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.

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.

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.