mini-review · stuff I read

Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir by Jill Bialosky

32620373Summary from Goodreads:
From critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and poet Jill Bialosky comes an unconventional coming-of-age memoir organized around the forty-three remarkable poems that gave her insight, courage, compassion, and a sense of connection at pivotal moments in her life.

For Jill Bialosky, certain poems stand out like signposts along her life’s journey. These poems have contributed to her growth as a person, writer, poet, and thinker. Now, take this journey with Bialosky as she introduces you to each of these life-changing poems, recalling when she encountered each one, and how its importance and meaning to her has evolved over time.

Witness Jill turning to poetry in dire moments to restore her faith and cope with loss; there are poems she turns to for inspiration and consolation; poems for when she is angry or disillusioned, or when she wants to see into another person’s soul. While Jill’s personal stories animate each poem, they touch on many universal experiences and life events that all can relate to, from crises of faith to sexual awakening from becoming a parent to growing creatively as a poet and artist.

More than a creative chronicle of one woman’s life, Jill’s book celebrates the unique and enduring value of poetry as a means of conveying personal experience and as a source of comfort and connection.

Poetry Will Save Your Life is a blend of memoir and literary analysis, more on the memoir side. Bialosky illustrates the story of her life – her father’s death when she was small, growing up with her mother (trying desperately to remarry) and sisters, becoming a working woman in the 80s, marriage, losing a sister and her first two children – with the poems that found her over the course of her life. She provides some basic analysis or interpretation of each poem so even those new to reading poetry don’t have to worry. A lovely book about the power and love of words.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy of this book.

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mini-review · stuff I read

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry

33413878Summary from Goodreads:
A fierce memoir of a mother’s murder, a daughter’s coming-of-age in the wake of immense loss, and her mission to know the woman who gave her life.

When Sarah Perry was twelve, she saw a partial eclipse of the sun, an event she took as a sign of good fortune for her and her mother, Crystal. But that brief moment of darkness ultimately foreshadowed a much larger one: two days later, Crystal was murdered in their home in rural Maine, just a few feet from Sarah’s bedroom.

The killer escaped unseen; it would take the police twelve years to find him, time in which Sarah grew into adulthood, struggling with abandonment, police interrogations, and the effort of rebuilding her life when so much had been lost. Through it all she would dream of the eventual trial, a conviction—all her questions finally answered. But after the trial, Sarah’s questions only grew. She wanted to understand her mother’s life, not just her final hours, and so she began a personal investigation, one that drew her back to Maine, taking her deep into the abiding darkness of a small American town.

Told in searing prose, After the Eclipse is a luminous memoir of uncomfortable truth and terrible beauty, an exquisite memorial for a mother stolen from her daughter, and a blazingly successful attempt to cast light on her life once more.

I had the digital galley on my radar, but wasn’t sure I was going to get to it until I heard Liberty absolutely raving about this book. So then I had to read it.

After the Eclipse is an extremely compelling book of memoir and crime writing. Sarah Perry confronts a lot in this book – institutionalized sexism and misogyny, family violence, domestic abuse, gender roles, trauma – and has created a complete work that brings her mother’s life and her own life into parallel and contrasting narratives. At the same time, there is no sensationalism. Although the catalyst for the work was the trial of her mother’s murderer, Perry uses the information she has gathered to better understand the parent she was denied the opportunity of knowing in life. A definite recommend.

Trigger warning for violence against women and descriptions of rape.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

32768516Summary from Goodreads:
A Gen-X librarian’s snarky, laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving collection of love letters and break-up notes to the books in her life.

Librarians spend their lives weeding–not weeds but books! Books that have reached the end of their shelf life, both literally and figuratively. They remove the books that patrons no longer check out. And they put back the books they treasure. Annie Spence, who has a decade of experience as a Midwestern librarian, does this not only at her Michigan library but also at home, for her neighbors, at cocktail parties—everywhere. In Dear Fahrenheit 451, she addresses those books directly. We read her love letters to The Goldfinch and Matilda, as well as her snarky break-ups with Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear John. Her notes to The Virgin Suicides and The Time Traveler’s Wife feel like classics, sure to strike a powerful chord with readers. Through the lens of the books in her life, Annie comments on everything from women’s psychology to gay culture to health to poverty to childhood aspirations. Hilarious, compassionate, and wise, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the consummate book-lover’s birthday present, stocking stuffer, holiday gift, and all-purpose humor book.

Annie Spence has delivered a sweet and tongue-firmly-in-cheek book about books loved and books lost by a book lover (librarian, in this instance). The first half is a series of letters to books the author has loved, reviled, or merrily weeded from the library collection. The second half is a collection of readers’ advisory essays of book suggestion. This is out today and would be good to keep in mind as stocking stuffers for your book-loving giftees (as well as ordinary, every-day book purchasing).

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read · YA all the way

The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin

S30046340ummary from Goodreads:
Danielle effed up. Big time.

Danielle’s plans for the future were all figured out… until she failed senior English and her single college acceptance was rescinded. Determined to get her life back on track, Danielle enrolls in her hometown community college with a plan: pass English and get back into Ohio State—and her mother’s good graces. Romance isn’t on her radar… until she reconnects with her childhood crush and golden boy next door, Luke.

Between family drama, first love and finding her own way, Danielle can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed. Thankfully she has her friendship with the snarky and frustratingly attractive Porter, her coworker at the campus bookstore, to push her to experience new things and help keep her afloat.

One thing’s for sure: This time, failure’s not an option.

The Big F is a really sweet, real contemporary YA romance that isn’t just about the romance (there’s a love-shape, y’all, but it’s not bad) but about learning to take responsibility for yourself. It’s about realizing that people change. It was really nice to read a teen romance where no one was a d-bag or an alpha-hole. I loved Danielle’s best friend Zoe, she’s a hoot. (Could have done without the romance genre bashing, tho.)

Read for the September Teen Book Group at my store – plus we had a signing for Maggie earlier in the month.

Genre disgression: Books like The Big F, Fangirl, and When Dimple Met Rishi hang out in this really unfortunate space where they’re tagged as YA/teen but really push farther out into the adult world because the characters are eighteen-ish or early college-aged. This is where I feel “New Adult,” as a descriptor, got hijacked early on as a tag that’s short for “here’s your romance with extra sex and maybe kink but not real erotica contemporary” when it really could have been used to signal romances or other genre fiction in either the adult or teen markets with characters that are newly out in the adult world and working out a things that happen to people learning to handle themselves. But the cat’s out of the bag and we’ll never get it back. (I’ve tagged this as “New Adult” because I’m a rebel.)

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of Maggie’s book.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm by Dana Simpson (Phoebe and Her Unicorn #6)

34227897Summary from Goodreads:
The first Phoebe and Her Unicorn graphic novel!

Phoebe and Marigold decide to investigate a powerful storm that is wreaking havoc with the electricity in their town. The adults think it’s just winter weather, but Phoebe and Marigold soon discover that all is not what it seems to be, and that the storm may have a magical cause. To solve the case, they team up with Max, who is desperate for the electricity to return so he can play video games, and frenemy Dakota, who is aided by her goblin minions. Together, they must get to the bottom of the mystery and save the town from the magic storm.

First of all, if you haven’t yet been introduced to Phoebe and Her Unicornhighly suggest checking out this webcomic series about a little girl and her unicorn.  Kind of like Calvin and Hobbes, only Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is a real unicorn who cloaks herself in a Shield of Boringness so people don’t freak out when they see her. There are five collections of strips already, where we are introduced to frenemy Dakota (with her sentient hair and goblin posse) and Max (Phoebe’s adorably nerdy school friend) and Phoebe’s hipster-geek parents.

The Magic Storm is the first original graphic novel in the series. A huge snowstorm is coming, one that might knock out power to the town, but Marigold is certain that the storm has a magical cause. She’s down to only 1 bar of magic that she can sense with her horn, so something is using up the magic in the area. Phoebe recruits Dakota with her goblin minions and Max, with his science knowledge, to help her investigate.

THIS BOOK IS INSANELY ADORABLE. It puts a new spin on all those snow days I had as a kid. Also all the nerd jokes. Please to have all the nerd jokes.  Phoebe and her Unicorn is one of the best kids comics going right now (and when I say “kids” I mean “anyone who likes a good pun and nerd humor of all types and ages”). The Magic Storm is out October 17 from Andrews McMeel.

Dear FTC: I read a galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.  And you can bet that I’ll be buying a copy for myself and perhaps for the nieces.

mini-review · stuff I read

Another Fine Mess: Life on Tomorrow’s Moon by Pope Brock

33508569Summary from Goodreads:
Now that we’ve pretty much ruined planet Earth–no big secret–science tells us the human race could be doomed. Well, not all science, but some of it, enough to have sparked a lively interest in setting up someplace else. But where?

The answer is the moon of course, and that’s what this book explores: the many ways in which today’s scientists, entrepreneurs, architects and, yes, a few loonies are working to get colonies established there ASAP. Filled with research, interviews and expert projections, these pages reveal how a web of fantastic new technologies could give mankind a brand new start off-world.

The only worm in the ointment is human nature. It’s the one thing pioneers in this business almost never discuss. Yet it’s of vital concern: given a second chance on the moon, will we use it to create at last a sane and peaceful society? Or will we make a desperate hash of things all over again?

Here’s your doorway to the moon of tomorrow. Pass through and decide for yourself.

Another Fine Mess is a very readable set of essays ruminating on the possibility of colonizing the Moon once humans have finished ruining the Earth. Brock has done a lot of research, rounding up ideas from the logical (launchpoint for Mars missions) to the ludicrous (Las Vegas on the lunar surface). It’s a bit self-congratulatorily clever in places but really worth reading for the sheer breadth of ideas humans have had about the Moon for centuries.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Summary from Goodreads:
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

NEW CELESTE NG! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

When a debut like Everything I Never Told You is THAT GOOD, you worry about the next book.  Will it be good? Same good? Same different? *bites nails*

Fear not, my friends.  Celeste Ng has given us a new novel that follows themes used in EINTY but does not retread the same ground.

Little Fires Everywhere opens with a literal house afire. The Richardsons’ spacious, gracious home in affluent Shaker Heights is burning down, torched by one of the family’s children, although we don’t quite know or understand why yet.  The book then rewinds to the beginning of the school year, when an itinerant artist and her high-school aged daughter arrive in town and rent the Richardsons’ condo. The introduction of Mia and Pearl, with their different ideologies and desires separate from the monoculture of Shaker Heights, break up the Richardsons’ tidy lives, particularly the mother Elena’s routine, WASPY mindset.

The disruption is, perhaps, not for the better. Pearl, having lived her entire life as a child constantly moved from one town to another, witnesses the comfortable lives of the Richardson children, who have never wanted for anything, and is quickly adopted into the children’s clan as friend and girlfriend. The Richardsons’ youngest daughter Izzy attaches herself to Mia, seeing in the artist a model for her own rebellion against Shaker Heights’ expectations. When a local adoption case pitting an affluent white couple against a poor Chinese mother becomes national news, Mia and Elena take opposing sides, prompting Elena to take drastic action and setting in motion events that will lead back to the raging house fire from the opening chapter.

LFL is a house afire (pun intended) of a novel, where EINTY was a slow burn. The Richardsons appear to be a family that functions as a well-oiled unit, just like all the other families behind the placid facades of the houses in Shaker Heights, but the introduction of Mia and Pearl provides the grit that works between the crevices until the family fractures from internal pressure. Ng leaves no characters’ dirty laundry unaired. The children’s abject selfishness in claiming Pearl as “theirs” is fascinating because she’s never truly an intimate, more of a plaything. The color-blind racism of the 90s gets raked over the coals in this book, both through the custody trial that forms the B-plot of the book and how the characters so often pride themselves as being “not racist” when blinded by privilege. There is so much to digest in this book. There is a whole dimension of Mia’s art that is just breathtaking, so thought-provoking and provocative, that I want a museum gallery to come to life so I can look at the images for hours. If the flash-backs were your favorite thing in EINTY, you won’t be disappointed (though I did think that a flashback section in LFL overstayed its welcome at one point, but that’s a pretty minor quibble).

Little Fires Everywhere is out today – an absolute Must Buy or Holiday Wishlist book.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Sip by Brian Allen Carr

33376058Summary from Goodreads:
A lyrical, apocalyptic debut novel about addiction, friendship, and the struggle for survival

It started with a single child, and quickly spread: you could get high by drinking your own shadow. At night, lights were destroyed so that addicts could sip shadow in the pure light of the moon.

Gangs of shadow addicts chased down children on playgrounds, rounded up old ladies from retirement homes. Cities were destroyed and governments fell. And if your shadow was sipped entirely, you became one of them, had to find more shadow, at any cost, or go mad.

150 years later, what’s left of the world is divided between the highly regimented life of those inside dome-cities that are protected from natural light (and natural shadows), and those forced to the dangerous, hardscrabble life in the wilds outside. In rural Texas, Mira, her shadow-addicted friend Murk, and an ex-Domer named Bale, search for a possible mythological cure to the shadow sickness but they must do so, it is said, before the return of Halley’s Comet, which is only days away.

Liberty was telling me about Sip a few months ago and I was lucky enough to get approved for a digital galley. (Technically, Sip published at the end of August, so thank goodness for galleys that don’t expire immediately so I could get it read!)

This book is weird, y’all, and has a very specific audience. If you like your fiction about as weird and gritty and disturbing as it comes, this book is for you. If that is not your jam, I do not recommend. The world of Sip is completely fascinating and horrifying and revolting and kind of awesome (“awesome” as in “A+ story idea” not “I totes would live in this world” because HELL NO). Sip is Christopher Priest’s Inverted World + Hubert Selby’s Requiem for a Dream set in a Cormac McCarthy western. Brutal and bleak, but a really interesting read.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.