Book Review: Thornwood (Book 1 of Sisters Ever After)

The Best Thing about this Book is the story it comes from, that of Sleeping Beauty.

Premise: You know the story: on her sixteenth birthday she’d fall under a curse by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. But did you know there was a sister? Briony is always in the shadows of her older sister, Rosalin, but now she’s telling the story and this one starts when the castle wakes after the curse set. What happened and why isn’t the curse fully broken? It’s up to Briony to put the pieces together and gain freedom from the murdering thornwood that is creeping ever-closer into the castle.

Rating: 2/5
Target: 3-7 grade

On the Rating: I am out of sync with many readers on this one, the reason for which I am unsure, but I can say I had to remind myself to read on in this book and keep the carrot of my to-read stack nearby. The voice bothered me as being particularly anachronistic (though it improved with more dialogue and less narration), which is to be expected, but was here annoying. Perhaps that’s it: I found Briony annoying, and she tells the story.

Main Character(s): Briony (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): danger, heroism, courage, myths

Great for…* (readers): who are young and enjoy Sleeping Beauty without holding tightly to the following of the original narrative.

Great for…* (teachers): who need to add to the classroom library.

Parental Warning(s): None

Interact: Which version do you prefer and why: the Disney film or this book by Leah Cypress?

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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: All You Knead is Love

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The Best Thing about this Book is the cast of characters, many of whom could be considered outcasts but are comfortable in their own skin.

Premise: Alba is sent to Barcelona to live with her abuela, a woman she hardly remembers because Mom has finally had it. She’s threatened many times before, but now, she’s following through on the promise to ship Alba to a place she says will be better.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: Alba finds herself helping at a nearby bakery. As she discovers a passion for breads, she also finds several friends and sense of, well, love.

Main Character(s): Abla (she/her) — she often gets mistaken for a boy and there is some gender play here

Motifs (not exhaustive): new beginnings, baking, physical abuse, trauma, family, community, business

Great for…* (readers): who enjoy baking or Spain or feel like an outsider or just want to be loved……so, everyone.

Great for…* (teachers): who want a Lit Circle book.

Parental Warning(s): It’s clear Alba’s father is physically abusive to her mother and emotionally/verbally abusive to Alba and her mother. The fact of it is mostly referenced through her mother’s bruises and Alba’s statements about how her dad doesn’t like her.

Interact: What bread would go well with 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: This is my Brain in Love

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The Best Thing About this Book is either the POV technique (you get to switch perspectives mid-scene sometimes) or the author’s knowledge of mental health.

Premise:  Jocelyn’s family runs a small Chinese restaurant that might be seeing its last days. Will’s future in journalism depends on his ability to get over his anxieties and interact with people face-to-face. When the two troubles collide over one summer, Jocelyn and Will must face their inner struggles and their feelings for one another as they attempt to save A-Plus Chinese from going under.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Title:  Every chapter of the book follows the structure of the book title: “This is my ____ on/in _____.” More than that, though, the title captures the duality of the plot in dealing with challenges in brain chemistry for the two main characters and their passions.

Main Character(s): Jocelyn (she/her) and Will (he/him), high school sophomores

Motifs (not exhaustive): mental health, love, independence, entrepreneurship, family, business, tradition, anxiety, depression, film, photography, journalism

Great for…* (readers): who enjoy a love story without wanting to read a love story. (I know, that sounds off, but it’s true. The love plot between the characters takes a back seat in this one even though it’s not forgotten.)

Great for…* (teachers): who are capitalizing on POV. Both Will and Jocelyn tell this story from their different vantage points, and the reader sometimes switches whose head they’re in mid-scene. Also good for mental health discussions.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing (minimal given today’s YA culture)

Interact: What do you remember about telling (or asking permission from) your parents for a first date ever?

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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: Jackpot

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The Best Thing About this Book is how well Nic Stone captures the voice of the modern teenager.

Premise:  High school senior Rico has no plans for college. She can’t afford to dream of a future like that. She needs to keep working at the local gas station in order to help her mom with the bills and her brother. She doesn’t have time for anything else and prefers to live her high school life as invisible. No friends. No connections. Until the events of Christmas Eve lead her on a chase to find the winner of the Mega-Million lotto, a ticket she sold, requires assistance from the most beautiful and richest boy at school.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Title:  The literal rendition of the title refers to the lottery and the premise of the book, a book which delves into economic status on just about every page. I won’t add the figurative meaning other than to say, it may not be about money.

Main Character(s): Rico 17 y/o

Motifs (not exhaustive): love, friendship, money, belonging, choices, luck, poverty, wealth, responsibility

Great for…* (readers): who want something fun while still opening up discussion of money/wealth/poverty.

Great for…* (teachers): looking to add to classroom libraries, literature circles, and recommended reading lists. I don’t think this is one to teach.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, sexual references

Interact: What would you do if you won the over $200 million in the lottery?

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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: What Girls are Made of

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****************NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST****************

The Best Thing About this Book is either what Bekah does for Nina in a time of need or the art works referenced and explored.

Premise:  Nina loves her boyfriend Seth. She’ll do anything for him. She’ll worship him. But something about that doesn’t settle in to her experiences with her mom, who tells Nina there’s no such thing as unconditional love, and takes her to Italy to visit iconic sculptures of women.

Rating: 5/5
Target: 16 and up (technically YA, but I wouldn’t bookend it there)

Title:  Make sure you know this nursery rhyme (called “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”) to be able to fully analyze this title. Elana K. Arnold adds assistance to understanding the title in the Author’s Note at the book’s end. Highly Recommend It. I’ll just give you this little teaser: “I now see that the stuff of girls is meant to be consumed — sugar and spice and everything nice — yummy sweet treats that melt in your mouth. And it reads to me now as a warning […]”

Main Character(s): Nina 16 y/o (she/him) with flashbacks to 14 y/o

Motifs (not exhaustive): womanhood, body, consumables, identity, sexuality, sex, reproduction, excrement, love, male gaze, worship, motherhood

Great for…* (readers): who want to think deeply about female gender roles and latent messaging in art and society.

Great for…* (teachers): I wouldn’t use this one in a classroom unless it’s past high school. However, selections could be used to study the female role in society and/or the nature of flashbacks and structure compounding overall meaning.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, holds nothing back in description of bodily functions, doctor visits, sexuality alluded to and pictured

Interact: What is your memory of nursery rhymes as a kid? (especially if you grew up with “What Are Little Boys Made Of”)

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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: American Betiya (scbwi emerging voices winner)

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Premise: Rani’s Indian immigrant parents want her to focus on school and not get distracted by other things, especially not boys. So when Rani meets and falls for Oliver, a senior at her high school who has tattoos, she has to keep her American world with Oliver separate from her Indian world with her family. But how long can Rani keep Oliver a secret before her parents find out she’s sneaking around with him?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 10th-12th grade

Title:  The title of this book sets the conflict on the cover: two cultures that look separate must somehow become one in protagonist Rani (betiya is a Hindi word meaning daughter).

Main Character(s): Rani, 18 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): Indian culture, family, romance, first love, friendship, racism, objectification, cultural awareness, cultural appropriation, privilege, expectations of others, art, photography, sexuality, tradition, identity

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a conflict of cultures or are children of immigrants, kids who have high expectations for themselves or whose parents have high expectations for them, anyone trying to figure out what love is and looks like as a teen or young adult

Great for…* (teachers): foreshadow, internal/external conflict, and discussion around racial and cultural respect

Parental Warning(s): Regular cursing, sexual innuendo and descriptions of acts (not graphic)

Interact: Oliver is Rani’s first love. They meet at an art show but already go to school together. How did you meet your first love or what is your dream for meeting your first love?

If you like the culture conflict in this book or learning a little about Indian culture, try 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

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