Medal Winner: The White Stag
Finally Kate Seredy wins a Newbery Medal! This book of myths from the Hungarian culture is by the author of The Good Master and The Singing Tree,and if you remember how much I enjoyed those books, you’ll have an idea of how I felt about this one. I’m not usually a fan of myths, but these are well written and a beautiful look at a country to which I feel a deep connection.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
On the Banks of Plum Creek
This book is part of the Little House on the Prairie series, which I loved as a child. This one wasn’t my favorite, but it fits well in the series. Other than that, I honestly can’t remember much about this book–all of them seem to blur together. It may be time for a Little House on the Prairie readthrough!
In today’s funny memoir roundup, there’s only one real standout book. Unfortunately, I’ve read a lot of meh memoirs recently that haven’t made much of an impact on me. (Spoiler alert–Furiously Happy is the best one on this list. It’s hilarious!)
Please note as you proceed that each of these books has a fair amount of sexual content and/or salty language. If that’s something that you want to avoid, skip this post and come back on Friday for a roundup of my latest children’s and YA reads!
In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.
According to Jenny: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Jenny Lawson is so funny (if you laughed at the snippet above, just know that the rest of the book is pretty much like that). I laughed out loud at several parts of this book, but I also appreciated her honesty about her struggles with mental and physical illness. My absolute favorite entry was about her sleep study (I read it, laughing hysterically, and then immediately read it again over my husband’s shoulder as I forced him to read it), but there are great chapters containing her late night iPhone notes, various adventures involving taxidermied animals, and the bright spots in the darkness of depression.
(As with Lawson’s last book, and anything Bloggess-related, be aware that this book contains a fair amount of salty language.)
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.
In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I don’t really like stand up comedy, so I’m not super familiar with Aziz Ansari’s work outside of Parks & Rec. Still, when I started listening to this on audio book, I expected a silly look at dating in the era of Tinder and Match.com. There is a fair amount of humor (especially in the audio book, read by Ansari himself!), but I was surprised to find a serious, well-researched book about finding love in the digital age.
Ansari and his research team do a great job of exploring the different experiences of various age groups and cultures in dating, love, sex, and marriage, and they are honest about the limitations of their studies. I found this book interesting, but ultimately forgettable. Check it out if you’re really curious about how romance has changed with the advent of the internet.
(As will probably surprise no one, there is a large amount of sexual content and swearing that may make readers uncomfortable. Be forewarned.)
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
Being an introvert in a world that glorifies cool isn’t easy. But when Issa Rae, the creator of the Shorty Award–winning hit series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” is that introvert—whether she’s navigating love, work, friendships, or “rapping”—it sure is entertaining. Now, in this debut collection of essays written in her witty and self-deprecating voice, Rae covers everything from navigating the perils of eating out alone and public displays of affection to learning to accept yourself—natural hair and all.
A reflection on her own unique experiences as a cyber pioneer yet universally appealing, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girlis a book no one—awkward or cool, black, white, or other—will want to miss. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I don’t know much at all about Issa Rae, but I picked up this book over the Thanksgiving holiday on a whim. It contains funny, interesting stories about Jo-Issa’s childhood, life in Senegal and America, and understanding who she is and how her race affects her life. Mixed in with these stories are what the author calls “ABG [awkward black girl] guides.”
This book is interesting, and I definitely learned more about Senegal than I (sadly) knew before, but it didn’t make much of an impact on me. (As with the previous two books, there is a fair amount of sexual content/swearing that you may or may not enjoy.)
Growing up in a well-to-do family with strict rules and routines can be tough for a ten-year-old girl who only wants to roller skate. But when Lucinda Wyman’s parents go overseas on a trip to Italy and leave her behind in the care of Miss Peters and Miss Nettie in New York City, she suddenly gets all the freedom she wants! Lucinda zips around New York on her roller skates, meeting tons of new friends and having new adventures every day. But Lucinda has no idea what new experiences the city will show her…. Some of which will change her life forever. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is yet another book I read as a child and remember very little about. What I do remember is Lucinda’s freedom in New York City, as she uses her trusty roller skates to explore. My note to myself at the time I read it was that this was a fun story, and I believe it. If only I could remember more about it! (Thus why I started this blog: I’m super forgetful about the books I read unless I write down what I thought about them.)
P.S. I recently (December 2016) re-read this book. It was just as fun–Lucinda is a great, spunky character–but there are a lot more sad moments than I remembered. Be aware before you hand this one off to a child.
Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her–“Inshallah,” God willing.
Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to her village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha–but can she dare to hope they’ll come true? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I listened to this audio book because I was hoping to get a glimpse at the life of an average girl in modern-day Afghanistan. I was fascinated by my last look at the Arab world, and I wanted to have another perspective.
Unfortunately, this book doesn’t exactly focus on the average Afghani girl. Zulaikha has a cleft palate that causes others to tease or pity her, but when the Americans come to town, they might be able to help. I found Words in the Dust a bit dramatic and overwrought at times, as Zulaikha despairs over her looks and the people around her do nothing to help. I kept wondering how close the events of this novel were to actual Afghani girls’ experiences.
It’s not a bad story, but I think I’ll keep looking for a more subtle look into the experiences of teenage girls in the Middle East.
I’m a sucker for certain kinds of self help–not the sappy kind, but the kind that pairs research with practical tips. These three books, to some degree, all fit that description, and they’ve all been on my recommended list for a while.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo’s book by this point, well… where have you been? This smash hit covers a topic that you wouldn’t think would be that interesting: tidying your house. A lot of people find this book a little “woo woo,” as Marie Kondo claims you should discard any items that don’t “spark joy” and that you should thank your belongings after a day of service. This didn’t bother me at all. I completely understand what the author means when she says your belongings should spark joy, and I found a lot of helpful tips in this book.
If you liked the idea of Year of No Clutter but, like me, couldn’t see yourself in the shoes of a hoarder, this book might be more your speed. I personally can’t wait to try Marie Kondo’s methods!
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
I Know How She Does It
Balancing work and family life is a constant struggle, especially for women with children and ambitious career goals. It’s been the subject of countless books, articles, blog posts and tweets in the last few years, and passions run high in all directions.
Now Laura Vanderkam, the acclaimed time management expert, comes at the “having it all” debate by asking a very practical question. Given that we all have the same 168 hours every week, how do people who do have it all—women with thriving careers and families—use those hours? When you study how such women fit together the pieces of their lives, like tiles in a mosaic, the results are surprising. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I Know How She Does It has lots of interesting and surprising statistics about how people spend their time. The author uses time logs from various women with high-paying jobs and at least one child to show how they form a mosaic of their time, interweaving work, play, and family time, rather than taking each as an immovable chunk. This inspired me to keep a time log myself and look for ways to form a mosaic of my time.
My one regret is that this book is skewed toward upper middle class women. The author suggests that if you want to spend more time with your family, you can hire a housekeeper, or that if you want to spend more time working from home, you could hire a nanny. These choices simply aren’t options for women working lower-paying jobs. While I realize that the purpose of the book was to encourage women to enter high-powered jobs, traditionally held by men, I still found this aspect a bit irritating.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Unlike Marie Kondo’s book, this one was actually a little woo woo for my taste, although I like the meditation ideas offered. The authors give you an eight-week plan for getting into several kinds of meditation, almost a sampler of the various options available. They emphasize the importance of mindfulness in everyday life, even in stressful situations.
While I found their ideas interesting, I didn’t think they were particularly groundbreaking, and in many cases, their views on mindfulness made me feel skeptical.
I’ve been working my way through several more Newbery books, both new and old, this month. Surprisingly, all of them were enjoyable, and a couple were very good!
Splendors and Glooms
The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is just fun children’s fiction. It’s a dark story with lots of magic. The kids are likable characters, and the inner thoughts of each of the three (pampered but overprotected Clara, hardworking Lizzie Rose, and frightened, angry Parsefall) are interesting to follow.
If you or your kids are looking for a magical story with a bit of an edge, you couldn’t do much better than Splendors and Glooms.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Inside Out & Back Again
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Inside Out & Back Again is a novel told in free verse poetry. It depicts the author’s fictionalized experiences of moving to Alabama after the Vietnam War, and it is by turns heartwarming and saddening. The first segment of the book describes Hà’s life in Vietnam with all the foods and traditions that she loves. But after the Vietnam War forces Hà and her family to move to the United States, Hà finds herself struggling to learn a new language, eat new foods, and meet people who aren’t excited to see a different face.
