Review: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman

Published June 16th 2015 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 372 pages

Source: Library

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From the author of the internationally bestselling ‘A Man Called Ove’, a novel about a young girl whose grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters, sending her on a journey that brings to life the world of her grandmother’s fairy tales.

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

If you haven’t read A Man Called Ove I have to respectfully ask what the hell you’re waiting for?!  Frederik Backman broke my feelings into tiny pieces and he tried to do it again with last year’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You I’m Sorry.  I was afraid that Backman wouldn’t work magic twice and so I waited too long to pick this up. I was wrong.   

Elsa’s grandmother is batty – totally batty.  We meet Elsa and her Granny after they’ve broken into the zoo and granny has been arrested.  Not what you expect for a woman with her 7 (almost 8) year-old grandmother.  Elsa basically broke my heart.  She’s smart and precocious and she’s bullied and so lonely.  Granny tells her stories to help her to be brave and to fall asleep at night.  They journey every night to a fairy tale world with warriors and Beasts, dreams and magic.  Every child needs someone like Granny in their lives because she was brilliant and amazing.   

Having a grandmother is like having an army.  This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.

But then Granny dies.  Elsa is left friendless and without her champion.  Her mother is 8 months pregnant with her new half-sibling, affectionately called Halfie, and Elsa is excited but unsure of her place in her family.  Elsa and her Granny were neighbors in an apartment building of odd characters.  There’s Alf, who drives a cab; the boy with the syndrome; and Britt-Marie, who is a nag bag to name a few.  Granny leaves Elsa with a letter for one of these neighbors with an apology and ends up leading Elsa on a quest to find magic and friendship.  Once again Backman made me laugh out loud and cry while reading.  I loved how strong and brave Granny was and what she taught Elsa along the way. 

If I can’t convince you will all of the above let me leave you with this quote:

And there’s a Russian playwright who once said that if there’s a pistol hanging on the wall in the first act, it has to be fired before the last act is over.  

Any book that references Chekov’s gun on the wall has to be a winner!  Read it!  I didn’t make the mistake of waiting to read Backman’s next book.  I’ve already devoured his May 2016 release and will review it soon!  But I will say for now that you don’t want to miss it.  Backman is magic – if magic brings both tears and laughter while reading.

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: Made You Up

Made You Up, Francesca Zappia

Amanda

Published May 19th 2015 by Greenwillow Books

Hardcover, 448 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

For a girl that does not read a lot of contemporary YA, what I have been reading in 2015 has been phenomenal! Exhibit 1. All the Rage.  Exhibit 2. The Walls Around Us. Exhibit 3. Made You Up.  This book just went straight to my heart.  Alex herself went straight to my heart and shattered it.

Alex is beginning her senior year at a new high school.  We don’t learn right away what’s caused her to transfer but we know this is her last chance to prove that she doesn’t need to be hospitalized for her schizophrenia.  What a weight to try to live with!  While Alex is trying to balance school, work, and her mental health, she is also trying to just be a teen with a family and to maybe make some friends.  And yet, Alex carries a camera with her so that she can look at printed photographs to see what changes.  Are those armed guards surrounding school real?  What about the snake looking at her from the ceiling tiles?

The ups and downs of this book nearly killed me. Alex’s story was emotional and moving, and yet also funny and so sweet.  I loved the innocent romance.  I loved the rivalry between the smart kids and I loved the friendships between the trouble makers.

The only thing that kept this from being a 5 star read for me was the very, very end.  I just didn’t want it to end that way for Alex – and I thought the details could have been gentler.  But details aside it was the right ending even if it hurt.

4.5 stars!

Have you read Made You Up?  I need someone to discuss this with!  Also, how pretty is that cover?

Thank you Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss for an advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Silver Bay

Silver Bay, Jojo Moyes

Amanda

Published August 26th 2014 by Penguin Books

Paperback, 338 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Liza McCullen will never fully escape her past. But the unspoiled beaches and tight-knit community of Silver Bay offer the freedom and safety she craves—if not for herself, then for her young daughter, Hannah. That is, until Mike Dormer arrives as a guest in her aunt’s hotel.

The mild-mannered Englishman with his too-smart clothes and distracting eyes could destroy everything Liza has worked so hard to protect: not only the family business and the bay that harbors her beloved whales, but also her conviction that she will never love—never deserve to love—again.

For his part, Mike Dormer is expecting just another business deal—an easy job kick-starting a resort in a small seaside town ripe for development. But he finds that he doesn’t quite know what to make of the eccentric inhabitants of the ramshackle Silver Bay Hotel, especially not enigmatic Liza McCullen, and their claim to the surrounding waters.

As the development begins to take on a momentum of its own, Mike’s and Liza’s worlds collide in this hugely affecting and irresistible tale full of Jojo Moyes’s signature humor and generosity.

I love how different Jojo Moyes books all are!  If you loved Me Before You (which I completely did!), you should not expect every book to be similar.  The Girl You Left Behind and One Plus One were both totally different as well.  In Silver Bay our action moves from London to a tiny coastal town in Australia.  Mike is a businessman trying to sell a group of investors on a posh resort in Silver Bay.  He arrives, without fanfare, to check out the town and the services available -such as they are.  Kate is a native of Silver Bay in her seventies.  She runs the down-on-its-luck hotel that Mike checks into.  Kate lives with her niece Liza and her great niece, 11 year-old Hannah.  The scene around Silver Bay includes a mix of boat pilots and guides to take tourists out on the water looking for dolphins and whales.  The dolphins and whales themselves were definitely scene stealing characters as well.  As Mike starts to fall for Silver Bay and the inhabitants the reader falls as well.  It was a bit of a slow start for me, but in the end I was totally on edge waiting to see how the hotel development would play out.

We change perspective frequently and I love getting a story from all sides.  This was particularly helpful in Silver Bay as this was a book full of secrets.  Mike has secrets about why he is in Australia, Liza and Hannah have secrets about why they cannot leave Australia and even Kate has secrets of long-ago love affairs.  The secrets were making me crazy!  Of course the secrets have to come out in the end.  Maybe I started to predict some of the answers but that did not take away from my enjoyment of this book at all.  I certainly did not predict all of the directions the story would take though.  Moyes gives so much life to her characters both the starring and minor roles that in each book I feel totally drawn into the story and anxious for the outcome.

Would it be a Jojo Moyes book if I wasn’t teary at some point?  I don’t know because she’s four for four in making me cry while reading.  I love Jojo even more because when I tweeted that she had me in tears she told me to just keep reading and all would be well.  How sweet is that?

4 stars!

Thank you Penguin Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.  

Review: All the Rage

All the Rage, Courtney Summers

Amanda

Published: April 14th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Hardcover, 336 pages

Source: Shelf Awareness Giveaway

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From Goodreads…

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?

ALL THE STARS to All the Rage.

I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary but something about this book drew me to request it.  While at the same time I was also honestly afraid to read it based on the description.  This book was not what I expected with respect to the sexual violence- the violence is largely in the past and Romy is an incredibly brave young woman going on every day. Romy’s rape is over, but she’s still constantly being attacked.  She can’t go to school or go out with her mother without being mocked or humiliated in some way for being brave enough to say she was raped. Yet she paints on her armor of red lipstick and nailpolish and tries to hold her head high.  Romy is not perfect by any stretch, but she feels so real.

Aside from being a powerful book addressing sexual violence, shame, abuse of power, and horrible high school classmates All the Rage has incredibly moving writing, a compelling mystery and a sweet and hopeful romance.  I’ve been trying to find the words to review this book for months and I still feel like I’m failing.  Just read it okay and talk to me about it!  Courtney Summers made me cry and made me rage and I will definitely be reading all of her books.

This is such an important book to read and discuss.  We live in a rape culture and we lose so many young women before they have a real chance.  How do we fix that?  How do we channel the rage and help our girls?

5 stars

Thank you Shelf Awareness and St. Martin’s Griffin for this advance copy!

Review or Why I Loved “A Man Called Ove”

A Man Called Ove,  Frederik Backman

Amanda

Published July 15th 2014 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 337 pages

Source: Purchased

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When I started this book I kind of worried about what the Paperback Princess led me into.   I quickly realized that she is my new favorite for recommending this book because I adored Ove.  Ove is a Swedish curmudgeon in his late 50s and when we meet him he is waiting to die.  He basically gives zero fucks about anyone who crosses his path-unless they drive a car where it’s not meant to go in his residential area.  He makes up unkind nicknames for his neighbors and then uses them straight to their faces.  He tries to shoo a Cat Annoyance from living in his shed out into the Swedish winter and considers electrocuting the dog that’s peeing on his paving stones. Then he meets his new neighbors…

You will realize despite all this that you have fallen completely and totally in love with Ove.  Backman takes the reader back and forth in time so we see the events and the people that turned Ove into the man he is.  I loved how his father molded him into a man of character.  Even more, I loved how he fell in love with his wife and how he learned to show that to her.  This book made me snicker loudly on the train and it definitely made me cry as well.  I forced this book onto a friend who said she gave herself a headache crying at the end.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The Goodreads blurb for A Man Called Ove refers to him as “the neighbor from hell.”  Which he is in a sense, but once you give Ove a chance you begin to understand why he feels strongly about rules.  He follows the rules and he expects the same from everyone else.  Ove isn’t a man of prejudices – he dislikes nearly everyone equally. I found that to be part of his charm.   He not an easy man to get to know, but once you give Ove a chance you’ll fall in love too.

Goodreads is giving away copies! Go enter!  Or go to the library.  Buy it!  Read this book-but have a tissue on hand when you do.

Review: The Sculptor

The Sculptor, Scott McCloud

Amanda

Published February 3rd 2015 by First Second

Hardcover, 496 pages

Source: ARC from Publisher

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Goodreads

David Smith is giving his life for his art—literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding  what  to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn’t making it any easier!

This is a story of desire taken to the edge of reason and beyond; of the frantic, clumsy dance steps of young love; and a gorgeous, street-level portrait of the world’s greatest city. It’s about the small, warm, human moments of everyday life…and the great surging forces that lie just under the surface. Scott McCloud wrote the book on how comics work; now he vaults into great fiction with a breathtaking, funny, and unforgettable new work.

I have to say to start this was my very first graphic novel.  I admit, I judged what the plot would be based on the cover and I was very wrong – and I am so glad about that. Wow!  Scott McCloud conveys every possible emotion in this book and even more amazing to me it’s all drawn in black and white.  Despair, passion, hope, love- it’s all there!   I cannot draw beyond a stick person so I’m in awe of the story McCloud was able to tell here.  The size seemed intimidating but I flew through the Sculptor in about 3 sittings because I could not wait to see what happened when David’s 200 days were over.

When we meet David he is not a happy person.  He is impulsive and has a history of making poor choices – as evidenced by the deal he makes with Death.  He gets 200 days of life during which he can create anything he wants, but that’s it.  The ways David choses to spend that time are both funny and still sad and I loved watching all of it play out across his face.  I didn’t quite like David in the beginning.  He’s feeling really sorry for himself and he had a few too many rules for his life-but I loved the growth that happened in these pages and my heart hurt a bit to finish this book.

Maybe the dialogue was a bit melodramatic at times, but in the context of the story and David’s time running out I can totally forgive that.   I expected to be entertained by The Sculptor, I did not expect to be moved in the end.  I found the ending so beautiful and hopeful despite my sadness that it was over.

If you want to know more Holly tells me that Scott McCloud was just on the Nerdette podcast so check that out if you’re a podcast person! (I’m still on episode 2 of Serial which will take me 18 months to finish personally)

Thank you First Second for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

If this sends me down the graphic novel rabbit hole any recommendations of what to try next?