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

Vlog Review: Once Upon a Quinceañera

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Premise: Carmen Aguilar must complete a summer project if she wants to graduate high school this year. She’s ruined one project, but her best friend helps her land a new internship with a party princess company. Carmen plays the role of Belle and is mortified when her ex shows up as the Beast. Now she has to learn to deal with him and with her wicked stepsister of a cousin who’s just hired the company to perform at her quince.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 8th grade and up, Latinx especially

Title: The motif of dreams and muddled realities, Disney princesses and villainy run rampant through this novel. I don’t love the title, but it makes sense.

Motifs (not exhaustive): coming of age, Latinx culture, Cuban-American culture, OWN voices, princesses, Disney, beauty & the beast, family relationships, mending broken relationships, growth, multiple cultures, extended family

Great for…* (readers): from a Latinx culture, interested in Latinx culture, or needing exposure to Latinx culture — some Spanish (occasionally, though not always translated to English)

Great for…* (teachers): character arc/growth, motif/theme, culture exposure

Parental Warnings: clear sexual references and scenes, intermittent cursing

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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 Book Review: The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother)

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Premise: Lucas’s brother Aidan disappeared. For a week, he was nowhere to be found. When he reappears as mysteriously as he disappeared, the entire community is thrilled, but Aidan’s story about where he’s been alters how people react.

Rating: 2.5/5
Target: 4-7

Motifs: truth, camaraderie, belief, friendship, brothers, public opinion, perception, rejection vs. support, LGBQTIA+

Title: not much significance here, other than the potential misconception that the bulk of the narrative will be in Aidan’s words. Lucas tells this narrative. It’s about him and his conflict given Aidan’s disappearance and reappearance.

Main Characters: Aidan (12 y.o. he/him), Lucas (11 y.o. he/him)

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a story without a lot of action or are looking for positive LGBTIA+ adult role models

Great for…* (teachers): theme/motif development, small groups/reading circles, words of the wiser (Notice&Note)

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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: I Can Make This Promise

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Premise: Who is Edie Green and what makes her different? Firstly, she didn’t know she was different until kindergarten when her teacher asked her where her family is from and all she could say was Seattle. Secondly, her mom is Native American, adopted into a white family. As far as Edie knows, they have no connection to her mother’s birth family. She doesn’t know if she’s a part of a local tribe or not. What she does know is she has Native American features — strikingly similar to a woman in a photograph Edie and her friends discover hidden in the attic. But who is the woman in the picture? And how could her parents be hiding information about this woman that may relate to her identity from her?

Rating: 4.5/5
Target: 5-8

Title: The title encapsulates the entirety of the book and only takes its full significance in the final pages. So, to be purposely vague, it’s poignant.

Main Characters: Edie Green, 12 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): identity, friendship, truth & hidden truth, disagreement, artistry/creativity, otherness, acceptance, coming of age, Native American history/culture, American history, family/adoption

Great for…* (readers): who are themselves coming of age, figuring out who they are and how they fit into a world with ever-changing knowledge about themselves. Readers who appreciate OWN voices, a bit of mystery, or history will also enjoy this book.

Great for…* (teachers): x Native American history, x Washington state history, motif and theme development, x art/film project, MAKE SURE TO READ THE AUTHOR’s NOTE FOR RELATED CLASS CONTENT/PROJECTS.

If you find yourself getting asked “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” how do you respond? What do you want the people who ask those questions to understand?

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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: French Exit

I’ll tell you from the beginning. This is a post to declare to you that I would make a fabulous casting director. Or possibly a self-deceiving cheat.

I’ve finished reading French Exit by Patrick DeWitt.  I always want to add an article in front of the title, declaring this book to be about the French exit, but apparently there are many French exits, several in the book, more in reality. 

Anyway, I picked it up, knowing it was in production to be a film — but I didn’t know it was a finished film. In theaters now (in LA and NYC). 

The several French exits in the book are declared early. Fanny Price has gone broke. Her immense wealth that grew upon her marriage has run dry. Absolutely. Nothing left after seven years of warnings from her financial advisor Mr. Baker. When the money runs out, he asks Fanny what her plan had been through those seven years. Her response epitomizes her character: “My plan was to die before the money ran out. But I kept and keep not dying, and here I am.” 

Here, at the time, is stateside, but without a place to stay she soon finds it necessary to head to Paris where a friend has an apartment where Frances may stay. She travels to France with her son because it’s their only option (exit 1), all the while with the plan to rid herself of her final spending money and do as she planned: die (exit 2). But she’ll do it her way, as much as she can. 

DeWitt presents Price fully formed, take her or leave her, and take her you must. She’s just quirky enough, just witty enough, and just sane enough to be mesmerizing beyond her beauty. 

