Monday, January 20, 2020

YA Review: Birthday by Meredith Russo

Title: Birthday
AuthorMeredith Russo
Year Published: 2019

Genre: YA fiction (LGBTQ)
Pages: 288
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)USA (TN)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Two best friends. A shared birthday. Six years...

ERIC: There was the day we were born. There was the minute Morgan and I decided we were best friends for life. The years where we stuck by each other’s side―as Morgan’s mom died, as he moved across town, as I joined the football team, as my parents started fighting. But sometimes I worry that Morgan and I won’t be best friends forever. That there’ll be a day, a minute, a second, where it all falls apart and there’s no turning back the clock.

MORGAN: I know that every birthday should feel like a new beginning, but I’m trapped in this mixed-up body, in this wrong life, in Nowheresville, Tennessee, on repeat. With a dad who cares about his football team more than me, a mom I miss more than anything, and a best friend who can never know my biggest secret. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to become the person I am inside. To become her. To tell the world. To tell Eric. But when?

Six years of birthdays reveal Eric and Morgan’s destiny as they come together, drift apart, fall in love, and discover who they’re meant to be―and if they’re meant to be together. From the award-winning author of If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo, comes a heart-wrenching and universal story of identity, first love, and fate.

Review: Meredith Russo has done it again. I loved her novel, If I Was Your Girl and she is so good at capturing life for someone who is trans, how it affects them, their friends, their family, and how they are treated by those who are bigoted. 

I loved both Eric and Morgan, for their innocence, their friendship, their honesty, their attempts to understand what's happening, and their love for one another. Russo has created two characters who are so different from one another, but have a bond since they have known each other since day 1. We see them and their families grow up, changes, fight, support each other, hurt each other, and more. It's all very real.

While it was disturbing to read the parts where other characters were hate-filled, I know that those events are reality for many people. I can only hope that one day more people will be accepting and understanding of those that are different from themselves.

Reading Morgan's emotional journey over the course of six birthdays was a great way to understand how it feels to doubt oneself, the pain, the thoughtfulness, and more. I also like that the author shows how helpful therapy can be. If you want to read a book that tackles a tough subject brilliantly, this is the one.

Challenges for which this counts: 
For the Popsugar Challenge, this book was written by a trans author.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

YA Review: Butterfly Yellow by Thanhhà Lại

Title: Butterfly Yellow
AuthorThanhhà Lại
Year Published: 2019

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 284
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)USA (TX) and Việt Nam

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms—and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country.

Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn’t know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her.

Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn’t remember her, their family, or Việt Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hằng has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap.

Review: I really enjoyed Inside Out and Back Again by this author and figured this novel would also be interesting and well done. I was right.

I like that the author uses images that she saw in a Buddhist temple as the inspiration for this novel and to shape her telling of Vietnamese refugees coming to America. The plight of refugees is so relevant right now and Lại tells a story that we can all relate to: wanting to belong and to be with family.

Using the Vietnamese alphabet phonetically in English is an effective way for the reader to "hear" Hằng's voice. It is difficult to read and makes the reader slow down, but I think that also creates the feeling that those around her feel when she speaks and makes her frustrations more real.

The juxtaposition of Hằng and LeeRoy is also nice. Both have something they want, or want to be, but they aren't sure how to get there. Together they work through the bumps, slowly becoming friends, as they navigate Hằng's story. 

Challenges for which this counts: 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Sunday Salon: January 19, 2020

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz has taken over running The Sunday Salon.

My life in books over the past week: 

Challenge progress 2020
  • Literary Escapes Challenge--This week: 3 states (FL, GA, OH) and 2 countries (Cuba and United Kingdom). Total: 9 states and 3 countries
  • Mount TBR Challenge--2 book read this week, 9 books total
  • Popsugar reading challenge--2 books read this week, 9 books total
  • Social Justice Challenge--1 book read this month, 1 book total
  • YA Award Winners--These will be announced at the beginning of February
My life outside books:
I watched some really good stuff this week! As the number of movies that I watched goes up, the number of books that I read goes down.

One Child Nation is a fascinating, depressing, and well worth watching documentary! It's on Netflix.

I watched Harriet on my own (purchased on Amazon) and am glad I finally watched it. She was a remarkable women. Remind me again why Trump's administration isn't putting her on the $20 bill?! My daughter insisted we watch Parasite because she absolutely loved it. I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I said yes, but I ended up really liking it; I can see why it has been nominated for both best picture and best foreign film (I bought it on Amazon Prime). And, after putting my daughter on a bus to Los Angeles to catch her flight back to college in NY I watched The Two Popes (Netflix). Also, so good! The actors did a fabulous job and I learned a ton.
Have you see any of these? What did you think?

Review: The Burning by Jane Casey

Title: The Burning
AuthorJane Casey
Year Published: 2010

Genre: Adult fiction (mystery)
Pages: 368
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)UK

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): A determined young police constable goes it alone against an enigmatic killer and her bosses in a series debut for fans of Sophie Hannah and Tana French

The Burning Man. It’s the name the media has given a brutal murderer who has beaten four young women to death before setting their bodies ablaze in secluded areas of London’s parks. And now there’s a fifth.

Maeve Kerrigan is an ambitious detective constable, keen to make her mark on the murder task force. Her male colleagues believe Maeve’s empathy makes her weak, but the more she learns about the latest victim, Rebecca Haworth, from her grieving friends and family, the more determined Maeve becomes to bring her murderer to justice. But how do you catch a killer no one has seen when so much of the evidence has gone up in smoke?

Maeve’s frenetic hunt for a killer in Jane Casey’s gripping series debut will entrance even the most jaded suspense readers.

Review: I received this book from my Secret Santa who was excited when she saw it on my wish list. I'm glad I read it even though the beginning is slow.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Maeve, the police woman, and Louise, the victim's best friend. I like books with alternating narrators as I feel like we get more of the story that way. 

Maeve is a good main character who is smart, learning the ropes of police work and dealing with all male colleagues. We also get a bit of her personal life, which always improves a book. This is apparently the first book in a building series, so I am sure we'll get to know more about her as the books are published. The other characters are also good; a mixture of hateful arrogant people and those with whom I was able to sympathize.

The story is a good one even though, for me, it started out a bit slow. I'm not sure if that's the book's fault or if I was distracted because my daughter is home and we were so busy that I didn't really sit down for a proper reading session until the second half of the book. I like that I didn't figure out the details of the murderer. If you enjoy police novels and murder mysteries, then I'd recommend this one.

Challenges for which this counts: 
For the Pop Sugar challenge, this book is set in a city that has hosted the Olympics (London). And, I attended those Olympics in 2012.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Nonfiction Review: Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Title: Know My Name
Author: Chanel Miller
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult nonfiction (memoir)
Pages: 368
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)USA (CA & PA)
FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford's campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral--viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.

Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways--there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.

Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.

Review: I remember quite vividly when this story broke the news and that I was so angry at the judge in the case for looking out for the darling white boy. I also felt for the woman whose name we didn't know. What must she have felt when the verdict and sentence was announced? Had her reputation been dragged through the mud during the trial?

My local weekly newspaper, the Santa Barbara Independent, is doing a book club this year and I was interested to join, especially when I saw that this is the January book. We are "meeting" with each other on Goodreads.

And wow. This book is good on so many levels. Miller is a good writer who evokes emotions like crazy. I was angry, sad, frustrated, sympathetic, and more as I read. The UCSB connection (I live in SB, my parents both worked there. and attended UCSB for my Masters and teaching credential) is interesting as she was a senior when there was a mass shooting in 2014. 

Miller speaks for herself and others who have experienced sexual assault as she describes the event itself, but more importantly, the trial and the years following the assault and how it affected her, her family, her friends, and her boyfriend. The effects are ever-lasting and intense.

Challenges for which this counts: 
For the PopSugar challenge, this book was recommended by an online book club.