Listen, Slowly

Hi Guys,

Got another middle school read for you all today.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai is the story of one families quest for closure. Twelve year old Mai was born in California and grew up on the shores of Laguna Beach. This was going to be her summer; she can go to the beach by herself, hang out with her best friend and maybe even talk to HIM. But all of this changes when Mai finds herself on a plane to Vietnam with her father and grandmother.

Mai is stuck taking care of her grandmother while her father travels into the heart of Vietnam to do aid work. Mai and Ba travel to Ba’s village and there they wait. The purpose of this trip is for Ba to find out what really happened to her husband after the Vietnam War and hopefully some closure.

All Mai wants to do is get back to the beach. She’s never really connected with her heritage and adjusting to life in Vietnam proves difficult. The language, the customs, the mosquitoes plague Mai and she selfishly wants Ba to find closure quickly so she can go home. But things don’t go as plan and Mai slowly finds herself acclimatizing to her surroundings–she evens makes a “true friend.”

But finding closure for Ba isn’t going well and Mai must find a way to get answers. Will Ba come to terms with her husbands death? Will Mai embrace a family she never knew she had?

Listen, Slowly is a solid, strong middle school read. We get some history, some culture and a story with lessons that many kids can relate to. This book would actually be an excellent candidate for a middle school book club.

What really drew me to this book was the cover. It is just beautifully done. If I am being honest, I thought it was going to take place down on the bayou not in a small Vietnam village. But still, this cover just captures you.

There were a few things in this book that irked me but more from a, “would that really happen” standpoint. For a realistic fiction, some of the situations seems overblown or exaggerated. I kept thinking, “this doesn’t really happen,” and if I think that imagine what a middle school-er would think.

What this book does well, is the handling of languages. Mai can understand Vietnamese but can’t speak and many of the people she interacts with can understand English but don’t speak it. This barrier of languages, which we see everyday, was very thoughtfully done.

Overall, this was a good middle school read with some definite merit for discussion. It didn’t wow me but it was worth the read.

That’s all for now!

-M-

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Dark Matter

Hi Guys,

From sorcerers to the Spanish Civil War, Vlad the Impaler to the Scottish countryside and now this. I think I may be suffering from genre whiplash. I haven’t had to think so hard about a book since Cloud Atlas.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is a book of what ifs. What if we took a different path? What if we never entered that coffee shop or went on that blind date? Would we still be the people we are today? These are the questions Jason Dessen must deal with when he is kidnapped by a masked man and wakes up in a world that is not his own.

Jason’s wife barely knows him, his son was never born and his research is literally changing the world. Jason knows this life isn’t the one he remembers but what else could it be… an extremely elaborate hoax, a mental illness, a tumor? Or is there another explanation? A crazy, insane chance that he’s found himself in an alternate reality?

One thing is certain, somewhere out there his family is waiting for him and Jason will stop at nothing to get them back.

Dark Matter is one of those books that makes you crave understanding. You just have to know what is going on. I went into this book not really knowing what I getting myself into, so I made the mistake of picking up the audio book–it was available and sounded intriguing. Do yourselves a favor and get the book; it’s a lot easier to re-read pages then having to rewind while you’re in the car. And yes, you will want to rewind. This is one of those books that make you go… waaaait a minute. Not in a bad way though. It just makes you think.

This book was deep and exciting. Crouch inserts philosophy and theory into the text seamlessly, while keeping a fairly high level of action and excitement. I liked Jason, a lot–surprisingly so. He was your stereotypical, middle class family man and yet he was also this deep thinking, could-of-been a genius, kind of guy. There were layers to him that paralleled well with what he was going through in the story.

Dark Matter was full of surprise. Just when you thought you knew how it was going to go… bam! Crouch adds another layer to the plot. Honestly, I think the only part of the story I was unsatisfied with was a loose end with one of the supporting characters.

A word of advice, don’t go into this one thinking its just about a kidnapped man trying to make his way home. It is and yet it is so, so much more. Get ready to wrap your head around some science, philosophy and mind shattering what ifs.

This book is definitely worth a read. It was interesting and makes you think. Four stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Bookshop on the Corner

Hey Guys,

Books, book mobiles, quaint little towns , books, hot Scottish men, books, romance… did I mention books. Sigh. I just devoured a refreshing, lighthearted book that left me craving idyllic small town life even more then I already do. Again, sigh.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan is a love letter to readers, wrapped in the freedom of taking a leap of faith and the fellowship of small town life.

Nina, 29, is about to lose her job as a librarian at the Birmingham Public Library (UK Birmingham) and instead of looking for something else to do, she hides behind her books. With only a few weeks left at her job, Nina’s roommate and friend pushes her to dream big, to take a risk and deal with the consequences later.

Knowing only that her life’s dream is to connect readers with the perfect books, Nina travels to a small town in Scottland to purchase a van she can turn into a mobile bookstore. But the town instills in Nina such peace, such belonging and that, paired with the difficulties and restrictions of owning a mobile bookstore in Birmingham, causes Nina to stay in Scottland and start a new chapter in her life.

Scottland changes Nina for the better and a town without books soon comes to rely on her. But something is still missing in Nina’s life. Will she be able to find her own happily-ever-after or will she move on to the next town?

This was one of those books you read when you need a break; a break from reality, a break from your usual genre, a break from anything that won’t leave you smiling. The Bookshop on the Corner, other then having a title that makes no sense, is a breath of fresh air. It is like going outside on a crisp morning and taking a deep breath. You don’t need to think, this book doesn’t make you anxious, it doesn’t require reflection or regrets, it is merely a book to enjoy in the moment.

The plot isn’t necessarily new, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a well written, lovely read that you could finish in one, two sittings at the max. Most of the characters were interesting… in fact, they all were minus Nina, she was fairly archetypal. But Marek, Lennox, Surinder and all the townsfolk were wonderful in my opinion.

I really don’t have much else to say about this one. It was a wonderful, light read and it is one I would read again with nothing to do on a cold morning, in front of the fire. Will definitely have to check out more of Colgan’s books.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Muse

Hi Guys,

A few days ago I finished The Muse by Jessie Burton. Burton also wrote The Miniaturist, which was not a bad read but not one of my favorites. Like The Miniaturist this one is a tangled tale of past and present, tied together by an inanimate object.

The Muse follows the story of Odelle Bastien (1967) and Olive Schloss (1936). Odelle is a black woman living in London during a time when being black and a woman doesn’t always insight good behavior. Olive is a white, young woman who moved to Spain with her art dealer father and sometimes suicidal mother. Thirty years and circumstance seperates these women, what can they possible have in common?

Art.

A mysterious painting lands on the doorstep of the art gallery Odelle works at and causes passion and panic in those who see it. The paintings history is fuzzy and Odelle suspects one of her bosses, Marjorie Quick, of knowing more than she lets on. Odelle, curious, digs deeper then she should and discovers a history waiting to be told.

The mystery of the painting resides in 1936. Olive, her father and mother all but take in local siblings. They give them jobs and in Teresa’s case a purpose. But the Spanish Civil War is looming and World War II is on the horizon.

Can Odelle uncover the past? Will she be able to piece together a fractured past full of lies a deceit? And will she emerge from this mystery the same person?

There were some things about this book that I really liked, but there were others that were very typical for this type of narration that left me feeling middle-of-the-road. It was good, not great. With the exception of Quick, the characters were very predictable and I was even able to guess the big “twist” before the end.

A few things I did like were the author’s take on genius and artistic interpretation. Her characters discuss genius, artistic and other forms, and how popularity can often stunt ones genius. This can be very true. We see everyday the pressures of popularity and fame and what they can do to people–drugs, breakdowns, altered visions of the world. Very thought provoking.

This story also talks about artistic interpretation and how the meaning of art, passed down through the ages, is often interpreted and re-interpreted. It’s history is like a giant game of telephone. The feelings invoked may be looked aside for the story behind the art itself.

This book has some great moments that were deep and made you think. It was interesting to see how all the ends would tie together and ultimately, it kept me reading. For that it gets 3.5 stars.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus: Puppet

Hi Guys,

SO I had grand ambitions to make a Pigeon puppet for a storytime I have coming up this month. Things didn’t quite go according to plan–probably my rusty sewing machine skills. Man, puppets are hard!

51bi6f3mrll-_sx496_bo1204203200_My puppet is supposed to be the Pigeon from Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

First, I blocked out my pattern. Then I sewed on my eyes and collars, and made my wings. Then I flipped everything inside-out and sewed the pieces together. I did the same with the inside lining. I stuffed my puppet and inserted a knitting needle to keep the neck sturdy. The knitting needle was actually really useful because its something I can hold onto when I am using the puppet in my storytime. Finally, I attached my lining and got my puppet a felt beak and legs.

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Overall… it works. Some flaws and I’d probably change some things next time but good enough for a fun storytime tool.

What do you think?

That’s all for now!

-M-

 

A Shadow Bright and Burning

Hi Guys,

I needed a new audio book for my drive in to work and none of my library loans were in, so I went looking for something new. I chose A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess partly because it is teen fantasy and mostly because it is narrated by Fiona Hardingham, who I love.

A Shadow Bright and Burning takes place in England, primarily London of the corset and dinner jacket era. The English are at war with seven powerful monsters–the Ancients–who are destroying their cities bit by bit. Only England’s sorcerers are powerful enough to keep the monsters at bay, but even they can’t kill them.

Henrietta Howle can burst into flame and no one can know. Witches are considered dangerous and are locked up and killed. Witches and magicians have been outlawed in England, due to their part in the arrival of the Ancients 16 years ago. But Henrietta cannot control her power and when her best friend is threatened by the Ancients’ familiars, she cannot stay hidden.

Found out Henrietta fears the worst, but her fears are soon put to rest when she finds out that she isn’t a witch but a sorcerer and one the profits have foretold. Now Henrietta is the first female sorcerer in hundreds of years and must train and fight in a mans world. Her fellow trainees, all teenage boys, love her, hate her and admire her in different measures.

Will Henrietta master her power? Will she keep her best friend safe? And will the secrets that suppress her, keep?

Well let me start off by talking about the audio book itself. I love Fiona Hardingham! She narrates several of my favorite audio books. She has a talent for voices and I am ever impressed with her skills. The audio for this book was great. It pulled me in and helped to get me interested in a plot that I was ify about.

Now the story itself. It was good… but it felt very familiar. For a new YA fantasy, it felt like something I’ve read before. There were monsters, fae, sorcerers, witches, magicians, magical wards, prophecies, staves(wands)…you get the drift. All usual elements of fantasy stories. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the plot has to be stellar to make up for this in my opinion.

There were parts of this book I really liked and the rest I just felt kind of meh about. I enjoyed any scene where Henrietta was with the Magician; their training was fun and exciting. I was less pleased with the constant reminder that Henrietta is a woman and therefore at the mercy of society. I felt that Henrietta should have done something about this instead of dwelling on it. I wanted a stronger Henrietta–maybe in the next book.

I also had a major problem with the romance in this story. Cluess hints at three different love interest: one unrealized, one with a too slow build up, and one we want to slap…repeatedly. I also didn’t quite believe the budding romance and the inevitable “who should I pick.” The only relationship I really itch to see more of is more of a budding friendship at the moment.

This was a fine audio book and I would probably pick up the sequels to listen to as well. Not a bad read but it needed a little something. 2.5 stars for me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Crooked Kingdom

Hi Guys,

Saturday I finished reading the sequel to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows: Crooked Kingdom. Let me start by saying that I’ve been waiting for this book for the past year. I was so thoroughly entranced by Six of Crows and so invested in the characters, that I almost couldn’t bare it! Thank goodness Crooked Kingdom has arrived!
Crooked Kingdom brings back Kaz Brekker and his crew of miscreants; they are hot for revenge and determined to gain what is owed to them. At the end of the first book, Kaz’s crew is double crossed and one of their own, Inej, is kidnapped. They are on the run and have no allies to speak of.
Kaz continues to struggle with physical touch and can hardly hold it together in Inej’s absence. Inej is at the mercy of their enemy and worried Kaz will leave her behind. Wyland is stuck with another boys features and a father who has tried to kill him twice now. Jasper is still in debt and hiding his grisha powers. Nina is dealing with withdrawl and struggling with her grisha powers. Mathais continues to deal with his betrayal of his country and his feelings for Nina.
Whit and determination are the only tools they have left. Will it be enough to get paid, get revenge and get out alive?
Just a mini synopsis for you guys because anything more will give too much away.
Bardugo builds layers upon layers in this duology. Just when you think the crew is in big trouble, they find their way out of it. Kaz is like a prodigal chess player; he can see 100 moves ahead and when the depth of his plans are revealed, we are wowed. And not unrealistic at all. I believed in all of Kaz’s planning.
The setting for this book was marvelous. We get a glimpse at Ketterdam in book one but we really get to see the nitty gritty in book two. Ketterdam it is just a hotbed for vice and I loved it. What a world, full of the dregs of society and Kaz rules them all. It’s just so wonderful having a book were the good guys, aren’t all that good.
I also truly enjoyed all the different relationships in this book. We have three separate couples with different dynamics and struggles. Kaz and Inej were my favorite. They are both so damaged and yet together they are better:
“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.” –Sigh.
This book gives us an in-depth look into a specific portion of each of our characters pasts, that tell us a little more about who they are and how they came to be. For me, (shrinking away from outbursts of rage) these mini stories…worked butttt they would have made excellent novellas.
Overall, I did enjoy this book immensely. It gets 4 stars. I liked it a lot but I don’t feel the need to obsess like I did with Six of Crows. Another duology I am satisfied with. I think my feelings toward duologies may be on the verge of change.
That’s all for now!
-M-