Sunday, May 22, 2016

Review: I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

Title: I Still Dream About You
Author: Fanny Flagg
Year Published: 2010

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 335
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (Alabama)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book):
 The beloved Fanny Flagg is at her irresistible and hilarious best in I Still Dream About You, a comic mystery romp through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, past, present, and future.

Meet Maggie Fortenberry, a still beautiful former Miss Alabama. To others, Maggie's life seems practically perfect--she's lovely, charming, and a successful agent at Red Mountain Realty. Still, Maggie can't help but wonder how she wound up living a life so different from the one she dreamed of as a child. But just when things seem completely hopeless, and the secrets of Maggie's past drive her to a radical plan to solve it all, Maggie discovers, quite by accident, that everybody, it seems, has at least one little secret.

Review: Fannie Flagg actually lives less than a mile from me so I feel like I have a connection to her even though she doesn't know I exist. Actually, we've met once, but just in passing :-) I enjoyed her book (and the movie) Fried Green Tomatoes, but this one didn't capture my attention quite as much.

Maggie and her friends/colleagues at the Red Mountain company definitely feel like they are in a rut and that something needs to happen soon to shake them up. Maggie in particular, which become evident very quickly as the reader learns that Maggie plans to kill herself. But, she keeps postponing it as life gets in the way.

Fanny Flagg's books can be so funny and I was expecting that from this one, but that didn't happen. I think I just didn't connect to Maggie the way I hoped I would.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Review: Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

Title: Not If I See You First
Author: Eric Lindstrom
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 310
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (??)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book):
 The rules. Don't deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public. Don't help me unless I ask. Otherwise you're just getting in my way or bothering me. Don't be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I'm just like you only smarter.

Parker Grant doesn't need 20/20 vision to see right through you. That's why she created the Rules: Don't treat her any differently just because she's blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. Just ask Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart.

When Scott reappears in her life after being gone for years, Parker knows there's only one way to react--shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough on her mind already, like trying out for the track team (that's right, her eyes don't work but her legs do), doling out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn't cried since her dad's death three months ago. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened--both with Scott and her dad--the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem. Maybe, just maybe, some Rules are meant to be broken.

Review: I had a fabulous day and read this book in one day! Boy does that feel good. This is a good YA book in terms of character and story, but there seemed to be something else, another level, that really added to it and has meant that I keep thinking about it.

Going blind at the age of seven means Parker has memories of sight and can remember what her friends and family looked like when they were younger. She remembers rainbows, flowers, and smiles even though she can no longer see them. She is bold, speaks her mind (to a fault), and is extremely independent. I think the author did a great job of showing someone who refuses to let a disability stop them from doing whatever they want while still exposing how we all put up barriers when something is scary. Parker definitely holds people at a distance so she can't be hurt again, not a surprise after losing both parents and worrying that people will take advantage of one's blindness.

However, near the end there is a scene with Parker and her best female friend. It has really stuck with me. They are raw and honest with one another in a way I haven't seen in a YA book thus far. They don't just tell each other how they feel and what they want. I can't really explain it, but I loved their conversation.

I think students will like this one and I hope it would make them think about how all of us are with our expectations of ourselves and others.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern

Title: Rules for 50/50 Chances
Author: Kate McGovern
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 342
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (Massachusetts)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book):
 Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: does she want to know how she might die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that tells her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington's disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother.

With a fifty-fifty shot at inheriting her family's genetic curse, Rose is skeptical about pursuing anything that presumes she'll live to be a healthy adult--including her dream career in ballet and the possibility of falling in love. But when she meets a boy from a similarly flawed genetic pool and gets an audition for a dance scholarship across the country, Rose begins to question her carefully laid rules.

Review: Another good and thoughtful YA book! It has the usual aspects of YA that I like--a little romance, some teen angst, and a great best friend. Of course, there is the issue: Huntington's disease. I didn't know anything about it when I started this book, but now I feel like I have an idea of how it affects not only the person afflicted with the disease, but the people around them, both strangers and family. Learning about Huntington's was done organically in the story, which is the best way.

