Edgewater by Courtney Scheinmel

For some reason, although I do love the idea of this book along with the striking cover, this book didn’t seem as awesome as I hoped it would. It starts out as an all-American story. Lorrie and her family have ye olde “family money,” and live quite well off of it until the summer before her senior year at her elite boarding school. While at equestrian camp (yes, you read that right), she is called to the dean’s office for what qualifies as “insufficient funds.”

edgewaterWhile I don’t usually feel sorry for characters who suddenly lose their family fortune, and in this case I did get frustrated with Lorrie a few times. She was complaining to the boy who had the exact same thing happen to him just a few years prior. She kept telling herself that at least she was still better than him. Come on, though, I think Sheinmel wanted us to kind of hate her in those moments.

This is also an American story, like I said. I kept drawing parallels between the Kennedy’s and Lorrie’s boyfriend’s family. Because Lorrie is dating Charlie Copeland, the son of an esteemed US senator, and he lives in the house. Because in Idlewald, Road Island, there are houses builders that try to emulate the Copeland estate, and there are families who want to stay as far away as they can from Lorrie’s own crumbling mansion.

I honestly want to hear what you think about this one. A lot of Goodreads reviews talked about how much they adored this book (and as a YA debut, I really like it, too). However the ending of this book seemed too… neat. There’s a scandal in the last 1/4 of this piece that makes me yearn for an ending that is just as messy. So when there’s so much hope and love and acceptance at the end, it just kind of made me think Sheinmel was afraid to pull an R.R. Martin.

 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

family fletcherI was planning on reading this long before I did, but here I found myself, a  year after it was published, reading all about this wonderful family. This is a book about four brothers and their relationship with their dads. The thing I loved about this, though, is that the fact that they’re the children of a gay couple is not at the forefront of this story.

 

The primary plot point of this book was the children themselves, and their growing pains as they evolve as individuals and as a family. It was refreshing to read a book that wasn’t all about the parents here. Yes, at one point Sam (the eldest at age 12) makes a comment about “theater kids” and then has to backtrack a bit, but that’s it! As someone who reads a lot of LGBTQ lit and seeks out good stories, I was so thoroughly pleased with this one. Good on you, Levy!

 

Speaking of… Guess who got a shout-out from the author after her tweet? tweet

Agree? Disagree? Do you have a book featuring two dads that you loved more? I’d love to hear from you!

The War That Saved My Life

the war that saved my lifeI find myself reading through the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award List for this year, and I’m so pleased I made this decision. Most states have these lists, this is the list of books educators and librarians form Illinois want kids to read this year. It’s geared towards older elementary-middle school-aged children. I never would have chosen this book on my own. Not because the premise isn’t interesting to me (it’s set during WWII in Great Britain, ad the protagonist is a  girl with a club foot), but because I generally don’t like historical fiction. It pains me to say it because, as a librarian, aren’t I supposed to like everything? I don’t. But I really enjoyed this book.

Ada has a club foot. Her Mam doesn’t want the neighbors to know about her daughter’s deficiencies, and so has forbidden her to leave the house. When she “misbehaves,” her Mam shuts her in a cupboard under the sink where cockroaches and rats like to crawl on her because it’s so damp. Ada’s brother Jamie is six, and given their socioeconomic standing in combination with his age, has no concept of why his sister is treated the way she is. When the children are sent out of London because of the threat of air raids, Ada and Jamie run away in the night and join the other children at the train station. Hours later, they’re in a station in Kent where Ada realizes, to her embarrassment, that they’re the dirtiest children there. Nobody volunteers to take them in.

The children are brought to a woman who lives alone in a large house, who’s “friend” Rebecca has recently died. She’s depressed and doesn’t believe she has any right to take care of children. Slowly, they start to heal each other’s emotional wounds. Susan, the children’s caretaker, has a good understanding of psychology as she seems to know how to calm Ada down when she gets truly upset.

