Sunday, July 30, 2017

'17-'18 School Books

Hello Again!

I took some unexpected time off from blogging when my kids were at camp and we were on a family vacation. I truly meant to get some posts scheduled, but it just never happened. Anyway. I am back and school is about to begin again in the Painter house. Every year I like to feature the books I'm requiring my kids to read and discuss with me. (They also get plenty of choice books in between these to just read and enjoy.)

With Bit (8th Grade) I'm doing a genre study over the next two years where we will look at classic examples and tropes in several different genres. These will be supplemented by current titles she gets to choose herself.  What we are tackling this year:

Poisoned Apples is part of a larger unit we're doing on Fairy Tales with a focus on feminism. (I have my fingers crossed she will want to read Bone Gap for her novel for this. I want to talk about it with her so much!!!!) And yes, my son will also get this when he's in 8th grade

We are also going to watch the 1996 Romeo and Juliet

LM (4th grade) is studying Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation in history this year so some of his reading list reflects that. Some of it is just to inspire a further love of reading and have fun. 

He's also getting a unit on Fairy Tales that I will be using several different picture book versions of tales for. As part of that we will also read this Tam Lin by Susan Cooper and Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges.

I'm excited about this year and so are the kids. I buy them their own copies of all the books we read and they arrived this week. One week until we start!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Future Favorite Friday (4)

This is a feature I am starting to highlight upcoming books I'm particularly excited about. If you would like to join me, you are welcome. Please just link back to this post in your own. I've included a Mr. Linky at the bottom. Right now I'm only going to do it the 2nd Friday of the month, but I'm open to doing it more often if there is enough interest.

I don't think I need to explain my excitement for this first one. Look at that cover. LOOK AT THAT GIRL ON THE COVER. And if that doesn't convince you, read the synopsis. You should be convinced now. 


(But she doesn’t know it yet.)

On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey… until her parents mysteriously vanish later that day and a rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents’ fantastical stories—like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess—and a wealth of secrets about her origin they've kept hidden.

To complicate matters, two crushworthy Indian princes ring her doorbell, insisting they’re here to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and slay demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld (who may or may not want to kill her) and the rakkhosh queen (who definitely does) in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it…

Release Date: February 14, 2018 from Scholastic Books (Goodreads)

I have to confess: I'm equal parts nervous and excited about this next one. I fervently hope its a favorite. Every time I think about it, I quietly whisper, "Please be good. Be so good." It could go very wrong. I know this. Shakespeare retellings often do. And this is a retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, which is my favorite so....

After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer. Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.

Release Date: September 19, 2017 from Greenwillow Books (Goodreads)

Stephanie Burgis is an auto-buy author for me. I have read and loved all of her books. Even if this weren't written by her, I would want to read it. Look at the beautiful cover! Plus it is Regency England (or Angland in this universe) plus Magic!!! Because it's Stephanie, I know it's going to be good and she's going to get that Regency Magic thing RIGHT. (Because she already has. Read Kat Incorrigible if you haven't yet!)

Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.

Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancĂ©, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.

But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks...and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.

To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.

Release Date: September 5, 2017 from Five Fathoms Press

What upcoming releases do you hope are Future Favorites?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes

When I added Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. Lambert to the TBR, I did so because it looked like fun. Then I started reading it and realized it was far more serious than that. I almost set it aside for the moment because I wasn't really in the mood for serious, but Anabelle's voice compelled me and kept me going, and I'm so glad it did because this is a truly good book.

Annabelle's mother is a hoarder. The family never uses that word, but they live the reality and it's getting worse every day. When a pile of newspapers falls on Annabelle's sister Leslie at breakfast, she confesses to Annabelle that she keeps a file of newspaper clippings about dead bodies found under piles of junk. Their father finds the file and leaves for a school trip after a furious fight with an ultimatum: clean the house out or he's filing for divorce and taking the kids. Leslie, feeling as though it will be her fault if their family breaks up, does the one thing none of them ever do. She calls their grandmother. Grandma Nora shows up to fix things. Grandma Nora is practical and knows how to clean, but her history with her daughter and her ruthless treatment of her mental illness make life in Annabelle's home harder rather than easier. Amidst all this Annabelle is desperate to keep her friend from finding out her family's secret shame. Her summer starts to look like a perfect storm of disaster.

