Saturday, April 14, 2018

Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Title: Before I Let Go
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Year Published: 2018

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 349
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (AK)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): She was my best friend, my everything. And I lost her.

Corey and Kyra didn't fit in with the other kids in their small Alaskan town, but they fit together. And they were inseparable. So when Corey's family has to move away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter. To wait for her return.

Except days before Corey is to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated--and confused. The entire community speaks in hushed tones about the town's lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she's a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. Lost is keeping secrets. Chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend is as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter...
Review: I bought this at the same time as This is Where It Ends, also by Nijkamp, which I reviewed last week with a strong review. This book wasn't as successful for me even though I thought it was good. In fact, at first this book didn't work for me because it has some magical realism and for me, that's a turn off. But something made me keep reading and in the second half I kept turning the pages to find out what happens, to see if more was revealed about Kyra's life. And it was.

Corey and Kyra's friendship isn't anything unusual; they are best friends who promise to stay in touch when Corey leaves. But they don't. Kyra writes letters that aren't always sent and Corey doesn't reply. Kyra's bi-polar diagnosis confuses and scares the town of Lost; they don't know what to do with her. And so they ignore her. Or so it was before Corey moved away.

But when Corey's arrival in Lost she comes to find that Kyra became a prophet-like character for the citizens of Lost, they locked her away, but wanted too much from her. It's definitely an odd story, one that is filled with fear, mental illness, friendship, secrets, and the idea of "other." There is also grief. So much grief. I think it's an important story to tell: how does mental illness affect the person, their family, their small town, their friendships? How can we help those who suffer be happy? I am so glad that the author lists resources at the back of the book.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Title: The Woman in the Window
Author: A.J. Finn
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult fiction (mystery)
Pages: 427
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Anna Fox lives alone--a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her days drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times...and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way; a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, seems something she shouldn't, her world begins to crumble--and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one--and nothing--is what it seems.
Review: The description of this book immediately made me think of the movie Rear Window, which I really liked, but I was afraid it wouldn't be original. That fear was unfounded.

The first half of the book sets the stage for the "event" as we get to know Anna and her world. She is agoraphobic and has been inside her house for almost a year, spying on her neighbors is her way to connect with the outside world. But connecting to the outside is only an illusion. She plays chess online, orders groceries online, and, as a psychotherapist, she counsels other agoraphobes online. There's far too much wine drinking going on as well.

By the time Jane Russell actually comes into Anna's house, I felt like I knew Anna well and was excited for her to have a friend come inside and spend time with her. But meeting the Russell family brings a whole new level of confusion, panic, and activity that kept me on the edge of my seat reading the second half of this story. I can't say much more because I don't want to give away all the tension and excitement of this excellent thriller!

Challenges for which this counts: none

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunday Salon: April 8, 2018

My life in books: 
Challenges progress:
  • Non-fiction--My goal is 20 books and I've read 19 already!
  • Literary Voyage around the world--Read books set in as many countries as possible. I have read in 12 countries so far, recently adding Saudi Arabia.
  • Literary Escapes--Track the US states. I have read books set in 13 states so far and in the past weeks added New Jersey.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--I have already read 5 of these winners.
  • Motif Reading Challenge--I have done this each month so far. For April the motif is Local but I haven't figured out what to read for that yet.
My life outside books:
Two weeks ago I was on spring break with no real plans, what a relief. So, I did a bunch of work, mostly on the curriculum for a course I will teach in the summer. It was fun to have time to create! 

This week I ran a professional development day for all of our social studies teachers and, despite the fact that I was pretty sick, it went really well. The teachers were enthusiastic and got great work done.

Over spring break I got sick; I haven't been sick in over 2 years! It was a sore throat that turned into the deep voice sort of thing so nothing too major, but still. My daughter came home last Friday and was super sick, warning me that hers started out as a sore throat as well. Yep. Mine progressed, too so we're both on Flonase and antibiotics. Typical educator getting sick on a school holiday. But, today I feel about 95% better so Yay for science!

It's the start of a new month and that means another Action for Happiness calendar. For the month of April the theme is "active."

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Review: This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Title: This is Where it Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 282
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (AL)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. the students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. the auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes,  terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
Review: When I saw this book at Costco, I felt like it was timely and appropriate given the events in Parkland, Florida that took place just 2 months ago. But really, these events have been taking place since 1999 in Columbine, CO.

Yes, this is timely and yes, it is super good. Maybe it's because I am a secondary teacher that this book resonates with me, but maybe it really is just a very good novel.

As the description above suggests, the book takes place over 54 minutes. 54 minutes of terror. Each chapter is a 2-minute segment of the school shooting at Opportunity High School and within each chapter we hear from Claire, Autumn, Sylvia, and Tomás. We get their play-by-play experience and thoughts, which makes the event seem very real, very raw, and very emotional.

Claire happens to be at track practice so is on the outside while her brother is in the auditorium. Autumn is the sister of the shooter and she is also in the auditorium. Sylvia and Tomás are twins, one is in the auditorium and one is in the principal's office when the shooting begins. Autumn and Sylvia are dating. Claire used to date the shooter. Opportunity is a small town where everyone knows everyone's business and it all comes crashing down in this 54 minutes.

I liked all four of the characters and wanted them all to survive, to be brave. I wanted the adults in the room to be sensible and safe. I wanted the hundreds of students trapped in the auditorium to make good choices so they could escape and I wanted a SWAT team to arrive in time. I don't always get what I want.

Challenges for which this counts: none

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Title: Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 285
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (MS)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In Jesmyn Ward's first novel since her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing,  journeys through Mississippi's past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power--and limitations--of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn't lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his grandfather Big Joseph, who won't acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his life and his toddler sister's lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children's father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can't put her children about her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she's high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children's father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the state penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He, too, has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Review: This is the first Book of the Month book that I've read so that was fun. I had only read a couple reviews of this book before I read it and they both glowed, loving this book. For me, it isn't love, but I totally appreciate this book, which is different, but still positive.

Ward's writing is wonderful; she has a way with words that make you feel that you are in the moment with the characters, feeling their pain, hearing their sounds, and smelling their surroundings. She captures life of this poor rural Mississippi family in a way that makes me think of Hilary Jordan's Mudbound

And the characters. We hear the story from the point of view of both Jojo (the 13 year-old boy) and his mother Leonie. I immediately wanted to take care of Jojo who has burdens palced upon him that no one, let alone a child, should have to deal with. He is care taker to his toddler sister, helper to his grandparents, Pop and Mam, so he is constantly wary, hungry, tired, and on edge. I could feel his sense of unease. And I wanted to smack Loeonie. Her dependence on drugs, commitment to her husband, Michael, and her lack of responsibility were so frustrating. But so real.

The only part of the novel that didn't work for me is the magical realism; I'm not good with that. This only really becomes a problem in the second half of the story when Ritchie, the ghost of a 13-year-old prisoner, appears that I started to lose my love of the book. So, if you're okay with that sort of thing, you'll love this. If you aren't just be prepared and read the book anyway since the rest of it is so rich.

Challenges for which this counts: none