The Penderwicks at Last

by Jeanne Birdsall
First sentence: “Lydia believed in dancing wherever she could — on sidewalks, in supermarket aisles, libraries, swimming pools, parking lots.”
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Others in the series: The Penderwicks, The Penderwicks on Gardham Street, The Penderwicks at Point Moutte, The Penderwicks in Spring
Release date: May 15, 2018
Content: There’s some romance (all tasteful, of course), and it has a bit of an old fashioned feel. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

When we last left the Penderwicks, Batty was in 5th grade and Lydia was two. But since a two year old would make a horrible narrator of a middle grade novel, Birdsall has fast-forwarded time again: Lydia is eleven now, and everyone else is duly older. In fact, Rosalind, the oldest, is about to get married. Which she wants to do at the place where everything started: Arundel. Lydia, Batty (who is 19 now), and the dogs (Sonata and Feldspar, who is the BEST) are the advance guard: heading to the mansion to clean and get ready and hopefully ward off (the awful) Mrs. Tifton. It’s delightful to be back at Arundel, and Birdsall weaves in all the stories from the first Penderwicks book — Lydia has grown up hearing the stories but not seeing the places — which gives the book a sense of nostalgia without just rehashing the same stories. We get to see Cagney again — he’s married with a daughter Lydia’s age — and it’s just absolutely delightful. But then, the Penderwicks usually are. And I loved getting to know Lydia who is simultaneously so very Penderwick but also different because she wasn’t surrounded by sisters the way the others were.

There are, of course, Penderwicks things: an out of control soccer game; lots of music and wandering around outside (no one EVER watches TV!); friendships and family. It’s absolutely delightful and I want to be a Penderwick. I thought it would make me cry to have to say goodbye to this lovely family, but I  didn’t. It was all so perfect, so right, so very comparable to Little Women (but no one dies!), that it just made me happy all over.

This series is such a wonderful modern classic. I’m so glad Birdsall had this story to tell.

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Beezus and Ramona

by Beverly Cleary
First sentence: “Beatrice Quimby’s biggest problem was her little sister Ramona.”
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Content: It’s pretty simple text, and nothing objectionable. It’s in our classic chapter book section at the bookstore.

I adored the Ramona books when I was a kid. But, reading this, I realized I’d never read this one. I started with Ramona the Pest, and never really gave Beezus her due. Reading this — short vignettes from the year when Beezus was 9 to her 10th birthday — I realized why: Beezus is boring. She’s a Good Kid. She embroideries potholders for her aunt, she colors within the lines, she wants to read the “right” books. She’s. Boring. Ramona — with her active imagination, her loud, impulsive ways — is Fun. She’s the more interesting character to follow, and while Beezus is a great straight man (or sister, for that matter), she just isn’t terribly interesting as a character. (Yes, Ramona did steal this book from her sister.)

There is one lesson that I could have used as a kid, being the oldest and having not one but three squirrely younger siblings (though I suppose I was just as much of a terror as they were): you don’t always have to like your siblings. Sure, you’re always going to love them, and sure they’re always going to be there, but sometimes (and sometimes pretty often!) they’re going to do dumb, annoying, irritating, irrational, stupid stuff and it’s okay if you get mad at them.

(I’m Team Ramona, though. All the way.)

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

by Ruth Lauren
First sentence: “Valor!”
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Content: There’s some violence and intense situations. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

What lengths would you go, in order to save your sister?

Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, has been tried and convicted for stealing an important item from the palace, and sent to Demidova, a harsh prison made out of stone and ice Valor knows she can’t leave Sasha there; and so she gets arrested and sent to Demidova, with the sole purpose of escaping with her sister.

Of course it’s not as easy as walking in and waltzing out, and Valor will have to use every ounce of her skills of observation and archery, plus rely on the help of other prisoners in order to pull this off. If she even can.

So, I thought this book was a lot of fun. Great main character, and lots of interesting supporting characters. I’m not 100% sure on the diversity (I’m writing this several days after I finished it…); it may be a bit more white than it needed to be. But, I liked the loosely Russian feel of the book, and I especially liked the ending (which I won’t give away). It wrapped this one up nicely, but allowed for an opening for the sequel.

Solid middle grade fantasy.

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

by Amélie Sarn, translated from French by Y. Maudet
First sentence: “The women walk slowly, heads down.”
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Release date: Augst 5, 2014
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There is violence, some mild swearing, and some teen drinking and smoking. I’ll probably put this in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, though I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to a 7th- or 8th-grader who is interested.

