Vlog Review: Right as Rain

Hit Play on the video above.

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

Hit Play on the video above.

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

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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Shop Amazon.
Add on Goodreads.

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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Shop Amazon.
Add on Goodreads.

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

Vlog Review: Mary Underwater

Watch the vlog, read the book, share your rating!

Rating 3/5

RATINGS GUIDE

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

Vlog: One of the Good Ones

Watch the vlog. Then….will you read the book?

If you have read the book, what would you rate it (out of 5)? AND, are you ready for my spoiler question???

And, can anyone tell me how to pronounce the authors’ last name?

RATINGS GUIDE

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

Review: Siri, Who Am I?

A friend of mine used to pick up Emma (Jane Austen) every year in an attempt to finish it, but the character of Emma annoyed her so much that it took her well into middle age to accomplish the goal of finishing the book. I couldn’t relate. Emma’s (albeit irritating) naivete and inflated self-importance were necessary to her character development and the plot of the book. Same is true for the character of Mia in Sam Tschida’s Siri, Who Am I? — I promise: the Austen comparison ends there. 

I admit I picked this book up because I thought it would be a YA novel that undermined the image culture of social media saturating the world, and the teen world in particular. (Although I typically reach for the nonfiction work of Sherry Turkle or Jean M. Twenge in that regard, I’m open to bolstering confirmation bias through all genres. Let no one claim otherwise.) This is not a YA book. I was wrong on all my cover of the book judgements. And I’ll tell you why.

5 reasons why Siri, Who Am I? is not an anti-social media YA book

  1. The age of the protagonist.
    Okay, so the premise of the book is the protagonist (at that point, name unknown — see book title) wakes up in the hospital with amnesia. She doesn’t know her name, her age, her birthday, her address, who her friends are, what her life is like, or what she is like. As the book develops, it turns out she’s somewhere in her mid- to late- twenties. YA books are all about teens. The moment your protagonist ages out of high school or maybe even college, sorry. You’re off the YA shelf.
  2. Teenagers (AKA readers of YA) would rip Tchida a new one for regional anachronisms.
    Okay. It’s one regional anachronism. The story is set in Long Beach and travels all over LA and Orange counties — a region of the country, I happen to have grown up in and consider myself relatively familiar with…so familiar, in fact, that I can validate Tschida’s description of the Long Beach Museum of Art where Mia’s amnesia-inducing injury occurred. Spot on. (And, if you’re local to the area, go there….once the world opens again.) BUT, and this is a but bigger than the butts of any of the beautiful characters in this book — and they’re all beautiful characters…which works for LA — Mia repeatedly drives along Pacific Coast Highway. Every time she narrates that fact, she refers to it as the PCH. (Ex from ch.10 : “…we head north on the PCH toward Long Beach…”)
    I, a gracious and forgiving reader (don’t laugh), can overlook the fact that I have never heard any local refer to PCH as the PCH. Not once, let alone the forty to four hundred times Mia does in this book. (Too many? What? Did it stand out too much to me? Hit a nerve? Annoy me as much as Emma annoyed my friend? No way.) I’ve decided the author and editing team must have been fans of SNL’s “The Californians” thereby making the offense forgivable. The freeways are referred to as the 5, the 405, the 10 in Southern Cal vernacular. It’s a simple case of applying the pattern incorrectly like a child who tells you they runned a race.
    Teenagers, though, cherish the opportunity to mock adults who think they know what they do not. (Trust me, my day job is in a high school.) That is all they would take from this book. That, and how pretty the characters are. Which brings me to #3.
  3. The characters are all gorgeous.
    Not just attractive. Gorgeous. How do you enervate the image and filter saturated culture of social media (and Insta, in particular, which plays quite a role in Mia’s search for her true self — she uses her old posts to figure out who she is — not Siri)? You don’t. At most, you can prod it a bit from the inside of the box it built. That may be what Sam Tschida is attempting to do here, but the book falls short of the standard I’d set up for it before I’d cracked the spine.
  4. The inclusion of sex
    I’d like to say the sex, so I’m writing it as a reason but teenage sex occurs in YA (see Rainbow Rowell and so many more). So I can’t use sex as a reason this book is not YA. It’s more that the sex occurs between consenting adults. (see reason #1)
  1. The number of times Mia takes a selfie and posts it.

It never changes. From being let out of the hospital and onward, once Mia has her phone, it’s multiple selfies each day, every day. And you’ll get to read when she receives likes on those posts, even some of the comments. (Actually, this all sounds rather YA, doesn’t it? Damn it. Hmmmm. How to redeem this reason….Got it! YA is not my point on this one.) All this narration around social media and social media posts lack a tinge — or should I say filter? — of negativity. Mia likes social media and it plays an important role throughout the novel and the plotline. One might even say it’s her saving grace making the novel pro social media..

Siri, Who Am I? could be read by high school aged teens. And it does encourage honesty and authenticity on social media. I will give it that. But it is not the book I expected to be reading when I read it. Can you blame me? I claim being influenced by the cover art and title of the book. (Confession: I judge books by their covers. And you do, too.)

MY RATING: 2.5/5 …… Do you agree?

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RATINGS GUIDE

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