Hi guys, apologies for the lack of posts recently…I’ve been sick, so I’ve been reading, but maybe not as much as I hoped. Anyway, I hope your summer has been great so far! I’ve been reading some pretty solid books recently, from middle grade to YA to women’s fiction, so check out these reviews and let me know if anything sparks your interest!
Middle GradeThe Distance to Home
For fans of Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Rita Williams-Garcia, Jenn Bishop’s heartwarming debut is a celebration of sisterhood and summertime, and of finding the courage to get back in the game. Last summer, Quinnen was the star pitcher of her baseball team, the Panthers. They were headed for the championship, and her loudest supporter at every game was her best friend and older sister, Haley. This summer, everything is different. Haley’s death, at the end of last summer, has left Quinnen and her parents reeling. Without Haley in the stands, Quinnen doesn’t want to play baseball. It seems like nothing can fill the Haley-sized hole in her world. The one glimmer of happiness comes from the Bandits, the local minor-league baseball team. For the first time, Quinnen and her family are hosting one of the players for the season. Without Haley, Quinnen’s not sure it will be any fun, but soon she befriends a few players. With their help, can she make peace with the past and return to the pitcher’s mound?
"Recommend this poignant novel to fans of Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin."--School Library Journal
"A piercing first novel...Bishop insightfully examines the tested relationships among grieving family members and friends in a story of resilience, forgiveness, and hope."--Publishers Weekly
"With appeal to both sports- and drama-minded girls, this will make a good book club selection and pass-it-among-your-friends read."--The Bulletin
"The life-and-death themes are thought-provoking, but readers may love the book even more for its many digressions."--Kirkus
From the Hardcover edition.
Wonderful. Quinnen’s story is a classic one of loss, loved ones, and moving on, but it’s done in such a smooth, effortless way that it never feels cliche. I loved the uniqueness of the homestays and the friendships that Quinnen makes with the minor league baseball players. I also loved how true all of the characters were to their roles in this story – from Casey, Quinnen’s best friend, to her parents to Haley. Normally, I’m opposed to books where the main character knows more than the reader and the “suspense” of the book is finding out what she knows, but the “this summer vs. last summer” thing really worked for this story. Overall, I’d consider this really, really good middle-grade fiction, the kind that has a pitch-perfect (haha!) voice that never feels too young or too old. A great addition to any 4th-6th grade bookshelf, and a clean, enjoyable read for parents/teachers/librarians looking for a good summer book for kids.Towers Falling
From award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes, a powerful novel set fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks.
When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can't help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means,and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?
Award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a powerful story about young people who weren't alive to witness this defining moment in history, but begin to realize how much it colors their every day.
This book is a teacher’s gem. With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 coming up, Jewell Parker Rhodes has created a book about friendship and diversity in the midst of understanding history – both recent and very very far in the past.
Prickly Deja is a fifth grader who has recently moved to a community home because of poverty. Her father can’t hold a job, and her mother, though she works hard, can’t make enough to keep the family in their own home. Deja is naturally a bit defensive so when she starts at a new school, she suspicious of new friends Ben (a new student as well) and Sabeen. However, it’s through school that they all learn about two towers that fell in New York before they were born and how history and family can shape them.
If I had read this book as a middle grader now, I think I would have loved it. As an adult, I am deeply impressed with what Jewell Parker Rhodes has done – created, through her narrative, a way to teach what happened on September 11, 2001 to young students who were born after the terrible tragedy of that day. It’s a way of seeing and making sense of tragedy, but also understanding heroism and community and diversity.
I liked the simplicity of the narrative, and the complexity of Deja, Ben and Sabeen – they always felt like real kids to me. I also appreciated how smart and thoughtful they were in learning about something so nebulous as family and community.
If I have a qualm, it’s that as a Canadian, I don’t necessarily share the belief in America as the greatest nation in the world. While the book never explicitly says that, it is staunchly patriotic – and in a way that occasionally made me feel a bit uncomfortable. That said, I think if this book were taught in American schools, it would be well received, and it would certainly provide even more fodder for a Canadian classroom discussion.
Overall, a book that portrays the aftermath of 9/11 in a way that will make you think, no matter what age you are.
Young AdultAmerican Girls
Author: Alison Umminger
Publication date: June 7th 2016
Source: ARC from Raincoast Books (thank you!)
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible
She was looking for a place to land.
Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she's had it with her life at home. So Anna "borrows" her stepmom's credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn't quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.
As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn't the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.
In Anna's singular voice, we glimpse not only a picture of life on the B-list in LA, but also a clear-eyed reflection on being young, vulnerable, lost, and female in America—in short, on the B-list of life. Alison Umminger writes about girls, sex, violence, and which people society deems worthy of caring about, which ones it doesn't, in a way not often seen in YA fiction.
A strange and wonderfully written book that doesn’t really feel like a YA, but more like an adult book with YA characters (if that exists). American Girls is heavy on theme, low on plot, and uniquely fascinating, tying together the Manson girls, a coming of age story, the seediness and glamour of LA, and a family story. I’m a little floored by this book, and if I hadn’t been in a huge reading slump while reading it, this may well have been a 4.5 to 5 star book. It’s that different and special. Despite my slump, though, Anna’s story of running away for a summer in LA with her actress sister and the strange characters she encounters is tightly told and full of anecdotes and ideas that would be good for anyone 15 or older. I’m not sure I Would recommend this to a younger or less mature teen since the ideas are definitely complex. I appreciated the emphasis on the family dynamics, the very slow-burn romance, and the weirdness of spending time on TV and movie sets and watching artistic processes. I also appreciated that Anna was both incredibly smart and incredibly flawed. A really unusual debut, but one that will stick with me.
Women’s FictionNine Women, One Dress
A charming, hilarious, irresistible romp of a novel that brings together nine unrelated women, each touched by the same little black dress that weaves through their lives, bringing a little magic with it.
Natalie is a Bloomingdale's salesgirl mooning over her lawyer ex-boyfriend who's engaged to someone else after just two months. Felicia has been quietly in love with her boss for seventeen years and has one night to finally make the feeling mutual. Andie is a private detective who specializes in gathering evidence on cheating husbands—a skill she unfortunately learned from her own life—and lands a case that may restore her faith in true love. For these three women, as well as half a dozen others in sparkling supporting roles—a young model fresh from rural Alabama, a diva Hollywood star making her Broadway debut, an overachieving, unemployed Brown grad who starts faking a fabulous life on social media, to name just a few—everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season, the perfect little black number everyone wants to get their hands on . . .
From the Hardcover edition.
A sweet look at the lives of several New Yorkers and one very special dress, this is a rom-com for people who like their romance in small, layered bites. Definitely inspired by Nora Ephron, Nine Women, One Dress is unabashedly a tribute to New York as well as to love and fashion. The book alternates through multiple narratives, each a little epistle of a life that is shaped or changed by the dress of the season, and centered around the themes of love and making a woman feel confident, beautiful, and able to change her life for the better.
There isn’t too much to differentiate between the various voices, but the writing is crisp and clean. I especially enjoyed the stories around Natalie, the Bloomingdale’s salesgirl, and Jeremy, the movie star, as well as that of Arthur Winters and his assistant Felicia. While there isn’t anything particularly new that Nine Women, One Dress adds to contemporary women’s fiction, it’s the kind of fluff that’s perfect for a beach or even better – a city vacation. A book that makes you feel good all the way through.
Have you read any of these recent June or July 2016 releases? Which were your favourites? If not, which ones are now on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!