Review: News of the World


News of the World

And here he was in his mild and mindless way still roaming, still reading out the news of the world in the hope that it would do some good, but in the end he must carry a weapon in his belt and he had a child to protect and no printed story or tale would alter that.

I have a confession to make. Even though I am from Texas and have always lived here (except for a semester in college when I lived in Washington, D.C.), I don’t read a lot of Texas books. I don’t really seek out Texas authors, and I tend to shy away from books about Texas. Why that is I’m not sure, except that I have my own opinions about Texas, and perhaps I don’t want them messed with. But when several people, including my mom and Anne Bogel, recommended News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I decided to make it my Bucket List Book Club pick for August and “force” myself to read it. Guys, this is a book about Texas written by a transplant Texan who lives about an hour away from me. And y’all, I’m so glad I did.

News of the World takes place just after the Civil War, when there was still a ton of unrest in Texas, no one trusted each other, and the relationship between Texans and Indian tribes was contentious at best. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a military veteran, travels around Texas reading news stories from international newspapers to crowds of people, who all pay to listen. They lose themselves in the news and tragedies of far away countries that don’t quite seem real in order to forget their own problems for a little while. At one of his stops, he is offered $50 to return a girl, Johanna, who was kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe to her remaining family in San Antonio. For four years she has been living with the Kiowas, and she no longer seems to remember her family, how to speak English, or where she came from. The bulk of the book is about their journey together and how they each grow and change.

First of all, I just want to say that you MUST read this book, if only to read it before the Tom Hanks movie version comes out. It is so well written and well researched. It takes place during a very interesting and confusing time in Texas history, but I think a lot of parallels can be drawn to today’s history as well. (People losing themselves in news from other countries to escape thinking about our own news? Yup.) The book strikes a nice balance between a quiet story and intrigue. Yes, it’s a quiet book, but I absolutely wanted to know what happened after every chapter. Along those lines, I think this book would be best read in one or two sittings. I took too many breaks, and I wish I had just sat down and read it straight through. It’s a long journey, but a short book, and really lends itself to a lazy day spent in a comfy chair.

News of the World is such a good story and such a quick read, I really think everyone should give it a try. It’s amazing to see Captain Kidd’s journey from not wanting to take Johanna at all to becoming attached to her and fully invested in her happiness and wellbeing. Johanna’s story is heartbreaking (read the author’s note at the end), but is tempered by the story of a tough old Texan soldier turning into a softie. Sort of. It also has one of the best, most beautiful final chapters of a book I’ve ever read.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

EXTRA!

There are no quotation marks used in this book! The absence of quotes was a little jarring at first, but I ended up really appreciating it. Whenever I see quotes on a page, my eye is automatically and involuntarily drawn to them, and I often have to go back and re-read what came first. Without quotes, I really paid attention to each sentence as it came, instead of looking ahead to the dialogue.

YA Review: The Summer of Jordi Perez


The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)

And right at this very moment, for maybe the first time ever, I feel like I’m in my own story.

When Kate over at Kate Olson Reads tells me multiple times to read a book, I read it. She’s never steered me wrong. When she suggested The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding after seeing how much I loved Dumplin’ and To Be Honest, I moved it to the top of my reading pile. And as usual, Kate was right. This is a fun YA book with a whole lot of heart, and if you’re looking for a feel-good book to end the summer with, this fits the bill!

Abby Ives is 17, gay, plus-sized, and obsessed with fashion. Her parents are less than supportive. But when she meets fellow fashion intern Jordi Perez over the summer (and fully falls for her), Abby has to balance romance with competition, and who she wants to be going forward.

Let me say this first: I want to be friends with Abby. There’s no wordsmithy way to put it: she’s a damn cool girl, and I wish I knew her in real life! Now. This is a very cute, contemporary YA romance that is a really fun book to read. I don’t have a lot of experience reading LGBTQ YA, but thanks to the Diverse Books Club and Kate Olson, I’ve found some good ones. (There’s also just not a ton out there, and definitely not many in the mainstream lit world. Lesbian romance seems even harder to find than male romance.) This one is fantastic. So, so good. I rooted for Abby and Jordi the whole time, and I love that the author doesn’t make a big deal out of the actual gay romance-it’s just romance and normal teen angst. This is how YA lit should always be written. Because it is normal.

The only thing I wanted more of was Abby’s friendships. We’re kind of dropped into the middle of Abby and Maliah’s (her best friend) friendship, and I would have loved to see more of their story because the characters were so good! She also befriends a boy named Jax who seemed to have some family issues of his own, but was only hinted at. I love background stories on side characters!
If you’re looking for a good YA book, or a fun romance, and also want to diversify your reading a bit, I highly recommend The Summer of Jordi Perez!!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Review: Crazy Rich Asians


Crazy Rich Asians

 . . . finish everything on your plate, girls! Don’t you know there are children starving in America?

If you haven’t heard of Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan yet, you will soon. It’s being released in theaters soon, and the movie adaptation looks like a splashy, spectacularly fun time. It’s based on the book by the same name, and while people either seem to love it or hate it, I fall into the love category. This is a book about . . . crazy rich Asians in Singapore. It’s fun, wild, crazy, unbelievable, and laugh out loud funny in parts. While some of it is too over the top for its own good, and every character comes a little too close to being a caricature of themselves, I think it’s a fun book to read, and surprisingly quick given that it’s just over 500 pages.

Rachel Chu lives with her boyfriend, Nick Young, in New York City. She agrees to spend the summer with him in Singapore, even though she’s never met his family, and really knows nothing about them. When she arrives, Rachel discovers that Nick isn’t just the underpaid college professor he is in NYC. His family is extremely, crazy rich. A home that looks more like a palace, private jets, designer clothes, and family members who definitely think Rachel isn’t good enough to be a part of the family. She has to learn to navigate a family with a legitimate dynasty and decide whether or not this family, and lifestyle, is really for her.

My sister in law read this at the same time I did, and she said it reminded her of Gossip Girl, and she is right on. It definitely has a Gossip Girl vibe, but with a million times the money, glamour and drama. The story is fun, and it feels like you’re peeking behind the scenes of a family that really doesn’t want you to know what’s going on. Some of the writing did bother me a little bit. There were places where it just felt like a dude writing about idiot dudes. Which is fine, it’s a personal preference for me that I didn’t enjoy that. The characters are written SO stereotypically, but that’s sort of the point of the book-over the top, wild, with a lot of truth in all of it. Kwan grew up in Singapore, so I don’t doubt the validity of the characters and their situations.

Crazy Rich Asians is a fun read, and the movie looks amazing. (And while I did love the book, I think this MIGHT be a case where the movie is even better than the book.) Let me know if you’ve read and if you plan to see the movie!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

EXTRA

There is a scene that really, really bothered me, and I had a hint that it was coming, so I was able to skim over it. It’s a dogfighting scene, and it’s horrible but brief. It only takes up about a page and a half, and it adds nothing to the story (other than to reiterate what we already know-some of these guys are awful people), so just skip it and move on.

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Review: Beartown


Beartown

It’s only a game. It only resolved tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.

Unless you count The Mighty Ducks and my pre-teen crush on Joshua Jackson in the 1990s (and then again on Dawson’s Creek-don’t even try to convince me that Dawson was better than Pacey, because he wasn’t), I am really not a hockey fan. Beartown by Fredrik Backman changed that. Sort of. This book is about hockey, but it’s really about the culture around sports, teams, and the lengths people are willing to go to so they have something to root for. I cared about hockey in this book, I cared about the players, and I really cared about how they reacted as a community to a horrible event. This isn’t like A Man Called Ove at all, but it is powerful, and has Backman’s trademark way of just nailing humanity. Young, old, and in between, he calls it like he sees it, and it’s so honest.

Beartown is a tiny community in the middle of a forest. City access isn’t nearby. The only thing the town has going for it is its junior hockey league. The team is getting ready to compete in a huge tournament, and if they win, there’s a huge chance a big practice rink will be built in their town, bringing in much-needed revenue. When a young girl is the victim of a violent act, it affects the entire town and puts the hockey team in a shaky position. The town has to come together to move forward, but a clear line is drawn when not everyone is willing to support the young girl. Will the team come first, or will the town realize that sometimes an individual needs to win?

I have never seen the culture of sports, from best to worst, good and terrible, handled so elegantly. Backman is one of the best writers, maybe ever, and he gets sports in a small town exactly right. It doesn’t matter if it’s hockey, football, or baseball, or what country that small town is in: sports can be everything, and people will give up quite a bit, even their integrity, to support their team. Beartown also ties in and addresses the biggest fear every parent has: Can we ever really protect out children? The answer is a resounding no, but it’s not black and white. If we can’t protect our children, then what should our reaction be when they are hurt? What should other people’s reactions be? How much should we expect of our children? Sports culture, community, and family are wound together in this story, and Backman shows how they are and always will be linked together.

Beartown is not always easy to read, and in the hands of a lesser author I would have skipped over several scenes. But Backman’s writing and storytelling is so compelling that I couldn’t put it down. I had to keep reading, and he handled the most difficult scenes with grace. There’s nothing clumsy (or accidental) about Backman’s writing, and he does this story justice. Please, please read this book. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and you will walk away with your heart on the floor and a lot of think about.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

EXTRA

One particular incident in this book is a potential trigger. (There is a rape.) This is normally a trigger for me, as I really dislike when authors use rape as a form of entertainment. However, the way Backman wrote it wasn’t over the top or sensationalized. It was real and didn’t drag on for many pages as a form of entertainment. Just be aware that it is there, but it’s written very sensitively.

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YA Review: To Be Honest


To Be Honest

Thank you to the Kid Lit Exchange network for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own!

Out August 21, 2018!

News flash: fat isn’t a bad word, Mom. . . . I have blue eyes. I have blonde hair. I’m fat. Literally nothing about my life is changed because that word is associated with my physical appearance.

Y’all, YA authors have been hitting it out of the park lately with body-positive, non-traditional main characters lately. To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin is no exception. A beautiful, smart, funny, fat main character? Yes, please!!! (“Newsflash: Fat isn’t a bad word.”) At the risk of sounding preachy, I just want to say how important it is that these books exist, and how much I wish they had existed when I was growing up. Books like this aren’t advocating for kids to be unhealthy (an argument I have heard before, or I wouldn’t be mentioning it). They are advocating for kids (mostly girls, because there’s such a huge diet culture aimed directly at females) to love who they are, their size, and what they look like RIGHT NOW. Not later. Not, “once I’ve done such and such.” To love themselves right here and right now. Fat isn’t a bad word, and it’s also not a determining factor in personality, brains, or success. I cannot stress how important this is, and I think everyone, young and old and older, should be reading and embracing these books and themselves. Alright. On to the review.

Savannah (Savvy) is not looking forward to the next year. Her sister and best friend just left for her first year at college, and Savvy is stuck at home with her weight-loss-show contestant mom. In addition to losing an unhealthy amount of weight on the show, she is now obsessed with remaining thin, eating the least amount of food possible, and dragging Savvy into that lifestyle. Meanwhile, Savvy has a new friend/crush in George, the new kid at school. Between her mom’s concerning behavior, her love life, and trying to be a normal teenager in the process, Savvy is juggling quite a bit. The story is about Savvy finding her own happiness amidst insecurities, her mom’s unhappiness, and figuring out who she really is as a person.

This book is wonderful. Wonderful! On the surface it’s a YA romance, but the story goes much deeper than that, in a way that’s easy for younger readers to relate to. I loved seeing the development and breakdown of the mother/daughter relationship (and the not so thinly veiled sendup of The Biggest Loser, an extremely harmful show) and how realistically Martin portrays the slow healing of a damaged maternal relationship. She really stresses the importance of how our kids see us versus how we see ourselves, which rarely matches up. Before the reality show, Savvy saw her mother as strong and beautiful, and all she wants is for her mom to look at herself through that lens. (Something we could all stand to do.) Savvy also love the way she looks. She does not apologize for being a certain size, and she displays only a few normal insecurities that anyone might have.

As for the romance . . . it’s a sweet plot, and Martin handled it perfectly for middle grade and up readers. I love that looks aren’t ignored (there’s no way for looks not to be involved in the beginning of relationships, especially in a teen YA romance novel), but aren’t the main focus, either. It’s about how Savvy and George support each other and how they make each other feel. Being cute is just the YA icing on top.

My only complaint about To Be Honest is that I wish it was longer! There were some wonderful sub-plots that would have been even better if they’d had a few more pages devoted to them, and Savvy’s relationships with her mom and dad would have benefitted from a few more in-depth scenes. However, this book is perfect as a middle school and teen book and as a body-positive story (more fat girls in lead roles with the focus not being on their weight, please). I would truly recommend it to anyone ages 11 and up. You need it in your life!!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

EXTRA

This would be a great companion read with Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. (Read my review of that HERE.) I don’t often make read-alike comparisons, because that’s too much pressure to place on a book! The writing styles of these two books are different, but they both send the same message of being with who you are, not just how you look.

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