The Grave Keepers by Elizabeth Byrne

The Grave Keepers

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Young adult literature, speculative fiction

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: The Windhams are an obscure family.  They curate the cemetery plots, they’re homeschooled, and the ghost of their little sister haunts the area.  Except, it’s taboo for gravekeepers to believe in ghosts.  And the ghost isn’t actually their little sister.  While the Windham sisters are going through life trying to make friends and understand what it means to be an adolescent, the ghost is perpetually trapped in adolescence, and has been getting rather lonely over the course of the past few hundred years.  So what will happen when the ghost wants one of the Windham sisters to cross to the other side permanently?

Review: Starting off, I knew that this was going to be a fun little read (I love anything that’s death-related), but I didn’t expect to get so into it.  I mean, honestly, how dare a book about death get me upset…about death??  Uncalled for.  (Translation: Totally called for).

Also, I gotta say upfront that I am super biased because a) I love speculative fiction, b) I love it when the setting/world is just left of plum to our world with no explanation, and c) I love loose endings.

In addition to death (which is seen as more natural than it is in our world–grieving still exists, but you also literally get to prep for your death in a way that’s entirely different than in the Real World), this book also touches on running away from home, being homeschooled, no longer wanting to be homeschooled, fitting in, bullies, and sister relationships.  This book was a lot more than I had originally bargained for.

During this book, there are three separate plots going on: 1) Athena, who is trying to fit in at school, and begins to make friends with who might be the wrong crowd, 2) Laurel, who no longer wants to be homeschooled, but meets a boy who has just run away and is now living on her family’s property, and 3) the ghost who just wants a permanent, death-long friend.  All of these plots intermingle and intertwine in such a natural way that you don’t even realize that it’s the author’s doing, and not just this family’s lives ebbing and flowing in the way it does in real life.

The characters in this novel felt real–it felt like they could have been any number of students in my high school or middle school.  I understood the want to have friends, the longing to do what the other members of your family are doing, the loss of a family member that still rings true so long after their deaths.  In a way, these characters could have been me, and they could have been you,, too.  That’s how real they felt to me.

Overall, this book was fun and light-hearted for such a heavy topic, and I honestly can’t wait to see where Byrne’s mind goes next.

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A Song About Myself by John Keats, illustrated by Chris Raschka

A Song About Myself

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, picturebook, poetry

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Chris Raschka illustrates one of Keats’ beloved poems, about a boy who defines and caricatures himself through his words and everywhere he’s been.

Review: I love poetry, and I love this book.  Raschka’s accompanying illustrations to Keats’ poem are whimsical and light-hearted, and perfectly emote exactly what it feels like to be defining yourself through what you’ve done and through your work.  Watching the illustrated boy gallivant across the pages made me want to do the exact same thing.

The thick painted lines paired with the detailed land- and cityscapes left me with a feeling of both stability and minor uproar–that sort of feeling where you know you’re fine but you get on the subway and everything is a little bit hectic with a taste of city-living.  Overall, this was a super cute book and my English major heart enjoyed every bit of it!

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

We Found a Hat

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, picturebook

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: These two friends find a hat, and they both want it.  Is there a solution to their problem?

Review: Would y’all believe me if I said that I’d never read one of the Hat books before?  Because it’s the truth.  And this was the most darling books I’ve read this year.  The art–placed in a desert–was adorable and the colors and gradients were brilliant.  And that doublespread of the two turtles just chillin’ in space with their hats?  AMAZING.  I want to get that as a friend tattoo with somebody (any takers?).  Anyways, this is a book that I’m definitely going to buy for my mom’s classroom with ulterior motives of actually buying it for me.  Maybe I’ll have to buy the rest of the series, too…

Egg by Kevin Henkes

Egg

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, picturebook

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: There are four eggs, and one big surprise.  What could it possibly be?

Review: This book was so fun to read, and probably even funnier for my coworker who had to hear me gasp as I was flipping through the pages. For a book with so few words, it left me feeling emotional and overall pleased.

Opening with four panels, each with an egg, this book quickly reveals the plot when one of the eggs doesn’t begin to hatch.  What could possibly be taking so long?  Accompanied by adorable pictures, the narrative follows the individual eggs pre- and post-hatching.  This is absolutely perfect for beginning readers, and perfect for their parents who enjoy a cute story!

Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

Before I start, I just wanted to give a big thanks to Flatiron Books for sending me a copy of this book!

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Annie Spence writes endearing and hilarious break-up letters to books she has to weed from her library from Fahrenheit 451 to Matilda.

Review: Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

This is the opposite of a break-up letter.  This is a love letter.  I have spent the past two days falling in love with you, from when I opened up your packaging to when I set you down for the last time.  You are an endearing book that made me place my hand over my heart, and a hilarious book that made me place my hand over my mouth as some people asked whether I was okay (because apparently you made me laugh a few laughs that didn’t sound like laughs–that Infinite Jest joke though).

There were quite a few books that I’ve read in between your pages, and even more that I recognized.  Dear Fahrenheit 451, you make me proud to be a reader, proud to be reading on the bus and in bed and on the couch and on my breaks at work.  I loved your snarky humor and I loved the fact that you were written by a librarian (it just makes library school way more fun knowing that).  I wish that there were more books like you, with fun book recommendations at the end and the all-too-familiar library-patron drama.  I mean, you’re totally right about people asking the strangest things and placing holds for books that would throw you for a loop.

But most importantly, I love your love and respect for books, even the ones that aren’t your cup of tea and even the ones that used to be your cup of tea.  Books speak to us at the most random points in our lives, and I think it was you who quoted somebody else (who maybe quoted somebody else–who knows??) and said that no book is read by the same person twice.  So maybe I’ll see you again in a few years, and I’ll have a few more books under my belt.  Then we’ll share even more inside jokes and make even more recommendations for patrons and book buyers alike.

You ultimately give me hope for the future, hope for love and humor and a career and all of the things a person might want out of life.  You have it all, and for that, I think I’ll always turn to you.

Yours truly,

Amy

The Albertine Workout by Anne Carson

The Albertine Workout

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Poetry

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Carson writes 59 paragraphs about her research on Albertine from Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu.

Review: Anything that Anne Carson does impresses me.  This little chapbook was better than any book review I could ever read about Proust’s work.  I mean, how does she manage to give both everything and nothing away?  I gotta know how all these points intersect and link to one another!!

Written with her usual style that typically leaves me feeling nostalgic for something I’ve never experienced, this book is one of a kind and greatly differs from the other two works of hers I’ve read.  If there’s one thing in this world that I want to know, it’s how Carson learned to categorize her ideas and how she wrote them down so eloquently.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

/walks into goodreads 1 year late with a starbucks

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA fiction

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: Starr is the only witness to Khalil’s murder.  With the already intense divide between black communities and the pro-police media, she must decide whether she should speak up and tell the world about the real Khalil, or whether she should remain quiet for her own safety, all while juggling friends, school, and a white boyfriend.

Review: This book does not cater to white feelings.  And I loved it.  So, for those of y’all who don’t follow me or my reviews, I’m just going to come out and say that I’m white, and therefore my review will be inevitably (but hopefully not obviously) biased because of that.  I’ll be honest: I don’t remember the last time I read a book whose main character wasn’t white.

Reading The Hate U Give was a breath of fresh air, and gave me the ability to check in with myself as I read it.  Which parts made me comfortable?  Uncomfortable?  What were my reactions like?  Why?  These were the questions that ran through my head (other than the inevitable oh my god what will the verdict be??), and I was glad that they were.  This novel is largely about black experience of police brutality in this day and age, and as a white reader, it was also about constantly acknowledging that your pain and guilt and suffering on this topic is likely not as comparable as you’d like to think it is.

I wish I could give this book to every single family member of mine and make them read it.  I wish I could buy hundreds of copies and give them to people I walk past.  As a white person, I have to state that this book discusses a hugely important and deep-rooted problem in our society today, and does an effective job of analyzing it, narrativizing it, and not trivializing it.  This book is a must-read for anybody who is alive during this day and age, and I cannot stress that enough.

The language fits the tone of a teenager, the plot points give audiences the proper way to apologize, and the imagery alone is enough to make you think you’re right there with Starr.   This book was so engaging that I read it in two days despite its length.  Ultimately, The Hate U Give expertly balances the struggles of every-day school life and the struggles of being a black woman in today’s society.  And, as I shall say for the millionth time: if there is anything you should do today, it’s read this book.

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Hooper

The Twelve Mile Straight

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Historical fiction

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: After Elma Jesup gives birth to two twins–one light and one dark–Genus Jackson is accused of raping Elma and is lynched shortly after.  Following the aftermath of this small 1930s Georgian town’s decision are secrets that slowly become unearthed and unraveled.

Review: First of all, wow.  What a book.  This novel totals more than 500 pages, and each and every one of you will leave you feeling shock, despair, and everything in between.

At face value, this novel is many things.  It is engaging, arousing, and at times, horrific.  Which is what makes a great novel, right?  Within these pages, we follow many characters from before, during, and after Genus Jackson’s murder.  Family histories are intertwined with each other, secrets are unfolded, and the future is uncertain what with the Great Depression having hit.

The language Hooper uses is beautiful and reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird–there’s a certain type of southern drawl that she expertly draws out using dialects at time, and purposeful words at others.  It’s also similar to Lee’s work in terms of subject matter–in which a black man is wrongfully accused of a crime, regardless of facts.

However, it must be noted that this book does not have the same social context–both novels are written by write women who undoubtedly have great control over the  English language.  However, Lee lived through what was happening at the time, and wrote her novel solely from a white person’s perspective.  Hooper on the other hand, didn’t live through the 1930s, and writes from both white and black perspectives.  For me, this was a little troubling.  Despite the beautiful wordsmithing and engaging plotline, I’ve always been a little apprehensive when it comes to white folks writing about characters who seem to be defined by their race and the racism they’ve experienced because of it.  But I myself am white, and will leave an actual analysis and critique of this topic to others!

The Story-Teller’s Start-Up Book by Margaret Read MacDonald

The Storytellers Start Up Book

Rating: ★★★1/2

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback, textbook

Synopsis: By listing numerous techniques, activities, and memorization techniques, MacDowell provides a comprehensive textbook about what it means to be a story-teller.

Review: I read this in preparation for a story-telling class I’m about to take in a few days.  This book was a quick, easy read that made all my apprehensions disappear.  I can be a storyteller, and you can too!  In addition to being well written and well-sourced, MacDonald also provides stories in the back and what audiences they’re best for, showing that she not only provides resources for the reader, but makes them accessible, too.

However, I find that it should be mentioned that this isn’t a book filled with criticisms or history or cultural backgrounds–it’s simply how to make yourself into a better story-teller.  This is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in telling stories at your local library or school.

How Picturebooks Work by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott

How Picturebooks Work

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback, textbook

Synopsis: Using an array of Swedish picturebooks, Nikolajeva analyzes, quite literally, how picturebooks work.  From symbolic theory to art theory, just about everything is covered.

Review: I read this in preparation to a picturebook class I’m taking this fall–it’s one of the required readings, and I can see why!  Though this book is small, it packs a lot of punch–complete with scans of illustrations to further make Nikolajeva’s points.

While using symbolic theory, art theory, and everything in between, she deconstructs how picturebooks are created, how they are perceived, and how they change across editions.  However, be warned–most of the picturebooks used are Swedish, so for us American readers, we may have a hard time relating to her examples.  Nonetheless, her analyses are concrete, sound, and clearly have a lot of thought behind them.  This is definitely a must-read for someone who wants to analyze picturebooks in the same way old classics are analyzed.