Vlog Review: Show Me a Sign

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The Best Thing about this Book is the sign language communication.

Premise: An early American living in 1805 on Martha’s Vineyard, Mary lives among many people who, like her, are deaf. Her mom is hearing, but her dad is not. Life has gotten more difficult since her brother’s death, which Mary feels responsible for, earlier in the year. So when a young scientist arrives and looks a lot like her brother, Mary is unsure of how to react to him, especially when he behaves rudely to the deaf people on the island. But he needs a “live specimen” to prove his theories about deafness on the island. Could Mary be just who he’s looking for?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-9 grade

Title: Although Mary does not use modern-day ASL, show me a sign most obviously refers to sign-based communication. However, the modern idiom comes into play as well in a number of ways for you, the reader, to interpret.

Main Character(s): Mary, 11 y.o. (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief, communication, deafness, isolation, community, otherness, native peoples, kidnapping, OWN voices

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a page-turner (but can wait a good chunk to get to the page-turning part) or who love historical fiction.

Great for…* (teachers): exploring different languages and cultures. Some languages and cultures shown in this book include those on Martha’s Vineyard, the mainland (Boston, namely), and the Wampanoag people.

Parental Warning(s): SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!! DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW. Mary is kidnapped and held against her will, at times as a slave and at times as a medical specimen.

Interact: This book has won so many awards, it’s hard to pick just one thing to ask about, so I’ll leave it to you. What’s your favorite thing about this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Violets Are Blue

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The Best Thing about this Book is either the mystery of the mother or the role of Wicked (the musical, yes). As is often the case with Barbara Dee novels, I love that this book is about normal, run-of-the-mill characters.

Premise: Wren used to be called Renata, but that name just doesn’t feel right anymore. Not since her parents got divorced, her dad got remarried, his new wife is pregnant, and Wren and her mother moved towns after some less-than-successful relationships. But when not much changes in the new town, Mom is acting strange, and Wren spends all her free time watching and practicing online make-up tutorials, something has to change. Will Wren be able to create successful relationships that celebrate her uniqueness? And what in the world is going on with Mom?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: Before picking up this book, I assumed Violet was the protagonist’s name. Then, when it wasn’t, someone else important in the book. I was wrong. There is no character called Violet in this book, but names are important in it, so the choice of the title from an otherwise blip of a moment requires the reader to take a closer look at the moment it appears and its meaning. I won’t get into it too much so you can discover it for yourself, but they are talking about flowers when the line appears in the book. At least, on a literal level.

Main Character(s): Wren, 12 y.o. (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, secrets, starting over, divorce, make-up, weirdness, other, theater, mother daughter relationship, substance abuse, blended family

Great for…* (readers): who feel as though they don’t belong.

Great for…* (teachers): analyzing symbolic actions, especially Wren’s love of make-up and where she stores the make-up her step-mother sends her as well as her mother’s sudden need to lock doors.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: If you could learn how to do the makeup for any character (book, film, comic, theater, etc.), which would you choose and why?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!

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The Best Thing about this Book is the format. It’s epistolary.

Premise: Vivy loves baseball, but she’s not allowed to play. Not only because she is a girl but because she is a girl with Autism and her mom thinks it just might be too much for Vivy to handle. But when a local coach sees her pitching at the park with her brother, he offers her a spot and, somehow, Vivy gets her mom to permit her. Only, that’s just the start of her problems.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: “Get a grip” is a play on the main pastime of the book: baseball. Vivy pitches. She identifies herself as a knuckle-baller, a rarity in the sport. However, the title may take on the idiomatic meaning as well.

Main Character(s): Vivy, 11 y.o. with autism (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): autism, other, sports, bullying, professional sports, family, sexuality, independence, choice, control

Great for…* (readers): who love baseball or knuckleballs or pitching.

Great for…* (teachers): exploring structure. The book is written as a series of letters.

Parental Warning(s): None. I mean, it is a Schneider Family Book Award Honor recipient for 2020.

Interact: This is a rare book where I may not be the target audience. I want to hear from those of you who are baseball fans (which I am not). What did YOU think of this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: You Go First

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Premise: One school week in the lives of online Scrabble friends Charlotte and Ben are eventful. Charlotte’s begins with being called out of class with the news that her dad is in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Meanwhile, Ben’s parents announce their divorce. Though the two kids do not attend the same school (they don’t even live in the same state), they both have to learn what friendship means in the midst of the most difficult challenges of their lives.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 3-7 grade

Title:  The statement, “You go first” is repeated several times throughout the novel and has to do with taking risks and being vulnerable in relationships and other settings.

Main Character(s): 6th graders Charlotte (she/her) and Ben (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, isolation, change, trauma, bullying, scrabble, board games, nerds, social group, empathy, public speaking, student council, regret

Great for…* (readers): who are experiencing the shifting sands of friendships during tweenagerdom or isolated socially.

