Thursday, October 22, 2020

YA nonfiction review: Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Title: Free Lunch

Author: Rex Ogle

Year Published: 2019

Category: YA nonfiction (memoir)
Pages: 203
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (TX) 

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this from one of our local school libraries

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Instead of giving him lunch money, Rex’s mom has signed him up for free meals. As a poor kid in a wealthy school district, better-off kids crowd impatiently behind him as he tries to explain to the cashier that he’s on the free meal program. The lunch lady is hard of hearing, so Rex has to shout.

Free Lunch is the story of Rex’s efforts to navigate his first semester of sixth grade―who to sit with, not being able to join the football team, Halloween in a handmade costume, classmates and a teacher who take one look at him and decide he’s trouble―all while wearing secondhand clothes and being hungry. His mom and her boyfriend are out of work, and life at home is punctuated by outbursts of violence. Halfway through the semester, his family is evicted and ends up in government-subsidized housing in view of the school. Rex lingers at the end of last period every day until the buses have left, so no one will see where he lives.
Review: I have not been doing as well on my ALA Youth Media Awards challenge this year so when I saw this book at one of our high school libraries yesterday I grabbed it up. And yes, I had work to do, but read this book in one night instead, it's that good.

I almost want to refer to this book as a novel even though it's nonfiction. Ogle tells the story of his first year in middle school and it reads like fiction, which is very effective. His life was not easy and I was pulled in from the first page. I think all readers can relate to parts of Ogle's story even if they haven't experienced poverty and abuse the way he did. At that age we're all uncertain, want someone to sit with at lunch, want to do well in class and be supported by our teachers, and have a safe home environment.

This book shows how poverty infiltrates every aspect of a child's life from food to clothing to friends to holidays and family interactions. Of course, this is just one story and everyone experiences poverty differently, but Ogle's experiences will resonate with all ages.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Review: To Tell You the Truth by Gilly MacMillan

Title: To Tell You the Truth

Author: Gilly MacMillan

Year Published: 2020

Category: Adult fiction (thriller)
Pages: 295
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)United Kingdom 

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): To tell you the truth . . . everybody lies.

Lucy Harper’s talent for writing bestselling novels has given her fame, fortune and millions of fans.  It’s also given her Dan, her needy, jealous husband whose own writing career has gone precisely nowhere.

Now Dan has vanished. But this isn’t the first time that someone has disappeared from Lucy’s life. Three decades ago, her little brother Teddy also went missing and was never found. Lucy, the only witness, helplessly spun fantasy after fantasy about Teddy’s disappearance, to the detectives’ fury and her parents’ despair. That was the start of her ability to tell a story—a talent she has profited from greatly. 

But now Lucy’s a grown woman who can’t hide behind fiction any longer. The world is watching, and her whole life is under intense scrutiny. A life full of stories, some more believable than others. Could she have hurt Teddy?  Did she kill Dan?  Finally, now, Lucy Harper’s going to tell the truth.

Cross her heart.

And hope to die.
Review: I have got to start keeping track of who recommends books to me so that I can give them credit in my reviews. Sigh. Suffice it to say I cannot remember who recommended this book to me, but thank you. I have read and enjoyed Odd Child Out by Gilly MacMillan and this one did not disappoint.

As with Odd Child Out, MacMillan presents the reader full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end as well as a novel that is more than just a thriller. I don't think it spoils the novel if I say that mental health is at issue in this book. What's interesting is that it is present without being spelled out. The issue is just there and that made my mind go in all sorts of directions while I was reading.

Lucy isn't necessarily a likable character, but she isn't not likable. She's... odd. And you're never sure what her deal is, who is lying, who is hiding something (no surprise, they are all at some level), and how much Lucy knows or doesn't know. See? Even in my review, there's some thriller aspects going on.

I read this book quickly and enjoyed it. If you're in the mood for a thriller, this is a good one.

Challenges for which this counts: 


TLC Review: All About Us by Tom Ellen

Title: All About Us

Author: Tom Ellen

Year Published: 2020

Category: Adult fiction
Pages: 355
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)United Kingdom and France

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for a fair and honest review

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Ben’s always loved the month of December, but this year, with his relationship with Daphne on the rocks, it’s missing its usual magic. And then his old friend Alice gets back in touch. Ben’s always thought of Alice as the one that got away, and he can’t help but wonder: what if he’d done things differently all those years ago?

He never imagines he might get to find out… but when a stranger sells Ben a mysterious watch one freezing winter’s night, he’s astonished to wake up the next morning on 5th December 2005: the day he first kissed Daphne, leaving Alice behind.

