We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction, sociology

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Based off of her Tedx Talk, this is a pocket transcription of her speech and thoughts on feminism as it is today.

Review: My first interaction with Adichie was Americanah, and then her Tedx Talk also entitled “We Should All Be Feminists”.  Normally, I can’t sit through a half hour of anything, but Adichie’s work is always so enthralling that I discover that I do indeed have an attention span.  This book was similar to that experience.

I read this book over the course of four night shifts when things had slowed down just enough, usually only two pages at a time.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I had to help customers, I’d call this a definite page-turner.  It’s succinct and to the point, just as the title declares: we should all be feminists.  What Adichie does in the text, however, is explain why.

I know there’s been a lot of discourse around Adichie as of late, especially around this Tedx Talk and book, so I won’t go into that–but I will state that it’s important to recognize that her experiences are as a black Nigerian woman, as those inform her opinion on feminism much differently than that of mine as a white American woman.

Ultimately, I think this book is hugely important not only as a reaffirmation to your own feminist vibes when you’re feeling down, but also when you want to help convince others in their feminist journey.

Advertisements

Maurice the Unbeastly by Amy Dixon, illustrated by Karl James Mountford

Maurice the Unbeastly

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Maurice is a beast.  But he’s not your average beast.  He’s soft, kind, and surprisingly photogenic.  How could he possibly be beastly?

Review: What initially drew me into this book were the illustrations and the typography on the cover.  They’re so beautiful and stylized that I just knew I had to read this, and I’m glad I did!

Maurice the Unbeastly questions not only stereotypes, but what it means you’re born into a culture where you don’t quite fit.  Maurice ends up being sent to a beast school to become more beastly, so when he fails all of the tests and assignments and doesn’t fit in with his classmates, he does feel rather upset.  But instead of dwelling on these differences, Dixon and Mountford make a point of telling our audiences that these differences can be a good thing, and should be celebrated.  Just because somebody does something differently doesn’t meant that they’re wrong–it’s just that they do it, well, differently.

Ultimately, I think this is a great book to get for your kids, library, or classroom.  It’ll teach children great lessons whilst pulling them in with the fun story and amazing illustrations.

You Must Bring a Hat! by Simon Philip, illustrated by Kate Hindley

You Must Bring a Hat

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: The only rule to attend this party is that you must wear a hat–no exceptions!  But what happens when our beloved protagonist can’t find a hat anywhere but atop a monkey’s head?

Review: If your kids love silly books such as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, then they’ll definitely enjoy this one.  Full of conditions, loopholes, and zany characters, this book will have your kids or students rolling in laughter!

The illustrations are delightful and lighthearted, filled with swaths of patterns and characters and animals of all different sorts.

This is definitely a book I’m going to be buying for my nephew.

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, Sean Qualls, and Selina Alko

Why Am I Me

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Like two boats passing in the night, these two children who don’t know each other have the same question: why am I me?

Review: From the illustrations to the words, this book poses an incredibly important question: why am I me, and not somebody else?  How is it that I am who I am today and not somebody different?

These two children think the same question, in various ways, each differentiation suggesting a slightly different outcome?  Why am I me, and not taller or shorter?  Why am I me, and not younger or older?  Each question questions why we are born with our bodies, our cultures, our languages.  And, more importantly, each question is accentuated with beautiful drawings which further illuminate the questions.  Though they don’t ask it outright, they show it through the illustrations–these children are surrounded by people of color, people of different ethnicities, people of different religions.

When it comes down to it, this book is powerful for helping children understand that at the base of everything, humans aren’t that different from each other, while still respecting that different people’s experiences do affect their lives.

Superbat by Matt Carr

Superbat

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: Superbat wants to be a superhero just like the ones in his comic.  But when all of his superpowers are just regular powers, what’s a superbat to do?

Review: This book was so cute.  The drawings, the comic book-like effects, the heartwarming ending??  I loved it.

While offering facts about bats, it simultaneously provides a fun plot with which children can identify–a bat who’s seemingly normal in comparison to his companions, but special when he perseveres and shows a great deal of courage.  I definitely expect to see this book make its rounds in the elementary school where I volunteer–I just know that all of the students there will love this book!

Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander

Dinner at the Center of the Earth

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Spy lit, Jewish literature

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: Prisoner Z wasn’t always a prisoner.  Once, he was a spy–and a Jewish-American one at that.  Once, he worked for the Israeli government.  Once, he betrayed the Israeli government.

The general wasn’t always in a coma.  Once, he was a force to be reckoned with.  More than once, he won battles.  Once, he was living.

The guard wasn’t always a guard.  Once, he was a soldier.  Once, he was unimportant.  Once, he simply did as he was told.

Review: This book surprised me in many ways.  I picked this up in our galley section because I’d read some Jewish literature before, and I needed to read more, and I was just beginning to delve into the spy genre in all sorts of media.  However, this was unlike any Jewish or spy lit I’ve ever read before.

Most of the Jewish lit that I’ve read discusses stereotypes as a result of WWII, but this took a more contemporary twist on those stereotypes as they pertain to Gaza (a subject I’m not totally knowledgeable about, so it was nice to see some insight!).  Additionally, most of the spy lit that I’ve read typically has lots of on-the-run scenes and desperation before salvation.  Not the case with this bit of spy literature, so you’ll definitely be surprised!  Hopefully in a good way–it certainly was for me.

The language of this book was so concise and flowed nicely–so nicely that I could understand it while taking the 5:30 AM subway to work!  And, the chapters switched between different times and perspectives all the while being able to provide insight without being confusing!  An impressive feat.  Or maybe a normal one, and I’m just bad at keeping things straight?  Either way, I really enjoyed this book, and would definitely recommend it to somebody who likes to read multicultural lit or spy lit.

Copycat by Alex Lake

Copy Cat

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Thriller

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: Sarah Havenant is your average working mother.  She’s a doctor, has a great husband, and two kids whom she loves very much.  But when an old acquaintance adds her on Facebook out of the blue, that’s when everything changes.  Sarah becomes aware of another account in her name.  That’s her in the profile picture.  All the information is correct.  And those are indeed pictures of her children and house.  Except she didn’t take those pictures.   And if she didn’t, then who did?  This Facebook account is only one end of the knot that’s beginning to unravel Sarah’s life…

Review: First of all, wow.  I’ve only recently begun really reading thriller novels, and I’m glad this one fell into my hands.  It didn’t take me very long to get hooked–I mean, with photos and status updates and videos galore, we’re all hugely connected in some way or form.  And what would happen if somebody not only had access to that information, but to your life as well?  What happens when the line between virtual reality and lived experience gets crossed?  And who would be so antagonistic towards you to do so?

The trials and tribulations that Sarah goes through threatens to overthrow her marriage, her friendships, and her sanity.  How could she possibly prove that her assailant isn’t, in fact, herself?

At a few points, I felt sick because of how threatened I felt for the character, such as when her children end up getting involved.  I’m not a mother myself, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t horrifically concerned.  Additionally, I felt that this book was gripping, psychological, and ultimately scary at some parts.

I’d definitely recommend this if you enjoy thrillers and wondering about the worst that could happen in the technological age.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Young Adult literature, detective lit

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Jamie Watson is new to Sherringford, a boarding school in the United States.  He’s there on a rugby scholarship, which he’s not too excited about.  What he is excited about is the fact to meet Charlotte Holmes, a person he’s only dreamed about meeting ever since he heard of her.  After a rather unpleasant introduction, he realizes that just because Watsons and Holmes have an intimate history doesn’t mean that they will have any sort of friendship.  But it isn’t until the two are framed for a murder on campus that the two must learn to work together or be killed in the process.

Review: If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes and young adult literature, then I highly recommend this book.  It’s filled with intrigue, teenage drama, and a lot of references to the original works.

One thing that I really appreciated about these books is the fact that the Sherlock character, Charlotte, is a girl.  I’ve don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this before (with the exception of Elementary’s Joan Watson), and neither had the author, hence her inspiration to write this novel.  Additionally, I loved the way that she wrote Charlotte.  Obviously Sherlock has quite a few flaws such as being too blunt, not telling Watson anything, and of course, his drug problem.  Charlotte has those too, and a few more to boot since she’s an incredibly smart woman in a man’s world.  Topics such as the drug problem can be difficult to discuss, but I think Cavallaro does it well.  Charlotte goes back and forth between using her drug of choice, even after going to rehab two or three times.

Another thing I really appreciated is the fact that, in the same tone as the original stories, this book is from Jamie’s perspective.  He’s constantly left out of the loop–which works for us as the audience.  I’ve seen a lot of criticism about first person pov novels, and how they tell the reader what’s happening instead of letting the reader make assumptions for themselves.  But because Jamie is so often left out of the loop, or Charlotte passes information on to him without him having observed the evidence himself, we as the audience are allowed to make deductions as to who committed murder, and why.  Not that I’m any good at solving mysteries, but hey, at least I tried, right?

What I also enjoyed about this book is how Jamie and Charlotte go through different kinds of character growth.  Jamie must realize that Charlotte isn’t all that he imagined her to be, and even as he gets to know her better, she’s still not who he expected her to be.  Charlotte, on the other hand, struggles between having grown up in a family where she’s expected to be emotionless and learning to let those emotions come back into her life.

However, one thing that I’ve been constantly going back and forth on since I read this was Charlotte and Jamie’s relationship.  At the beginning, Jamie only wants to meet Charlotte, just wants to be her friend, just wants to solve crimes with her, just like Sherlock and John did.  But as time passed…well, you can probably guess.  He definitely gets a little bit infatuated with her.  While I was reading the book, I was rooting for them, rooting for the two to get together, or at the very least have a little heart to heart.  But the second I’d put the book down, I was a little annoyed that the two were likely going to get together, on account of Charlotte being a girl and Jamie being a boy.

