School Trip

by Jerry Craft
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: New Kid, Class Act
Content: There are some shenanigans and awkward moments. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Jordan and his friends have a long-awaited school trip to Pairs. They’re all excited for different reasons; Jordan especially since he wants to see all the art with his art teacher. However, to the actions of several tech-savvy kids, the teachers assigned to the various trips get all mixed up, and the teachers going to the Paris trip know nothing. That’s a chance for Maury to shine: his mother went to school in Paris, and they visit often. He is able to show the other kids all the cool spots. As they go through the city of lights, the kids learn to navigate friendships and talk about their feelings and how they are treated. Sometimes everyone being in a new place can make it easier to talk about things you aren’t able to back home.

I really like this series. I like Craft’s art style and the way he has many different characters that all have some depth to them. I like that he’s not afraid to talk about racism or just the way kids can mistreat each other without realizing it. I do like that the kids are mostly complex characters. It’s a fun book, but also a thoughtful one. My only complaint is that Jordan’s parents decided what high school he would attend (he got into an art-specific high school) without letting him have his say. But that’s a minor thing in such a well-done graphic novel.

Highly recommended.

Giovanni’s Room

by James Baldwin
First sentence: “I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.”
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Content: There is some talk of sex and some mild swearing. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I’m at a loss wit this one. The basic plot is this: it’s the 1950s (the book was first published in 1956, which surprised me) and David is a gay man. Except he doesn’t want to believe it. He believes he is sick, he is dirty. And, in Paris, he’s found a girl — Hella — who he mostly likes and asks her to marry him. Except she’s not sure, so she darts off to Spain, and David meets Giovanni. And falls in love. Head-over-heels, living together love. Until Hella comes back, and David completely dumps Giovanni who ends up going into depressive spiral.

On the one hand, good on Baldwin for writing about LGBTQ characters in the 1950s (I haven’t read much classic lit from that time period, so I really don’t know how common or uncommon it was). Also, it surprised me that all of his characters were White (except Giovanni who was Italian, but that’s basically White). Not saying he shouldn’t have written it, just that it surprised me. But, the thing was: this was so full of gay self-loathing. I understand why: it was, culturally (especially for Americans) taboo, and so those who are gay must have felt absolutely awful about it. I appreciate that insight. But it was so hard to take. Maybe because I’m looking at it through 21st-century eyes, but I felt bad for David. He didn’t need to mess up his life so much because he was gay. But, then, it was the 1950s, so maybe he did.

Also: I had a hard time stomaching the sexism. At one point, Hella’s like “I totally need a man to complete me” (not those exact words; Baldwin likes going in for long eloquent sentences), which so eye-rollingly, well, 1950s. I guess it’s really just a reflection of its time.

That said, it was short, and it was interesting (even if it was impossibly sad) and I’m glad I read it. Not my favorite Baldwin book though.

The Collector’s Apprentice

by B. A. Shapiro
First sentence: “This isn’t how it was supposed to be, Edwin.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are a couple of f-bombs, and a couple of tasteful sex scenes. It’s in the fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s 1922 and Pauliene Mertens is in Paris, abandoned by her ex-fiance (he took the money and ran, ruining her family’s fortune and name) and disowned by her family. So she changes her name to Vivienne Gregsby and reinvents herself, as a secretary to an American, Edwin Bradley, who is in Paris looking to collect art and start a museum. Knowledgeable about Impressionism and post-Impressionism, Bradley soon discovers that Vivienne is indispensable, and brings her to America to help him set up his (private) museum. From there, it’s a lot of drawing-room drama: alleged and actual affairs, money issues, ex-fiance popping up with another scheme, Matisse and Gertrude Stein, and the whole undercurrent of whether or not anyone will figure out who Vivienne really is.

It’s a little bit of a mystery — who killed Edwin? It’s a little bit 1920s art history. It’s a little bit romance (Vivienne takes up with Matisse, not to mention her relationship with George that starts the whole book off). It’s a little bit of a lot of things, which maybe is what kept me from loving it. I enjoyed the art history part the best; the way Shapiro writes Matisse is fabulous; he (and Gertrude Stein) was my favorite character. Vivienne was kind of a bland character to spend most of the book with, and it made the ending kind of surprising. (In fact, the only thing I wanted out of the book was George to get his comeuppance. Seriously.)

It’s (really) loosely based on history, and I found myself wondering what was true (answer: not much, really) and what wasn’t. And while I enjoyed it well enough, it wasn’t my favorite novel this year by a long shot.

The Story of Diva and Flea

by Mo Willems, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
First sentence: “This is Diva’s story.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy picked up at Children’s Institute.
Content: It’s perfect for the beginning chapter crowd, though there are some difficult words. It’s with the other beginning chapter books at the bookstore.

I have a confession: I didn’t want to read this. I adore Willems as a picture book writer, and I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to pull a longer story off. So, I put off reading this until the day came when I thought to myself, “I need some Mo Willems in my life today” and so I picked it up.

I shouldn’t have worried.

The one thing I adore about Willems is that he knows how to write both to adults and children at the same time. His stories — no matter if they’re Knuffle Bunny or Elephant & Piggie — embrace humor and characters and themes that both adults and kids can relate to. And while he is simple, he never ever talks down to his readers. And he brought all of that to the table with this one. It’s an endearing story of a friendship between an adventuresome cat and a shy dog. It’s a story about reaching outside your comfort zone and the wonders that you will see when you do. It’s a story about Paris.

