so f-bombs spread out over several stories. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

First, a confession: while I’ve read Jane Eyre, I don’t love it. I’m not a huge Bronte fan, though I recognize the literary merit of their books. So, I really didn’t know what to expect from a short story collection that was built around one of the pivotal moments in Jane Eyre.

And, for the most part, I enjoyed this. I liked the ones that spun off completely from the idea of Jane Eyre, except for “The Mirror” which played with the idea that Mr. Rochester was a narcissist, an idea to which I can definitely ascribe. I also liked the parallels to the original in ” The Orphan Exchange.”

Other than that, I liked the ones that played with historical fiction — like “Since I First Saw Your Face” and “Reader, I Married Him.”  Though I think my favorite was “Self-Seeding Sycamore. ” I liked the play between the characters in the story; I think it was the only one where I felt there was actually chemistry between the characters.

So, while this was not a collection I would have picked up on my own (it was a book group book), I did enjoy it.

 

Heartless

heartlessby Marissa Meyer
First sentence: “Three luscious lemon tarts glistened up at Catherine.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some kissing. And it’s length might turn some readers off. It’ll be in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

All Cath wants to do is bake amazing sweets. It’s something she’s good at, it’s something she enjoys, it’s what makes her happy. She has dreams of opening up a bakery, of selling her goods to everyone in the Kingdom of Hearts. But she’s the daughter of the Marquis of Rock Turtle Cove, and her business partner is her maid, and she’s attracted the attention of the King, and, well, it just isn’t Done.

And then she meets Jest. Dark, brooding, handsome, and the court joker. Not someone she should be paying attention to. And yet, she’s attracted to everything about him. His sense of whimsy, his magic. It’s all… impossible.

And because this is Wonderland, fate has something else entirely in mind for Cath.

This book is to Alice in Wonderland as Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz. Its the backstory of not only the Queen of Hearts, but many of the characters in Alice. In fact, the better you know Alice in Wonderland, the more fun Heartless is. It’s clever the way Meyer weaves in the original story (and Through the Looking Glass as well!) and gives us a wholly new story as well. I liked Cath as a character, I liked that she had a dream and a plan to have a happy life. And yet, she wants to please those people she cares about. And she gets put into an increasingly tight situation. Which leads to heartbreak and some less than ideal choices.

I found it fascinating. I enjoyed the way Meyer played with the original. I liked the chemistry between Cath and Jest. Where it kind of fell apart was the dark ending. It had to be that way — it’s the backstory about the Queen of Hearts, after all — but it kind of came out of left field for me. That said, it wasn’t enough to completely throw my enjoyment of the book. It was a good story, complete, and one that is definitely is worth spending time on.

 

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure

missypigglewiggleby Ann M. Martin
First sentence: “The most wonderful thing about the town of Little Spring Valley was not its magic shop, and not the fact that one day a hot-air balloon had appeared as if from nowhere and no one ever knew where it had come from, and not even the fact that the children could play outside and run all up and down the streets willy-nilly without their parents hovering over them.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged off the ARC piles at my place of employment.
Content: There’s nothing to cause concern. Lots of illustrations, short chapters (they’re kind of like connected short stories). It’d made a great read-aloud as well. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I never read the Mrs Piggle-Wiggle books, but I did have a couple of girls who were into them. C, if I remember right, especially loved them. So, while I was familiar with the whole concept, I hadn’t actually read them before.

In this one, Mrs Piggle-Wiggle is off to find her husband (she had a husband?) who was called away “some years ago” by pirates. Not wanting to leave the children of Little Spring Valley without some sort of positive influence (because heaven knows they need it!), she writes to her niece, Missy, to come and stay at the upside-down house and help guide these wayward children to a much happier life.

(I shouldn’t let sarcasm seep through. The Piggle-Wiggles would disapprove.)

The chapters, after the introduction, go basically like this: there is a child who has a “problem” that needs to be fixed. The parents, at their wits’ end, go to Missy who gives the kid some sort of magical solution, which exacerbates the problem, which, in turn, solves it. As an adult, I found it super didactic, but that’s just me. I’m sure that there are tons of kids who would find the solutions hilarious (I think they were meant to be…) and maybe even a few who could learn from it. (I, personally, got tired of the perfect LaCarte kids and wanted there to be something wrong with them.)

It wasn’t a bad book. Just maybe not one for grown-ups.

Lilliput

lilliputby Sam Gayton
First sentence: “All down the pebble path to the beach, Lily sulked about her iron shoes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some abuse and danger, and there are some larger words, but for the most part, this one is suitable for grades 3 and up. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Lily is a young child in the land of Lilliput when this big giant, Gulliver, comes and snatches her away. He takes her back to London to serve as “proof”. It seems, his stories of his travels have been dismissed as fake and so for the sake of his pride, he kidnapped Lily. He has her in a cage while he finishes his book. Lily, however, just wants to be free. Her life span is a lot shorter than Gulliver’s, and she’s spent half of her life in this cage. She needs to be free.

So, she keeps trying to escape. And eventually, she finds some humans who are willing to help her.

It’s an interesting take on Gulliver’s travels, and I enjoyed having it from the point of view of Lily. There’s some nice subtle commentary on the ethics of taking people from their homeland as well as the conditions which children often found themselves in, both in orphanages as well as in apprenticeships. It was a nice change to have the Spanish character be the “good” guy (in addition to him being the stay-home dad while his wife traveled the world).

But, while it all added up to something nice, it wasn’t overwhelmingly compelling, in my view. And that’s too bad.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)