Month: July 2017

Review: The List

The List

“Language is what makes man ungovernable.”

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own.

As a lover of both YA and dystopian novels, I was very excited to read The List. I’m always interested to see how different authors portray their view of the world after a major disaster. I think we as a society have an obsession with end of the world scenarios, and I am particularly interested in the aftermath of those events, rather than what leads up to them. In The List, Patricia Forde explores a society trying to rebuild in the aftermath of a colossal natural disaster. This book is a great addition to the growing narrative of dystopian YA/middle grade novels.

Letta lives in Ark, a city that has been re-built after a natural disaster wiped out much of society many years ago. Some of the older citizens remember the way the world used to be, but many of them have been born and raised in Ark. To ensure the survival of humans, Ark citizens are only allowed to speak List, a language consisting of 500 approved words. Except for the Wordsmith, Benjamin, who is entrusted with the task of documenting and saving words beyond the list, and Letta, who is his apprentice. When Benjamin disappears and Letta becomes the Wordsmith, she starts to discover things about Ark and its leader that make her wonder if this society is actually the utopia it is meant to be. She must decide which is more dangerous: language or the lack of it.

I loved this book! The description immediately brought to mind The Giver, and I’ve since seen it compared to that book several times. The premise is the same: a homogenous culture with a select person who knows the truth. As in any dystopian novel, the government wields extreme power to control and establish a new world. The List uses words and language as that power. It very much reminded me of parenting. We teach our children certain words and try to keep them from others. It is a form of ultimate control. Along the way, outside influences introduce those words whether we like it or not. There are always rebels out there. I will say that the device used at the end of the novel to exert total control is a little convenient, but it didn’t detract from the overall story.

“The here and now is only the smallest part of who we are. Each of us is all that we have been, all our stories, all that we could be.”

Words are so basic that it is easy for us to take them for granted. We teach our kids to describe feelings, emotions, surroundings. We give names to the most subtle of emotions. What would it be like if we were forbidden from using those words? Would it dull the senses, or sharpen frustration? Forde shows us what might happen if language became a contaminant, rather than something to be celebrated. This novel is so relevant today, and I think it’s a great way to introduce some important ideas to kids, in an incredibly entertaining way!


Extra Note!

This is classified as a middle grade novel, but I think it fits pretty neatly into the YA category. It’s certainly meant for at least ages 10 and up, and while it’s not as complex as some other dystopian YA novels such as The Hunger Games, I do think kids all the way through high school would really enjoy this. The storyline of purposefully eliminating language is also a great way to introduce some thoughtful discussions with older kids.


Review: The Little French Bistro

The Little French Bistro

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

“Things not done: that was what the dead had been trying to tell her. Unlived moments. Marianne’s life consisted entirely of unlived moments.”

Reinvention stories, especially ones that take place in France, are high on my list of always-love-to-read books. I love aftermath stories, and reinventing oneself after a major life event or realization is a great aftermath story. I was hooked at the beginning of Nina George’s The Little French Bistro. When the second sentence of a book is “Marianne decided to die,” you have my attention. Unfortunately, that attention didn’t last throughout the book.

Marianne wants out of her life. She is stuck in a loveless marriage with a truly heinous husband, and I don’t blame her for wanting to leave. Marianne decides that the only escape route is death, and she attempts to drown herself in the Seine. She, of course, makes it out alive, and winds up on the coast of Brittany, working in a restaurant with a cast of eclectic characters. Over the days and weeks, Marianne is forced to face who she truly is and what she really wants out of her life, and she must make a choice before she is left with none.

I wanted to love this book, but I just didn’t. For the majority of the book, we only see Marianne through the eyes of the people she meets in Brittany. As interesting as the characters were, I wanted to learn about Marianne from her point of view, not just be told what other people thought of her from their limited interactions. There was almost zero character development for Marianne. She seems to go from a meek and cowed housewife to a strong heroine with not much evidence or story of how that occurred throughout the book. The only line, that was repeated throughout the novel, was, “she had forgotten who she was.” I wanted to see who she was before and how she got back to that person!

Nina George is obviously a talented writer. She wrote amazing stories for the side characters, and I really knew who they all were. It just felt like something was missing, namely character development for Marianne. I will also say that maybe I was not the right person for this book, because I know a lot of people love it. Let me know if you’ve read it and what you think!

2.5 stars


How to Start a Book Club

These are some great book club picks!

A Man Called Ove The Handmaid’s Tale The Great Gatsby Cocoa Beach The Last Days of Night

As a bookish person, it’s surprising to me that I have never been in a book club. The closest I’ve ever come was the way my childhood best friend and I shared our love of books. We talked about books (a lot of Baby-Sitter’s Club, Louise Rennison, and classics such as Bridge to Terebithia), suggested books for each other (I still refuse to read Old Yeller), and viewed each other’s bookshelves as our own personal libraries. Every play date and sleepover ended with trading books, and we still send each other books every once in awhile. (And after her urging me to read it for at least 20 years, I’m finally going to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this year.)

All that to say: I decided to start a book club in my neighborhood because we didn’t have one, and I missed talking about books in person! I posted about it and our first book choice, A Man Called Ove, on Instagram and received so many positive comments and questions that I wanted to write about a few things I’ve learned so far about starting a book club from scratch. Hopefully some of this will be helpful to you, and if you have any suggestions for me PLEASE send me a message or leave a comment!

(Read my 5-star review of A Man Called Ove HERE.)

Who Do You Want in Your Book Club?

By this question, I don’t mean for anyone to be ultra-exclusive about their book club membership. But it is helpful if you have people in mind: friends, neighbors, strangers? Decide who you want to ask first! (And if it’s strangers, this could be as simple as posting a flier in your local library with your book pick and meeting there!) I chose my neighborhood because I knew there was a lot of interest in starting a book club.

What Kind of Book Club Do You Want?

What do you want out of your book club? Do you want a serious book discussion with pre-planned questions and no chitchat? Do you prefer a more relaxed discussion, with time for book talk and neighborhood gossip? This decision will probably help determine the answer to the next question.

Where Do You Want to Meet?

If you want to stick to a more serious book discussion, I would suggest meeting with your group at a library-the setting is quiet, you won’t be too distracted, and most libraries have conference rooms available to use for things like this. If you want a relaxed book club, you can get away with a few different locations. Having different people host in their homes each month seems to be the most popular choice, and that’s what our book club is doing. We all bring food and drinks, hang out for a bit, then talk about the book. No planned discussion, unless there’s something specific someone wants to talk about. If you want something even easier, you could meet at a restaurant each month, a coffee shop, a dessert bar, really anywhere with enough seating for your group. (Can you tell that food is a must for me at these events?) You should also decide how often you want to meet, and try to pre-plan meeting dates a couple of months in advance.

How to Pick the Books

This can be tricky. We all want everyone to like the book, but that just doesn’t always happen. My favorite way to choose a book each month is to have whoever is hosting that month pick. (If you’re meeting in a public place, just have people volunteer to choose a book each month.) I like this because it’s a great way to be introduced to books you might not usually go for. In our group, several people were afraid that they wouldn’t like Ove, but they ended up loving the book! (Who wouldn’t?!) You could also theme your book club, or change the theme each year. Best sellers, classics, Modern Mrs. Darcy book club or summer reading picks. The sky is really the limit here.

*A few people in my neighborhood book club wanted to host but didn’t want to pick a book, so they asked for suggestions. I made a list of books (some best sellers, some classics, some lesser-known books) and added it to our Facebook group. If someone doesn’t want to choose a book on their own, they can just pick one from the list! And anyone can add books to the list if they see something interesting, so the list of suggestions is always growing.

Serious or Relaxed, Keep It Organized!

I know, I know, organization. So tedious. But it’s really not! I use a simple spreadsheet in Excel to keep track of members, addresses, who’s hosting each month, which books we’ve picked, our list of book suggestions, and who RSVPs each month. Once you get it set up, it’s so quick and easy to update. Would you all be interested in a free download of this? Let me know!

I also created a private Facebook group for our book club, and I keep it updated with book selections, meeting dates, book suggestions, and a thread for extra discussion for each book. It’s a simple way to keep connected in between meetings.

Are you in a book club? Do you want your book club to be different? Let us know how your book club works and what suggestions you have for making book club even more fun!

Extra Note!

If an in-person book club just isn’t an option because of time, location, or any other reason, consider joining the Instagram bookstagram community. (Bookstagram is just a fun name for all the wonderfully bookish accounts there. Mine is @texasgirlreads.) There are so many online book clubs that choose a book each month and discuss on Instagram in the comments. So easy!! (My favorite is @saltwaterreads! We’re reading Cocoa Beach for July’s selection.)


Review: Still Life

Still Life

“Gamache wondered about this woman who had chosen to live with so many secrets for so long, then chosen to let them all out. And died because of them? That was the question.”

Anne Bogel’s bookish influence is far and wide, and it has certainly made an impact on my reading life this year. After I heard her recommend Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels several times on her podcast, What Should I Read Next, and hearing Madeleine from Top Shelf Text rave about them as well, I had to give the first in the series, Still Life, a try. This type of mystery is not one I would normally reach for, but I’m so glad that I did, and I’m getting ready to settle in with the rest of the books (12!) for the next several months.

Chief Inspector Gamache (of the Surêté du Québec–Penny is a Canadian author), a quiet but observant man, is called to the small town of Three Pines after a local woman, Jane Neal, is found dead in the woods. At first, everyone is convinced that her death was the result of a hunting accident. After examining the scene of the crime (and the residents of Three Pines) Gamache is certain that Jane was not accidentally killed, but murdered. As we get to know many of the people who live in Three Pines and were friends with Jane, it becomes clear that the suspect is closer than anyone thinks.

This is the ultimate cozy mystery, taking place in a small town on the verge of winter. I want to go to Three Pines, even though it might actually be a murdery place. The town is the kind of idyllic place we all think we want to settle down in, and I felt like I was walking around the town when reading Penny’s descriptions of it. Gamache is such a great character. He is charming like Poirot and observant like Columbo. (On a side note, have you ever watched the Columbo TV series? It was so good!) He isn’t flashy and he makes mistakes, and isn’t afraid to admit. I so appreciate that Penny loves her characters enough to give them all flaws and make them real human beings. I keep thinking that I might run into Gamache in real life someday. The other characters aren’t ignored either. Penny lets us get to know, in detail, all the characters, not just Gamache and the main players. She develops everyone’s personalities, and that really gives the book its heart.

Still Life is a study in how people often pay more attention to what is said than to what people actually do. Actions speak louder than words, if we’re listening well enough to hear them. I loved this first cozy mystery in the Inspector Gamache series, and I can’t wait to read the rest!


Extra Note!

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention a particularly lush character in this novel: the food. All the food. Penny describes so much delicious food that reading the book made me hungry! If you read this for a book club, it would be fun for everyone to choose a dish from the book to bring to the meeting. You’ll certainly have a lot of delicious options to choose from!



What My Kids Are Reading: July 21, 2017

The 13-Story Treehouse   The Cat in the Hat Comes Back   A New Class (Star Wars: Jedi Academy 4)

This week my kids read an old classic, a loved series book, and a new-to-us wild and crazy story. Tell me what you and your kids have been reading this week!

The 8-Year-Old
A New Class (Star Wars: Jedi Academy 4)

With a new book in the Jedi Academy series being released next week (The Force Oversleeps (Star Wars: Jedi Academy 5)), my 8-year-old has been re-reading the last-released book, A New Class. Victor Starspeeder, our protagonist, is joining his older sister at the Jedi Academy, much to her horror. In addition to pleasing his master, Yoda, Victor must navigate all the annoyances that come with a new school, new friends, and an older sibling. It’s a classic going-back-to-school book. But, you know, with light sabers and Wookiees. This is a great series, and I’m glad another will be here soon!


The 6-Year-Old
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

The Cat in the Hat is back for more adventures! Sally and her brother are stuck shoveling snow while their mother goes into town (Have children also been this, admittedly forced, industrious?). The Cat shows up and makes the job go by faster, while getting into some mischief along the way. I know we all know about Dr. Seuss, but they’re so easy to forget about, at least for me, with beginning readers. I’m always in such a hurry to get my kids reading more modern books that I love that I forget how amazing Dr. Seuss books are. My 6-year-old picked this out at the library (one of the few Dr. Seuss’s we don’t have) and has read the entire thing on his own. I have a feeling we’ll be adding this to our permanent collection!


What We’re Reading Together
The 13-Story Treehouse

This was a bit of an impulse purchase for me. I had heard it was a good book, it has some graphic novel elements, and what kid doesn’t want to read about a giant treehouse? Y’all. This book is nuts, but in a great way. It’s about two kids, Andy and Terry (named after the author and illustrator), who live in a treehouse. But not just any treehouse. This treehouse has a marshmallow-shooting machine, a lemonade fountain, a man-eating shark tank, and much more. This book is so great because of its kookiness. If I had to guess, I’d say that the author and illustrator are good friends who had no problem coming up with the kind of wild and crazy adventures that usually only kids can come up with. (Like a cat that turns into a canary. A catnary.) My kids can’t wait until it’s time to settle down and read more of this book every night, and my 8-year-old got impatient and read ahead one day. The 13-Story Treehouse has all the right elements for a fun children’s book: action, humor, adventure, and man-eating sharks. We will definitely be buying the rest of the books in the series!