Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: The Names They Gave Us

Lucy Hansson has it all figured out--she's a confident high school student with a handsome boyfriend, who is ready to start a new school year as the captain of the swim team. But then it all falls apart, because her mother's cancer returns. Lucy finds that she doesn't know what to believe anymore about God, or life, or herself. When her mother asks her to work at a summer camp for kids in tough situations instead of spending the summer with her, Lucy reluctantly agrees. As she cares for the kids in her cabin and gets to know her fellow counselors, everything she thought she knew begins to shift. This summer will change Lucy forever.

I confessed on Twitter that I cried my way through the last hundred pages of this book. I realize your mileage may vary, but this book resonated for me in a lot of ways. Lucy and I share being the children of ministers. In many ways, this is a blessing: you grow up secure in the knowledge that you are loved by God, your family, and a whole church full of people. But there is always a breaking point when you have to put aside everything you learned as a child and decide if faith is something you will keep for yourself. I've been through that moment and this book is the story of Lucy's moment. She finds that having faith is so much bigger than sitting in a pew every Sunday and that God can be seen in new ways through a beautifully starry night or the story of a new friend.

Emery Lord does an incredible job of writing teenagers. She captures the dichotomy of being almost but not quite grown up, where you're confident and unsure all at the same time. The Names They Gave Us is also one of the best depictions of life at camp, and it will make you remember just how quickly bonds formed and how strong they could be. I also loved the importance of family; in this book, we don't just see how close Lucy is to her parents, we also see other characters who cherish and fight for their families and friends.

This is a beautiful book. I am heartened to know that teens who find themselves in crisis, and aren't sure they can believe anymore, will have Lucy's story to take with them through that moment.

The Names They Gave Us
By Emory Lord
Bloomsbury USA Children's May 2017
390 pages
From the library

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: The Bedlam Stacks

Merrick Tremayne is stuck. After an injury to his leg, he is confined to the crumbling familial estate where he is slowly going crazy of boredom (if his brother doesn't drive him there first). When the India Office asks him to take one last expedition, he knows that it will be a disaster. But his desperation to do something other than sit at home drives him to take the job, even though the men sent before him didn't come back. Merrick sets out into the Amazon to find the quinine that can cure malaria, but the locals or perhaps the local spirits aren't going to allow an easy expedition. Can Merrick trust the people he encounters? Will he make it out of Peru alive?

When I saw that Natasha Pulley had a new book coming out, there was no doubt that I would have to read it. I loved her quirky and charming debut The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and I was excited to see what magical and unexpected things she would do in her newest book.

As it turns out, the two books are somewhat connected. There is a minor inclusion of a character from the first novel, but it mostly feels as if the two books are two sides of one coin. Watchmaker was very centered in the possibilities of machines and gears within the city and Bedlam lives in the realm of forests and seas and ancient magic. But I found myself frustrated because I wanted more and less at the same time. This book can easily be described as sprawling; the author is in no hurry to reveal all of her secrets. It seemed to take forever to get to the heart of the story and when we finally do, it seems like Ms. Pulley left out things that would have made the story and the characters richer.

Although this story didn't work for me completely, I was enchanted by many parts of it and I find Natasha Pulley to be a wildly inventive and unique writer in a sea of similar stories. I will certainly be back for the fascinating stories and characters I can't help but adore.

The Bedlam Stacks
By Natasha Pulley
Bloomsbury USA August 2017
336 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, August 14, 2017

It's Monday and I'm back from Disney!

Hello ladies and gentlemen!

I am back from sunny (and humid) Florida, where my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary at Disney World. The kids very happily spent a week with two sets of grandparents, where they ate a lot of junk food, had too much screen time, and took trips to the museum and Chuck E. Cheese. Meanwhile, the husband and I enjoyed all of the rides, complete conversations, and eating an entire meal without taking someone to the bathroom!

The good news about going from Philly to Florida on a train is that you get lots of reading time. Over the past two weeks, I read The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor, The Lauras by Sara Taylor, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein, and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

     The History of Bees      The Lost Letter

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: The Sworn Virgin

Eleanora is happy with her life. Her adoring father takes her with him on his medical visits and will allow her to travel all the way to Italy to study the art that she loves. But then he is murdered on the street as a victim of an Albanian feud and Eleanora and her stepmother Mirlinda must find a way to survive. In desperation, Mirlinda sells her daughter in marriage to a wealthy and cruel neighbor. Eleanora refuses to be sold off and instead takes the vow of a sworn virgin. This gives her the right to live as a man: to run her family, carry a gun, and be afforded all of the respect of a man. It just might give her the tools she needs to discover who murdered her father and why. But it means she must remain a virgin for the rest of her life, which becomes much more difficult when she saves the life of a handsome stranger.

