Some Places More Than Others

Finished Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Newbery Honor author Renée Watson explores a family’s relationships and Harlem—its history, culture, arts, and people.

All Amara wants is to visit her father’s family in Harlem. Her wish comes true when her dad decides to bring her along on a business trip. She can’t wait to finally meet her extended family and stay in the brownstone where her dad grew up. Plus, she wants to visit every landmark from the Apollo to Langston Hughes’s home.

But her family, and even the city, is not quite what Amara thought. Her dad doesn’t speak to her grandpa, and the crowded streets can be suffocating as well as inspiring. But as she learns more and more about Harlem—and her father’s history—Amara realizes how, in some ways more than others, she can connect with this other home and family.

This is a powerful story about family, the places that make us who we are, and how we find ways to connect to our history across time and distance.”

Renee Watson has a 100% success rate with me. I’ve loved everything I’ve read of hers (and I’ve read everything except her picture books) and I think this one is my favorite yet.

Amara is meeting most of her dad’s family for the first time. She’s met her aunt, but not her cousins or grandfather. (It turns out that her dad and grandpa haven’t really spoken in years, and she doesn’t know why.)

That’s probably overwhelming enough but they live in New York City (specifically Harlem) and Amara’s never been there before. (His dad is from New York but moved back to Oregon, where Amara’s mom is from.) Combine the two, and this vacation is A LOT for Amara.

I love this book so much. It’s all about history but it’s both the history of Amara’s family and of Black people in general. It’s fascinating and it doesn’t read like a lecture. (It makes me want to visit all the places mentioned in here the next time I go to New York and I definitely want to try those beef patties. They sound like perfection.)

If you haven’t read Renee Watson, this is a great place to start—but there’s no bad place to start, either. Highly recommended.


I Have No Secrets

Finished I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jemma knows who did the murder. She knows because he told her. And she can’t tell anyone.

Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy. Unable to communicate or move, she relies on her family and carer for everything. She has a sharp brain and inquisitive nature, and knows all sorts of things about everyone. But when she is confronted with this terrible secret, she is utterly powerless to do anything. Though that might be about to change…”

I couldn’t put this book down! I loved Jemma and could feel her frustration at not being able to communicate and her fear at being essentially powerless. Dan (her aide’s boyfriend) is such a creep and he fooled everyone but Jemma. (Of course, you can’t be fooled when he’s only obviously evil when he’s alone with you.)

But even besides the two mysteries (will Dan ever get caught? And the other mystery not mentioned in the synopsis), I loved everything about this book. I loved Jemma’s relationship with her parents and her siblings (foster parents and foster siblings, but she thinks of them as actual family), but also with her aide and really everyone around her. People treat her various ways (usually there’s a lot of staring from strangers and people who don’t know her tend to assume she’s basically a giant toddler) but she has a really strong sense of self, and that really comes through.

I loved this book and am excited to read more from Penny Joelson. I hope this is the first of many. Highly recommended.

September Books I’m Excited For

September is full of so many great releases! I’m going to need more time.

1) The Institute by Stephen King (of course)

2) Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

3) White Bird by RJ Palacio

4) Akin by Emma Donoghue

5) Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi

6) Frankly in Love by David Yoon

7) The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

8) The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

9) Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

10) The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Weekend Update

What I’m reading: I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson. I keep slipping in and out of a book slump, but I haven’t been able to put this one down. It’s excellent so far.

What I’m watching: I’m basically obsessed with BH90210! It’s so fun and I can’t wait to watch the third episode, which aired last night.

What I’m listening to: I’m almost done with the podcast White Lies, which is about the murder of Rev. James Reeb in Selma. It’s excellent and infuriating.

The Other Half of Happy

Finished The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcarcel. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Twelve-year-old, bi-cultural Quijana likes her Anglo life just fine. Nevermind that her Spanish is shaky and she can’t talk with her abuela. When her Latino relatives show up and prompt her parents to plan a trip to Guatemala, Quijana plans an escape. She’s sure that being half makes her happy.

Chronicle brings us poet Rebecca Balcárcel’s middle grade novel about a biracial girl who’s navigating between the Anglo and Guatemalan sides of her family, a burgeoning crush and a cool new friend, and trying to figure out what’s going on with her little brother, who is becoming remote and hard to reach, all while trying to determine just who she is.”

According to the synopsis, Rebecca Balcarcel is a poet. I didn’t know that before (my knowledge of poetry is really lacking) but it makes sense. She has a real command of language and every word is deliberate and perfect.

I absolutely loved this book. Quijana’s life is separated into two parts, and she’s definitely closer to her Anglo side than her Guatemalan one (she barely speaks any Spanish—we have basically the same grasp, which is only a handful of words—and she’s almost embarrassed by her dad). It’s not like she’s ashamed of being biracial but she definitely prefers her white grandmother and English to her dad’s family. (Although a big part of that is the fact that she literally doesn’t speak their language.)

I also loved the subplot about her brother. He seems to be on the spectrum somewhere, but there are other clues that it doesn’t really fit, either. Quijana’s really close to him and she clearly just wants to be able to fix it for him, but there’s no way to. (I love her relationship with everyone in her family. One thing middlegrade does better than YA is feature these great family relationships. And I love everyone in The Other Half of Happy.)