When I first began reading, I envisioned Price as Hepburn with a Brynn Mawr accent, an elitist prig from the early scenes of The Philadelphia Story. But as I read, as DeWitt presents flashbacks that explain the why of what you the reader already know the character is, Price took on more color. She could not be caught in the black and white films of Hepburn, held in the distance by time. No, she was fully-fleshed if standoffish, with a flat American annunciation. Her voice became Michelle Pfeiffer’s, flat and flavored as in I Am Sam where her character must hold it all together for appearances sake.

And this is where I return to my premise for this post. Can you guess which actress plays Frances Price in theaters? Why, none other than Michelle Pfeiffer herself. The character could not be played by anyone as well what with the coupling of physical beauty Pfeiffer possesses with her paradoxically cold voice with undertones of rich emotion — such that it made me wonder if DeWitt wrote the novel with Pfeiffer in mind for the role. If he did, he got what he wanted. 

Either way, I got what I wanted and thus I proclaim myself a great casting director without any other evidence than that which I’ve just noted (and will tell myself that is sufficient evidence to make a case — I’m not claiming I’d make a great lawyer). Either that, or somewhere I caught a glimpse of Pfeiffer in the role and have given myself the credit all the while keeping my conscious self from this knowledge. Deceiving at least myself and possibly you in the process. Take your pick.

But if you want to read this book, you’ve got to want to read it for the dark humor and intoxicating horror of Price, whose grown son lives with her because he wants to and she wants him to. Their relationship keeps Malcolm Price from marrying his fiance. (I’m still perplexed as to why the fiance is interested in Malcolm, but that enigma is never meant to be explained. The Prices are an addiction. Logic need not have anything to do with it. And like all addictions, they’re rather dark and a bit dirty.) The book centers on Frances Price, but it’s not necessarily about her. Once you’ve read it, think about it. Tell me: is the book about Frances or Malcolm or someone else altogether? I’ll be interested to know.

Oh! By the way… I’m eager to see this movie — I hope it’s as arty as I want it to be. And since I’m already a fantastic casting director, I can confidently declare it’s in the film’s best interest to follow the notions I’ve never voiced regarding its most apt aesthetic.

Rating: 3.5/5
Target: adult readership, 16 y.o. and up

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RATINGS GUIDE

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

Book Review: Anxious People

The structure is the meaning. The meaning is the structure. The structure’s in the meaning. The meaning’s in the structure. If that’s too much for you, you may want to either skip this read or read it without much care.

I admit it. When I started Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, my first Backman book, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the short, choppy chapters that read as unique short story submissions to literary journals with flashpoints in the final lines that change the entire reading of the story. Again and again and again. One was good. Two okay. Then, it irritated me. I couldn’t get my feet on the ground of this narrative without having Backman purposely launch me off them.

The interjections of interviews with equally irritating, if not obnoxious, characters proved nothing if not a nuisance.  

Precisely as they were meant to do. 

This will be a short review (if you can call it that) because I have no intention of revealing the plot resolution of Backman’s book featuring a bank robber without a robbery and a hostage situation with the “world’s worst hostages.” You’ll have to experience the details for yourself. But here is what I’ve come to conclude: despite all that Backman himself will tell you the book’s about (in the text itself, he will use the phrase repeatedly), if you can trust him, the story is about isolation and connection. 

The jagged pieces that begin the book are reflections of the characters themselves: intriguing, well-crafted, but ultimately awkward in how they attempt to be more than alone. Because as the reader, I was somewhat lost in the nameless characters and their stories at the start, I found myself like them, weighing whether or not connecting to these characters is worth it. The more they revealed, the less annoying the characters were, and the more I recognized bits of myself in them. 

That’s the genius of this narrative. You find yourself in characters who you assumed were nothing like you. You connect with them as Backman transitions from his short, stop-and-go chapters to lengthier ones. Even the shorter interviews reveal connections you may not anticipate and which bolster the meaning of the narrative.

The book is well done and meaningful. It is unusual and unique, like we are, yet immensely relatable, too. Also, like we are. If that seems enigmatic or problematic or paradoxical, well, you’ll just have to read Anxious People to understand what I mean.

Rating: 4/5
Target: adult readership, 16 y.o. (not due to word or subject-matter but due to nuance)

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RATINGS GUIDE

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

Vlog Book Review: When You Trap a Tiger

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Premise: When Lily, her mom, and her sister move from California to Washington to live with her halmoni, Lily comes in contact with a car-sized tiger who her mom and sister can’t see. The tiger claims Lily’s halmoni stole stories that belong in the stars. Lily must return the stories to the tiger in order to get what she wants from the tiger. But can tigers ever be trusted? Can halmoni? Can her mom or sister? Can she?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4th-8th grade

Motifs (not exhaustive): Korean folklore, family, female relationships, grief, coming of age, independence, tame vs. wild, captive vs. free, identity, otherness, truth

Great for..* (readers): students who are quiet or feel left out, children dealing with grief or moving

Great for…* (teachers): character development, figurative language, folklore, Asian literature/studies, character contrasts

Other Reviews referenced by KZ in this vlog: Fighting Words, a Newbery Honor 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

Book Review: Fighting Words

I will say it again. (I said it on social media already.) And again and again and again. Holy Snow. 

I love books. I enjoy most books. I read fun books, mostly, with some element of depth to them, but let’s call a spade a spade. They’re mostly about entertainment and empathy. But this book. Holy snow. 

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a powerful, heart-wrenching work about more than its premise, which is weighty and deserving in itself. Although statistics vary, data shows 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys fall victim to sexual abuse at some point in their childhood. Yet, I cannot think of a single middle grades book (other than this one) that deals with the topic at all, let alone as tactically and expertly as Bradley’s Newbery Honor Book. 

Della informs you that she’s ten from the start of Fighting Words, the story she narrates. She begins with the simple facts and builds to the difficult narratives and sub-narratives. From the beginning of Della’s account, she and her older sister Suki find themselves in foster care. Their mother, whom Della barely remembers except for one explosive incident (literally), is an incarcerated meth addict. The man with whom they were left at her incarceration, well, that’s where some of the difficulty resides. It was his inappropriate assault of Della that led to their removal from his care. The scene gets told, once Della is ready to tell it, leaving the reader with a sense of horror and revulsion without feeling the scene crossed a literary line for the target audience. How can a scene be appropriately inappropriate? I don’t know. But I read one in this book.

The quality of the writing and the voice is worthy of the topic here. It would have to be to have the audacity to attempt to deal with sexual abuse, abandonment, and the aftermath. Importantly, Bradley writes from experience, and confesses to such in the author’s note. But this is not a book about trauma; it’s a book about healing. 

Like any healing process, Della and Suki do not have a clear and easy path to follow. Della has trouble with a boy named Trevor at school. She pushes people away with her use of four letter words (which, in the book, she substitutes for snow, snowman, snowflake, etc.) both deftly and intelligently. Suki is the only person Della could rely on to take care of her. But Suki has had to parent Della since she was herself six. Now that they’re in foster care, and preparing for court with their abuser, there are plenty of proficient adults to care for Della. And for Suki, too. But Suki and Della don’t always know how to let them or how to trust them.

The characters grow in themselves as the narrative progresses. Della tells you the hard parts. Even the hardest part. (Read with tissue nearby. She’ll warn you it’s coming.) And show you their courage along the way.

There are multiple characters with “bad stories” in this book. Some of which you hear, some of which you don’t. (Even Della and Suki shy away from the explicit and ugly details of everything– making it both tasteful and challenging for a middle grade audience, yet better to be read with someone to talk to through it.) Some of those bad stories relate to poverty, some to abuse, some to mental health. What Bradley makes clear is each character has a story whether they tell it or not.

Fighting Words embodies its title. This is Della. Telling you her story. In her words. With courage. With bravery. With love. With fight. You may not hear many ten-year-olds tell you about their abusive experiences. I pray you don’t (not because they won’t tell you but because they don’t have them to tell). Listen to her voice. It may inspire you to use your own.

You’ve gotta read this book. It’s the kind of book I live for because it’s not just literature. It’s art. 

Rating: 5/5
Target: 6th grade and up for general audience, younger for children of abuse

Parents, please read this book with your child. Do not send them off to read this and struggle through its content on their own. Better yet, you read it first. Then read it a second time with them. There’s nothing easy about it. But, much like parenting itself, it’s valuable and important. No one said it would be easy. For snowflake’s sake. 

Readers, don’t scoff at the target audience. This book is for older readers as much as it is for middle grade readers. Snow. I could use this in a college course curriculum. It’s that well done.

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RATINGS GUIDE

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

Vlog: Happily Every Afters

Not your capital “L” Literature, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the read. It’s light and fun and I love this protagonist (who is supposedly a lot like the author).

Read the review of the other book mentioned in this vlog here. And tell me if you pick up Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant.

RATINGS GUIDE

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

Vlog Book Review: Amari and the Night Brothers

Check out the book trailer referred to in today’s vlog.

Overall rating: 3.5/5 —- 4/5 for adventure enthusiasts

RATINGS GUIDE

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