Nile Crossing by Katy Beebe, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Nile Crossing

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Historical fictionChildren’s Literature

Medium: ARC, paperback

Synopsis: Khepri wakes up one day, and is ambushed by both excitement and nervousness.  Used to going fishing with his father, his day is going to be a little different: he’s going to school.

Review: This book was enjoyable to read, and I was surprised at myself for knowing so little about the schools of other cultures and time periods.  The author, who sports a love for Egyptology, was willing to give us some insight as to just how this stressful and thrilling day is in ancient Egypt.

By providing the audience with more awareness, we are better able to understand the differences between cultures, history, and their schools.  For instance, what tools did students use?  How did they get to school?  What time do they wake up for school?  Did they have to go far?  These are the sorts of questions that Beebe answers.

Additionally, I was impressed by the last few pages in which Beebe presents additional facts and further reading for both children and their parents.  This is a book I’m highly considering purchasing for my mother, a kindergarten teacher, when it comes out.

The Call of the Swamp by Davide Cali, illustrated by Marco Somà

The Call of the Swamp

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: FictionChildren’s Literature

Medium: ARC, paperback

Synopsis: Boris is normal.  He goes to school, rides his bike, and eats with his family.  Until one day, he stumbles upon a swamp.  And the swamp feels more right to him than his home ever did…so where does he truly belong?

Review: I am so glad to have gotten my greedy little hands on this advanced reader copy.  I’ve never been so enamored by a children’s book.  The drawings, the content, the axolotl???  I’m in love.  I’m definitely going to purchase this once it comes out in September.

This book has enraptured me for many reasons, but the main one is certainly because Boris is between two places, two cultures–essentially, he is in la mestiza, a place coined by Gloria Anzaldua.  Sorry to get super analytical in this review, but this is one of my favorite theoretical terms!  Boris is from the swamp, but he grows up as a regular boy.  But when he rediscovers the swamp, though it feels right, it doesn’t feel quite right, because he’s been socialized as a boy.  Because of this, he’s placed in la mestiza, a place in between his two homes, having been socialized by both.

Many are forced to think of themselves as one thing or another–as a member of your culture, or as a member of your country.  For Gloria Anzaldua, la mestiza was a place between Texas and Mexico, where she was constantly influenced by both cultures, unable to decide exactly where she belonged.  For Boris, he’s between his house and the swamp.

As his parents send him supportive letters, hoping he’s happy, he’s out discovering himself.  Boris wonders how he can fit into both places at once, or how to even properly and fully fit into one place.  But it’s his journey of finding an answer that truly makes this story so endearing and enriching.  I highly suggest this book for anyone struggling with identity, and for any parent of an adopted child.  You will not regret it.

What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross

What Was Mine

Rating: ★★★1/2

Genre: Fiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: All Lucy wants is a baby.  And one day, she finds one.  All alone in a shopping cart in Ikea, Natalie is ripe for the taking.  Twenty years down the line, Natalie–now Mia–is still unaware of her mother’s crime.  In a thrilling novel about what it means to be a mother, follow both the new family and the severed one as they deal with the trials and tribulations about kidnapping and discovering who they really are.

Review: This book was so intriguing to me.  I’ve only ever been a daughter–never a mother in any way, shape, or form–so I’ve never learned the heartbreak of potentially never being able to have a child, or potentially having my child taken from me.  However, having only ever been a child, this book raised questions to me that I still haven’t found the answer for:  What if my mom wasn’t really my mom?  Would I want to meet my birth mom?  How betrayed would I feel, and how would I react?  Of course, I love my mom to pieces so knowing that I’m (hopefully) not a kidnapped child, I’d love to imagine that my reaction to all of that possibly happening would be fairly positive.

That being said, if it really turned out that I was kidnapped, I think my reaction would be similar to Mia’s, and that’s what makes this book so realistic.  While it slightly borders on the it’s-a-book-so-it-works and the there’s-a-pretty-good-explanation line, the reactions are genuine.  There’s the mother’s grief, the mom’s joy, and the daughter’s loss of a life that was never hers.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the shifting perspectives.  I don’t think this type of book could be written in any other way, and it’s worth noting tha tit’s not just the main characters it switches between: it’s the Ikea worker, it’s the ex-husband, it’s the aunt, it’s the new boyfriend as well.  All of these external points of view shed new lights on our characters, and it’s well worth it.

