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My six sensational summer reads + one

SixSensationalSummerReads

I did make a significant dent in my to-be-read pile. I feel accomplished but as always lament not reading more, but I like living life as well. As I transition back into school library life, I’m pausing this Labor Day to share my six favorite books from this summer.

As a disclaimer, these books weren’t necessarily published this summer nor are they summer themed.

  1. Seafire by Natalie Parker– A daring group of lady pirates led by the fantastically illustrated Caledonia who is out for revenge against an evil man whose army killed her brother year ago. I wrote a full post here.
  2. The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King by Holly Black– I couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to start the first book, during my 24-hour readathon in July where I slowly indulged in Black’s world and language and characters then quickly jumped to the second book after much praise from students and colleagues alike. Jude has been stolen away to fairy after her parents were murdered and now as dangerous liaisons are threatening her and her sister, she needs all of her own weapons and power to either ascend to the throne or put people there she can control.
  3. Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner– We need more funny in books and this has a campy element with serious undertones when Rayne and Delilah aka Josie and Delia run a late-night public access show adding skits and commentary for old-style horror classic flicks. It was delightful but still mad me cry. Read about it here.
  4. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Yes, I waited nearly twenty years to actually read the series but I do not regret it. Reading alongside my rising fourth graders as they both completed the series between spring and last week, I have an epic appreciation for the world that Rowling built. Here were my reflections. 
  5. The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee– Notice a theme with some of the others? It was the summer of the woman. This was a late night read like Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee where I laughed and fought alongside Felicity where she rages against the patriarchy while saving another on her quest to be a licensed medical doctor way back in the 18th century.
  6. (A tie between these two adult novels) An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi– I always make some time to read adult novels and because of my participation in an adult summer reading program through a local public library, both of these were on my long list to be read and then appeared on the challenges, so I threw caution to the wind and adored both for their intricate storytelling that was atmospheric and languid for all of the right reasons. A slow unfolding of generations or the passage of time and its affects on the character’s lives. In the former, it was imprisonment and whether a marriage could survive and the second, a historical novel about the passage of time and the connection of families from 18th century Ghana to contemporary America.

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Zentner’s three-peat

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The minute I finished Jeff Zentner’s Goodbye Days, it solidified Zentner’s talent for wordsmithing and character development for me after the explosive beauty of his debut (and William C. Morris award winning) The Serpent King. Move over because Josie and Delia aka Rayne and Delilah will absolutely melt your heart and you’ll fall in love with Zentner’s words again. I’m going to venture a guess that including “midnite” in the title is an indicator that like the public access channel watchers of Josie and Delia’s horror show, you’ll be up past your bedtime to finish it as I did. And not because their old-timey, horror-movie-watching-commentary television show is truly scary enough to keep you up at night but because you don’t want to leave the characters because they become your friends. You want them to succeed where they might fail and gets the answers to the questions that have gone unanswered.

And it’s all because Zentner has created the most beautiful, feeling female characters. Yet while they are the title characters and their bond and banter is precious, the romantic lead, Lawson, is my memorable character. There was nothing more lovely than reading his hesitance at asking Josie out or asking her to attend a bout. And when he tells her that he wants her to see him as a champion because that is how he sees himself is a positive message about a growth mindset in which you envision your success and then live it out. Loss happens, but pancakes happen too. And life goes on.

2018-08-23 21.24.20And the commentary Zentner provides about life is precisely why his books are Post-it material as evidenced by my initial tweet: within the first chapter, I already earmarked a quote to return to. So while it’s hard to pick just one, a memorable quote that sets up Delia for her eventual critical decision to seek out her dad: “I’ve come to believe that everyone gets five or six perfect days in their life. Days with not a single wrong note or thorn, days that ripen like a peach in your memory as years pass. Every time you go to bite it, it’s juicy and sweet.” Won’t every reader stop and think about whether they’ve already lived a perfect day and what it was like and then savor the thought of a few more ahead of them?

So when epic fails happen and a few sweet successes, readers will take the good and the bad because they’re along for the ride with these vividly-detailed, persistent young women and it’s exactly the times when it’s hard to move on that scenes like the last pages of the book completely melt hearts.