Annabelle's voice was what kept me hooked even though I was not all that sure I wanted to keep reading a book about a parent with such a daunting mental illness and that was impossible for the kids to escape. Lambert nailed Annabelle's voice. It is genuine 12 year old: sassy, confused, desperate, selfish, yearning, full of both anxiety and hope. Lambert made this truly Annabelle's story and not the story of the mother told through her daughter's eyes. This makes it absolutely perfect for its target audience. Any MG reader is going to be able to empathize with Annabelle's many plights even if they don't share her exact experience. This is a story that is all about character and relationships. Annabelle's journey is an important one, and it is formed by her relationships to those around her. As an offshoot of her mother's condition, Annabelle is developing some habits of her own that are not the most healthy. What I really liked about this is that how all the siblings (Annabelle has an older brother too) deal with their mother's hoarding in different way,s and they all exhibit signs of developing their own neurosis as a result. What I loved about this is how all three of them come to realize that, even if they don't put it in those terms, and the bond between the three of them is strengthened and grows. I love good sibling stories and this is an excellent one. The dynamics between the three are realistic. They have squabbles and petty arguments, but they deeply love and care for each other too.

There is an intergenerational aspect Lambert handles with a deft touch too. Annabelle is desperate not to become her mother. Grandma Nora and the mom have a fraught relationship that is plagued by years of resentments and wrongs. Annabelle is an age where she can begin to kind of understand that. The adults share some things with her that gives her a little more insight. Annabelle begins to see how broken everyone around her is and that perfection is unattainable. It is done incredibly well and in a way that a 12 year old would process and understand. Watching her mother and grandmother, Annabelle learns a lot about the damage you can do to the people you love the most. Annabelle's dad, who is MIA for the majority of the novel causing his kids no end of stress and hurt, adds another rich layer to this. Even though he is not there, he is felt in his absence. The resolution of this was nicely done and I particularly appreciated the interactions between Anabelle's dad and her older brother.

The final relational aspect of the story is in Annabelle's relationships with her friends and the boy she has a crush on. Annabelle has a list of rules that she follows to make sure NO ONE finds out about her home life. She doesn't want everyone at school to know. There is a scene where all of her friends are complaining about her parents where she observes that she and one other girl never join in the complaining. Because it is the kids who truly have something to complain about who stay silent. She wonders what the other girl is hiding. I loved this moment of insight from her, especially as it is surrounded by moments where she is thinking only of herself. It is so perfectly middle schooler. The dramas and situations that arise with Annabelle's friends through the story are also realistic and resolved in a way that is both satisfying and believable.

I think this is a wonderful book for any upper elementary or middle school library to include in its collection. It will appeal to the multitude of readers who like realistic fiction. It excels in having a specific subject matter but being a universal story.

Monday, July 10, 2017

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky

You know how when you read a book that opens your eyes to something you  never knew about, it can come to mean the world to you almost instantly? When it rips your heart open and makes you love the characters, it has even more impact. This is exactly what An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder is for me.

Francisco is a busy teenager in 1999 Bolivia. He is balancing school with his friends and plans for his future. Plans that do not involve University no matter how many lectures his father gives. And the fights he gets in regularly? What is he supposed do when his darker skin and indigenous heritage cause him to be a constant target for many. All Fransisco's plans for his future and his carefree present are torn from his grasp when his father is arrested and placed in prison under a drug law that allows Bolivian police to circumvent his constitutional rights. Though innocent, the family can not afford a lawyer. Now Fransisco and his sister, Pilar, are forced to live in the prison with their father, though they can escape daily for school. But Fransisco's time there is limited. As soon as he turns 18, he has to leave. Leave his father, who he sees losing a bit of his poet's heart every day. His sister further complicates matters as she is only 8. Fransisco knows he can't leave her in a men's prison, but returning to the rural peasant home of his father's parents seems like the worst possible scenario. As the weeks pass, Fransisco must come to terms with his new reality and figure out a way into the future for himself and his family.

Crowder has a talent for writing complicated, realistic characters who find their way into your heart and take over. Fransisco may be my favorite of her creations to date. He is so surly and full of so much anger, resentment, and frustration. While he's very sympathetic because he's living  in a racist, unjust world that is taking everything from him, he also has weaknesses and makes mistakes that are hard on more than just him. He is such a real person and I just wanted to wrap him in hugs and hunt down his mother (who abandons her children in the prison because she can't handle it) and smack her down.  Even as his life is crashing down and he realizes the prison is his family's new reality, he stubbornly (and a bit selfishly) clings to his plans and how this is affecting him alone. It is so very much a realistic teen reaction. When his careless thoughtlessness puts his younger sister in a horrifying situation, Fransisco begins to wake up to the reality of exactly what his family is facing. He begins a journey then that is equal parts beautiful and heart-breaking to become the man his father has always seen in him. He begins to forge a new plan for his future, one that will not be the ticket to easy street he thought he would have. But he's willing to work so much harder now.

There are several secondary characters in the novel, all important in how they relate to Fransisco and his journey. The relationship between Fransisco and his sister, Pilar, is the most fleshed out. His mistake causes her so much trauma, and yet she clings to him for protection, and he gives it willingly after that first horrible selfish moment. The majority of Fransisco's focus for most of the book is keeping Pilar safe and figuring out how to make it so she stays that way. At first his plans for this are naive and grounded in his desire to have things his way, but he eventually begins to see how much sacrifice he's going to have to make to keep all his family safe. In the prison is another student in Fransisco's year at school named Soledad. Soledad has lived in the prison a long time and the affect of being a teen girl in a men's prison comes out in how she behaves toward the world. After a while, she lets Fransisco and Pilar into her life, and the three protect each other and become their own little family unit. It's a beautiful and heart wrenching relationship. I love all three of these kids so much. I adored and shed many tears for Fransisco's father too. This man who is a poet and had so many dreams for himself and his children but saw them all ripped to pieces by a racist law, an unjust system, and a corrupt government.

I took a class on South American history in college and never learned about this law and what it did to families. Probably because it was too recent and we didn't make it to the 1980s and beyond. I know my particular professor would not have glossed over it, because he was not one for cutting the US slack for the havoc it frequently wreaks south of its border. Fransisco's father is caught by a law passed to appease America during the "war on drugs". Bolivia had a quota it had to meet to prove to the US it was doing something to curtail cocaine manufacturing. They passed this law that circumvented a citizens constitutional rights and allowed them to hold people without evidence or trial on drug charges. It was pretty much exclusively used to lock up poor, indigenous people. In Bolivia, if a poor family could not live outside the prison without the father's income, the entire family moved into the prison with him. Yeah. Horrifying. Crowder doesn't pull any punches about exactly how horrifying, especially for the girls. She does this without being graphic and with a wide lens pulled way back, but it is impossible to misinterpret what the reality is. In the Author's Note she explains how she learned about this through work she did in Bolivia at the time as a college student. She does an excellent job showing the human cost that politicians so often overlook in their bid to create empires and further agendas.

This book is as real as it gets and is an excellent work of historical fiction. In that, Crowder has developed themes of family, community, and art, and how they can be found even in the harshest, darkest of places. She also shows how hope is an integral part of all that. For all its hard truths, this is a book full of beauty, heart, and hope.

Everyone should read it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Shorter Musings (YA)

Shorter musings on some recent YA reads.

Hunted by Meagan Spooner
Meagan Spooner is definitely a talented wordsmith, but this just wasn't a right fit for me. I love "Beauty and the Beast". It is my favorite fairy tale. But what I get from the tale and what Spooner gets from it are clearly very different. The entire time I felt like I was reading about the two most selfish beings that ever breathed air, which made me less than hopeful that things would work out for them in the future. I love "Beauty and the Beast" because of the hope, redemption, and love. I just couldn't find any of that here. Spooner has an excellent writing talent, that is evident in how she constructed the story and managed to keep me reading to the end despite my growing misgivings over where it was all headed.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maureen Goo
This is pretty adorable. I don't know anything about K-dramas, but I know a lot of teens who do and will be so excited this book exists. Desi is a lot to take as a main character, which is not at all a bad thing. Her presence is just very much felt. She is like a teenage Leslie Knope. Desi comes up with an elaborate plan to find love her senior year of high school, and she is going to follow the plan. Some of the stuff she does is hard to swallow and a bit cringe inducing. I don't deal well with second-hand embarrassment so some parts were hard for me. But overall this is cute, fun, and a perfect read for teens who enjoy romance.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
This was rather disappointing after how much I loved Crowley's previous two novels (which was a lot). It is technically as well written with the same dreamy quality to the prose and yet hard core of reality woven through it. However, I could not get past my desire to strangle Henry for being a spineless jellyfish. For the life of me I can't figure out why all the other characters think he's so great. He comes around at the end, but it was an ending I just couldn't buy based on everything that came before it. I'm so sad because I was really looking forward to this. The three stars are because I really did love Rachel (you deserve better, Rachel!), George, and Martin.

You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
This is a book about art, friendship, communication, and fighting for your place in the world. Julia is expelled from her school for the deaf for painting graffiti over a slur directed at her best friend that was painted on the school's wall. Now in a public school with an interpreter she doesn't want, Julia is just trying to survive the year and figure out how to continue her illegal art activities when her two moms are watching her like hawks. Julia is an incredibly angry main character and the author makes the reader feel that anger, while at the same time showing Julia's faults. This is a fine balance in a first person narrative and I really appreciated it. All of the supporting characters in the book are well done too. I enjoyed reading this and would recommend it to those who enjoy realistic YA.