Tuesday, September 17, 2019

YA Review: New Kid by Jerry Craft

Title: New Kid
Author: Jerry Craft
Year Published: 2019

Genre: YA fiction (graphic novel)
Pages: 249
Rating: 5 out of 5

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

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan turns out to be one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds--and not really fitting into either one. Middle school's hard enough without all the unspoken rules and expectations that come with being the new kid! Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

Review: I learned this morning that this book made the Kirkus short list so decided to read it and I am so glad that I did! The illustrations and story are so well done and I read the book in one sitting.
Although this story is about being the new kid, it's also about race, friendship, and growing up. What is the best way to deal with a bully? How should we respond when people in authority are being racist? These are heavy issues, but Craft's illustrations and dialogue bring home the messages without making it depressing. While I wanted to smack some of the teachers and kids, I was proud of the main characters for their words and behavior.

This is a great book for middle grade students (and older, obviously, since I really enjoyed it) and I can definitely see why the editors at Krikus have it on their short list this year.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Title: Ayesha at Last
Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 346
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map): Canada

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Ayesha Shamsi has  lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside fo ra teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn't want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid, who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices, and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

When a surprise engagement is announced between Khalid and Hafsa, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.

Review: It's always nice to read a book about a culture that is different from my own and this one did that well. Ayesha is Muslim and living in Toronto, Canada so that two cultures that aren't mine. And it's a modern day Pride and Prejudice so that's fun.

I have really not read much lately so it took me a while to get into this book, but this weekend I was all in. I smiled, laughed, and yes, got a little teary at the end. All the things i want from a book. 

I like both Ayesha and Khalid even if they are frustrating (it is Pride and Prejudice, after all). And I really wanted them to end up together. The large supporting cast is full of interesting characters, some of whom I was rooting for and others that I loved to hate. I also liked that the author didn't give us flat and stereotypical characters; they were a mixed bag of people who interpreted their religion and culture in various ways, which is how life is.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Sunday Salon: September 15, 2019

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

My life in books over the past week: 
  • A to Z Reading--I have read books with titles for 21 letters so far: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, and W.
  • Diversity Reading Challenge--I have read 48 books.
  • Literary Escapes--I have read books set in 33 states so far, adding no new states in the past week. I have read in 50 countries so far, adding Nigeria in the past week.
  • Motif Reading Challenge--The August motif is "Mode of Transportation."
  • Non-fiction--I have read 19 books so far.
  • YA Award Winners--I have read 10 of the 11 winners
Completed challenges:
  • My Own Books--I read 21 books off my shelves from March 15 to May 15, 2019.
  • Big Book Challenge--I read 8 books over 400 pages during the summer.
My life outside books:
Work is ramping up, which is good. I like it better when I am busy at work. This past Tuesday I was down at the University of California, Irvine for a one-day conference, which was pretty good. Only problem? The drive to and from Irvine from Santa Barbara is a beast, especially mid-afternoon.

This coming week begins my Listening Tour where I am going to each of our 19 schools to hear concerns from the teachers so we can decide what to negotiate with the district in the spring. Salary is always on the table and I think this year teachers are especially unhappy about the cost of our health insurance. Of course, those issues class since there is just one pot of money.

Whew! What a couple of weeks it's been. Last weekend our next door neighbor died suddenly of a brain aneurysm just 5 minutes after we were talking to her on the phone. She was 75 years old, suffering from many medical issues, and was in a lot of pain so at least she went quickly. We've been helping her husband out, making sure he is doing alright, etc.

Last weekend I participated in the Walk for Suicide Prevention with a couple friends, one of whom is a survivor. It was in intense day. I walked in honor of three childhood friends who succumbed to their depression, which made it all the more meaningful.

I just re-read this post and realize the personal section is a real downer. But, I don't feel down. Our downtown area has temporary free little libraries that are shaped like various punctuation marks, and it is really fun to see people giving and taking books in such public places.
And I have a question for all of you. Apple just had their "Apple Event" where they announced their new products. And, as with most years, I am considering getting an Apple Watch. 
Do you have an AppleWatch? What do you like about it?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Title: The Turn of the Key
Author: Ruth Ware
Year Published: 2019

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)UK

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): When Rowan Caine stumbles across the ad, she's looking for something else completely. But i seems like too good an opportunity to miss--a live-in nanny post, with a staggerlingly generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten--by the luxurious "smart" home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn't know is that she's stepping into a nightmare--one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unraveling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn't just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn't just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn't even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she's made a mistake. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn't always ideal. She's not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she's not guilty--at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Review: I have been hearing so much about this book that I just had to read it. This is a good thriller, but I was trying to read it in the middle of a Netflix binge so it took me far too long. So, I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it last night.

The last third of this book is where all the action happens, before that it feels a bit repetitive. The last two pages slam the reader upside the head. What an ending! Do not cheat by reading the end ahead of time (I know some of you do this sometimes), it will ruin the whole book for you.

This is a difficult book to describe because I don't want to give away any of the story and you can read the summary above. Rowan is competent, which makes the creepy stuff happening in the house scarier; if she can't handle it, who can?! And most of the characters seems so nice, it's tough to tell if one of them is the creeper. If I lived in that house, I would have been gone way before I could have been charged with murder.

I liked that the book is told in letters to Rowan's lawyer. We get her side of the story as well as her reactions to prison and her arrest. Is she guilty? Is she where she belongs? Has she gone crazy? You'll have to read the book to find out.

Challenges for which this counts: none

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Nonfiction Review: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Title: So You Want to Talk About Race
Author: Ijeoma Oluo
Year Published: 2019

Genre: Adult nonfiction
Pages: 238 (plus notes and index)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Police brutality trials, white supremacist rallies, Black Lives Matter protests. Race is the story behind many of hte issues that make headlines every day. But to talk about race itself--to examine the way it shapes our society, visibly and invisibly--can feel frightening and overwhelming, and even dangerous.

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo offers a clarifying discussion of the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on the issues that divide us. Positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Aemricans struggling with race complexities, Oluo explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans, and asnwers the questions readers don't dare ask, like "What is cultural appropriation?" "Why do I keep being told to check my privilege?" and "If I don't support affirmative action, does that make me a racist?"

With language that is bold, prescient, funny, and finely tuned, Oluo offers hope for a better way by showing what's possible when connections are made across the divide.

Review: I have been having a lot of conversations about race and privilege lately and there was a New York Times article about good books to read to get one thinking and talking. This is one of those books.

Growing up white in this country pretty much means I don't think about my race and that's a privilege. My race helps me every day without my knowing it. Having been married to a person of color and having a daughter who is multi-racial has made me even more aware of this privilege and it has created many interesting conversations over the years.

An interesting exercise that the author suggests is to write down all of your privileges/advantages. I did this and it's amazing how long the list can be! I am white, educated, a citizen, neuro-typical, physically abled, upper middle class, stable home environment, stable and reliable housing and transportation, I have a good job with medical benefits and a retirement program, etc.

This book is a mixture of telling the truth, bringing up interesting questions to consider (affirmative action, the N-word, the school-to-prison pipeline, microaggressions, and more), making clear what policies such as hair and clothing rules in the workplace really mean, and how to approach the subject of race. For me, it was super interesting and definitely a worthwhile read.

Challenges for which this counts: