All the news is garbage – but I love my library!

I am reading the news in short snippets these days because unless it’s about Serena Williams or maybe Prince Louis’ christening it all gives me panic attacks. I’ve been reading fiction voraciously to escape (and a few nonfic too) and The Chicago Public Library is giving me everything.  Here’s a list of what I’ve been loving – other than reading Goodnight Moon on repeat.

Fiction

Non-Fiction

With Babycakes 

  • Ranger in Time series by Kate Messner – what is there not to love about a golden retriever traveling through time and space to help people in need?

What else is out there that I should be reading to avoid reality?

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Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction lately, maybe I’m just way too excited for my big 7 year-old to be reading with me.  When asked to look at this middle grade non-fiction book I was way too curious to pass it up.

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Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army, Enigma Alberti

Published January 23rd 2018 by Workman Publishing Company
Hardcover, 96 pages
Source: Finished copy received from publisher

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

First of all, why have I not heard of the Ghost Army?  A whole unit devoted to fooling Hitler and the Nazis with artwork, sound effects and clever camouflage – what an amazing story!  I read this almost entirely in a train ride, so less than an hour, a fast read but I was completely engrossed.  Yes, this was written for kids but my interest is piqued and I will be finding some more titles on this unit to read soon.
This book didn’t talk down to the young reader but made the Ghost Army’s story engaging by talking about Victor Dowd and his experiences as an artist being used to paint planes and trucks to trick the Nazis about the soldiers and units in place.  I haven’t looked at kids’ nonfiction since I was a kid and I wasn’t sure how it would come together.  Victor’s individual story made it compelling on an individual level I think and then makes the branching out into the rest of the Ghost Army easier for a young reader who might not be used to nonfiction.  
And then there are the spy tools.  Spy tools!  My daughter wasn’t interested in the topic – she is too young and this isn’t her thing – but even she was ready to break out the spy tools to solve the mystery of the missing sketchbook.  These were awesome!
I loved this book! I will definitely be gifting copies to some young readers in my life and sending it to my daughter’s school.  I can’t wait to pick up Enigma Alberti’s first Spy on History book, Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring -that is a topic we’ve talked about at home so I hope the kid is ready. 
Thank you so much Workman Publishing for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Overdue Reviews: Nevernight

I have 22 books on my Goodreads shelf that I still intend to review.  Oops.  Here’s my first try with a book that I devoured last year.  

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Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Published August 9, 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley 

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

Let me just say Nevernight was bad ass.  I loved it so much I’m rereading it right now to get ready for the sequel.  I am not going to minimize things,  Nevernight was violent and it was vulgar but it was fabulous.  Kristoff himself sums the book up on twitter as #stabstabstab.  That’s accurate.   As I am remembering what’s coming in the book I’m cringing a bit waiting for the blood to start flowing. 

Mia is on a mission for revenge over her the deaths of her parents which takes her to assassin school out in the desert.  This is no Hogwarts – the teachers will kill the students as soon as help them in some cases.  Mia is also a darken – which brings powers she doesn’t fully understand herself – but one thing Mia can do is to manipulate shadows.  She can seemingly manufacture the dark and pull off some scary things.  She has her own shadow companion with the misleading name of Mr. Kindly.  I didn’t know I could like a cat so much!   Mr. Kindly lives off Mia’s fear which enables her to be both extra brave and extra stupid at times.  She needs to be brave while living among assassins but I did question her judgement quite a few times as well… 

So in a brief summary Nevernight has a young woman learning mad murder skills, friendships and kissing, backstabbing and gore, all in a world with three suns and fabulous new magic.  I was obsessed while reading and I loved it!  I cannot wait to see what Mia goes on to do and who she goes on to kill in the future.

I thought about trying to be clever and footnoting this – but that just seemed silly.  I’ll simply say that the footnotes made me snort laughing on a few occasions.  It seems snarky footnotes are a way to my heart – see also Jen Lancaster, Kevin Kwan.  

#stabstabstab

Thank you NetGalley and Thomas Dunne Books for this review copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler

Publication: May 24th 2016 by Knopf

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: ARC gifted from a friend

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“Let’s say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge…”

This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she’s come to New York to look for a life she can’t define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a “backwaiter,” on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she’s pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan’s ardor.

These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.

I think this is my favorite read of 2016 so far.  I don’t think I’m ever going to feel the same way dining out at a nice restaurant.  Tess leaves her childhood home and her life as she’s known it behind at 22 and heads to New York to find her adult path.  She almost never looks back.  She lucks into an apartment to share and a job at an unnamed restaurant in Union Square where she’s hired as a backwaiter.  The training, the hazing, the bar towels, the wine, the food, the semi-incestuous staff relationships, the management, the FOOD, the drugs.  So many things are going on in a restaurant and I had no idea!

Tess navigates new friendships and toxic relationships with the bravado and bluster every 22 year-old should have.  She’s brave and she’s thoughtless and I just loved her story.   The writing is intense and enthralling.  I loved the slips into stream of consciousness as Tess lived out her days at the restaurant.    

Once you admit you want things to taste like more or better versions of themselves – once you commit to flavor as your god – the rest follows.  I started adding salt to everything.  My tongue grew calloused, abraded, overworked.  You want the fish to taste like fish, but fish times a thousand.  Times a million.  Fish on crack.  I was lucky I never tried crack.

Read this with a glass of wine – skip the crack.  Then come talk to me about it!  I’m going to be reading this again soon and then hoping to be out at a great restaurant watching the staff.

Review: Jane Steele

Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye

Published March 22nd 2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Kindle Edition, 427 pages

Source: Penguin First to Read

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“Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

“Reader, I murdered him.”  

Who doesn’t want to read this book based on that line?  So let me tell you, Reader, it was amazing.  I was a bit unsure at first as I read, wondering just how beloved Jane Eyre could be turned into a murderess.  Then Jane Steele herself holds Eyre up as a model of nearly all goodness and I realized how very different these characters would be.  Jane Steele is orphaned and is sent by her aunt to away to school, these facts and that she later becomes a governess are pretty much where her similarities to Jane Eyre end.  Jane Steele is funny!  She’s smart.  She’s quick on her feet.  Most importantly she realizes violence is necessary to save herself at times.  

As excited as I was to read this book I did not think I would get too attached to our murderess but I really did.  I was expecting a cold-hearted sociopath.  What Faye delivers is a child who is lost without her mother, preyed on by a creepy cousin and then delivered into a school that sounds like hell.  No wonder she turns to murder!  Really when you consider what she’s been through she is very brave!  Jane is also loyal and remarkably honest.  She grows into a remarkably thoughtful young woman, despite her views of herself.  

I’ve seen some complaints in reviews about the second half of the book where Jane returns to Highgate House being slow.  I thought this half was nearly faster than the beginning and the gothic feel much lighter.  I loved the addition of the Sikh party at Highgate House and how comfortably teaching Jane about their religion and history in India flowed with the story.  The romance was sweet and completely appropriate for the book.   I was nervous for Jane while she wrestled with the question of how to meld her past and  her hopes with  Mr. Thornfield (and I loved Thornfield!).  In the end I was just delighted and completely entertained.

Now that I’ve read my second successful Jane Eyre related book (Re Jane was another great book!) I am definitely going to have to go back to the classic.  

4 stars!

Thank you GP Putnam and Penguin First to Read for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: The Serpent King

The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner

Published: March 8th 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House

Kindle Edition, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

I’m soon going to have to revise my feelings on reading YA contemporaries if I continue to get so lucky with my reading choices.  Generally if I’m reading something contemporary I want adult but I kept seeing buzz about The Serpent King on Twitter – thanks to Eric Smith in particular – I was convinced to request a copy.  The Serpent King joins some other excellent YA reads like All the Rage, Made You Up and Dumplin’.  This book had me smiling and then crying within pages.  

Dill, Lydia and Travis stand out from the other kids in their small Tennessee town, and though they are none too alike themselves they are the best of friends.  Lydia has a popular fashion blog and supportive family that have her ready to head to New York for college, Travis has a Game of Thrones-like fantasy world to escape to and an online community for friendship. Then there’s Dill; Dill has to visit his father in prison and a plan to go full time at the local grocery store after graduation.  Dill’s father was a snake handling preacher before he was sent to prison on the worst of charges and he and Dill’s mom- along with nearly everyone else- blames Dill for his sentencing.

The Serpent King begins as these friends are starting their senior year of high school both with dread and an eagerness to be done.  Zentner’s excellent storytelling put me right into a cruel high school experience in rural Tennessee.  I cringed as Dill and Lydia approached the parking lot each day.  But he wrote this beautiful friendship as well so the terrible was balanced with humor.  I loved how Zentner took the story right up to the edge of hopelessness and then showed how brave you have to be to move forward.  These three friends made me cry and they made me hope.

As a side note, absent or terrible parents are par for the course in YA, which made Lydia’s amazing parents stand out all the more.  I loved them!  Even if they were a bit over the top, it felt good to read about a real and loving parent-child relationship; especially to hold up against the other parents in this book.   

If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave and beautiful things

This book was all of those things – painful, brave and beautiful.  Read it!

5 stars!

Thank you Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for this advance edition in exchange for an honest opinion!

Quotes taken from unedited copy in advance of publication.

 

 

Review: The Girl from Everywhere

The Girl From Everywhere, Heidi Heilig

Hardcover, 464 pages

Expected publication: February 16th 2016 by Greenwillow Books

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer.

Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question…

Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it’s that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.

Time travelling pirates?!  Could a book sound any cooler than this?  Nix sails on her father’s ship, The Temptation, and as long as he has a map the captain can sail to any place – and any time.  The past?  Then to the future? Mythical ports?  All doable!  Oh and partly set in Hawaii?  Give me more!  

Nix helps her father find the maps required for their time traveling sails, but the one map he desperately wants might wipe Nix off page entirely.  Nix and Captain Slate don’t sail the Temptation alone – they have a unique and hilarious crew to help – including ghosts and tiny dragons.  So poor Nix loves her father, but to help him find happiness she risks her own life.  And as much as the story is about Nix and her father, there’s so much more; love, addiction, treason and adventure on the high seas!  

I loved Nix, I loved Kashmir and I loved the mythology that Heilig wove into their journeys.  I knew I was head over heels for this book when the Chinese Terracotta warriors came up…

…‹http://www.chinatour.com/xian/xian-attractions/terracotta-warriors.htm

…‹http://www.chinatour.com/xian/xian-attractions/terracotta-warriors.htm

If you’re looking for an adventure I highly recommend this fast and fun read.  I am dying to get my hands on a finished copy of The Girl from Everywhere so I can see the maps!  This was such an awesome concept and I cannot wait to see where the series goes.  

5 stars!

Thank you Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.