This is a book that not only teaches about a certain era of our world’s recent history, but also has important applications in our world today. In a time of worldwide upheaval with millions of refugees fleeing their home countries, Inside Out & Back Again can offer middle grade kids a new perspective on the struggles and joys that many immigrants face.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
In the tradition of Hamilton’s The People Could Fly and In the Beginning, a dramatic new collection of 25 compelling tales from the female African American storytelling tradition. Each story focuses on the role of women–both real and fantastic–and their particular strengths, joys and sorrows. Full-color illustrations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is probably my favorite book in this whole roundup, and it’s not even a Newbery book (Virginia Hamilton is a multiple-time Newbery author, but this book is not one of those Newbery books). Her Stories is a book of lovely stories and illustrations. It includes African, African-American, and Creole folk tales and fairy tales, along with a few nonfiction bios, all focused on female protagonists. And I love the fact that each of the tales includes helpful explanatory notes which describe the origins of the story and how it ties into that culture’s storytelling tradition.
If you want to add diversity to your child’s bookshelf, you could hardly do better than this collection of stories about African and African American women. The stories themselves are wonderful, the illustrations are gorgeous, and the short story format makes it easy to read one or two with your child before bed. I can’t recommend this not-quite-Newbery book enough.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
A fictional history of railroading, as told by the first steam engine. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Little Blacknose is a short story for young children about the first steam engine in the United States. The little engine makes its journeys to Schenectady and gradually meets many other engines throughout his career.
Reading this as an adult was not super enjoyable; it’s just too simple and even silly. If your young child is really into trains, though, this might make a good read-aloud book (just be sure to skip the few racist bits).
“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.
Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I’m not a big fan of poetry (another recent Newbery book, Brown Girl Dreaming, is a notable exception), but this book was good. Josh and his twin brother JB deal with basketball, girls, tragedy, and growing up through Josh’s rhymes.
Crossover is a fun book with some surprisingly dark themes. Definitely recommended for middle grade readers.
I’m continuing my journey of reading all the classics I never got around to in today’s post. These two books are very different from each other, and while I understood why they’re considered modern classics, I didn’t particularly enjoy either one.
Lord of the Flies
When a plane crashes on a remote island, a small group of schoolboys are the sole survivors. From the prophetic Simon and virtuous Ralph to the lovable Piggy and brutish Jack, each of the boys attempts to establish control as the reality – and brutal savagery – of their situation sets in.
The boys’ struggle to find a way of existing in a community with no fixed boundaries invites readers to evaluate the concepts involved in social and political constructs and moral frameworks. Ideas of community, leadership, and the rule of law are called into question as the reader has to consider who has a right to power, why, and what the consequences of the acquisition of power may be. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Lord of the Flies is a thought provoking, well written book, if a bit racist and sexist. I absolutely understand why they teach it in high schools–it introduces some controversial ideas about social contracts and the behavior of humans, but it’s not overly complex. Really, that’s the main reason I disliked this book. I found the behavior of the boys on the island pretty unrealistic and over the top. I get that kids are mean, and any humans are more likely to resort to violence when they are afraid and outside their normal social structures, but I don’t think things would have gone so far downhill so fast.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Little Prince
Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is one of those books that makes me feel like I missed the “point.” What is this “moral allegory” you speak of, Goodreads? Still, it’s a sweet story about a little boy who travels the universe and discovers a great many adults acting in ways that make no sense to his innocent mind. Plus, there are great illustrations.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This graphic novel retelling of Snow White is set in the Jazz Age (and you know how much I love a good Jazz Age fairy tale retelling). The artwork is beautiful, noir style, although I don’t know enough about art or illustration style to describe it further. (Sorry, guys!) All I can say is it’s worth checking out Matt Phelan’s work.
Unfortunately, I found the story itself a bit short and generic. I wish we could have explored the events more deeply. Like, what was up with the ticker tape that told the evil stepmother what to do? Clearly it’s replacing the magic mirror, but it barely gets a mention, much less an explanation. I just wish there had been more content to flesh out the characters and the plot. I feel like the author could have done a lot more with the Jazz Age revamping of Snow White, and I was disappointed that he didn’t.
It’s time for another round of quick reviews of my long-ago Newbery reads! Today’s post is all about the 1936 Newbery books.
Medal Winner: Caddie Woodlawn
Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She’d rather hunt than sew and plow than bake, and tries to beat her brother’s dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors — neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don’t understand her at all.
Caddie is brave, and her story is special because it’s based on the life and memories of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is yet another historical fiction book I read while in elementary school. Although I remember enjoying it, I remember almost nothing about the plot. Caddie is a fun character, though, and reading the plot summary has made me want to re-read the book and see how it holds up.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Good Master
As you may remember from my review of The Singing Tree, I really like Kate Seredy’s books. This one (a prequel to The Singing Tree) still has a lot of interesting Hungarian history, but it’s a lot more cheerful, and the kids are much younger and more mischievous. Kate is sent to the Nagy farm by her father, who is at his wits’ end. Kate is selfish, spoiled, and temperamental, but her cousin Jancsi, her aunt and uncle, and life on the farm soon straighten her out. Definitely worth a read, especially if you follow it up with the sequel.
I’m not a big fan of audio books, but my commute to work has nearly doubled since our recent move. Because my favorite podcasts only update once a week, that still leaves me with a lot of driving time to fill. So on the days that I don’t feel like listening to music, I’ve started turning to audio books. I have a huge collection from the SYNC summer audio book program, and I’ve listened to a few of those.
The Perfect Storm
It was the storm of the century – a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it “the perfect storm.”
When it struck in October 1991, there was virtually no warning. “She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong,” radioed Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail from off the coast of Nova Scotia. Soon afterward, the boat and its crew of six disappeared without a trace. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This nonfiction book offers an interesting look at commercial fishing, how hurricanes work, drowning, and true life deaths and rescues from the storm of the century. If you’ve seen the movie The Perfect Storm, you know the central characters from the book, but you’ll be surprised at how much more information is contained here. Although the crew of the Andrea Gail did not survive, there were many other boats in need of rescue, and the stories of these rescue attempts are both harrowing and heartwarming.
“Meteorologist see perfect in strange things, and the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event is one of them. My God, thought Case, this is the perfect storm.”
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Here in Harlem
These fifty-four poems, all in different voices but written by one hand, do sing. They make a joyful noise as the author honors the people-the nurses, students, soldiers, and ministers-of his beloved hometown, Harlem. Worship with Deacon Allen, who loves “a shouting church,” and study with Lois Smith, who wants “a school named after me.” Don’t get taken by Sweet Sam DuPree, who “conned a shark right outta his fin.” And never turn your back on Delia Pierce, who claims she “ain’t the kind to talk behind nobody’s back” while doing precisely that-with panache. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
The audio version of this book of poetry is amazing–there is a different narrator for each character, and there is jazz/blues music and sound effects in the background. The poetry itself is great, too. The collection of poems talks about life in Harlem from the viewpoint of people of all ages and occupations, and Walter Dean Myers’ writing makes each character come alive.
If you decide to read this book, I strongly suggest the audio version. It is just wonderful.
Rating: Re-read Worthy
Courage Has No Color
World War II is raging, and thousands of American soldiers are fighting overseas against the injustices brought on by Hitler. Back on the home front, the injustice of discrimination against African Americans plays out as much on Main Street as in the military. Enlisted black men are segregated from white soldiers and regularly relegated to service duties. At Fort Benning, Georgia, First Sergeant Walter Morris’s men serve as guards at The Parachute School, while the white soldiers prepare to be paratroopers. Morris knows that for his men to be treated like soldiers, they have to train and act like them, but would the military elite and politicians recognize the potential of these men as well as their passion for serving their country?
Tanya Lee Stone examines the role of African Americans in the military through the history of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, who fought in a little-known attack on the American West by the Japanese. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in the words of Morris, “proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I was really interested by this book, as the Triple Nickles are not a group I ever learned much about in school. The stories of racism in America, even as our troops battled one of the most evil regimes in history, are horrible. In particular, I’ll never forget one African American soldier’s description of how much better the German POWs were treated than the black soldiers.
Still, if you can face up to these awful moments (and I think we have the responsibility to do so), you’ll find a lot of good here. Although the writing itself is nothing special, the story is important and interesting.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.