Great for…* (teachers): structure! This is essentially two novels that parallel one another than then intersect. There’s not much in here that requires guidance for young readers, so it could be a great Lit Circle or independent reading book.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: What’s your favorite board game (or online game played by more than one person)?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Pippa Park Raises her Game

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Premise: Pippa Park loves basketball and her friends, but her family wants her to excel in school. When Pippa’s skills earn her a place at an elite, private school, her family jumps at the chance to send her as a scholarship student. The kids at Pippa’s new school are all wealthy, and Pippa’s family is working class. She’s reminded she does not belong even by the food she brings to lunch (Korean delights). So Pippa plans to make a new version of herself, one that will impress the private school kids and hide where she comes from. But how long can she fake a front?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-7

Title:  Of course there’s a basketball assumption here, but Pippa’s basketball skills have very little to do with the plot. They get her into the school, but that’s about it. Raising her game has more to do with her sense of acceptance for who she is — and possibly her math grades.

Main Character(s): Pippa, 7th-grader (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): acceptance, belonging, authenticity, friendship, cliques, passions, family, social status, economic status, sacrifice, bullying, Korean culture

Great for…* (readers): who are drawn into the drama of being popular or just struggling to accept themselves in middle school. (The fact that the cool kids are called the Royals rings very Mean Girls to me.) The basketball could be used to draw a non-reader athlete in as it does start the book, but the sports won’t hold their attention as they fade into the background pretty quickly.

Great for…* (teachers): Lit Circles — I wouldn’t recommend this as a core novel, but as free reading and even guided reading groups absolutely. The publisher specializes in scaffolding such things with resources.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: Food plays a repetitive role in Pippa’s narrative. Pick a question: (a) which food from the book do you want to eat? (b) what’s your favorite thing to eat? (c) Why is the significance of food, and specifically Korean foods, in this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily

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Premise: Lily has ADHD and failing grades. No matter what she tries, she can’t seem to stay in class, do her homework, quiet the monster inside her, or not break things. When she breaks something on campus, she comes across Abelard, a young man with autism whom she’s known at least since she was seven. The two feel broken until Lily’s impulsiveness (ADHD) propel her to kiss Abelard and the two start dating. But can they stay together or they fated to failure, like the real-life people Abelard and Heloise alluded to in the book’s title?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 9th-12th grade

Title:  Allusion: Abelard was a 12th century French philosopher who exchanged love letters with Heloise, a woman of esteemed intelligence but little purpose. Their letters are recorded in The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise. (The general narrative is provided in the text of The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily.)

Main Character(s): Lily, 16 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): neurodivergence, adhd, autism, dyslexia, drug therapy, experimental procedures, family conflict, fate, college, intelligence, hope, comparison to others, literature, film, drama, broken families, romance

Great for…* (readers): strong readers who don’t shy away from SAT words or allusions and quotes to/from medieval literature. (a similar plot structure and work with allusions as Once Upon a Quinceañera which might be better for less confident readers)

Great for…* (teachers): ALLUSIONS AND VOCABULARY! Hello, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, stacks of medieval literature, and old Hollywood films. So fun.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: I loved the spelling of words when Lily’s not paying attention to what’s said around her (“Your mother will have to sign the kerblig and return it to the main office before you can be burn to clabs…”). How would you describe what you hear when you’re only half-paying attention?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Right as Rain

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Premise: It’s been 278 days since Rain’s brother Guthrie died, and Rain and her parents are moving 288 miles to have a fresh start (even if her mom is the only one who wants one). What happened that night is a big who knows to everyone except for Rain, but that secret means Guthrie’s death is her fault. With her secret and very few other items packed, Rain moves to NYC to process through the loss of her brother and the degradation of her parents’ marriage while she tries to fit into a new environment where she’s off on the wrong foot. (Check out the motifs section, there’s a ton of issues brought up by this book — and all well done.)

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: The title’s meaning remains open to numerous interpretations — so it’s a great discussion point post-read. I’ll wait for you to tell me your interpretation before I divulge mine.

Main Character(s): Rain Andrews, 11 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief/loss, depression, friendship, moving, change, divorce/separation, gardening, teamwork, community, homelessness, gentrification, otherness/belonging, poetry

Great for…* (readers): who have friends experiencing grief. As a mother of kids with nuclear family member loss, I want to give this book to all their friends so that they get an inside perspective of what it’s like. Also good for kids who feel alone, different, isolated, or are experiencing change.

Great for…* (teachers): This book is rife with figurative language and symbolism. It even weaves poetry in (as a school assignment), so it’s kind of asking for work on that front. Many allusions to The One and Only Ivan make for a great pairing if Ivan comes first.

Parental Warning(s): For children who have experienced death of a nuclear family member, this book could stir up difficult emotions.

Interact: Rain runs to wipe her thoughts away and empty her brain. What works for you?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Turtle Boy

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Premise: 12 y/o Will Levine just wants to be left alone with his four turtles. He doesn’t want to be called Turtle Boy by the kids at school. He doesn’t want to have surgery on his jaw. He doesn’t want new friends and he doesn’t want his one friendship to change. When Will must complete community service hours in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, though, his world begins to shift. Will hates hospitals but is assigned to visit a terminally ill teenager with a bucket list he needs help completing. Can a boy who prefers a habitat inside his shell venture beyond it without destroying himself in the process?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-9

Title: The title has multiple meanings. The kids at school taunt Will with the name “Turtle Boy” because of the way he looks, but he is also interested in turtles. However, the significance of the title really rests in Will’s propensity to shelter himself from discomfort — like a turtle in a shell.

Main Character(s): Will Levine, 12 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief/death, friendship, terminal disease, bar/bat mitzvah, change, music/drum therapy, turtles/pets, nature, single mom

Great for…* (readers): who are shy, bullied, anxious, or frightened. Many male characters make this a good read for boys while still being appealing to girls, too.

Great for…* (teachers): There’s a bucket list project, a community service project, and a cross-curriculum science/nature project waiting to happen with this book. Plenty to explore there, but the literary merit is mainly in character development, round/flat, dynamic/static, etc.

Parental Warning(s): For children who have experienced death of a parent/friend, this book could bring up memories.

Interact: Will’s favorite animal is, of course, the turtle. He does have a room full of terrariums and turtles, after all. Will says they are not pets, but, for the sake of this activity, let’s talk pets. What kind of pet did/do you want as a kid? Why? And did you ever get it?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Running Dream

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Premise: Jessica was in an accident that left her in the hospital, recovering as an amputee. She’s a runner without a leg, and she must learn what that means for her present and her future, her family and her friends, her schoolwork and her social life.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Main Character: 16 y/o Jessica (she/her)

Title: Jessica has a reoccurring dream about running with her dog early in the morning, something she did regularly before the accident. The dream is both literal, in that when she sleeps she experiences it, and figurative, as her greatest desire is to be able to run again. The latter dream is the arc of the narrative (and then some….read it to find out what I mean, no spoilers here).

Motifs (not exhaustive): hope, determination, loss, injury/setback, community, disabilities, running, freedom, perspective, healthcare, teamwork, charitable causes, friendship, giving

Great for…* (readers): athletes, students with disabilities (or seeking to empathize with people with disabilities), anyone facing a challenge, the community-minded (leaders)

Great for…* (teachers): growth mindset practice, symbolism, structure, community project

Parental Warnings: none — clean content

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Book Review: The Marriage Code

I am not a foodie. I recall the expression “Eat to live don’t live to eat” being used in our house from time to time. So, if I don’t do the food elements justice in The Marriage Code by Brooke Burroughs, I both ask your forgiveness and plead ignorance.

Burroughs’s realistic fiction, multicultural romance (tending toward romantic comedy) centers on two characters: Emma and Rishi. Their meet-cute is not so cute. They strongly dislike each other — dare I say distaste for each other? — and there may or may not be (there is) some theft of office treats between the two of them. Their work brings them together in Seattle then sends them off to Bangalore for a year to work on an app. Both seek the same team lead position and when only one gets the job, the other is bitter.

At least for a time.

Like a film (which this could be), it’s clear from the onset that the two will end up together despite the external conflicts of work and culture. Through the third person limited narration, each character shows himself/herself struggling with feelings and thoughts for the other. Sometimes that struggle requires no interpretation as it’s stated outright. Other times, well, let’s just say the word choice is…..suggestive. 

Actually, let’s say more. There were several points early on in the book where I began to get nervous. I wondered if the book was on a trajectory into eroticism. The diction seemed to suggest it was imminent. Thankfully, it did not. Oh, there is sex. But, given the word choice in the build-up, there was shockingly little sex shown. (Yes, I just said “shockingly little sex shown”. Cherish it. The language is more about the tease and the build-up than the act itself.)

However, Burroughs does not hold back on food scenes. Rishi comes to call Emma “Indian food’s number one fan” as they journey through different restaurants where they eat a variety of Indian foods that often evoke moans of appreciation from Emma. (I warned you.) Whether it’s pineapple, lentil-and-rice popadam, prathas, sambar, green beans poriyal. I could go on and on because, well, Burroughs does. To write so much about Indian food, she must be an Indian foodie herself and I cannot do it justice.

The food supplies the scrumptious transition for Emma and Rishi to talk about culture, and that leads to marriage talk. Rishi’s parents have an arranged marriage, but his brother has a love match that causes a divide in his family. Emma, on the other hand, lost her parents at the age of eight and has no family to speak of, but she left Seattle after rejecting a proposal from her long-time boyfriend. 

If you want to read a book about Indian culture, universal family problems, with a lot of food and plenty of sexual referencing, this is a great book for you. I appreciate it, but, like I said, not a foodie so not a big star rating from me.

Rating: 3/5
Target: adult readership

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RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend