Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Book – Greta Helsing is a physician with a unique specialty: she treats the undead and supernatural creatures of London. Whether it’s providing anxiety medication for ghouls or treating the chronic lung infection of a gentleman who’s been a family friend for centuries, she has her work cut out for her. When a vampyre turns up with an unusual stab wound and a terrifying story of fanatical monks, her already unusual life suddenly gets a whole lot stranger.

I cannot tell you how much this book delighted me – a massively enjoyable romp through undead London, featuring ghouls, vampires, vampyres (not the same thing), and a mysterious cult of evil monks living underneath the Underground. And best of all, made families: a strong group of friends, people who learn to trust and care for one another, a central female character who is strong and competent and still gets to freak out sometimes because, well, mysterious cult of evil monks trying to kill her friends. I could have wished for more of Greta’s female friends – hopefully we’ll see more of them in future installments.

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

Books–Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex is a picture book that begs to be read aloud—and is perfect for sharing with elementary aged readers. The illustrations include pictures of fruit with sparsely drawn arms, legs, and facial expressions. The fruit are celebrating their fruitiness with rhymes, but Orange is feeling left out because, well, nothing rhymes with “orange.”

Orange reacts with increasing exasperation as the fruit in the celebration goes from the recognizable (apple and banana) to the rare (quince and lychee). Things definitely go in an unexpected direction when German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche shows up in the illustrations and text as a rhyme to both “peachy” and “lychee.” Shortly after, Orange declares, “This book’s sorta gone off the rails” before admitting “Oh, who am I kidding…this book is amazing.”

I agree. This book is amazing. It’s fun in unexpected ways. The amount of emotion that the illustrations convey with small amounts of ink added to the fruit is impressive. It’s fun to listen to and read aloud. It will likely introduce young readers to a new fruit or two, and there’s even a message of inclusion.

Too often, when children start to be able to read to themselves, they move into Beginning Reader and chapter books and never look back at picture books. Picture books can keep things fun and interesting and can pack a big punch in a small number of pages. With this book, the older the child the more of the jokes they will understand and the more involved they will be able to get in the fun of reading it aloud themselves.

A few other fun picture books to read with elementary students include My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis, The Book with No Pictures, and The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors.

Version Control by Dexter Palmer

Book–Set in the near future, Palmer’s novel follows Rebecca Wright, a thirty-something recovering alcoholic, and her physicist husband Philip. Philip has been working fruitlessly for many years on a causal volatility device (in layman’s terms, a time machine), and as far as he knows, has not been having much luck. Meanwhile, Rebecca has been having a nagging sense that something is not right; the president is not the right person, her friends’ personalities aren’t quite right, her life isn’t what it should be. Palmer has an interesting take on time travel that, without spoiling anything, powers much of the narrative. For me, the attraction of this book was the depiction of the near-future society, where the president delivers personalized messages to each citizen and cars drive themselves.

While the main character is not, in my opinion, likeable, she is very real and flawed. Palmer’s views on race, gender, marriage, and technology are very much on display here and, regardless of whether you agree with them, they are certainly interesting to read about and only occasionally preachy. Version Control is a perfect sci-fi and literary fiction blend sure to appeal to fans of Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.

The Stray (2017)

Movie – “Pluto” appeared out of nowhere and made his home with the Davis family. Dad works way too many hours, mom is exhausted dealing with the three kids, and the kids are having a hard time fitting in with kids their own age. What can be done to fix all these problems- nothing but adopting the stray dog of course. After the youngest daughter walks away from her family- as they are too busy with other kids or work, the family decides its time to make a drastic change to their lifestyle. They move from LA to Colorado. In an effort to better fit in with kids as well as gain a new prospective on their lives, the dad takes his oldest son, and 2 other neighborhood kids on an epic camping trip. A frightful night will leave this group of guys forever altered, including the dog “Pluto.”

I found this movie to be much deeper than originally thought based on the cover and synopsis on the back. I was thinking something lighter along the lines of Homeward Bound or Milo and Otis. This movie in my opinion is so much more than just a cute tale with a fluffy dog. It also has a bit of a “churchy” vibe, which isn’t for me, but does help tie the movie together I suppose. If you are looking to unload a whole bunch of emotions in 1.5 hours – this is the movie for you.

Shatter Me Series by Tahere Mafi

Book – A thrilling fantasy novel set in a dystopian society where the outbreak of disease is wiping out the population, and the remaining are left starving.  The Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi. The Reestablishment promises to fix the crumbling society but the threat of war lingers in the air for any who attempt to rebel against the powerful organization.  In this mess of a world, we meet Juliette.  Juliette was taken from her home and imprisoned by the Reestablishment.  Juliette has a gift, or rather a curse.  Her touch can kill.  The last time she reached a hand out to someone, he died.  She’s never experienced the comfort of being embraced in her mother’s arms, never known the love of family, a friend, anyone.  The Reestablishment wants to use her as a weapon, but Juliette swears she will never hurt another person.  But Juliette must make a decision on which side to stand on–to be a weapon with the Reestablishment, or a warrior fighting for the rebels.

A blend of romance, fantasy, and rebellion, I highly enjoyed this series.  Juliette’s gift is so interesting to learn about.  Initially, we meet her as a prisoner who would rather die than hurt another person through her touch.  As the series unfolds, Juliette’s inner struggles lead her on a path she never expected.  I could never decide if I actually like the main character through her development across the series, though nonetheless enjoyed the story as a whole.  It reminded me of the X-men movies, which are definitely worth a watch.  There are currently three books in the series, and author Tahere Mafi promises three more, the first to arrive in March 2018.

 

 

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

Book – Mokoya and Akeha, twin children of the Protector, were promised to the Grand Monastery before they were born, but when Mokoya displays the skill of prophecy, their mother rescinds her promise. While Mokoya struggles with her gift, Akeha becomes aware of a growing rebellion within his mother’s realm. The Machinists are developing technology to undercut the Tensors, sorcerers under the direct control of the Protector, and give the people a shot at freedom. Akeha finds his calling with the Machinists, but how will he fight for what is right without destroying his bond with his twin sister?

The Black Tides of Heaven is so full of amazing characters, exciting plot developments, and a truly original magical world that it’s hard to believe it’s only a novella. Short though it is, this is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in the past year. Fortunately for all of us, there’s already a sequel – The Red Threads of Fortune – and more are expected soon.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Book–Henry “Monty” Montague, bisexual teenager and soon-to-be British lord, is a drunk disappointment to his abusive father. His last hurrah before descending into the doldrums of running the estate at his father’s side is his grand tour, the trip around the European continent that many young male aristocrats take to shore up overseas alliances and soak up some culture. Monty is not interested in alliances or culture; he’s interested in (read: has a massive crush on) his traveling companion, his biracial best friend Percy, and in getting drunk and laid as much as possible. Monty’s tour gets hijacked by his father sending along his sharp-tongued little sister Felicity and, even worse, a chaperone to keep Monty on a strict itinerary. However, when Monty swipes a MacGuffin from one of his father’s allies and highwaymen ransack their carriage to get it back, their tour takes a sharp turn toward adventure, complete with alchemy, pirates, and even true love.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so darn much fun. Monty, Percy, and Felicity are all such well-drawn characters with great dialog and relationships with each other. While each of the characters has some darkness and secrets in them, the overall tone is optimistic. If I had any complaint about this book, it’s that it felt too modern. Monty’s coolness with his bisexuality (and conception of it as such) among other things seems anachronistic and is not entirely explained away by the Author’s Note at the end. If you enjoy this one, you might also like the Doctrine of Labyrinths series by Sarah Monette for a darker, more complex take on an adventuring and queer romance story or Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda if you were into it for the character dynamics and romance, but not the adventure.