Plume/A Feather by Cao Wenxuan, illustrated by Roger Mello

Plume

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s Literature

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: A feather just fell off of its bird’s down.  What bird was it originally from?  And how will it get back?

Review: My future Children’s Literature degree adviser told me that she adored this book, but had only ever read a PDF version of it, never having held a copy in her own hands.  I found this book in France before I even met her.  So finally, months later, I had some calm moments and the time to just sit back with a cup of tea, my French dictionary, and read.  My future adviser wasn’t wrong one bit.  This book is well-worth the praise she gave it.

Firstly, the book is longer than it is tall.  That’s what originally drew me to this book.  I’d never seen any sort of book this dimension, and that’s what initially made it fun and intriguing.

Then, the illustrations.  With the book being my second language, I only glossed over the words before I began looking at the pictures.  The colors are deep and rich, and the illustrations are incredibly delicate and stylized.  It felt like I was looking at a book meant for a museum.

Thirdly, the words themselves, the backbone of a story.  They were equal parts serious and light-hearted, and you find yourself yearning for the feather to find its origin.  The various birds introduced had their own distinct personalities, and that’s partially what made the book so entertaining–you never knew which bird was going to say what.

Overall, this book was simply enjoyable to read.  I’d recommend this to anybody who loved Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman in their childhood, or to anybody who just really likes birds.

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Speed of Life by Carol Weston

Speed of Life

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: YA Literature

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Sofia Wolfe just wants her mom back.  She died almost a year ago from an unexpected aneurysm.  Her friends want her to be happy again, but Sofia can’t just recharge like a battery.  So, she reaches out to somebody totally confidential: Dear Kate, a woman who specializes in helping young girls with all of their questions about boys, bodies, and beauty.  What else could she possibly do when her dad starts dating somebody?

Review: I am thoroughly impressed by this book.  This is another book that came into my life at the right time–the main character is grieving, she’s in a transitioning period in her life, and she feels a little bit lost.  Even with the help of her dad and best friend, she still can’t seem to get control of her life.  She makes it through, of course, but not without a little bit of trouble along the way!

I’m always impressed when books are inclusive.  Sofia is half Spanish, ergo, she’s in AP Spanish and often has to translate for her abuelo.  Her best friend is half Asian, and she’s upset that all the teachers seem to think she’s supposed to be good at math.  Families are happily divorced, unhappily divorced, and coming together once more.  Adolescence is a period of constant change for everybody, and it gets even worse when Life Problems get in the way.  Besides, how do you deal with divorces, wondering about your sexuality, or death when you’re already going through so much?

Weston helps answer these questions in a way that is enthusiastic, engaging, and energetic.  Speed of Life is the type of book that does a good job with foreshadowing but still keeps you guessing.  It’s the type of  book where really bad things happen, but really incredible things happen, too.  It’s the type of book where sometimes you’re saying “aww,” and other times “oh god no.”  It’s simply a pleasurable book.

I am glad to have gone through Sofia’s grieving with her, to see where she progressed, regressed, and kept marching forward.  This is the kind of book that I would buy for my adolescent child, if I had one.

When Watched by Leopoldine Core

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction, short stories

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: When Watched is comprised of multiple short stories detailing the inner workings of people’s lives.  Whether that’s laying in bed with your partner, heading to work, or taking a road trip, these stories describe what happens in our personal lives when you think nobody is watching.

Review: If I owned this book instead of checking it out from the library, it would have immediately found a spot on my Favorites Shelf.  It was so powerful, melancholy–intimate.  The stories included were tinged with sadness and anxiety in a way that reflects my own sadness and anxiety.  The people detailed were people I could see at the grocery store, be friends with, or be driving next to, and that is the honest beauty of these stories.

Leopoldine Core has a way with words that resonate to the core of your being.  In “Memory,” she describes the aftereffects of a traumatic experience years down the line.  In “Hog for Sorrow,” she exposes the vileness and the guilt of the human experience.  And in the titular “When Watched,” Core delicately writes about the fine line of apathy and realism about living and dying.

When Watched is perfect for a rainy day, where all you want to do is drink coffee, curl up with a blanket, and read.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

The Youngest Marcher

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction, Children’s lit

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: This is the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks.  Audrey is a young girl and a young activist.  It’s the 1960s, and she knows that things aren’t right.  Why isn’t she or her family treated like the other families?  After being influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she knows what she has to do in order to make a difference: go to jail!

Review: I had the immense pleasure of reading this book to my mom’s class of kindergarteners.  Some of the topics were a little too difficult for them, but they all understood the same things: people were treated differently due to their skin color, this wasn’t fair, and Audrey Faye Hendricks was incredibly brave.  That’s what I call a success.

The story itself was easy to follow, and just descriptive enough to show these kindergarteners just how scary this time period was.  It was also brightly illustrated, and the ending was framed positively in order to inspire these youngsters.  It was the perfect balance of seriousness and optimism.

The kids were all enamored by her story, and I was glad as a classroom volunteer that I could connect it to their Martin Luther King Jr. unit a few months prior.  And, as an adult who enjoyed reading this book, I was glad to notice that in the back are additional books for young readers, a recipe, and a timeline of events about the Civil Rights movement.  If I were a parent, this would have provided me with many more resources to share with my child and to teach them about the horrible things that happened not so long ago.  All in all, this book left me feeling satisfied and inspired.

How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas

How to be Parisian Wherever You Are

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Have you ever wanted to be a Parisienne?  The kind with the long trench coat, little booties, and a perfect “I rushed out of bed this morning but I also spent an hour on my hair” look?  Then this is the book for you.  Berest et al describe the ways in which your everyday Parisienne simplifies complicated things and complicates simple things.  Just remember: a Parisienne is a contradiction, a walking juxtaposition.  And if she can do it, then so can you.

Review: This book made me more nostalgic for Paris than I thought I would get.  Damn it.  That’s a good thing, by the way.  The aesthetic of this book, the photos, the melody of the words…I can’t believe I had to move back to the United States.

This book is written tongue in cheek, for those who want to be parisienne but who also have a very specific image in mind when they think of a parisienne.  Obviously, parisiennes come in all shapes, fashions, and sizes.  Our fantasies about parisiennes do not.  This book describes that type of parisienne.  The kind who wears jewelry to bed, who has a lover, and who frantically watches their calorie intake while eating two croissants for breakfast each morning.

That being said, and knowing that it’s a tongue in cheek nonfiction book, I enjoyed flipping through these pages immensely.  After reading it, I feel more chic, more natural, more sure of myself, more…well, parisienne.

How to be Parisian Wherever You Are also features incredible recipes, places to be, movies, and steadfast “rules” every parisienne abides by.  It’s fun, fashionable, and definitely deserves its own place on my coffee table.  Well, after I buy an antique coffee table.  After all, that’s what a parisienne would do.

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell, illustrated by Jonathan Bean

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA Literature

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Emmy is nice.  Emmy does all her homework on time.  She eats all her vegetables.  She even goes to pottery classes, gymnastics, and French lessons.  So why won’t her parents notice her?  They’ve left her in the care of the meanest nanny, who seems set on making sure Emmy is as miserable as possible.  But, one day, Emmy hears a voice.  And that voice is coming from their classroom rat.  And Rat, as she soon finds out, isn’t very nice at all.  He does give good advice, though.

Review: I was immediately drawn to this book because of the cover illustration.  The mixture of blues and yellows truly makes it stand out from the other books, especially when they’re all lined up at a bookstore or library.  That’s not the only reason why this book stands out, though.  After all, with a title like Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, who wouldn’t be interested?

Even when I began to read it, my curiosity was piqued at multiple times throughout the narrative.  Just why is that nanny so mean?  What do you mean that rat can talk?  Why do none of her classmates know who Emmy is?  And, of course, the further you delve into this novel, the more mysteries that are unraveled…

Accompanied with this fun plot are the illustrations of Jonathan Bean.  There’s an illustration on each page, but they change ever so slightly, so that once you’re done with the book, you can turn the margins into a fun flipbook animatic!  I’ve only seen this sort of “Flip-O-Rama” style of illustration in Captain Underpants, so I was so pleased to see it here, too.

Honestly, this is the kind of book that makes me wish that I had kids so that I could read it to them.  That’s how good this book is.  In fact, I may have to purchase it so I can have it for my own shelves.

Who Let the Gods Out? by Maz Evans

Who Let The Gods Out

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: YA Literature, fantasy

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Elliot Hooper is in dire straits.  He’s not doing well in school, he’s worried about paying the bills, he’s struggling to keep a roof over his head, and perhaps most importantly–his mother can’t remember any of this.  Enter Virgo, a member of the Zodiac Council, who desperately wants to prove her worth.  In order to do so, she steals a potion to give to Prisoner 42.  After she crash lands on earth, she ropes in the help of Elliot, and the two accidentally release the prisoner.  What could possibly go wrong?

Review: This book was so good that I sent my friend about 40 different video snaps once I was done with it.  It was light-hearted for the most part, funny in all the right places, and simply, wonderfully silly.

There’s Elliot, who knows too much about how humans are supposed to live, and Virgo, who knows nothing at all.  And, of course, then we have to enter Patricia and Thanatos, as well as Zeus, Athene, Aphrodite, and Hermes.  These characters were portrayed in a way that is perfect for middle school readers.  They’re funny, silly, and all-around heartwarming.

However, I have to admit to you right now that this book is more silly than it is explanatory.  The (retired) Olympians have cell phones, they chill on Earth, and they have daily newspapers which chronicle what’s happening in poetry.  There’s no explanation for this–though perhaps that’s all the explanation we need.  It is what it is.  That being said, if there was an explanation for all these modernities, it’d probably ruin the silly feeling the book emits.

There were some things that I would have liked a little more explanation on, but given that it’s the first of the series, I figure that everything will be explained in due time…it just goes to show that I need to be more patient.

That being said, though, I’m so excited for the next one.  This first book was such a pleasure to read, and its witty one-liners and familial love left me feeling more than satisfied, and curious to see where the next one will lead…

The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper

The Transgender Child

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper have created a handbook for parents and professionals navigating their feelings, the legal system, and the medical system when it comes to their transgender child.  Whether the child is recently out or not, regardless of how old the child is, the transitioning process is a difficult and trying time for all parties involved, even the most progressive of parents.  Filled with anonymous anecdotes, resources, and supportive words, this book is the first of its kind in terms of aiding parents with their varying emotions on the subject of their trans child.

Review: This book is about ten years old, but that doesn’t make it any less useful.  This book is jam packed with resources, anecdotes, and supportive words.  This book is for trans knowledgeable families as well as those who have no idea what they’re doing, and it shows with how the chapters are broken down.  The first chapter is filled with vocabulary that will be used throughout the book and are useful to know in terms of your child.  Then, from there, Brill and Pepper tackle the hard subjects of what to do in terms of your child’s educational facility, neighbors, legal systems, and medical systems.

Everything the authors said boils down to a few things: Let your child take the lead.  Do not vocalize your embarrassment or shame.  Support your child.  Set boundaries if you must, but make sure they are a reasonable compromise across all members of your family.

It had been a while since I’d read something under the “feminism” umbrella, and I was glad that this was the book I chose.  It aided me in further deconstructing my perceived notions of trans and nonbinary folks, and I’m more than pleased to know that I have one more title in my “feminist toolbox” to reference.

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

moriarty

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Detective lit, retelling

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Sherlock Holmes is dead.  After the events which happened at the Reichenbach Falls, Frederick Chase, an American detective travels to Europe in order to investigate a string of crimes involving Professor James Moriarty.  In America, a new villain is on the rise–Clarence Devereux–and he and Moriarty just might know each other.  Now, in Europe, he meets Athelney Jones, a self-proclaimed student of Holmes’.  With his help, Frederick might just be able to find out what Devereux is up to, and exactly just what happened to James Moriarty…

Review: This book made me so angry.  And that’s a good thing, given that it’s a detective story.  I was lulled into a false sense of security by this book, and I knew thanks to reading other reviews that there was going to be a huge twist.  I think I had about 10 different ideas of what could possibly be the twist.  I was wrong on all accounts.  I don’t know, maybe somebody smarter than me would have found it to be obvious, but DANG.  I had to walk away from the book for a solid half hour.

The plot and the clues were so incredibly well thought out.  As you can tell from my previous paragraph, I had no clue what the twist was.  Horowitz executed it perfectly.  I also absolutely enjoyed the inclusion of Athelney Jones, who is actually a character from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes!  Of course, we all know that Sherlock Holmes is fictional, but inserting Athelney into his work made this story fit right in to Doyle’s own work.

What I also really enjoyed was Clarence Devereux.  Devereux is a character who, like Moriarty, remains in the shadows, covered in a fog of rumors and crimes.  Horowitz does an excellent job of creating a character without us ever seeing him (that is, until we do see him).

Ultimately, Horowitz does such a fantastic job of foreshadowing that the twist will shock you like there’s no tomorrow.  This book kept me on the edge of my seat.  And, in all honesty, I finished this book probably a week or two I wrote this review–so it’s worth it to note that I still think about how betrayed I felt whilst reading it.  But don’t worry, the betrayal is worth it, in the end.

The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal

The Lost Property Office

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Young Adult fiction, modern fantasy

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Jack’s father has gone missing.  And so has his sister–right when he was supposed to be watching over her, too.  In an effort to find her, he winds up on Baker Street, at the Lost Property Office, where Mrs. Hudson offers him a bureaucratic stack of paperwork to fill out.  Gwen Kincaid, the clerk at the Lost Property Office, has another plan for Jack.  Together, they embark on an adventure to save Jack’s father as well as the entirety of London.

Review: I’m so glad I picked up this book at the library.  Fantasy isn’t usually my first choice, but every now and then I have to break free from my chains.  I’m so happy I did it with this book.  This book was fast-paced, action-packed, and filled with great characters.

Also, modern fantasy?  I know I don’t spend a whole lot of time in the fantasy genre, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen something that isn’t in the middle ages or its equivalent.  There’s mysterious artifacts, awesome powers, and a whole lot of paperwork that goes with it.  There are rumors, and myths, and modes of commuter transportation that would make even the most experienced commuter give a side-eye to.  As a whole, this book was just so creative.

What also made this book enjoyable for me is the fact that there were so many references to Sherlock Holmes.  That being said, if you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, chances are you’ll like this book for all the subtle hints.  I mean, Baker Street?  Mrs. Hudson?  Agent Doyle?  And that’s just the beginning.  Recognizing those tidbits brought a smile to my face, and made me feel privy to a secret that only I and the author knew (as well as everybody else who knows about Sherlock Holmes…but that’s beside the point).

Ultimately, the plot was compelling, the characters were creative, and the book was overall fun.  And, it’s the first of a series, so I’m more than excited for whenever the next one comes out!