While this story is historical fiction, this book’s sucker-punch was how the children overcame their mother’s abuse. After years of telling the neighbors that her daughter was too stupid to leave the house (I’m paraphrasing here. The words used were not the kind I’d like to repeat) they were finally in the custody of a loving adult. There are real life children who went through that kind of abuse then and now, whether because people were too poor to afford treatment for physical handicaps or because they didn’t understand them well enough. This story has a happy ending of acceptance and friendship for the children, as many of the true victims of abuse don’t.

Has anyone else out there read this book? If you haven’t, would you based on his review?

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

lockwood and co.My amazing coworkers. I can’t say enough good things about them. But one of their best qualities, I find, is their ability to find books I’ve passed up and make me want to read them. The Screaming Staircase (book one of the Lockwood & Co. series) is one such book. When L came to work raving about it, I knew I should give it a shot. But I kind of wrote it off because she branded it “horror.” Not only that, she did a creepy impression of a ghost who had “almost had it’s neck snapped” that stayed with me for days. I digress. When another coworker came in and said she’d finished the book in record time, I took notice. She’s a known horror-phobe… especially in children’s books. She worries for the characters. That’s when I knew.

In a parallel universe, where The Problem (ie hauntings) runs rampant, Lucy Carlyle begins working for Anthony Lockwood. He’s the proprietor of the smallest Psychic Detective Agency in London, competing with the likes of the Fitz Agency that have been around since The Problem began.

Oh, and did I mention? The only ones who can see the ghosts, ghouls, spirits, and mayhem-makers are children, adolescents, and teenagers. Lucy was trained in the art of psychic detection from the age of five.

Now Lucy, Lockwood, and their dry companion George are off to Combe Carey Hall, for what promises to be the most terrifying night of their lives.

The one critique we all had was that perhaps it might be a bit scary. Does anyone out there have similar thoughts?

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

stellaI’ve known about this book for a while. Well, since the beginning of 2015 when it was published. So I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t read it when it came out, but in my defense I was going through my “only YA and picture books” phase, and I didn’t get out of that until about four months ago. So here we are today. I’m reformed.

In my reformed state I’m here to tell you that Stella by Starlight was one of those books that I’ll probably never forget. From Stella’s tenacity that I truly believe I see every day in my patrons and remember feeling myself, to her confusion about why things are happening the way they are, I’ll never forget it. Nevermind the fact that a certain political candidate has Klan members at his rallies nowadays, this book was extremely relevant to the social climate today even though it took place during a time when Jim Crow laws were being enforced.

What starts out as a fire witnessed by Stella (11-year-old wannabe reporter from Bumblebee, NC) and her brother Jojo quickly becomes an issue throughout the town. That wasn’t just any fire. It was the Klu Klux Klan, and they’ve made their presence more than known to the people of color in Bumblebee. When Stella’s father, the local minister, and another local father go to register to vote, a family is targeted. Suddenly the idea that she might not be the best writer in her class is overshadowed by the reality that there’s a family of 12 that suddenly finds itself without a home. While Stella grapples with the implications of racism in her town, she also sees kindness from her African American neighbors and even some of the white people in town.

This was difficult to read, simply because it is so relevant today. Your heart breaks for Stella, her family, and the fact that many children had similar or worse experiences than she did at this time.

Have you read Stella by Starlight? If so, let me know what you thought of the book. If you haven’t, does this sound like something you’ve read recently?

The Door By the Staircase by Katherine Marsh

door by the staircaseHere’s an example of an excellent audiobook I never would have found if it weren’t for Hoopla. What’s all this “Hoopla,” you may ask? It’s a new database at my place of work that has the most attractive interface of any library e-content book I’ve ever seen. On to the book review!