Then again, I wonder if that’s possibly a response to the gay subtext that’s been present in the original stories and other variations of Sherlock’s adventures, or whether it’s just the fact that a boy and a girl can’t simply be best friends.  Who knows.  But I think it brings up a few good discussion points, especially in regards to Doyle’s work and more contemporary representations.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  It was funny, stressful, and all around delightful.  It’s a perfect book to read under a tree with a vanilla latte.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Middle Grade/Young Adult literature, fiction

Medium: Paperback, advanced reader’s copy

Synopsis: Conor has been plagued by two things: a recurring nightmare, and his sick mother.  Every night, at 12:07, Conor wakes up from a nightmare.  But this night, it’s different–it’s a different nightmare, one that’s significantly less scary, and one that looks like a yew tree.  The monster is there to tell Conor three tales, in exchange for a story when he is all done.  But what happens when Conor’s mom suddenly takes a turn for the worse?

Review: If I hadn’t finished this book in a public space, I would have bawled my eyes out.  I feel as though I state in many of my reviews about middle grade novels just why the novel is so important for both the child and parent to read–because the truth of the matter is that many middle grade and young adult novels focus on so many aspects of life that I haven’t seen as often in adult books.

This book really hit home for me, so it might be a bit difficult to do an objective review.

From the beginning, I knew that the monster was really a metaphor for grief.  What I didn’t know, however, was how well it was portrayed in the novel.  The monster is a nightmare–that’s all it is.  But Conor still wakes up and finds leaves and pieces of bark in his room, despite his window being closed.  So then, is the monster real, or is it not?  And the same questions can be applied to grief.  How real is grief if nobody else sees it?

Each of the tales the monster offers has a specific lesson to it, though it’s never spelled out immediately to Conor or the reader.  This gap between tale and lesson gives the reader a chance to think about what the tales mean, and how it might just apply to them personally.  For me, the second tale was my favorite–a tale about destruction.  When Conor helps the monster destroy the nightmare-fueled church only to realize he was actually singlehandedly destroying his grandmother’s sitting room, I was equally horrified and proud of Conor.  Horrified, because, well, he just effectively destroyed an entire room, and proud because oh my god I want to do that, too.  I think many people don’t realize not only how effective it is to destroy something, but how much grieving people want to destroy something.  I mean, why not–something else in your life has already been destroyed, right?  Granted, I don’t speak for all grieving people, just myself.

And, of course, Conor feels all alone.  He has others who understand what he’s going through, like his grandmother and his father, but that doesn’t matter.  He feels alone.  And that’s not just some self-isolation thing that Conor’s doing in order to appear tough on the outside, it’s a very real thing.  Additionally, people treat him differently, which is also a very real thing.  When you want to have just…….one singular sense of normalcy in your life but can’t have it because everybody’s weirdly pitying you or people you haven’t talked to in a long time are saying how sorry they are, it’s a bit bizarre, and not in the least bit normal.  And that’s all he wants: normal.

So, basically what I’m trying to get here is that if you haven’t experienced grief, are pre-grieving (yes, totally a thing!), or grieving, this book is definitely for you.  It will make you laugh and cry in all the right places, and will teach you some very good ways on how to cope with what you’re feeling.

Unlovable by Dan Yaccarino

Unlovable

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, fiction

Medium: Paperback, advanced reader’s copy

Synopsis: Alfred thinks he’s not as lovable as the other pets in his household.  He thinks he’s got a funny face, and he’s got tiny legs, too.  So what happens when there’s a new dog next door?  And what happens when Alfred tells a little lie about himself to get this dog to like him?

Review: An adorable children’s book about a pug???  Sign me the heck up.  Complete with cute illustrations and a lovable ending, this book is fantastic, and I wish that I bought it for my mom’s classroom when I had the chance.

Thanks to the other housepets, Alfred feels unlovable and quite ugly, too.  When a new dog moves in next door, all he wants to do is impress him.  So he tells a little lie.  Then one day, the neighbor dog decides to meet Alfred, and Alfred gets a little surprise!  Turns out he’s lovable after all.

Spoilers starting here!  The dog ends up being another pug.  Okay, end spoilers.  I’ve seen some people critique this book for sending an “almost right” message, or a totally wrong message.  I personally disagree, but to each their own, right?  While I understand that loving yourself shouldn’t depend on finding somebody who looks just like you (which I believe is what these critiques are founded upon), I think that Yaccarino is actually discussing the importance of representation and finding like-minded people.  I mean, it’s lonely as a kid to have all these hobbies and have nobody to share them with, or worse, to have people make fun of you for them!  So, no, you don’t necessarily need somebody exactly like you, but somebody with a couple similarities helps!

I mean, when Alfred is worried about his funny-looking face, and he discovers that his new best friend has the same type of funny-looking face, that makes him feel good!  And because his new best friends like the same kinds of things that he does, that makes him feel even better!  So, I guess what I’m trying to say here is that while self-love with no boundaries is extremely important, so is recognizing the similarities between yourself and others you admire to help that self-love along the way.  Yaccarino, in my opinion, does a great job of this.