I am surprised to say this, but I also got caught up in one other aspect of the story: the mom loves trains and in particular train trips. She maps them on a mounted world map and reads about each trip because her dream was to go on them. Now that she is sick that isn't possible so the daughter does one of the train trips and the description of the Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco) sound so wonderful--going over the Rockies and through Donner Pass!

I was completely caught up in this story, wanting to know if her relationship with Caleb works out, what happens to her mom, does Rose find out her test results, etc.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

Title: Secrets of Flight
Author: Maggie Leffler
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult historical fiction
Pages: 368
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (Pennsylvania)

FTC Disclosure: I was given a copy for review

Purchase Links

Summary (from the back of the book):
 This captivating, breakout novel—told in alternating viewpoints—brings readers from the skies of World War II to the present day, where a woman is prepared to tell her secrets at last.
Estranged from her family since just after World War II, Mary Browning has spent her entire adult life hiding from her past. Now eighty-seven years old and a widow, she is still haunted by secrets and fading memories of the family she left behind. Her one outlet is the writing group she’s presided over for a decade, though she’s never written a word herself. When a new member walks in—a fifteen-year-old girl who reminds her so much of her beloved sister Sarah—Mary is certain fate delivered Elyse Strickler to her for a reason.

Mary hires the serious-eyed teenager to type her story about a daring female pilot who, during World War II, left home for the sky and gambled everything for her dreams—including her own identity.

As they begin to unravel the web of Mary’s past, Mary and Elyse form an unlikely friendship. Together they discover it’s never too late for second chances and that sometimes forgiveness is all it takes for life to take flight in the most unexpected ways.

Review: Ah, the TLC Tours, they know me so well and always ask me to review books that I end up liking! The first few pages didn't grab me, but by page 20 or 30 I was hooked.

Mary Browning (Miri Lichtenstein) was one of a few select women who learned to fly during World War II and ferried planes within the US. They weren't officially military and their work was top secret, but they contributed greatly to the war effort. As Mary tells her story we learn about some of the other women in her squad, how she fell in love, what it was like and what it meant to be American and Jewish during World War II.

In contrast, we hear, in alternating chapters, Elyse's story of being 15 in present day. What is it like to be on the outside of high school social circles, to be a budding writer, and the child in a family that is changing before your very eyes.

The friendship that develops between Mary and Elyse is organic and wonderful; I really liked the multi-generational aspect of this book. And as is always the case with historical fiction, I learned and I love that. I am someone who always reads the Acknowledgements and Author's Notes at the end of a novel and I am so glad because Maggie Leffler's note was amazing and meant that the book was even more interesting.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Title: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Author: Bryan Stevenson
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 318 plus notes and index
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (Alabama)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book):
 Bryan Stevenson was a gifted young attorney when he founded the Equity Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillan, a young man sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn't commit. the case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinkmanship--and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Review: This book is so many things: inspiring, frustrating, anger-provoking, and hopeful. This book was the recent "Santa Barbara Reads" choice and now I am kicking myself for not going to hear the author speak when he was in town a few weeks ago.

This is the story of Bryan Stevenson's experiences working as a lawyer in Alabama from the late 1980s to the present. He takes on mostly death row cases, men, women, and children (yes, children) who have been either wrongly accused or who should not be sentenced to death (mental impairments, their age or circumstances). He certainly doesn't win all his cases and many of his clients were executed by the State of Alabama. However, reading about the cases, the attitudes of judges, lawyers, DAs, and the public is fascinating and frustrating.

How can people be so cruel? As someone who is against the death penalty in all cases, to read about innocent people who are on death row is difficult. To read of executions done on a 1930s electric chair (the chair was made of wood, for goodness sakes) is horrifying. Then to realize there are people out there working day and night to try to fix the wrongs is inspiring. What I try to take from books like this is that there are good people out there, fighting to right the wrongs. Too bad they have to work so hard for so little. That just seems wrong.