I had an inkling I’d like this one based solely on the fact that it’s a retelling of the Baba Yaga stories out of Russia. And it doesn’t try to be anything else. In fact, one of the first interactions our main character, Mary, has with anyone at the house is with Baba Yaga’s assistant, who quickly informs her that Madame Z., as she’s known throughout the book, is trying to fatten her up so she’ll be plump enough to eat. But Mary is too resilient for that. She’s much braver than anyone bargained for, and that comes in handy.

Replete with a flying mortar and pestle, a house that runs around on chicken legs, an enchanting cat, and a town full of otherworldly neighbors, this is a brilliant retelling. Let’s face it, it’s hard to make all that work and still seem menacing, but Marsh pulls it off.

I’d also recommend this audiobook above the text version for anyone trying to sell this book to children. The pronunciations are very difficult here, especially to those of us who aren’t familiar with Russian.

Shatter Me (Series) by Tahereh Mafi

Okay so now that I’ve read the whole series and have time to reflect on these books, I can’t even handle how wonderful they are. Here’s my two cents:

Shatter Me:

For a series with super feminine covers, Juliette is such a badass chick. She’s been locked up for nearly a year in what she can only assume is an asylum all because she touched a little boy and apparently killed him. 245 days of not speaking to a soul, of looking out the window and wishing to be free, of praying she would die just so she could be spared the loneliness she feels every day.

Until Adam comes along. Harsh at first, he soon warms up to Juliette and starts treating her with respect. After Adam, it isn’t long before she is taken to Warner, the chief officer of Sector 45 (a sector of the Reestablishment, a movement to unite the world after ecological disaster). He’s cold and unpredictable, and he soon reveals that Juliette has been very, very wrong about Adam. But when Warner pushes her too far, will Juliette finally snap? Will she touch Warner to try to escape?

This selfless character really reminded me of Valerie from V for Vendetta, suffering for something she couldn’t control. And yet while Juliette seems weak, there are glimpses of a character that is loyal enough to let her ferocity shine. Here is a character who has a haunting past. Here is a girl who might fight for what she believes in.

Might I also comment now on Tahereh Mafi’s prose? It’s a rare thing when I just want to take a book and memorize pages and entire passages so I can remember them when I’m feeling sad or just feeling feelings, but she is absolutely out of this world. I know people have been comparing Shatter Me to The Hunger Games & Divergent, and I get that. I do. Because they’re all dystopian and trilogies and bla bla bla. But honestly this book is on another level entirely. For a much more mature audience because of the emotions going on between Adam and Juliette.

Unravel Me:

I never thought I’d be team Warner, but I’m team Warner. Let me just say.

Warner Warner Warner. Le Sigh.

Ignite Me:

HA!

You made the right choice, Juliette.

Verdict

As you might sense by my digression from analytical and hands-off to complete manic pixi dream fangirl, I’m definitely 100% in love with this series. I’m buying it. And that never ever happens because everything is free at the library. However I need to re-read this series at least twice more before I’m satisfied.

It’s also a rare thing for me to call my best friend in the middle of the night and gush about character development. Juliette is one of those women who really had several “aha moments,” to borrow from Ms. Oprah Winfrey. She listened to Kenji when he told her she needed to stop feeling sorry for herself and pulled herself up out of her self-loathing.

Great friendships, families, and relationships. If you haven’t yet, please get on this series.

Marilyn’s Monster by Michelle Knudsen

Sooooo normally children’s books get to me, but this one really got to me. For some reason this little girl’s story of not being able to find her monster hit home. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to date people again. Maybe it’s because another one of my college acquaintances got engaged over the weekend. Who can say?

Plot

The world Marilyn lives in is quite similar to our’s, with one difference: there are monsters. Not the hide-under-the-bed, jump-out-and-scare-you monsters, but the companion kind. Not unlike a significant other, Marilyn waits patiently for her monster to come and accompany her throughout life’s little journeys. “Your monster has to find you. That’s just the way it works” says basically everyone to Marilyn (including her brother). Eventually she says “eff you” to that idea and searches for her monster herself (que “RESPECT” at full volume). Maybe her monster just got lost.