2018-08-22 23.18.12-1I can’t, nor would I want to give away too much about the ending, but a picture is worth a thousand words and this was my Instagram post just minutes after finishing the book… a tear-stained page that other than the saccharine visit to Lawson’s house by Josie post-fight is the most memorable scene. Delia is struggling hard because abandonment seems to be a trend from people in her life and it’s the most critical one that comes through for her. Like memorable names such as Beyonce or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you only needs to say “Dolores Darkwood” and I will be putty in your hands.

Ultimately, this story of a bond of friendship in which both hold a piece of the puzzle that completes the other, pushes the other, motivates the other, lifts up the other, it’s easily compatible with the likes of girl-positive stories like Seafire by Natalie C. Parker that pass the Bechdel test. My advice is to be first in line this February 2019 to purchase a copy, but be sure to have taken a nap because you’ll be up all night to finish it.

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Posted by on August 23, 2018 in Authors, Fiction, Upcoming Releases, Young Adult

 

Late night reading about the ladies

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It’s not often that I stay up past my (early) bedtime. But when it is, it’s usually to read a book. And this was the case with Mackenzi Lee’s companion to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy due out in October. It’s as charming as the first, if not more so since it focuses on Felicity and her quest to become a licensed doctor.

2018-07-10 22.17.41And she’s quicker to point out, not a lady doctor “No sir… I’m determined to become a doctor. The matter of my sex I would prefer to be incidental rather than an amendment.” And so relevant now as Serena Williams is set to dominate again in a major competition who has always said she wants to be remembered as the greatest tennis player of all time, not the greatest female tennis player of all time (I think most would agree). And Felicity also reminds herself and thus readers “Your beauty’s not a tax you are required to pay in order to take up space in this world… You deserve to be here,” –another timely commentary.  These are just two of the memorable quotes throughout the adventure that showcase the power of a persevering attitude and interminable spirit after abandoning a weak marriage proposal from a baker (though how difficult it was to give up the sweets and escape to see  Monty and Percy).

Felicity is certainly the most memorable character, though I became enamored with Johanna and the relationship the two matured into after years apart. And as Johanna and Felicity find common ground in fighting against a male-dominated society threatened by the intelligence and ambition of women that’s when the plot thickens. Lee masterfully uses every page, every character, and every situation to move readers through this feminist lens of history. It’s an intelligent page-turner with memorable scenes, my favorite of which happen at the beginning when Felicity gets herself in front of the male hospital board to gain access to the doctorate program and obtain the appropriate credentials. Yet, at every turn her passion is seen as “hysterical” and the mere mention of menstruation blows the men’s minds. Readers are rooting for Felicity especially because she is so well equipped to be a doctor and that’s a testament to Lee’s character development, we’d be in line to have her as our caretaker.

While Monty and Percy make appearances, it’s truly a woman’s game and includes a wide cast of characters and secondary problem that a band of pirates, including the Muslim, Sim, who accompanied Felicity across the continent is trying to resolve.

I advise a wide readership and you don’t even need to read The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue to fall in love with Felicity in this companion. But I’d recommend you do because the doorstoppers move quickly with humor, action, and heart. I look forward to anything Lee decides to write, in or out of the world that she has created in these two, which is being aptly marketed as the Montague Siblings series.

Plus, you know it’s awesome when it’s bookstagram-worthy to boot and has a fancy, yet telling title that promises adventure that yearns to be ripped off the shelves and purchased en masse. Is it October yet?

 

Seafire set fire to my heart

Seafire Set Fire

You know a book is amazing when after you’re finished you give it a hug, set it down and stare at the cover, then side eye it all day long because you just don’t want to be done with that world. That’s the way I felt mid-morning yesterday after I tore through it in one sitting chugging water in this heatwave that is the first part of July in upstate New York.