I chose to read this book because the setting of early 20th century Albania sounded fascinating and I wanted to know more about the idea of essentially declaring yourself a man and receiving all of the benefits of that position. It's clear that Kristopher Dukes has done her research and she takes the reader over mountain passes and treacherous rivers to the towns and villages that Eleanora visits. I would have liked a bit more information about the sworn virgins within the story; Eleanora does meet one other virgin, but she mostly makes a decision based off of things she has heard and makes it up as she goes along.

Eleanora herself is an interesting character. She has been pampered as much as possible in their culture, as her father allows her to do as she wishes and she has no responsibilities and leaves all the housework up to her stepmother. This makes her a rather selfish person. When her father dies, she has very little compassion for her stepmother and still focuses on what she wants above all else. Romance starts to bloom between Eleanora and a man named Cheremi, and she never stops to consider repercussions. In The Sworn Virgin, Kristopher Dukes has given us an interesting character and shown us a world we don't often encounter in historical fiction. I just wish that we had met a woman who could be both brave and kind, headstrong and considerate.

The Sworn Virgin
By Kristopher Dukes
William Morrow August 2017
352 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Sunday, July 30, 2017

It's Monday. What are you reading this summer?

Hi everyone! How was your week?

It's been happy and busy around here, as my son's preschool reports used to say. We've really been enjoying summer with lots of time outside and a movie night (with ice cream, of course). My son and I even managed to sneak in some time at Barnes and Noble on Sunday afternoon.

This week, I read A Talent for Murder and The Sworn Virgin. Both are historical fiction; one imagines what happened during the week that Agatha Christie went missing and the second tells the story of an Albanian woman who swears to remain chaste in return for being considered a man by her community.

         A Talent for Murder     The Sworn Virgin

In a very unusual move for me, I don't have plans to pick up a book until Wednesday when I shall be whisked away on a train to Disney World. The husband and I are celebrating our ten year wedding anniversary with a trip sans kids, so I am excited to get a lot of reading done! My choices for the trip include The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, The Lauras, Rules of Civility, and Young Jane Young. Any suggestions on which book I should start with?

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wednesdays with David: Clara Humble and the Not-So-Super Powers

Clara Humble and the Not-So-Super Powers
By Anna Humphrey
Illustrated by Lisa Cinar
OwlKids Books September 2016
224 pages
Read via Netgalley 

Clara Humble and the Not-So-Super Powers

The Story: Clara is your typical fourth-grader, except for the pesky possibility that she might have superpowers. She is determined to use her powers of communicating with her pet chinchilla, spilling her drink, and controlling the minds of her teachers for good. It's clear that the world needs a superhero, especially with her beloved neighbor moving away and a rival school sharing their school building for the term. Clara is ready to save the day and tell readers all about it with her story and sketches.

Mama opines: David doesn't need me to read with him anymore, but I skimmed through the first few chapters of this one. Clara is a lot of fun. She reminds me of an older Junie B. or Ramona with her spunk and wit. Unfortunately we did not get Clara's comics in the egalley version, but I looked at them online and they looked exactly like the art a 10 year old would include.

Thoughts from David: Clara is funny and cool. Her ''super powers'' are kinda weird but usually they make sense somehow. Her powers seem real but they are, well, ''not so super powers." Also she's having a hard time at her school. AND at home. Her BFF neighbor, Momo,  is moving. And at school, her bitterest rivals, R. R Reginald Elementary is moving to their school for the term! Uh-oh!

As always, joke time! Why does Clara always wake up at exactly 8? To catch the villains! They wake up even earlier! Hmm, they must be super-tired! Hahaha!                

Happy reading!             

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Everybody's Son

It was the hottest week anyone could remember in years. Anton's mother locked him in their inner-city apartment while she went to get a quick hit. But she didn't come back. Days later, Anton breaks a window and the police find him bloody, hungry, and overheated. When his mother is finally found, she is sent to prison and her son becomes a part of the foster care system. Anton's foster parents are David and Delores Coleman. They carry the tremendous loss of their own son and hope that Anton can bring some joy to their home again. With time, the Colemans come to love Anton and he cares very much for his foster parents, even as he asks about being reunited with his mother. David's love will drive him to use his power and influence as a judge to make a terrible decision that will have repercussions for everyone in his family.

Thrity Umrigar is not an author who shies away from tough questions. In Everybody's Son, she looks at the immoral decisions that people will make for the people they love. Anton is a boy who goes through difficult circumstances, but he is also a boy who is deeply loved by his mother and by his foster parents. It would be easy for the author to portray the drug-addicted mother as the villain and the kind Colemans as the heroes. It would also be easy to rail against the rich white people who took a black child away from the mother who was doing the best she could. But Thrity Umrigar does neither of these things. Instead, she has created a nuanced story in which characters do bad things for good reasons and good things for the wrong reasons.

The ending of this book was wrapped up a little neatly for me and I wished that we hadn't jumped from a lot of action to a lot of self-reflection in the final hundred pages. But Thrity Umrigar is a careful and compelling writer and this book will give you a lot to think about when it comes to power, privilege, and the bond of family.

Everybody's Son
By Thrity Umrigar
Harper June 2017
352 pages
From the library