Readers Advisory: Historical Fiction

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Guy. I'm not even going to lie to you. I'm probably the worst reader of Historical Fiction that I know. I have then mentality that I don't like historical fiction, but then I like just about every historical fiction book that I read. I don't know what my problem is. I will say that I do struggle to read historical fiction with black characters because... well... odds are it wont end well for many involved. That being said, here's what I've got.

She wanted to stay awake, wanted to see what freedom looked like, felt like at midnight, then at the cusp of dawn.

Freedom. Mariah has barely dared to dream of it her entire life. When General Sherman’s march through Georgia during the Civil War passes the plantation where she is enslaved, her life changes instantly. Joining the march for protection, Mariah heads into the unknown, wondering if she can ever feel safe, if she will ever be able to put the brutalities of slavery behind her.

On the march Mariah meets a young man named Caleb, and a new dream takes root—one of a future with a home of her own and a true love by her side. But hope often comes at a cost. As the treacherous march continues toward the churning waters of Ebenezer Creek, Mariah sees that the harsh realities of her and her peoples’ lives will always haunt them.

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Scene: Oregon, 1923.

Dramatis personae:

Hanalee Denney, daughter of a white woman and an African American man

Hank Denney, her father—a ghost

Greta Koning, Hanalee’s mother

Clyde Koning, doctor who treated Hank Denney the night he died, now Hanalee’s stepfather

Joe Adder, teenage boy convicted of accidentally killing Hank Denney

Members of the Ku Klux Klan

Townspeople of Elston, Oregon

Question: Was Hank Denney’s death an accident…or was it murder most foul?

Esperanza thought she'd always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico--she'd always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn't ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances--Mama's life, and her own, depend on it.

After inheriting her uncle's homesteading claim in Montana, 16-year-old orphan Hattie Brooks travels from Iowa in 1917 to make a home for herself and encounters some unexpected problems related to the war being fought in Europe.

Here they are! Hattie Big Sky is way better than the description makes it sound FYI. Hopefully one day, I'll talk my brain into realizing that I probably do really like Historical Fiction and to read more of it. We'll see. 

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Review: So Done by Paula Chase

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

So Done

When best friends Tai and Mila are reunited after a summer apart, their friendship threatens to combust from the pressure of secrets, middle school, and the looming dance auditions for a new talented-and-gifted program.

Fans of RenĂ©e Watson’s Piecing Me Together will love this memorable story about a complex friendship between two very different African American girls—and the importance of speaking up.

Jamila Phillips and Tai Johnson have been inseparable since they were toddlers, having grown up across the street from each other in Pirates Cove, a low-income housing project. As summer comes to an end, Tai can’t wait for Mila to return from spending a month with her aunt in the suburbs. But both girls are grappling with secrets, and when Mila returns she’s more focused on her upcoming dance auditions than hanging out with Tai.

Paula Chase explores complex issues that affect many young teens, and So Done offers a powerful message about speaking up. Full of ballet, basketball, family, and daily life in Pirates Cove, this memorable novel is for fans of Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Jason Reynolds’s Ghost. 

This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

If you go back and look at some of my past reviews, I allude to the fact that there was a time when you could find books with black characters, and the black culture was basically ignored. The character might run his hands through his "curly" hair, or you might find a mention of mocha or camel skin, but there was nothing of the culture that came with that hair and skin. Then you might have the polar opposite. There were books that were full of brown skin, guns, drugs, gangs, sex, and there was one character fighting to get away from the horrors of his community.

Those books tells the stories of some black experiences, but not all of them. 

Mila and Tai live in the Pirates Cove. In Pirates Cove there are rules to be followed. Tai loves her community and she loves the rules. If you step to her she'll step to you. Always have your girls at your back, and walk with your head held high. There's an intricate dance to managing Pirates Cove and Tai is the 8th grade queen of it all. 

Mila, although Tai's best friend, is quite the opposite. She's just come back from a Summer with her Aunt and all she wants is to go back. She's hates the song and dance that's required with living in the cove. She hates the rules of her friend circle, and more importantly, she no longer feels safe in her neighborhood, but no for the reasons you may think.

This book alternates between Mila's point of view and Tai's point of view., and I'm glad it does. We, the readers, are able to see two very different perspectives on the same urban community. Tai's glad to have her best friend back, the peanut butter to her jelly, her second banana, her silent backup. Mila is ready for a change, she's shedding her nickname, moving up a level in her ballet class, and contemplating her friendship with Tai, her best friend who's house she can't bare to look at. Her best friend who talks over her and puts her down around other kids in the neighborhood, her best friend who pushes, prods, and nags, until she gets her way. The one person who Mila is just beginning to stand up against. 

As Mila begins to figure out who she is, as opposed to who the hood wants her to be, Tai is hurt and confused. Tai and Mila have been best friends forever, the summer has been torture without Mila. When Mila comes back and doesn't want to be called by her nick name, pulls away and makes new friends, doesn't back Tai up in conversation, and starts arguments when they're around other people Tai is flabbergasted. It's like Bean (Mila's nick name) left for the summer and a complete stranger came back in her place.

Unlike Mila's loving, close knit family (shout out to JJ and Jeremy, Mila's brothers. I loved them!) Tai's is a bit of a mess. Tai lives with her grandmother, she's never met her mother, and her father is constantly high and only shows up when he needs, food, money, or a place to stay, and months earlier, he did something so unthinkable, the only response Tai could manage was to pretend like it hadn't happened. But unfortunately Mila can't forget, and it's driving a wedge between them.

I loved seeing Pirates Cove through the eyes of Tai and Mila. If we're being honest with ourselves, we can all be made to feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar communities, particularly underprivileged ones. If Pirates Cover were real, I wouldn't know about the phenomenal dance school and all of the girls, like Mila, who were benefiting from it. I wouldn't know about the TAG program, that (while we never actually see it) may change the lives of these young people. We wouldn't know about people like  Mila's dad who bend over backwards to keep drugs off the streets. The media has taught us that nothing good can come from a neighborhood like Tai and Mila's, they taught us that kids like Tai and Mila are doomed from the start, they taught us that fathers leave their children, and they've taught us that no one cares. SO Done has shown us, that the media has it wrong.

5 Stars.

Read it if you're in middle school, read it if you're in high school, read it if you've never lived anywhere but Greenwich, Connecticut. This is a book for all ages, all races, and all economic backgrounds. 
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Readers Advisory: Contemporary

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Here we are again folk. I'm just kind of having fun putting these together. I mean, eventually I'm probably going to start repeating genres but this has been a fun exercise. So this week we're just going to do all encompassing contemporary novels. I get asked for a lot of "normal every day " books by kids. Sometimes they don't know if they want mysteries, romance, coming of age, then only know they don't like dragons (I had someone tell me that once). The book world is doing a better job of providing us with diverse contemporary novels. It's not quite perfect yet, especially with regards to books that portray black girls, but I've seen definite progress, which is always a good thing!

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn't exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill's personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.

Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn't been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child's life... but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.

Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

“This is my spot,” Naomi said. “You can’t help but dream up here. I’m going to take my baby sis up here when she’s older so she can dream, too. You can see the whole world from up here.”

I could only see Naomi.

Walter Wilcox has never been in love. He just wants to finish high school under the radar with his 2.5 friends and zero drama. And then there’s Naomi Mills, an adorably awkward harpist with a habit of saying the wrong thing at the right time.

It’s inevitable that they’re going to get together…but they’re also on the unavoidable path to being torn apart.

A lot of these books have a romance angle, some have an LGBT angle, cultural differences, and that's what I love about the contemporary category. Aside from a lack of dragons (as one kid put it) contemporary books are almost limitless!!

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Review: Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Monday's Not Coming

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?

I fell in love with Tiffany Jackson when I read Allegedly. This book was... man where do I start. First, think about all the people in your life, are you lucky enough to have a friend like Claudia, someone who wont take no for an answer, someone who'll go to teachers, police officers, counselors, siblings, parents (theirs and yours), librarians, and basically every one in the city to look for you. If so, you're the luckiest person in the world. 

Claudia and Monday have been friends for YEARS. They have a routine. The spend holidays together, days together, weekends together. They're planning to go to the same High School together.  Every summer Claudia leaves to visit her grandmother and Monday's waiting for her except this year. This year Monday doesn't visit Claudia. Claudia can't reach her on the phone, and when Monday shows up for school (without her braids for the first time) Monday isn't there. Teachers aren't looking for Monday, the counselors aren't looking for Monday, Monday's sister is lying about where Monday is and the mother... well clearly she isn't be trusted. 

Claudia does her best to move on with her life which is difficult because Monday was her only friend, and they were both bullied. Claudia tries her hardest to hold on to her passion and talent for dance, her new friendship with church friend Michael, and her close relationship with her parents.

I liked this book. I really did, but I was confused by the time I reached the end. I can't say much more with some spoilers. A savvy reader will be able to guess how this all ends, and they actually tell you about half way through, but you're been warned from here on out, there will be some spoilers.

So, Monday is dead. Somewhere between Claudia realizing that Monday's sister, Tuesday, is lying about when Monday went, and when we as the readers meet Monday's mom, we pretty much know that Monday is dead, we just aren't sure what happened to her. I get lost when we get to the end. We find out that not only is Monday dead. but she's been dead for two years. This is Claudia's second "episode" where she forgets about her friends death and kind of relives it over again. It gets confusing. At the end, Claudia's parents and boyfriend explain that she's forgotten about two years of her life... temporarily? The book isn't broken into typical chapters, they're split into Months (September, October), The Before, One Year Before the Before, The After,  and I think there's one or two Two Years Before the Before.  The book is suppose to be broken up into Today (I think the months are today I really don't know), When Claudia came back from summer vacation and realized Monday was gone, The Year Before Monday went missing, The time when you were the only one who didn't realize that two year have actually passed since your friend died (I think that's After, I really can't tell. ugh), and one or two Two years before Monday went missing. 

 The twist in this book wasn't necessarily that Monday was dead, it was that Claudia was the only one who didn't know that Monday was dead, and instead of telling her, her family let her work it out on her own. (They never fully explain why they do that by the way.) I think there were three sets of flashbacks in this book, and two sets of present POV. I finished this book two days ago and I'm just beginning to TRULY get it. 

Now, my qualms with this book does not mean that I didn't like it. I honestly did. I haven't read many books with a dyslexic character and I especially haven't read a book with a black dyslexic character. We're still in this world where black characters (particularly women) are suppose to be fierce, strong, and sassy. We hardly ever see them and demure or struggling with real educational disabilities. 

I loved that Claudia was a child. From our flashbacks we could see that Claudia and Monday were actually beginning to grow apart as many girls do around this age. Monday was interested in boys and popularity, and Claudia still wanted to have sleepovers and pain nails.  It was nice to see a little girl, who was still a little girl. I also loved that we saw so much family interaction. When Claudia was worried about Monday she went to her parents. Did she also go behind their back the way any child would? Obviously. But when she was scared, she went to her parents and I loved seeing that. 

This book was really good and worth a read. There is some pretty strong language at times, so I would be careful about giving this to young readers, but over all, two thumbs up.

4 stars. 
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Readers Advisory: Fantasy

Monday, August 6, 2018

As much as I LOVE Dystopia, I also love Fantasy!! Shout out to my friend Jenn who started that craze. I tend to gravitate toward urban fantasy, and adult urban fantasy at that, but here I present to you, my list of diverse, not diverse, own voices, and not own voices Fantasy novels to help out our librarians, or readers looking to expand their horizons.

Bayou Magic
(For those middle grade readers and lovers!!)
It's Maddy's turn to have a bayou summer. At first she misses life back home in the city, but soon she grows to love everything about her new surroundings -- the glimmering fireflies, the glorious landscape, and something else, deep within the water, that only Maddy sees. Could it be a mermaid? As her grandmother shares wisdom about sayings and signs, Maddy realizes she may be only the sibling to carry on her family's magical legacy. And when a disastrous oil leak threatens the bayou, she knows she may also be the only one who can help. Does she have what it takes to be a hero?

A coming-of-age tale rich with folk magic, set in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, Bayou Magic celebrates hope, friendship, and family, and captures the wonder of life in the Deep South.

The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere, #1)
Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

Transcendence (Transcendence, #1)
(You don't often see an interracial couple on the cover of a book, and it's pretty darn good at that.) 
When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?

Scarlett Undercover
Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks -- and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father's murder.

Jennifer Latham delivers a compelling story and a character to remember in this one-of-a-kind debut novel.

There's your list. I hope you enjoy it.

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Review: Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Saints and Misfits
There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

Boy... I really liked this book. For some reason, the cover didn't really do it for me and honestly I'm not sure if photography played a big enough part in the book for it to have such an impact on the cover.

That being said, there are so many beautiful parts to this book. Janna's relationship with her elderly neighbor, Janna's love of reading (brownie points!), how Janna and her brother seemed so different, but there was a loving relationship buried in their somewhere. I know that Janna went a little boy crazy for a while there in the middle, but ultimately she remained true to herself, she wore all black, layers were her friends, and her hijab was always in place. Janna remained the truest version of herself.

I like that the book didn't skirt away from racial and cultural issues, they were front a center. The gym teacher being able to pronounce nontraditional names, but not hijab, Janna's dad... need I say more, and while Janna's closest non-Muslim friend didn't always understand Janna's culture or practices, when push came to shove, we saw how amazing of a friend she actually was. How Janna dealt with the Monster even seemed to be affected by her culture (my heart broke for her, I was almost in tears).

My usual disclaimer, I can't speak to what it's like to be a Muslim teenage girl. That being said, I can speak to finding a balance between your culture, and your immediate surroundings. I know what it's like to try to explain the choices you make in every day life, but not give too much detail because you don't want to have to justify who you are. I know what it's like to walk the line between your actions with your family within your culture, and with your friends who will do their best to understand.

Saints and Misfits covered a lot of ground, and in my opinion, it did it pretty darn well. Whether you're Muslim, black, Spanish, Asian, White, Indigenous, or any combination, this is a book that you can relate to. I encourage every one to pick it up and pick it up now.

5 Stars.

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