It was only made sweeter when just a few weeks ago, I was brunching with Parker and a Penguin posse of authors during the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans. Now I want to do it over again so we can really talk about the book, like the memorable character Caledonia. This seafaring lady wants revenge on a devious man and his henchmen, the Bullets because she was bested by one when she was young that left her family dead and her family’s ship destroyed. So the best way to do that was to get her own ship, get her own crew, and start systematically destroying his ships. She’s a strong and loving pirate who has an all-lady crew include Pisces who, like her name, is most comfortable in the water destroying the ships from below. It is a sisterhood and Parker develops each character to their fullest while allowing room for more development as the series?! continues.

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And it isn’t just one quote that I can use to pinpoint Parker’s adept writing, but one word, “steely” as a memorable phrase. Like the loveable Lumberjanes and their “friendship to the max”, Caledonia and the crew of the Mors Navis use trust and their steely capabilities to fight back since Aric Athair who keeps his Bullet soldiers plied with Silt, a drug. Her crew wants to destroy their agri-ships to first take out the drug, then his fivesons, and then him.

The action is palpable and descriptively atmospheric. I was watching a movie in my head (and while it may be tempting to make this the next blockbuster, I dearly hope not, just let us enjoy the book). I can already count the students who I will be handing it to once it’s published in August, highlighting memorable scenes like the standoff between her pirate/sister/friend Pisces when she brings aboard the Bullet who saved her life when Calendonia would no more want to see her friend dead than kill the boy, the Bullet, who did it. It’s when they discover the stowaway, Nettle, who wants to be a part of the sisterhood (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em). It’s when Calendonia, worried that Little Lovely Hime won’t even say goodbye after she finds her way back to her family, but instead boards the ship to continue to sail with the sisterhood because they were her family when she didn’t think she had one anymore. It’s when it’s discovered that the Bullet has information that Calendonia wasn’t expecting.

The scenes are rich with sentimentality and strength. I want to befriend them all. I want to  sail the seas. I want to take down Aric Athair, but first I want to find the slick Lir and take him down first. It’s a book that I wish I could go back and re-read for the first time because it was that good. It’s a book that I don’t think I can wait too much longer to get a sequel (pick me, pick me!) but unfortunately this first book isn’t even on shelves yet. I’ll be celebrating this book birthday for sure preferably on the water, with the wind blowing through my hair, a weapon, and lady friends by my side.

 

Five for Friday

Five for Friday

Last night was the last book group meeting of the year that I facilitate through a local cooperative. With the size of the group and timing, we can usually share 1-3 books each, but I realized I’ve read so many fantastic books lately that I had a hard time choosing. So, it’s perfect for a five for Friday (and the last Friday of the school year with only one more school day left)!

 

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Shamblers aka zombies are being made out of the Civil War dead in an alternative history where African Americans are still oppressed. Jane is at a combat school for African American girls where she will learn to use the tools of combat to keep people safe from shamblers. But her cheeky attitude to “remaining in her place” gets her into trouble with the powerful leaders and she’s sent away to a town out west that is off. It’s her job, along with a band of others, to discover the truth and take down these leaders while searching for answers about her mother and Red Jack. It’s an adventurous, action-oriented, imaginative story that is as intense as it is funny, ambitious, and unique.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer with Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano (illustrator)

The graphic novel format does justice to the story of a fictional boy, Ebo, who along with his brother leave their homeland to cross the desert and eventually the Mediterranean to find their sister and peace. Colfer and Donkin’s storytelling and Rigano’s artwork create an emotional platform for sharing an immigrant’s journey with several scenes eliciting the same response I had to several scenes in Don Brown’s Drowned City about Hurricane Katrina. Multiple copies on order for it’s future release.

Be Prepared by Vera Brogsol

So, quick story: I’m currently doing the Book Riot Riotgrams challenge for June and Thursday’s post needed to be “ice cream/sweet treat”. Literally the day before, I read and adored Brogsol’s new graphic memoir, Be Prepared, in which she includes the Stewart’s Shops sign as she’s driving to summer camp. Stewart’s is a community-minded convenience store in our area that has amazing ice cream. So, what was a librarian to do?