Another thing I thought was great was the inclusion of Chinese culture.  Mia’s nanny growing up is a Chinese woman she calls Ayi.  Through Ayi, or Wendy (as is her American name), we see a new perspective on what it means to be a mother, and what it means to be a mother from a different culture.  This added copious amounts of outside perspective to the story, and it was one I appreciated greatly.

Ultimately, this book was an enjoyable read, and it’s a book I’ll be glad to share with others.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

The Last Lecture

Rating: ★★★1/2

Genre: Memoir

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: After giving his famous last lecture, Randy Pausch decided that he had a little more to say.  He plans on leaving his wife and children behind when he eventually dies of pancreatic cancer, one of the last curable cancers there is.  In this book, he gives guidelines, pieces of advice, and life stories.  Pausch iterates that this book isn’t one about him dying–it’s about him living.

Review: To any of you about to read this book, let me say this first: don’t read this too fast.  Despite how small it is, it’s actually filled with (I think?) about 50 chapters on various subjects from his family, his childhood, and his dreams.  You’ll want to only read a couple chapters a night–that way, you’ll get the full extent of what he has to say.

If I had the opportunity to meet Pausch, I think I would immediately respect him.  His ideas and the way he puts them is concise and had such good intent.  However, I must be honest with you–there’s a definite divide between him and millennials.  This made me a little bit less receptive to some of what he was saying (read: I didn’t always agree with him), but I can’t deny that the main ideas of what he said resonated with me.

He’s hugely positive, and always looking for ways to be an active participant in his own life.  He reaches out to others, works hard to make his dreams come true, and uses slightly unorthodox methods in order to solve his problems.

My aunt urged me to read this book (which I obviously did).  Ultimately, I’m glad that I did.  I think I’m a little more wise and a little more thankful now.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Memoir, humor

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Follow Allie Brosh as she recounts her life dealing with anxiety, depression, and a little bit of self-reflection to boot.  With the help of an art program called Paintbrush, she recreates moments of her life with pictures to go along with the slightly exaggerated stories.  In this book, she talks about depression, geese, hot sauce, and dogs.

Review: Delightful, mostly light-hearted, and humorous.  That’s how I would describe Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half.  I read this book in nearly a day, glad to have finally been reading a book that I waited months for to come out (and then consequently spent years unable to purchase and then unable to read).

Honestly?  This book had me laughing out loud and sharing bits with my mom.  The pictures, obviously similar/the same from her blog, brought me back to a simpler time in the internet days, ones where I was worried about having the funniest rage comic and being supermegafoxyawesome hot.  I thank her for allowing me to reminisce so positively.

It’s my hope that when she’s ready, she’ll publish another memoir, and I can relish in her amusing storytelling skills.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Vinegar Girl

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, retelling

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Kate Battista is in a compromising position.  She lives at home, works with children, and has to deal with taking care of both her 15-year old sister and her scientist father.  Things seem to be going okay until her father mentions that his assistant’s work visa is ending soon…and to gain him permanent residence, would you be so kind as to marry him?  In this modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, watch how this romance unfolds under the pressures of contemporary society.

Review: How long has it been since I’ve read a book in one night?  Before I read this book, I wasn’t sure.  Now, I can safely say that it’s been just a week or so ago.  Maybe it’s just because I really love Shakespeare, maybe it’s because the characters were so genuine, or maybe it’s because of the subject of family.  Maybe it’s all three.  Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

As a retelling of one of the beloved bard’s plays, I was entranced almost immediately.  Kate, the curt and blunt protagonist being paired up with Pyotr, a Russian immigrant with a technical grasp of the English language.

Oh–and fellow animal rights activists–vegetarianism, veganism, and animal activism is mentioned in here too!  Not without its usual jabs, of course, but hey!  Progress!!  (Okay, maybe this was part of why I loved this book so much–I had to see whether Bianca was steadfast to her beliefs or whether Kate was right in her perceptions).

Ultimately, this book was quick, witty, and leaves you wondering just what would have happened if Kate made different choices…

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer

The Beautiful Dead

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Crime fiction, thriller

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: It’s Christmas time, and Eve Singer is in over her head.  She’s struggling to stay relevant as a crime newscaster who no longer glows youthfully, her father has dementia, and there’s a serial killer on the loose.  However, after a particularly riveting report on one of the murders, the killer begins to take an interest in her, helping her get leads before the rest of the rivaling news stations.  But how far will Eve let this go?  Is getting the best story really worth dying over?

Review: I don’t normally dabble out of crime or thriller stories, simply because I tend to gravitate towards left-of-plum slice-of-life stories.  But this is one book I’m glad I picked up.  It immediately caught my eyes because of the cover: yellow butterflies pinned against a black background?  Has the word ‘dead’ on the cover?  I was sold.  And thus began my journey into reading this book.

I was hooked.  Eve is your sarcastic, snarky woman simply trying to make it in a man’s world.  Her jibes and jabs at society and her rather big-mouthed boss add a great deal of humor to the book, which is absolutely necessary given the fact that her father’s in poor health and there’s a killer on the loose.  She’s worried about getting her Christmas shopping done, paying the bills, and wondering if she’s too old for her crush.  She’s just like you and I.  She’s also worried that she’s going to be a victim.  Okay, maybe just a little less like you and I.  Or maybe not–hopefully none of you are dealing with that last bit.

One thing that I appreciated about this book was the realisticness of it all.  Granted, I don’t work within a crime and justice type of job, so maybe it’s just me in my ignorant bliss.  But the way Eve goes about her life, goes about her job…it just seemed realistic.  It seemed logical, necessary.  There wasn’t anything too fantastic about her getting reamed by her boss or misleading the newscaster from the opposing station.  Overall, it was like Goldilocks’ favorite porridge: it was just right.

Normally, when I read a book, I make sure to read at least 50 pages a day, and if it gets a really interesting, I have absolutely no problem reading past that minimum.  I sped through the last 200 pages of this book, because holy crap.  Imagine me: sitting on the floor at a train station because my train has been delayed for an hour and a half, thanking god that it was because otherwise, I don’t know if I would have been able to put the book down.  I was flipping pages every few seconds (seemingly to me), I was gasping, staring widely–I’m sure it was a sight to see.

And that ultimately is the reason why you all should read this book.  If you like thrillers, killers, and sitting on the edge of your seat, this book is the one for you.  Don’t pass it up.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: The mothers are privy to a secret.  Quite a few of them, actually.  When Nadia begins to see Luke, a 21 year old waiter, the two find themselves having consequences to their actions which will end up haunting them for years to come.  As their lives grow apart, they become more intertwined.  And what exactly do the mothers have to say about all this?

Review: I don’t know the last time I read a book that gave me lingering goosebumps at the end.  I was immediately enthralled by this book, what with the perspective of the church mothers of Upper Room, who are privy to all the town’s secrets.  Because of this perspective, you’re not just reading a story–you’re listening in on the gossip.  You’re part of the secret now, too.  And you want to know more.

At least, that’s how I felt.  This book was poetic, artistic, and left me nodding my head and giving sharp huffs of laughter at how realistic this book is.  For most of the book, I found myself rooting for the characters as much as I did hoping that they’d do something differently.  I found that, for me, this book was about the human experience, how one little action and a wad of cash can wildly affect the rest of your life, can create everlasting wishes and hopes and dreams.  How the shame and second thoughts can trickle back up to the surface years later, when you’re at dinner, when you’re at college and even when you’re at your best friend’s wedding.

I’d been wanting to read this book for a while, for I’d only heard good things about it since it came out.  I was not disappointed.  Not one bit.  I loved this book, and hope to purchase a copy for myself very soon.  I have a plethora of quotes I want to underline, and a story I want to thumb through again, and again, and again.

Frida et Diego: Au pays des squelettes/Frida and Diego: In the Country of Skeletons by Fabian Negrin

Frida et Diego

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s Literature

Medium: French hardback

Synopsis: It’s the Day of the Dead, and Frida has been sent by her family to purchase sweets.  On her way back, she sees Diego romancing her best friend–causing Frida and Diego to fall to the Land of the Dead.  How will they ever get out?

Review: The word I’d use to describe this book is intriguing.  Also, fun.  Also also, informative.  I bought this book because a) it was a children’s book in French, and b) it’s about Frida Kahlo.  What was there not to love?

The art was phenomenal and the plot was engaging.  And, I was surprised at how honestly it discussed the relationship between Frida and Diego.  Not only was this story cultural and fun, but it was accurate–well, as accurate as explaining cheating lovers to children can be.  I was glad to find that this book approached cultural and romantic topics in such a nuanced way, and I’m excited to find some more books that discuss culture, art history, and holidays in such an engaging way.