Verdict

Again, did this hit close to home? Yes. But I will say that Knudsen is amazing and she really got me on Marilyn’s side.

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun Hutchinson

Woah. This book packs a huge punch.

I was expecting something akin to Winger when I started this one, mostly because of the frequent comic strips peppered throughout the novel. You see, Drew is an artist. His character, Patient F, has also lost everything in the hospital. Like Patient F, Drew is struggling to survive in a world where his family no longer exists. Anyways.

Plot:

In his tragic life, Drew is the hero and Death personified is the villainous social worker (known to everyone else as sweet Miss Michelle) who wants to take him away from everything stable and good in his life. He works for cash in the hospital cafeteria, he volunteers and is friends with his makeshift family of nurses, his friends are two straight cancer patients in the peds ward, and he sleeps in the unfinished wing of the hospital. But when a boy comes in to the hospital with third degree burns on his legs, arms, and chest, Drew has to know more about him. He’s drawn to Rusty. His agonizing screams pull Drew in.

So he adds a new routine to his life: every night Drew sneaks into the ICU to read to Rusty and tell him about himself. Drew soon learns about Rusty’s tortured life as a gay teen, and Drew confides that he hasn’t had the same experience. Drew also vows to protect Rusty from Death.

His new routine is threatening to throw his entire life off-balance. When Death starts to notice Drew, he’s got to decide whether to protect his friends, protect Rusty, or protect himself.

Verdict:

If you’re in for a good cry, then I’d definitely say that this is the book for you. However, if your TW is child death or anything like that, I’d stay away from this read, as Drew reflects often on his six-year-old sister, Cady’s death (and there is a graphic scene where Drew tries to give CPR to a dead three-year-old).

This book ain’t for the faint of heart.

Extras:

The author, Shaun David Hutchinson, has a pretty sweet Twitter page. I’d check it out, if only to see what an awesome nerd he truly is.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demitrios

Before I read this book, I hadn’t thought about the huge hole in YA lit. That hole is books about young adult soldiers. One of my best friends is married to a veteran, and yet it still never occurred to me that there was this missing piece. People enlist at an insanely young age and do brave courageous things for their country and they deserve to have a part in YA lit. To have their stories told. I can’t say it more eloquently than the author, so here’s a link to Heather Demetrios‘s blog post/letter to the reader she posted in August. This book is her favorite one, and it’s quickly becoming mine too.

 I often refer to the book you’re holding in your hands as the book of my heart. It is intensely personal and was inspired by seeing my father’s struggle with PTSD and Gulf War Syndrome, as well as some of the challenges I had in my own adolescence.

So without further ado, here are some of my thoughts.

Release Date:

February 3, 2015

Plot:

Skylar Evans has lived in Creek View, California for her whole life. She’s had her hard times (her father’s untimely death and her mother’s various subsequent addictions) and now she’s looking forward to the good. She’s a scholarship student and she’s getting the hell out of Creek View. Her last Summer isn’t going to be pretty: this novel isn’t pretty. Its realistic. Sky is dealing with poverty on an extreme level every day. So nobody is more surprised or unwilling than her when, at 19-year-old Josh Mitchell’s homecoming party, she finds herself wanting to see him again.

He’s always been the life of the party, but now that he’s back from Afghanistan and traveling to San Francisco for various therapies, he seems different. Sky and Josh’s love story is as real as it gets when it comes to falling for a vet: he’s got PTSD and suffers from all of the terrible side affects of losing a limb.

But this book, guys. Man. I don’t even have a readalike for it. It’s not like anything else I’ve ever read.  I started reading it yesterday and after work I spent hours just reading. This is a stay-up-until-1am-with-your-kindle-under-the-covers read. At least it was for me.

Verdict:

Gecha ass in gear and read this book so I can discuss it with someone. Please.