Sohane Chebli is many things: 18 years old, a daughter, a sister, a scholar, French, and a Muslim. She lives in an apartment complex full of others of  Algerian heritage, and mostly she and her younger sister (by 11 months), Djelila, get along with their neighbors, schoolmates, and each other just fine.

Then, during Sohane’s senior year, a few young Muslim men take it on themselves to start harassing Djelila because she dresses in jeans and tighter shirts. Because she wears makeup. Because she smokes with her friends. And Sohane, whose path has become more conservative — she wears the hijab — doesn’t step in to defend her sister. Partially because Sohane thinks her sister is wrong for following a path away from Islam. And partially because Sohane’s been expelled from school, due to a French law banning all religious symbols, for wearing the hijab.

I’m going to spoil a bit — it’s not too bad, because from the beginning,  you know this — but Djelila is killed by the Muslim boys for her refusal to conform to their expectations. And it’s that paired with the other side of the coin: Sohane’s constant discrimination for wearing the hijab. (Not that I mean to compare murder with discrimination.) But it got me thinking: why do we feel a need to tell others how to behave? Why did these boys feel compelled to not only shame, but eventually kill a girl for not following her/their religion to the letter? Why did people refuse to see Sohane’s hijab wearing as an expression of her religion, instead interpreting it as an act of repression? It’s a thought-provoking book.

And it’s written well, in tight, short chapters. It took a bit for me to catch the rhythm of the book because it’s translated, but once I did, I was hooked. And I wasn’t disappointed, in the end.

Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell
First sentence: “There was a boy in her room.”
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Content: There’s quite a few f-bombs, and some insinuations of sex. Plus a lot of underage (and overage) drinking. Also, it’s about college freshmen, a subject which I’m not sure younger readers want to read about. It’s rightly in the teen section (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore.

Cath and Wren are twins. Wren is the outgoing one, the pretty one, the fun one. And Cath stays home and writes Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) fanfiction. She’s really good at it: her stories get thousands of hits, and are widely talked about on the fanfiction sites.

But none of that is going to matter now that they’re freshmen at the University of Nebraska. Cath wanted to go the safe route by rooming with Wren. But, for Wren, that wasn’t an option. So Cath is forced to branch out. Experience things. Actually have a life.

In many ways, this is a love story to those who write fanfiction. Yes, Cath is an introvert, and no she doesn’t want to engage in what most people call “living”, but in no way does Rowel make Cath seem pathetic. She puts her in contrast to Wren, who spends weekends (and some weeknight) partying until we hours (the “normal” college experience) and lets us choose on our own. Perhaps some readers will see Cath as pathetic and without a life, but I never did. (Perhaps, too, that’s because I’m an introvert and I have a nerdy family who actually read — and write — fanfiction.)

It’s also a traditional love story. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, has a boy, Levi, kicking around. Cath thinks they’re dating, but eventually realizes that it’s really her Levi is interested in. And it’s their romance that made the book for me. Levi is so danged good and it was a pleasure watching the good guy get the girl. (So often it’s the “bad” one.) I loved the banter, I loved the push and pull, and I loved watching Levi draw Cath out of her shell, while simultaneously wholly accepting her for who she is.

The ending was a bit pat, I thought, and all the drama with her parents (dad’s a bit on the manic side; mom walked out on The 9/11, and Cath is understandably resistant to her attempts to reconnect) was a bit over-the-top. And while I appreciated that Rowell was reaching out to those who immerse themselves in a fandom, including pages and pages of Cath’s fanfiction was a little boring for me.

Even with the quibbles, though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.

Audiobook: Sense & Sensibility

by Jane Austen
Read by: Wanda McCaddon
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Content: Aside from Willoughby being a bit of a cad (!), there really isn’t anything improper in this one. The main obstacles are with the length and the language and the pacing.

The last time I read this one, five years ago, I ended up liking it. At least more than I did the first time I read it. Well, call me fickle, but I’m back on the “not so much” side of things. Perhaps it was the reader of this audiobook — she had a slightly grating voice; or perhaps it was that I was trying to listen to this driving back from Austin and it kept putting me to sleep. Either way, I was underwhelmed by this Austen novel.

This time, while I was amused at parts, and even laughed aloud once or twice, mostly I just kept thinking how poorly Austen plotted. It took too long to get started, it took too long to get events rolling, and it went on long after it could have ended. None of which is a crime; there are many adult books that suffer from the same issues. But I found myself irritated with it this time around. I wanted the story to be tighter, more streamlined. And while I enjoyed Austen’s trademark wit, I wanted more of it and less, well, austerity.

It’s not a bad book; it’s just not one of my favorite Austen books. I wouldn’t recommend listening to it, however. That was just a bad experience.