But, most of all, it’s a story with a lot of heart and with some gorgeous illustrations DiTerlizzi. And it’s practically perfect in every way.

The Little Paris Bookshop

by Nina George
First sentence: “How on earth could i have let them talk me into it?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a few sex scenes, mostly tasteful, though it gets somewhat crude once. There are also several instances of mild swearing. It’s in the adult section for thematic reasons.

Jean Perdu (which is French for lost) owns a small bookshop on a barge floating in the Seine in Paris. His specialty is figuring out what a person needs to read and then “prescribing” the Right Book for the malady. He calls his store the Literary Apothecary and has had some measure of success.

With everyone but himself.

His great love, Manon, left him 22 years ago, and Jean’s life has basically frozen since then. Sure, he’s lived — he’s in his 50s now — but he’s not Lived. And then he meets Catherine, and his life starts unthawing (but not in the way you think at first). He ends up on a boat trip (river trip?) down to the south of France to find Manon’s memory (she died soon after she left him) and to properly grieve.

This book is being billed as a bookish book, and it is in a way. It’s about the power of stories and narrative to help us through all times — both the good and the bad. But, it’s more about the healing power of grief. How, if you don’t let yourself grieve for what is lost then you can never move on, never really live again.

It’s very French, as well.  (A co-worker, who is very knowledgeable in All Things French, mentioned that this is a homage to Jean de Flourette and Manon of the Spring, both of which I saw when I was at BYU and probably should hunt down again.) There’s is a slight magical realism thread through it, in the way Jean could find the right book, to the power of food and company. It gets bogged down in the middle, during the river trip, and Manon’s travel journals, while providing some interesting insight to her and Jean’s relationship, interrupt the flow of the book.

That said, it was enjoyable, though it’s not my favorite bookish book about books.

Isla and the Happily Ever After

by Stephanie Perkins
First sentence: “It’s midnight, it’s sweltering, and I might be high on Vicodin, but that guy — that guy right over there — that’s him.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series (you don’t have to read first, but you might want to): Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door
Review copy snagged out of the ARC box our Penguin rep sent the store.
Content: There’s a half-dozen (or more) f-bombs, and several instances of tasteful (and protected!) sex. Plus, it felt more mature than your usual romance. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Isla has had a crush on Josh ever since their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. A super major crush, one of those ones that makes her go all gooey when he’s around. But he’s unattainable, with his super-cool friends (St. Clair!) and his gorgeous girlfriend. Isla (pronounced EYE-la) just figures her crush will stay just that: a crush.

But then, their senior year starts, and Josh is unmoored, and it turns out that he’s kind of had a crush on her all these years. After an awkward start, they fall into a full-blown romance, escaping one weekend to Barcelona to be alone. Which, unfortunately, sets off a chain of events that threatens their relationship.

It’s a charming book, a sweet and tender look at first real love. Perkins captures that sense of falling for someone, that first blush of new love. I think I like Anna and Lola better than Isla as characters; Islais so insecure and somewhat needy, but that’s something that adds to the whole plot arc, so even though it bothered me on and off, I ended up touched by Isla’s growth. I also loved the art that ran through the book; one of the sexier moments (it was a really sexy book!) was when Josh drew all over Isla’s body.

It’s a worthy addition to a wonderful little collection of books.

The Chocolate Thief

by Laura Florand
First line: “Sylvain Marquis knew what women desired: chocolate.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: Very little swearing (in English; perhaps if I knew French, this would be higher), but it’s most definitely a Blush Book. I may never think about climbing stairs the same. It would be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore, if we carried it.

I was pursuing my TBR shelf, looking for something light to read, when my eye caught this. I remember a bunch of YAckers loving it (and plus: CHOCOLATE and PARIS), so I picked it up. It is most definitely light and fluffy. And sexy. And not much else.

Cade Corey is the daughter of a Hershey’s-like family. They’re in the basic chocolate bar business, and own a huge percentage of the market. While she’s not the CEO, she’s being groomed to take over the company. But what she really wants is Parisian chocolates. Artisan chocolates. Sylvain Marquis’s chocolates, since they’re the best. But she quickly discovers that while money can buy a whole lot it can’t buy her Sylvain. He’s much, much too proud of his French chocolates and much much too disdainful of her American crap. So, she does the only logical thing (right.): breaks into his store, and pilfers through his chocolates, tasting, eating, leaving hints of herself behind.

Which totally turns him on.

From there, the plot is immaterial. It’s all sex. sex. sex. and then more sex. Mostly tastefully written (but not-off screen) sex. And there’s chocolate. Descriptions of luscious, rich, delicate, expensive chocolate. I found myself craving chocolate while I read, so I think Florand did her job. I did have issues with the way that Cad wanted Sylvain to control her… part of me rebelled at the idea of a man being SO in charge of sex, of wanting to master a woman, but to each their own. It did what I wanted to do: transport me to Paris (not enough of that, though), indulge me in chocolate, and be eye candy.

I have no interest in reading the others, though. And I may need some non-fiction to follow up on all that candy. But it was enjoyable while it lasted.