A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

Book–Amateur comic book artist and high school student Jess Wong is painfully, unhealthily in love with her best friend Angie. Jess is content to obsess over Angie secretly until Angie enters into a relationship with Margot Adams, a beautiful student from the nearby posh boarding school. Naturally, Jess thinks Margot is no good for Angie, but is this just sour grapes on Jess’s part or is Margot really bad news? When tragedy strikes at an off-campus party and everyone is a suspect, Jess must face up to what really happened that night. Or must she?

This is a dark, twisty thriller, like Pretty Little Liars meets Gone Girl meets The L Word. The book is split in two parts: the beginning is told in first person from Jess’ POV and the end is made up of police interviews and third person limited POV following multiple characters. This allows Lo to build up the tension without giving it all away too quickly. If you enjoy A Line in the Dark, you might also like twisty young adult books like We Were Liars and Last Seen Leaving.

The Shape of Water (2017)

Movie – Elisa lives a life of quiet routine. She goes to work, where she has one friend with whom she can converse (Elisa is mute, and communicates with sign language). She scrubs the floors and the bathrooms and the labs at a government laboratory, and then she goes home. She watches old movies on TV with her neighbor, accompanied by his cats, and she goes to sleep to wake up and do the same thing again. That is, until a new specimen is brought into the lab – an amphibious man or a humanoid amphibian, captured in South America and brought here to be studied for the secrets of his biology. Moved by his obvious suffering, Elisa starts making friends with the creature, bringing him eggs from her lunch, teaching him sign. But Colonel Strickland, who is in charge of the project to research the creature, is under a strict deadline and is coming unraveled under the pressure, which puts not only the creature but everyone else around him in danger.

Guillermo del Toro is well known for his love of monsters, and The Shape of Water, his first Academy Award-winning film, feels like a distillation of everything he’s made before: political tension as a backdrop to a fantastical story; the triumph of the powerless banding together against the powerful; the monster as the most human character in the film. Less bleak than Pan’s Labyrinth, more forthrightly fantastic than The Devil’s Backbone, The Shape of Water is the not-so-doomed love story we all need right now. Once you’ve seen the movie, be sure to check out the novel, co-written with award-winning horror novelist Daniel Kraus simultaneously with the film’s production.

Talk to the Paw by Melinda Metz

Book- Jamie a grade school history teacher has had many poor relationships in the past. This year, its all about her! She is determined to use the gift money her mother left her after recently succumbing to cancer to decide what she wants to do for the rest of her life.  She packs up her apartment and moves to California with her cat MacGyver (Mac). She isn’t interested in any of the nephews/dentists/grandsons etc. her nosy neighbors keep trying to set her up with. She has been trying many new things like surfing, acting classes, talking to street vendors, and photography to name a few. She is making new friends in her new community including a quirky Hollywood set designer, a baker, a TV series actor, and an cranky teenage girl.

MacGyver has other plans. He is determined to find Jamie a pack mate. Being a superior being he knows what she needs and has figured out an escape route in the new house. He travels the neighborhood taking items with strong scents (of various types) and gifts them to the people he knows needs whatever it is that particular scent is giving off.

I found this book to be a fun easy read. Its probable 70% told from Jamie’s point of view and 30% told from MacGyver’s point of view. Being a crazy cat lady myself, I thought it was a very creative way to tell a story I highly recommend this if you are looking to just sit back and simply giggle here and there through a pleasant storyline.

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.

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.

NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman

Book – Autism spectrum disorders exploded into the public consciousness in the early 2000s, along with worries that this sudden uptick in diagnoses meant that something unnatural was happening to children, something that had never been seen before. Really, Silberman explains, with great and gracious detail, our understanding of what “normal” development looks like and how eccentricity shades into disability is changing. In this book, he follows the history of autism and the researchers, parents, and people with autism who shaped our understanding of the different ways the human brains can work.

This isn’t a nice history; people have, historically speaking, not been nice to other people who have disabilities or even just differences that make them annoying. And since Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner, who shaped our modern understanding of autism, were physicians working in Austria and Germany in the mid-twentieth century, eugenics and genocide play a large role in early chapters. It gets better after the Nazis, but that’s not a very high bar to clear. The way people diagnosed with autism have been treated under the guise of helping them to become “normal” is upsetting at best. And yet, I found this a very hopeful book. Despite the burying of Asperger’s research; despite the litany of abuse and mistreatment; despite the struggles autistic people still face in being understood, accepted, and listened to; Silberman paints a picture of a flourishing subsection of humanity, one with astounding gifts and a great uniqueness, one which is ready, in this age of technology, to come into its own.