Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard

Once I started Lucky Strikes, I could not lay it down. The hiccups created by the author, intentional, funny, and totally engaging and sometimes surprising, all caught me like a fish on a hook. I hardly know how to describe the book, but suffice it to say that it was unlike most books I have read in the last few years. The storyline was entirely unique—seriously: have you read a story where when someone needs a father they snag a “hobo” who just fell out of a racing car onto the side of the road---or was he pushed? Nonetheless, instant father for a family much in need. What about a 11-year-old female protagonist who makes mistakes, tries to keep her sister and brother with her after their mother dies, and can fix virtually any car or truck? There are tons of truckers and odd sorts who are totally committed to the three kids and Brenda’s Oasis, the solitary gas station amidst a whole heap of service stations that one rich, owns-a-ton-of-service-stations bully that serves as keen backdrop and fabulous center of the story. Lucky Strikes is great fun, a perfect summer read with lemonade or on a rare rainy day during the month of July. Happy reading for certain!!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fifteen Lanes by S.J. Laidlaw

Whoa. This book is a must read. Must read. Laidlaw takes her experiences living in Mumbai, working with sex trade workers and their very-likely-to-be-in-the-industry-too children, and infuses it into the stories in the text. The boundary between truth and realistic fiction is likely more blurred than I know.

Author Mindy McGinnes interviewed S.J.Laidlaw earlier this year on McGinnes and posted that interview on her blog Writer, Writers, Pants on Fire. One quote from that interview seems so succinct I include it here:  I decided to write a story that shows how suffering and sexual violence cut across class and culture. It's told in the voices of two girls. Noor is the daughter of a sex worker. She and her younger siblings live in a brothel in Kamathipura. Grace is the daughter of an international banker who has lived the nomadic life of a Third Culture Kid. While Grace is from a wealthy and privileged background, both girls experience adversity in different ways.

To extend that a bit, 14-year-old Noor sleeps under her mother's bed. She knows that men come into the room, a room shared with other women who work in the brothel. She cares for her brother and sister most of the time, trying to stay out of the way of the bullying owner and sort-of manager. 15-year-old Grace meets Noor with great resistance but ends up finding a surprising friend whom she wants to trust. But trust for both girls is fleeting, as we can imagine. By the time you realize what is happening, you will be so roped in the storyline, know that you will not put the book down until you are finished.

This is a challenging read. The way women are treated in India for one (no, I will not derail my thoughts to how women are treated on other land masses on our planet) is abysmal. Laidlaw does not skirt the issue here; rather she flat-out leans into the Indian sex trade, exposing one girls' potential experience in a true-to-life fashion I have not often read about. Kudos to her shining light on that awful way of living and being controlled. Kudos more for writing this book. One of my favorite of the year so far....

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Blood Between Us by Zac Brewer

I have been in a little of a reading slump, not getting  hooked by what I had around. Brewer's new book The Blood Between Us changed that for me. Brewer wrote the Vladamir Tod series among others, so he is not new to the YA writing world.

A couple of angry teenagers(well actually a whole bunch), school issues, dying family members, and money all play a role in this well-written tale. I totally believe this whole scenario could happen- or has it already? I have no idea, I just know Brewer is an awesome writer, developing his characters solidly and crafts the scenes realistically, swooping his readers into a plot that keeps you holding on until the very last page. I found myself really studying characters, trying to figure out who done (or was doing) it and causing all sorts of grief. I was wrong most of the time.

If you are looking for a solid summer read, a little mystery in that warm sunny day, find this one. Let me know what you think!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

Ahhh, The Skunk. A lovely little picture book about a man and a skunk. Simple you say? Ha, not a chance! My second graders were pin-drop silent listening to this gem.

The tale of a man being stalked by a skunk becomes a skunk being stalked by a man. This twisty tale offers a curious storyline---who in the world ever felt like they could might maybe even consider following a skunk???? The illustrations are phenomenal and the writing engages from the start.

I particularly enjoyed how the story and pictures intertwined. A beautiful and fun read! 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

THIS IS the STORY OF You by Beth Keppart

Living out away from the hustle and bustle, Mira leads a lovely teen life. She gets to move around the island with freedom, she knows who her friends are, and she has grown up with a community of engaging and important characters around her. No one could predict how a superstorm would change island life, living, and community, least of all unassuming Mira.

Kephart is a gifted writer, and this story of survival, searching, and standing true within oneself is a perfect example of a coming-of-age story. The soul searching, trust growing, and risk taking involved in This is the Story of You holds relentlessly onto the power of possibilities, especially when one least expects it. I loved this story, and my mind created many images of what each day and night brought. Props to Beth Kephart, for dreaming up the story and writing it in a way that I found powerful and important. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

Just finished this gem and loved it! I kept stealing away to silent places to read. I couldn't put it down, and I totally wanted to know what Perry had up his sleeve next. And boy, that is one big, curious sleeve!

Leslie Connor crafted a winner in All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook. Living in a room near his mother's in a correctional facility, Perry helps the "residents" wake each  morning, meanders around the prison with caution and permission, and helps out when he can. He is a friend to all, and the inmates treasure it. His mother is a resident there, and the warden welcomed Perry's arrival without a worry of the unusual living experiences in a prison. Set in the fall, the story opens with Perry heading off to a new school year, camera for taking pictures to show his incarcerated mother Jessica in tow. Lucky for him, he has his best friend in class with him. Sort of. Best friend Zoey is a keeper for sure, especially for a kid who gets bullied because his mother is a prisoner. But Zoey's stepdad is the DA for the county, and when he gets wind of a kid living in a prison, he brings all of his lawyer power into play. Taking Perry out of prison living is one thing, but he delays Jessica's parole hearing indefinitely, turning all plans for Perry and Jessica to live on the "outside" upside down. With all sorts of helpers in many places, Perry interviews inmates for a school project, uncorking more surprises. As he gathers data and evidence, Perry succeeds in proving that the DA is not as supportive as he says he is. But will he get a chance to show others how off-target VanLeer is?

A great read, Leslie Connor has a new fan in me! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank's Window by Jeff Gettesfeld

This new perspective on Anne Frank caught me by surprise. I find myself returning to it repeatedly, putting new pieces together, understanding new details, noticing reasons for shading and words and message throughout the picture book.

Outside of Anne Frank's window in that courtyard for the first part of her life grew a giant chestnut tree. The story chronicles what Anne saw and lived by witnessing that tree, and then after the Gestapo came, her time in the attic, hidden away from the world but seeing that tree and its branches through the seasons. Anne wrote her diary looking at that tree, and several factual details are included in this story.

With illustrations by Peter McCarty, the story wraps its lovely story around the reader like a blanket. This book reminded me of Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War: tragic but oh so important. Powerful. The Tree in the Courtyard.