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Go to Stewart’s, get a seasonal flavor (Mounds of Coconut) ice cream cone, and ask a Stewart’s employee to take a picture of me with the ice cream, Brogsol’s book, and the Stewart’s logo in the background. Mission accomplished (and the ice cream was delicious). But the book itself is everything that is right with sharing the universal experiences of tweendom. The awkwardness of making friends. The prospect of not having them and how we earn them, and who is worth our time, all while sharing pieces of her Russian culture as a Russian summer camp. The olive-toned colors bring out the story in a way that makes the expressive characters pop and readers enjoy the beauty of nature.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka

Hearing him speak this past week about the experience of writing his life’s story and turning it into a graphic novel was powerful. And while I have yet to watch the TED talk that inspired the graphic novel, it details his upbringing with his grandparents after they took him from his heroin-addicted mother (he never knew his father until later) and how he became an artist with their often tumultuous support. Yet, my favorite scene is when he pays homage to Jack Gantos (who I adore and we had the pleasure of hosting in our schools) as an impetus for his own craft. It’s raw and really real.

Teen Trailblazers: 30 Fearless Girls Who Changed the World Before They Were 20 by Jennifer Calvert and Vesna Asanovic (illustrator)

Add this to the stack of new informational nonfiction that highlight the stories of women who have accomplished something great in their lives in order to recognize the value of women throughout history. While some of them are starting to blend together, Calvert’s focuses on women who accomplished this even before they turned twenty years old is themed. The easy-to-read format features little-known and well-known women that inspire the next generation of kids to take charge in changing the culture when and where it’s needed. And it’s currency cannot be neglected since one of the women featured is Emma Gonzalez from Parkland High School in the aftermath of the school shooting in her school just several months ago.

Which one are you picking up first?

 

 

Are you ready for this conversation?

AreYouReady

 

2017-02-14 15.14.12-2There is no greater purpose for me than when someone, anyone, approaches me to ask for a book recommendation. Be it a student, a faculty member, or my own mother. Multiply this love by one thousand when I’m asked to present to others about books and reading.

This week I’ll be presenting with some of my favorite people: people who love books and spread the love and their appreciation for what books can do. Specifically children. But where do you begin to organize a presentation about them? You most certainly need a thread. A theme. A focus. Because without it I’d literally be a rambling, excitable mess spewing sunshine and rainbows for the printed page and those that write them.

Sometimes the theme is a given, like the hottest books of the year (or yet to come), sometimes like in past presentations they were about books that can inspire activism or that celebrate the vibrancy of people’s life experiences. This one didn’t necessarily have a theme other than to give librarians a chance to hear about books, whether they’ll be adding them to their collection, reading them, recommending them, or sharing them with content teachers. It’s also about celebrating what books can be for us.

After mulling it over, I settled on approaching my talk of young adult books with the theme of names, as in “what’s in a name?” Fabulous titles and authors, the books of my favorite students, books for a specific type of student all inspired by the fact that in a lineup that includes covering elementary, middle school, and high school…. I’m going first! If you’ll be at the presentation on Thursday, you’ll hear more about why I’ve decided to take this approach, but until then, keep reading! And if you won’t be at the presentation, keep reading! And then read my follow up post later this week with some of the titles I shared.

 

Covers to keep you warm or make you cold

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Books covers to warm you up… 

AmericanPanda

Who doesn’t love hot chocolate with heaps of whipped cream?

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Patina

Running will certainly keep you warm.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

SunnySideUp

So will basking in the sun while sitting on a pool floatie like our title character, Sunny!

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

Invisible

But a flame can only do so much, I’m sure you’d rather than a heater than a match. Invisible by Pete Hautman

90DaysofDifferent

And there’s only one thing that will get anyone thinking of summer and that’s ice cream. 90 Days of Different by Eric Walters

Book covers to keep you cold… 

AndWeStay

Even in tights, wearing a skirt in winter is it’s own kind of chilly. And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

TheSnowChild

A little girl with snow in her her bones and beautiful (but still cold) lashes lined with frost running around the Alaskan wilderness.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Peak

I make sure I’m bundled up on my way to the car, but Peak Marcello needs more to summit Mount Everest, that’s for sure.

Peak by Roland Smith

Winterdance

And speaking of extreme sports, what about the Iditarod that Gary Paulsen ran and wrote about several times?

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen

IfYouComeSoftly

It looks beautiful, only if you’re not standing out in it.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson