Category Archives: 2019 Books

Red at the Bone

Finished Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.”

I snagged an e-galley of this without knowing anything about it except for “Jacqueline Woodson wrote this.” I haven’t read all or even most of her backlist, but everything I HAVE read has been completely extraordinary.

Red at the Bone is no exception. It’s incredibly short (barely 200 pages, according to Goodreads) but it contains an entire family. I want to know so much more about what happens to everyone (both in the past, as well as in the future) and I think I could get a 20-volume series of at least 500 pages each, and it still wouldn’t be enough.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, because I think it works really well when you learn things as you are being told. But you guys, this book is amazing and it’s serious genius. (Obviously, because Jacqueline Woodson wrote it.)

Highly recommended.

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Frankly in Love

Finished Frankly in Love by David Yoon. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“High school senior Frank Li is a Limbo–his term for Korean-American kids who find themselves caught between their parents’ traditional expectations and their own Southern California upbringing. His parents have one rule when it comes to romance–“Date Korean”–which proves complicated when Frank falls for Brit Means, who is smart, beautiful–and white. Fellow Limbo Joy Song is in a similar predicament, and so they make a pact: they’ll pretend to date each other in order to gain their freedom. Frank thinks it’s the perfect plan, but in the end, Frank and Joy’s fake-dating maneuver leaves him wondering if he ever really understood love–or himself–at all.”

This is such a fantastic novel! I’ve been seeing it on basically every “Books to Watch For” list, and it’s deserved.

This is a book that’s hard to describe. It’s about relationships, obviously, but Frank and Brit (and Frank and Joy) are two of the least interesting things in this story. (I loved both plotlines, but not as much as I loved Frank and his parents or his sister or his best friend Q.) Everything in the novel is interesting and everything is important. There wasn’t anything that felt unnecessary or distracting.

I’ve read and loved both of Nicola Yoon’s novels (she’s his wife) and I’m pretty sure that he’s going to have a similar career trajectory and success rate. I’m excited to see where he goes from here.

Although, best of all, it looks like his next stop is apparently going to be a sequel next year and I can’t wait. (I would also be happy if it’s a companion novel centered around Q.)

Highly recommended.

Akin

Finished Akin by Emma Donoghue. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A retired New York professor’s life is thrown into chaos when he takes a young great-nephew to the French Riviera, in hopes of uncovering his own mother’s wartime secrets in the next masterpiece from New York Times bestselling author Emma Donoghue.

Noah Selvaggio is a retired chemistry professor and widower living on the Upper West Side, but born in the South of France. He is days away from his first visit back to Nice since he was a child, bringing with him a handful of puzzling photos he’s discovered from his mother’s wartime years. But he receives a call from social services: Noah is the closest available relative of an eleven-year-old great-nephew he’s never met, who urgently needs someone to look after him. Out of a feeling of obligation, Noah agrees to take Michael along on his trip.

Much has changed in this famously charming seaside mecca, still haunted by memories of the Nazi occupation. The unlikely duo, suffering from jet lag and culture shock, bicker about everything from steak frites to screen time. But Noah gradually comes to appreciate the boy’s truculent wit, and Michael’s ease with tech and sharp eye help Noah unearth troubling details about their family’s past. Both come to grasp the risks people in all eras have run for their loved ones, and find they are more akin than they knew.

Written with all the tenderness and psychological intensity that made Room an international bestseller, Akin is a funny, heart-wrenching tale of an old man and a boy, born two generations apart, who unpick their painful story and start to write a new one together.”

The easy comparison here is to A Man Called Ove, if Ove were less of a curmudgeon and then forced to be a guardian to an 11-year-old boy. But this isn’t quite accurate, either.

Emma Donoghue is one of the best writers around, and she proves it again here. This is the kind of story we’ve seen play out a lot of different times (the movies Raising Helen and Baby Boom, but there are a lot of examples) but this is also a great deal more poignant. None of the characters here are stereotypes; they’re fully realized and while I know that it’s incredibly snobby to say that a trope is elevated based on the author’s skill, I’m not sure of another way to put it.

She’s not one of the more prolific authors out there (a new Emma Donoghue novel is an EVENT in my world) but with that comes an actual 100% success rate. Every story she writes is hard to compare to the others but they’re also all amazing.

Highly recommended.

The Institute

Finished The Institute by Stephen King.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.”

I feel like this took me forever to read, and that isn’t a reflection on the quality of the book. I’ve been a little scattered, and that doesn’t lend itself to a book like this. And, since this would be a dealbreaker for a lot of people, bad things happen to kids.

As one of his Constant Readers, I really enjoyed this book. It’s like a lot of his other books: very fun, very intense, incredibly fast-paced for a book that’s not exactly tiny (almost 600 pages), but I would caution that it’s also a brutal read. Horrible things happen, and they happen to good people. (As tends to be the case with his books, as you know.)

It’s not for everyone, but it was absolutely for me. I loved it and it made me want to re-read all of his others again. Proceed with caution, but I’ll definitely be reading it again.

Suggested Reading

Finished Suggested Reading by Dave Connis. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In this hilarious and thought-provoking contemporary teen standalone that’s perfect for fans of Moxie, a bookworm finds a way to fight back when her school bans dozens of classic and meaningful books.

Clara Evans is horrified when she discovers her principal’s “prohibited media” hit list. The iconic books on the list have been pulled from the library and aren’t allowed anywhere on the school’s premises. Students caught with the contraband will be sternly punished.

Many of these stories have changed Clara’s life, so she’s not going to sit back and watch while her draconian principal abuses his power. She’s going to strike back.

So Clara starts an underground library in her locker, doing a shady trade in titles like Speak and The Chocolate War. But when one of the books she loves most is connected to a tragedy she never saw coming, Clara’s forced to face her role in it.

Will she be able to make peace with her conflicting feelings, or is fighting for this noble cause too tough for her to bear?”

So you all know how I feel about books. Clara is one of my people. There’s even a chance she loves books even more than I do. (OK, probably not, but I bet we’re tied.)

I love this secret library and I love the way that she feels about books. But I think what I love the most is the way that we don’t know how what we do affects other people. Clara learns that in this book: dominoes fall, and we don’t always know just how far that reach goes.

If you’re a person who loves books and reading, talking about books, sharing books, crying because of books or even just wants something great to read, grab this one. You will be so glad you did.

(Banned books are the best books!)

Highly recommended. (It’s a 10/10 on the Read This, Liza & Amy Scale!)

Unpregnant

Finished Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Seventeen-year-old Veronica Clarke never thought she would wish she’d failed a test until she finds herself holding a thick piece of plastic in her hands and staring at two solid pink lines. Even the most consistent use of condoms won’t prevent pregnancy when your boyfriend secretly pokes holes in them to keep you from going out-of-state for college.

Veronica needs an abortion, but the closest place she can legally get one is over nine hundred miles away—and Veronica doesn’t have a car. Too ashamed to ask her friends or family for help, Veronica turns to the one person she believes won’t judge her: Bailey Butler, Jefferson High’s own little black cloud of anger and snark—and Veronica’s ex-best friend. Once on the road, Veronica quickly remembers nothing with Bailey is ever simple and that means two days of stolen cars, shotguns, crazed ex-boyfriends, truck stop strippers with pro-life agendas, and a limo driver named Bob. But the pain and betrayal of their broken friendship can’t be outrun. When their fighting leads to a brutal moment of truth, Bailey abandons Veronica. Now Veronica must risk everything in order to repair the hurt she’s caused.”

Veronica’s practically perfect and her life reflects that. She’s likely to be valedictorian and her boyfriend is sweet and attentive. And then she gets pregnant. This is NOT part of her five year plan (which includes Brown and which doesn’t at all include following in her sister’s footsteps of dropping out of college, marrying and having a baby). This means getting an abortion, which means driving for 1,000 miles each way, to the nearest clinic that will perform it without parental permission. And her companion on this trip? Her former best friend, Bailey.

If you’re in the mood for a laugh-out-loud road trip book, this is for you. Everything that can go wrong for Veronica and Bailey does, but it’s hysterically funny (because it’s not happening to you, and until you think about how they have to travel almost 2,000 miles round trip to get an abortion which, incidentally, IS LEGAL IN THE US. This is why I’ll never live anywhere south of where I currently live, btw).

Besides being a madcap comedy, though, it’s about friendship. I hope we all have at least one person who will make hard journeys with us. And I hope we all have at least one person who would do it even if we weren’t currently friends.

Highly recommended.

Pumpkinheads

Finished Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?”

I absolutely adored this graphic novel! I feel like that format is very hit or miss for me but it really worked for this one, and it also made me very happy that fall is coming up. (If you’re a fan of the season, you’ll also love this.) It’s very evocative of the season and everything associated with it.

I haven’t been to a pumpkin patch (I don’t think ever, but definitely not as a teenager or adult; if I went at all, I must’ve been a toddler at best) but this makes me want to change that. (Especially around Halloween and especially if there’s any sort of maze involved.)

I also love the characters (especially Deja and her multiple quests). I’m more like Josiah (I pine from afar) so I appreciate Deja because she makes things happen.

This is just a really fun story and I hope for more collaborations between Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks. Highly recommended.

Permanent Record

Finished Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“After a year of college, Pablo is working at his local twenty-four-hour deli, selling overpriced snacks to brownstone yuppies. He’s dodging calls from the student loan office and he has no idea what his next move is.

Leanna Smart’s life so far has been nothing but success. Age eight: Disney Mouseketeer; Age fifteen: first #1 single on the US pop chart; Age seventeen, *tenth* #1 single; and now, at Age nineteen…life is a queasy blur of private planes, weird hotel rooms, and strangers asking for selfies on the street.

When Leanna and Pab randomly meet at 4:00 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn, they both know they can’t be together forever. So, they keep things on the down-low and off Instagram for as long as they can. But it takes about three seconds before the world finds out…”

I feel like dating someone super famous is a common fantasy, right? You’d get to do whatever you wanted, go wherever you wanted—it would be an ideal life. Except this book really shows what a lie that is. Leanna Smart works basically all the time. And when she’s not working, she’s usually working anyway. AND there’s the fact that if she’s in public, there’s a chance she’d get mobbed. Now yes, there are worse things than potentially never having to run your own errands again, but think about the fun stuff you wouldn’t be able to do: no snack runs, no movie trips, no anything that could get you noticed. (Because noticed can lead to literally terrifying outcomes.)

Contrast that with Pablo, who is basically living the exact opposite life. He’s coasting along aimlessly, unsure of what he wants to do except he knows it isn’t what he IS doing. But he doesn’t have the energy to change his life. It makes me really sad, actually; he seems at least low-key miserable for most of the novel.

I think the ending is going to be polarizing, but I loved it.

I think I preferred this to Emergency Contact, but I loved both. I’m officially a huge fan of Mary H.K. Choi’s, and I can’t wait to read her next book. I hope it’s out soon.

Highly recommended.

American Royals

Finished American Royals by Katharine McGee. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

What if America had a royal family? If you can’t get enough of Harry and Meghan or Kate and William, meet American princesses Beatrice and Samantha.

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.
Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.
This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American. And their country was born of rebellion.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.”

I loved everything about this book, but I think my favorite is how one major thing that’s changed (America being a monarchy) has changed a lot of other things about our history, too. It’s obvious that there would be ripple effects and that things would be different, but it’s so interesting to see it play out.

I also love the characters. It’s fascinating to see how the responsibility of her role (current and as the future queen) weighs on Beatrice and how seriously she takes that responsibility. We don’t see many people who really do put country before self, but she does. Her sister Samantha is a sharp contrast to that, but it’s hard not to feel for her because her whole life has been about how she is less important than her siblings (her sister will be queen and her twin brother is the only boy) and her code name is Sparrow, which is so mean (because she’s the spare).

Our other two narrators are Daphne and Nina. If you ask Daphne, she and Nina are in a fight practically to the death to win Prince Jefferson’s heart. If you ask Nina, she’s just living her life. Daphne is probably my least favorite of the four, but I respected her and her drive. She’s basically a Terminator; she will not stop.

This book is such over the top fun and I loved every page of it. I can’t wait for the sequel. Highly recommended.

Well Met

Finished Well Met by Jen DeLuca.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“All’s faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.”

I’m not a huge fan of renaissance festivals but I do love books set in Maryland and I also love books about people rebuilding their lives. So when I got a chance to read this one early, I jumped at it.

And this book was a complete joy to read. I loved Emily and how she throws herself into everything she does. She’s a wonderful person to have on your side.

Like Emily, I hated Simon at first. But as her feelings changed, so did mine. By the end of the book, I couldn’t believe either of us had ever hated him at all.

This is an incredibly fun read and is perfect for any vacation (or for taking your mind off of a hard week where you don’t have a vacation). Public transportation in my city isn’t doing well right now and my commutes are getting increasingly longer and more annoying, but this book made it all a lot more bearable. Recommended.