This is a fantastic story and I’m so glad I saw it at ALA. Highly recommended.

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph

Finished The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Perfect for fans of Nina LaCour and Nicola Yoon comes a novel about first love and family secrets from Stonewall Book Award winner Brandy Colbert.

Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.

When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.”

Brandy Colbert has become one of my must-buy authors and this book is an example of why. Her novels are incredibly specific (their respective neighborhoods are as much a character in the books than the people in them) but at the same time, they feel universal.

Everything about this book was perfection for me. It’s so clever and so heartbreaking and I just wanted everything to be OK for Birdie.

I hope there’s a companion novel. I would very much like to spend more time with them.

Highly recommended.

Chase Darkness With Me

Finished Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked? Put together the pieces? Identify the suspect?

Journalist Billy Jensen spent fifteen years investigating unsolved murders, fighting for the families of victims. Every story he wrote had one thing in common―they didn’t have an ending. The killer was still out there.

But after the sudden death of a friend, crime writer and author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara, Billy became fed up. Following a dark night, he came up with a plan. A plan to investigate past the point when the cops had given up. A plan to solve the murders himself.

You’ll ride shotgun as Billy identifies the Halloween Mask Murderer, finds a missing girl in the California Redwoods, and investigates the only other murder in New York City on 9/11. You’ll hear intimate details of the hunts for two of the most terrifying serial killers in history: his friend Michelle McNamara’s pursuit of the Golden State Killer and his own quest to find the murderer of the Allenstown Four. And Billy gives you the tools―and the rules―to help solve murders yourself.

Gripping, complex, unforgettable, Chase Darkness with Me is an examination of the evil forces that walk among us, illustrating a novel way to catch those killers, and a true-crime narrative unlike any you’ve read before.”

If you’re into true crime in general or the podcast My Favorite Murder in particular, you know who Billy Jensen is. He helped finish Michelle McNamara’s book (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark) after her sudden death, and now he’s written his own book. He discusses the Golden State Killer, of course, and his search to identify the woman and three children found in barrels (his two most well-known cases) but he discusses other cases, too.

Perhaps most valuable, he discusses how people can help him solve cold cases. (There’s an addendum with tips, including important things not to do.) There’s also a conversation with Paul Holes, which is very fun for true crime buffs and fans of their podcast, The Murder Squad.

I know we have a lot of true crime books out now, and you may be feeling incredibly burned out on the topic. Billy Jensen’s book will likely help you turn that around. His writing style is engaging but it also is full of passion to get these cases solved and find answers for the victims’ families. It’s a combination that I think many people will…I don’t want to say “enjoy,” because this isn’t a particularly fun book to read. It’s full of many people’s worst moments. But if there’s one thing that I hope brings solace to those people, it’s knowing that others care as much as they do, and will not rest until they can find answers. Possibly the worst thing about grief is feeling like you’re the only person who remembers the person lost, and Billy Jensen is careful to keep the focus on victims and not on the murderer. (For example, most people can’t name the women that Ted Bundy killed, but everyone knows his name and appearance.)

I loved this book and I hope that we get a follow up. Highly recommended.

Adventures in Streaming

I watched so much TV this week!

HULU: I’m almost done with the first season of Light as a Feather (just entertaining enough to want to keep going) and the second season of Game of Thrones (so good!). I also stayed caught up with BH90210 (ridiculous; I love it) and Spin the Wheel.

PRIME: I started watching Why Women Kill (I love it so far) and The Twilight Zone (I loved the third episode, liked the first and didn’t like the second).

NETFLIX: Still watching Mindhunter. It’s very good and more than a little disturbing.

VUDU: I’m watching the second season of Scream and am caught up on Younger. I’m also watching a lot of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

The Downstairs Girl

Finished The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender.

While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light.”

Stacey Lee has become one of my favorite authors. This book (another of her historical fiction novels) cements that status.

I love Jo and the way that she is determined to find a better life for herself and Old Gin, but Atlanta society is for sure just as certain that there’s no better life for her. (She’s a woman and Chinese, and they do not have time for either of those things.)

This is an incredibly fun story, but it’s also bittersweet. It hasn’t been that long, really, since women weren’t allowed to vote or to do much of anything besides get married and have kids. And it didn’t matter how smart you were or what you wanted to do, that’s what your life would be. It’s easy for the reader to see just how that viewpoint stifled many of the characters.

The Miss Sweetie subplot was my favorite, but it’s not as big a part of the story as the synopsis would have you believe. (But that’s OK, because this book is a complete delight all on its own.)


Why Women Kill

I watched the pilot of Why Women Kill. It’s on CBS All Access and is the new show by Marc Cherry (the guy behind Desperate Housewives).

It’s set in three timelines (the 1960s, 80s and now) and two women who have good reason to kill their husbands. The one in the current timeline seems more okay than the other two but there’s a good chance he’ll turn out to be awful too. (And do they end up killing their husbands or someone else?)

This show is really good so far and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. You can see the similarities to Desperate Housewives (it’s all about secrets in suburbia) but this is definitely its own thing.

I also love the vivid colors. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and this is a delightful show. I can’t wait to see where it goes.