All posts by Kelly

Brave Enough

Finished Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the best-selling author of Wild, a collection of quotes–drawn from the wide range of her writings–that capture her wisdom, courage, and outspoken humor, presented in a gift-sized package that’s as irresistible to give as it is to receive.

Around the world, thousands of people have found inspiration in the words of Cheryl Strayed, who in her three prior books and in her Dear Sugar columns has shared the twists and trials of her remarkable life. Her honesty, spirit, and ample supply of tough love have enabled many of us, even in the darkest hours, to somehow put one foot in front of the other–and be brave enough.

This book gathers, each on a single page, more than 100 of Strayed’s indelible quotes and thoughts–“mini instruction manuals for the soul” that urge us toward the incredible capacity for love, compassion, forgiveness, and endurance that is within us all.

Be brave enough to break your own heart.

You can’t ride to the fair unless you get on the pony.

Keep walking.

Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

Romantic love is not a competitive sport.

Forward is the direction of real life.

Ask yourself: “What is the best I can do?” And then do that.”

As the synopsis tells you, this is a book of quotes from Cheryl Strayed’s other books (Torch, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things).  From any other author, this would irritate me beyond measure; from Cheryl Strayed, it feels like a gift.

I’ve only read this and Tiny Beautiful Things, but her words manage to fix me and break me and this was basically a very concentrated version of that.

If you haven’t read Cheryl Strayed, you should.  I would recommend starting with Tiny Beautiful Things, which is absolutely perfect.

This is wonderful if you need a small dose of inspiration.

Highly recommended.

The Pages Between Us

Finished The Pages Between Us by Lindsey Leavitt and Robin Mellom. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Two best friends separated by conflicting middle-school class schedules vow to keep their closeness alive through the pages of a notebook, and its pages become a lifeline, with the power either to bring them together or tear them apart.

This book is absolutely adorable and also does a really great job of showing exactly how easy it is for friends—even best ones—to start drifting apart.

Piper and Olivia have been best friends for years and they each definitely rely on the other to get through their days.  This is made complicated when one year, they only have one class together.  But they have a brilliant idea: they can write notes to each other in a notebook and that will keep them as close as they’ve always been.

And for a long time it works.  Until they have another idea: start joining clubs.  And it starts out being really good until all of a sudden, they start being interested in different things.  And what odes it mean for their friendship when they have a chance to spend time together but they start opting to do different things instead?

I know it seems like a really minor thing, right? Except you remember how important everything feels in middle school—everything seems like an actual life or death situation.

This would be really good for middle school kids, especially kids in sixth grade (that’s when middle school starts now, right?) to kind of reassure them that life is hard for everyone.

Brambleheart

Finished Brambleheart by Henry Cole.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Brambleheart is beloved illustrator and author Henry Cole’s charming animal fantasy about a young chipmunk who stumbles upon a magical secret that helps him discover the meaning of friendship.

Twig has always wondered who he will become. In the Hill, everyone studies a craft and becomes a master’s Apprentice, but first you have to be good at something.

Twig tries very hard in all his classes, but his imagination wanders to his favorite books or the delicious mayapples growing beyond the scavenge yard…and then he loses his focus.

Unsure he’ll ever amount to anything, Twig sets out on a journey to discover himself. However, instead of finding answers, he stumbles upon a strangely colored globe that contains a curious secret.

Protecting his secret is all Twig wants to do. But when he learns that his secret might hurt others, he’s forced to make a choice between his place in the world and the feelings in his heart.”

I definitely have plans to buy this for my godson for his birthday in August.  This book is absolutely adorable and is one of my favorite middlegrade novels ever.

I really like Twig and definitely understand the struggle between wanting to be left alone with your books and wanting to be a successful person. ;)  I have so much to say but all of it centers around the “curious secret” and reactions to/helpers with said “curious secret,” so basically just buy and read this book.

This book left me with a giant smile on my face and I definitely want to read more from Henry Cole.

Highly recommended.

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah

Finished Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lange.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The Breakfast Club” gets a modern, high-stakes reboot in this story of four very different teens and a night that changes them forever.

The Rebel: Once popular, Andi is now a dreadlocked, tattooed wild child.
The Bully: York torments everyone who crosses his path, especially his younger brother.
The Geek: Tired of being bullied, Boston is obsessed with getting into an Ivy League college.
The Pariah: Choosing to be invisible has always worked for Sam . . . until tonight.

When Andi, York, Boston, and Sam find themselves hiding in the woods after a party gets busted by the cops, they hop into the nearest car they see and take off—the first decision of many in a night that will change their lives forever. By the light of day, these four would never be caught dead together, but when their getaway takes a dangerously unpredictable turn, sticking together could be the only way to survive.

With cinematic storytelling and compelling emotional depth, critically acclaimed author Erin Jade Lange takes readers on literary thrill ride.”

I loved this book.  The Breakfast Club comparison is incredibly apt.

This book is told from Sam’s perspective, so all we know about Andi, York and Boston is what Sam knows.  I think that worked really well for this book, because it made every personality twist completely unexpected.  And I love Sam the most, because obviously we were in her head, but I also really loved Andi and York and Boston.  Every character in this is just perfect.

I have major hopes for a sequel.  I want to spend more time with these people.

Recommended.

No Ordinary Life

Finished No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Suzanne Redfearn delivers another gripping page-turner in her latest novel, a story about a young mother’s fight to protect her children from the dangerous world of Hollywood. Faye Martin never expected her husband to abandon her and her three children . . . or that she’d have to struggle every day to make ends meet. So when her four-year-old daughter is discovered through a YouTube video and offered a starring role on a television series, it seems like her prayers have been answered. But when the reality of their new life settles in, Faye realizes that fame and fortune don’t come without a price. And in a world where everyone is an actor and every move is scrutinized by millions, it’s impossible to know who to trust, and Faye finds herself utterly alone in her struggle to save her family. Emotionally riveting and insightful, NO ORDINARY LIFE is an unforgettable novel about the preciousness of childhood and the difficult choices a mother needs to make in order to protect this fragile time in her children’s lives.

I really enjoyed this novel!  I love the story of a child star as told by her mom (who is really not what we’d think of as a stage mom).

I was expecting Faye to get in trouble for using some of Molly’s money for family use, but that didn’t happen.  (Isn’t that what Macauley Culkin’s father got in trouble for?)

At any rate, this was a smart, fun story and I definitely want to read more from Suzanne Redfearn.

Recommended.

Symptoms of Being Human

Finished Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

First, a Q&A!

1)  Is there a Twitter pitch for Symptoms of Being Human?

​Here are a few: 
“I’m not a boy. I’m not a girl. I’m Riley.” Read all about it in SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN! #LGBTQYA  http://bit.ly/1KmEMkq
“★…A smart, funny, sharp-eyed force.” -@PublishersWkly. SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN is out today!  #LGBTQYA #yalit http://bit.ly/1KmEMkq
“The 1st thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?” Read SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN now: http://bit.ly/1KmEMkq 
2)  What was the inspiration for Symptoms of Being Human?
 
A transgender teen in my county sued the school district for the right to use the locker room that aligned with their gender identity rather than their birth-assigned sex. I was so inspired by their courage–imagine going to school the day after the story broke in the news. EVERYONE would know. I was so moved by their story, I knew I had to write something.
3)  What’s the first sentence/paragraph of Symptoms of Being Human?  (This won’t run until sometime in December, if that helps)
 
The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?​
4)  If you had an anonymous blog, what would it be about?
I love this question. I’d have three: one about random parenting moments, one about the travails of being a writer, and one for all my fandom obsessions: mostly Harry Potter and Star Wars.
5)  If you could make one book mandatory, what would it be?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. It’s ​perfect for any age, it’s got heart, it’s got good versus evil, and most of all, it challenges your imagination.
6)  What are your five favorite books? (You can do authors, if it’s easier)
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
11-22-63 by Stephen King
 
7)  What 2016 releases are you excited for?
There are too many to list, but I’ve read a few of the debuts coming out in 2016, and I will recommend them here:
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. It’s the kind of book I want to write. Deeply moving, real, and sometimes hilarious and sad.
Save Me, Kurt Cobain by Jenny Manzer. Creepy, beautiful, deep.
The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. Fierce girl on a time traveling pirate ship. And the writing is SO GOOD.
Fenway & Hattie by Victoria J. Coe. A wonderfully funny and touching Middle Grade novel about a dog and his girl, from the dog’s POV.

Now on to the book!

Summary (from Goodreads):

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is . . . Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender-fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.”

This is an excellent book.

I’d heard of people being gender-fluid but I didn’t really know what that meant beyond “sometimes I feel like a girl; sometimes I feel like a guy.”  This book does an excellent job of explaining it without ever feeling preachy or like an issues book.

I especially love that Riley’s dad is a politician.  It would be hard enough to feel different anyway but to know that your different-ness could derail your dad’s job? I can’t even imagine that much pressure.

You should also know that we never learn whether Riley is a biological boy or girl, but also by the end, you’ll probably stop thinking about it.  (That’s such an amazing achievement; we are so conditoned to classify people and that’s one of the major ways we do it.)

Highly recommended.

What She Knew

Finished What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One.

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking… ”

This book was a complete page-turner.  I kept changing my mind about who was responsible for kidnapping Ben or whether Ben would be found alive.  There were a lot of twists, most of which I didn’t see coming.

This is incredibly impressive, especially for a debut novel.

The subplot aobut how Rachel was portrayed in the media was also incredibly interesting. It’s something you never really think about, how easy it would be to be misconstrued by the media.  And how exactly do you manage to create  a good media image in a stressful situation?

Recommended.

What She Left

Finished What She Left by T.R. Richmond.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Gone doesn’t mean forgotten.

When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples were felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those who knew her best.

But the person who knows her most intimately isn’t family or a friend. Dr Jeremy Cook is an academic whose life has become about piecing together Alice’s existence in all its flawed and truthful reality.

For Cooke, faithfully recreating Alice’s life – through her diaries, emails and anything using her voice – is all-consuming. He does not know how deep his search will take him, or the shocking nature of what he will uncover…”

This book is such a blast to read.  It’s told through emails, newspaper articles texts, diary entries, blog posts and comments (and a few other devices) and that makes it incredibly easy to read (and incredibly easy to keep reading).  We know that Alice has died, but we don’t know why (did she kill herself? Was it an accident? Did someone kill her?) and there are some pretty compelling pieces of evidence with each theory.

The most interesting part is that we are also not sure who can be trusted.  Everyone seems to have secrets and to know more than they’re telling about Alice’s disappearance.  It makes it really hard to know what’s going on and whose stories should be believed.

When we finally learn the truth, I will admit that I was really blindsided.  That doesn’t happen that often and kudos to TR Richmond for it. :)

Recommended.

Pax

Finished Pax by Sara Pennypacker.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds.

Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax, this story truly showcases Sara’s mastery of characterization and her fluent ability to pay off small yet beautiful details. The conflicts that Peter faces are mostly internal and center around the anger that has affected both him and his father in the wake of his mother’s unexpected death. Peter can’t shake his grandfather’s claim that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” when he wants so badly to distinguish himself from his closed-off father. Pax’s hardships, on the other hand, are more external; his domestication has left him an unskilled hunter and misled him as to the true nature of men. However, it is the beautifully-crafted characters that Peter and Pax encounter on their separate journeys who ultimately help the protagonists find what they are looking for, in addition to each other. These distinctive and multi-dimensional individuals leave a rare kind of impression on the reader while subtly infusing it with themes of loyalty, self-worth, denial, and truth.

PAX is ready to become a universal and timeless classic, like CHARLOTTE’S WEB, to be read and discussed by whole communities and generations to come.”

I bet the comparison to Charlotte’s Web left you skeptical, right? But no, it’s actually really that good.

I couldn’t stop reading this book and I was so nervous during Pax’s chapters.  (I was very worried that he would get hurt or killed, and I can deal with the death of fictional people so much easier than I can deal with the death of fictional animals.)

I won’t tell you how many times I cried during this book or how long it took me to stop crying at the end, but it’s all so worth it.  Get this book and share it with everyone you know.

Highly recommended.

Missing Pieces

Finished Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A woman uncovers earth-shattering secrets about her husband’s family in this chilling page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf

Sarah Quinlan’s husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalized in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.

Upon arriving in Penny Gate, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago—barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all. But as facts about Julia’s accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack’s past. But the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.”

I am a huge fan of Heather Gudenkauf’s and I love the way that her books seem to be these sort of ripped-from-the-headlines things that are just insanely good and insanely readable.

This one was a letdown but still was something that I couldn’t stop reading.  (It’s not that this was a bad book, because it wasn’t, at all.  It’s just that it was more of a thriller, almost, which is not what I expect from her.)

It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Sarah.  In really short order, she learns that everything she knows about her husband’s past is not true. It’s a lot to handle, even before she starts realizing just how far back the lies go and how extensive they are.

This is a good book but it’s not a good Heather Gudenkauf book.  Does that make sense? It’s just that I expect more in terms of character development from her.  (But it’s still worth reading, and I definitely plan to read everything else she writes.)