Now Ben must make the biggest decision of his life, all over again. But this time around, will he finally find the courage to follow his heart?
Review: I know it's not Christmas, but a I thought a holiday book might be fun to read during this dreary pandemic and it was. It's a quick and fun read even though it includes time travel, which I don't really go in for.

Ben is basically a good guy, but he's behaving badly and messing up his marriage. Late nights drinking, not being attentive, not following through... nothing horrible, but certainly not supportive or carrying his fair share of the "marriage weight." It's his story we learn, but we do get a sense of his wife's views through his observations. It's Ben's remorse that seems to bring the watch seller to him, starting Ben on a wild ride.

If you enjoyed Dickens' A Christmas Carol, then you're sure to enjoy this novel. Ben isn't visited by Christmas ghosts, but he does visit Christmases past, present, and future, each time reliving Christmas Eve and trying to figure out where he went wrong and if he wants things to change. I liked that he cannot change the future, but that he can learn from his actions. So, even though time travel in novels isn't usually for me, I liked this one. I was rooting for Ben and hoped that a happy ending would be a good escape from our present pandemic-reality and it was.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sunday Salon: October 18, 2020

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz runs The Sunday Salon. 

Books read over the past week:   

Challenge progress 2020

  • Big Summer Book Challenge--5 books total (completed)
  • Literary Escapes Challenge--0 states and 0 countries read this week. 26 states and 27 countries total
  • Mount TBR Challenge--1 book read this week, 66 books total
  • Popsugar reading challenge--1 books read this week, 35 books total
  • Social Justice Challenge--1 book read this month, 12 books total
  • YA Award Winners--0 books read this week, 8 books total

My life outside books:

Where did this week go?! One minute it was Sunday evening and here we are again; it felt like a whirlwind week. I've had lots of evening responsibilities with Board meetings, teacher workshops, and negotiations so not a lot of down time.

This weekend my dad found an article and recipe in the New York Times for the "perfect chocolate chip cookie" so we made the dough yesterday and later today will cook them. I have high hopes for these cookies so they better be good! We also got some persimmons from a friend so plan to make persimmon bread when they are a little riper. They aren't a fruit I ever think of, so I am looking forward to the bread.

Our local university is having some great virtual events and Monday night I attended an interesting panel discussion with: Tamika Mallory, founder of the Woman's March; Anton Pinto, a DC lawyer and do-founder with Tamika of Until Freedom (a social justice group); and Tamika Parker, Breonna Taylor's mom. They talked about their work for equity and social justice, which was interesting, powerful, and inspiring. This coming Monday I'll hear Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be An Antiracist, speak.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Review: One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Title: One to Watch

Author: Kate Stayman-London

Year Published: 2020

Category: Adult fiction (romance)
Pages: 424
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (OK, CA, OH, NY), Morocco, and France

FTC Disclosure: I paid for this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Bea Schumacher is a devastatingly stylish plus-size fashion blogger who has amazing friends, a devoted family, legions of Insta followers—and a massively broken heart. Like the rest of America, Bea indulges in her weekly obsession: the hit reality show Main Squeeze. The fantasy dates! The kiss-off rejections! The surprising amount of guys named Chad! But Bea is sick and tired of the lack of body diversity on the show. Since when is being a size zero a prerequisite for getting engaged on television?

Just when Bea has sworn off dating altogether, she gets an intriguing call: Main Squeeze wants her to be its next star, surrounded by men vying for her affections. Bea agrees, on one condition—under no circumstances will she actually fall in love. She’s in this to supercharge her career, subvert harmful beauty standards, inspire women across America, and get a free hot air balloon ride. That’s it.

But when the cameras start rolling, Bea realizes things are more complicated than she anticipated. She’s in a whirlwind of sumptuous couture, Internet culture wars, sexy suitors, and an opportunity (or two, or five) to find messy, real-life love in the midst of a made-for-TV fairy tale. In this joyful, wickedly observant debut, Bea has to decide whether it might just be worth trusting these men—and herself—for a chance to live happily ever after.
Review: I have only ever watched about half an episode of the Bachelor, it's never really been my type of TV show. So how come I enjoyed reading this book so much?

Bea is a fun character and she isn't one dimensional. She is confident, but not. She is fashionable, fun, defensive, a good friend, and markets herself really well. What she is not is sure about love and what she really, really wants from life. So a chance to be the "star" of a dating reality show? Sure! She'll show everyone that plus size people can find love, too. But what if it hurts and isn't easy? What if she can't trust the men on the show (since some are real jerks)? And what if she falls in love?

I admit that I felt like I was watching the show in real time, hoping certain men would be kept on with each episode. I wanted Bea to be happy and to pick the guy I wanted for her. I wanted it all to work out with a happy ending. So, yeah, I enjoyed reading this book even though I don't plan on watching the Bachelor/Bachelorette.

Challenges for which this counts: