review: That Part was True by Deborah McKinlay

that partThat Part was True: a novel by Deborah McKinlay is a novel of two middle-aged pen pals whose letters cross the Atlantic Ocean at the most opportune time. Jackson Cooper is a famous author who Eve writes to, thanking him for penning such thrilling novels. He writes back, beginning a non-stop conversation that mostly discusses food and feelings. Even though neither is completely honest with the other, the themes they write of are authentic. Some letters are brief, others no more than a postcard, but the results are life-changing.

Eve’s 20-something daughter is engaged, and has asked her estranged father to play a role in her life. The result is typical for a divorcee – she feels second-best, cast aside, unwanted. Jackson has writer’s block and cannot complete his next novel or his most recent relationship. Another disappointed woman, another failed marriage. But their ability to communicate with ease has both wondering if the other is who they are meant to be with.

This is a quick read, and a good one. The character’s self-actualization is important to read, because men and women – yes, even older ones – can grow. They can become better versions of themselves. They can let go of past hardships and move towards happiness. This novel proves that.

Read-alikes:
I don’t tend to read much adult fiction like this, so I’ll go with White Truffles in Winter by N.M. Kelby, because of the food aspect. Seriously…both books will make you run for the kitchen to experiment with a new recipe, or tackle something you’ve always wanted to cook.

Recommended for:
Women who feel they are in a rut – personally, romantically, or with their families. This story is of a very weak woman slowing shedding the invisible heavy cloack that some middle-aged women seem to be carrying around their shoulders.

Advertisements

2014 Youth Media Award Winners

Only once in my 7.5 year library career have I correctly guessed an award-winning title. (I just knew Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe would be a Printz honor.) Once. So it came as no surprise that, once again, I only got one correct guess.

The 2014 Printz Award winner Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick is a book I have never even seen, nonetheless heard about. Am I a poor Teen Services librarian, or is the publisher to blame?  The Printz Honor books include Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (which I just died over) and three other titles I have never. ever. heard. of. (Again, should I be embarrassed? Because I am…)
Of the 10 Alex Award Winners, I have read one and heard of another two. Three. Three out of ten. What? 
Embarrassing.
But, oh wait…I got two correct guesses! When I first saw Brian Floca’s Locomotive I just had to buy it for my nephews (specifically the five-year old Ronan who just adores trains, and for his third birthday I bought him a conductors cap, apron, and whistle). Locomotive is the Caldecott winner – for excellence in illustrations. See why:
loco

loco2

The entire list of winners can be found at the ALA website. Browse, peruse, check out from your library, or purchase. They are all deserving winners, and I can say that despite not reading more than a handful. Why? Because the authors, illustrators, narrators, editors, and publishers put love and care into each of them. Writing is an art that, whether or not we someday go 100% paperless, will never ever die. Writing can send us places we have never been, writing can encourage and inspire us.

 

non-fiction Friday: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

french

French Milk by Lucy Knisley is a charming graphic memoir about a 20-something’s trip to Paris. On the eve of college graduation, Lucy and her mother embark on a 6-week trip to Paris to take in the sights, smells, tastes, and every other sense. Rough drawings of the foods they eat, sights they see, and art they ponder over are cute enough…but don’t draw the reader into Paris. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to see Paris. To taste it. I understand that the nature of graphic novels/books is that the images give more than the sparse words, but in this case I feel like both were not rich enough. Then again, perhaps because of my own 3-day excursion to Paris, as well as my many readings on the City of Lights, I was unable to dive deep into the black-and-white drawings and quick touches on the Louvre and foods, probably because I already knew what they looked and tasted like, so I wanted description akin to my own knowledge of them.

I also found Lucy’s

Recommended for:
Someone who has not yet been to Paris. This is a good “starter book” because you can read/see smattering of many things without diving into too rich detail, which may leave you confused or overwhelmed.

Read-alikes: 
Bon Appetit! the delicious life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland has similar simple drawings but so much more is packed into each page.

Wednesday reads: short stories and looooooooong stories

This week I am reading short stories and a memoir. And a seriously thick, small font, no pictures non-fiction tome. It’s drought or monsoon with me, folks.

bergThe Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and other small acts of liberation by Elizabeth Berg is a collection of short stories about women, food, dieting, self esteem, and every other emotion and life struggle that women go through (put themselves through). This book inspired me to stop counting calories, just for a week. I’m currently 5 days in and happier than I have been in a long time. More on this when I review it.

jumpThe Reason I Jump: the inner voice of a thirteen year old boy with autism by Naoki Higashida, translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell. A boy with severe autism found a way to communicate, and he hasn’t stopped since. This is being praised as a breakthrough for families learning to communicate with and better understand their autistic children. I do not have an autistic child, but occasionally work with them or meet them…so this was important for me to read. More on this later…

daughter2Daughter of Empire: life as a Mountbatten by Pamela Hicks is the real-life story of a British girl’s experience with the Pakistan Revolution of 1947.  I am reading this after I read a fictional account, so it’s nice to read the true story.

Five-Days-at-Memorial-by-Sheri-Fink

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. Still working on this one y’all. It’ll be a while because it is quite crammed with details and accounts and history. But it is fascinating to read how these doctors came up with euthanasia as a way out of the horrible, unsanitary, unsafe situation of being in a hospital without electricity after Hurricane Katrina.

What are you reading? 

review: & Sons a novel by David Gilbert

gilbert

& Sons by David Gilbert is a story about the men of the Dyer and Topping families over a brief week, but also throughout their entire lives. Told in the present, yet full of flashbacks and memories so rich you would think the narrators had just endured the pain of the memories, & Sons is about the fathers, the sons, themselves…and they are all described in such descriptive detail that the reader feels a bit voyeuristic, knowing such deeply personal things about the men who make up these fictional New York families.

Beginning at the funeral of Charles Topping – the best friend of renowned yet reclusive author Andrew Dyer – Topping’s son Phillip narrates the event, and the inner thoughts of every Topping and Dyer gentleman in attendance. After moving in with the eldest Dyer, one of the many uncomfortable moments Phillip makes the reader endure, Phillip watches Andrew and his three sons in a second attempt to fuse himself into the lives of the Dyer men. Long obsessed with the author, wishing to be another of Andrew’s son, to be a Dyer son’s best friend, to be Andy Jr.’s favorite teacher, Phillip observes the family’s quick recovery after years of estrangement, followed even more quickly by a crash.

There might be no gods, but we are still their playthings.

Life, I’m convinced, is filled with far more near misses than we dare to imagine. Late in waking up, missing a train, not answering a phone, going down 79th Street instead of 80th Street – how many of those moments have spared our life?

I found myself submerged in Gilbert’s writing. I was sitting in the pews, I felt the chill of the early Spring air, I felt the creak in my arthritic bones. But I felt all of this without reading anything as mundane as “it was cold out”. And I felt the resentment, the lust, and the hollowness, usually more than one at a time.

 

In my defense, I loved her. Then again, I’m guilty of easily falling in love, of confusing the abstract with the conrete, hoping the words might cast me as a caring individual and dispel my notions of a sinister center. I believe in love at first sight so that I might be seen.

I have no brothers or sons, but the familial intimacy – or lack thereof, depending on which character was expounding on their past or their present – is one that I believe some adult readers can relate to. The novel’s themes are relevant to most adults, and would be life-changing for teens if they were mature enough to realize that they can, in fact, learn from others’ mistakes.

Fathers start as gods and end as myths and in between whatever human form they take can be calamitous for their sons.

Read-alikes:
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is quite similar to this, as it is a deep, layered look into quite a few characters who each could be the star of their own book.

Recommended for:
Adults, men or women, who enjoy description and language.

review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is the story of Cath (real name Cather, twin sister is Wren…get it? yeah, their mom wasn’t expecting twins and didn’t want to think of another name), whose anxiety keeps her from really enjoying her freshman year at the University of Nebraska. Daughter of a similarly-diagnosed father (but throw in a little manic just to keep things interesting) and estranged mother, Cath’s saving grace is her twin sister. Unfortunately college brings out the worst in her twin, and she chooses drinking, partying, and silly girlfriends over her sister and their shared love of writing Simon Snow fanfiction. So Cath continues writing by herself. But – unexpectedly to Cath but expected by YA readers – a boy gets in her way. More like two boys.

Levi is the always-smiling kinda-ex-boyfriend of her buxom roommate Reagan. Nick is her writing partner from her upper-level fiction-writing course. She is uniquely attracted to both, but denies her feelings because she’d rather spend her evenings and free time with the fictional Simon and Baz, characters from a fictional Harry Potter-like series whom she has re-written to be gay. The fictional fanfiction segments have as much typical Rainbow Rowell wit as the actual novel:

Simon spends the entire fifth book following Baz around and describing his eyes. It’s like a thesaurus entry for ‘gray’.

Cath writes about the two boys’ interactions and feelings so well, so intensely, but shies away from her own possible romantic interludes. Even when Levi says things that got my heart racing, she tries to deny her feelings.

I always get lost in the library, he said, no matter how many times I go. In fact, I think I lost there more, the more I go. Like it’s getting to know me and revealing new passages.

This is much more than a story about a college romance, or twin sisters finding their individual identities, or raising your voice over a sea of noise. It’s family, friendship, love, respect, and most importantly…it’s real. Rainbow has done it again. She has written a book that, despite not actually being Cather, I am Cather. And Wren. And Levi, too. Her characters transcend stereotypes and become multi-dimensional people who I feel like I know. Heck, maybe I do.

Read-alikes:
Anything other book by Rainbow Rowell, and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (despite it being fantasy, complete with dragons and sword fighting).

Recommended for:
Young adult women, fans of fanfiction (I loved reading what Cath went through to publish her stories, and her sense of ownership over them), girls who feel that they are alone. It’s rather empowering, even.

—————————————————————————————

The book follows Cath’s love of fanfiction, right? So I LOVE that when I Google image search the book and fan art comes up. This one by artist Simini Blocker of Cath and Reagan is just spot-on and I love it. (She drew more of the Fangirl characters and I just adore them all.) More than that, readers are painting their nails in the color scheme of the book’s cover, and baking cakes. I just…I want to do all of it, but I have no one to do it with. 😦

fan

[Yet another] Side note to Eleanor & Park fans, IDK how I missed this until now but she posted her playlist for the book. Love it!!

Meeting Authors and NOT Saying Something Dumb

Once I met an author by running into him on the exhibit hall floor at ALA. (Literally, body against body. Followed by stuttering an apology and the realization that it was Jay. Asher. standing in front of me.) Four times authors have visited my library as part of a speaking tour, organized by the Programming Division manager. By tweeting reviews from this here blog, I have had brief exchanges with many authors – each time as thrilling as the last, but not as surprising. Authors are real people, and some enjoy communicating with their readers, even if just to say “thanks for the kind review”.

Suffice it to say that I am getting better at interacting with the same folks I once considered as untouchable as Johnny Depp or Gavin Rossdale (who are, unfortunately, still untouchable).

I had a little more practice this past weekend when I visited One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia. As part of George Mason University’s annual Fall for the Book festival, a panel of YA authors was speaking about their books. Elisa Nader, Elizabeth Scott, and Valerie O. Patterson all spoke about their characters, about writing such difficult scenarios, and about writing for YA readers.

The panel started with a bang when the authors were asked about writing such difficult topics – death, the Afghanistan war, PTSD, extreme religion – for a teen audience. Patterson said something I wasn’t expecting; “Writing to the teen audience is writing to the teen I once was.” To think that an author writes for its cathartic capabilities struck me as both surprising and obvious…it’s what I do, but I guess I never saw it that way. Then Scott chimed in, revealing that while writing her most recent book Miracle – about a girl suffering from undiagnosed PSTD – she herself was dealing with undiagnosed PTSD. Her therapist actually made her read her own book (which she said she never, ever does) because it could help her overcome her stress.

I appreciated the authors’ congruous message of “teens are already dealing with difficult topics so let’s talk about them”. I find it insulting to the entire age group when adults try to keep them safe from reading about such themes, when really we should be preparing them for how best to deal with the difficulties that they will likely face at some point in their lives.

I recently had a cousin go away to college. In the first card I sent to her I wrote two things I regretted about my freshman year, and one thing I am still thankful for. Not because I wanted to scare her, but because I wanted her to know that if she experiences something challenging or difficult, she has someone to talk to. Teens, young adults, they want to badly to be adults, but they can’t be until they’ve lived just a few more years. Some of those years will be incredibly trying, but if we can provide literature for them to read, and God forbid have a candid conversation with them about the issue, perhaps we can help make that transition a bit easier.