Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

Book – Josh Sundquist is a spunky motivational speaker and Paralympian. He lost his left leg to cancer at nine years old, and often pulls from his daily experiences dealing with his disability. Sundquist is a hilarious speaker and writer; I definitely recommend checking out some of his performances. He has also composed two memoirs, and Love and First Sight is his first novel.

In Love and First Sight, we meet sixteen-year-old Will Porter. Will is blind, and he is starting high school at a hearing school.  His first day does not go well; he manages to grope a classmate, make a girl cry hysterically, and sits on somebody in the lunchroom. But then he meets quiet, sweet Cecily who he quickly develops a crush on. When Will learns that a new type of medical operation could potentially return his sight, he is overwhelmed with the excitement of seeing the world for the first time. However, Will never anticipated the challenges he would face with the miracle of sight. Things are not quite what he expected, especially when it comes to Cecily. While Will’s friends described Cecily’s appearance to him when he was blind, Will finds that the girl he’s fallen so hard for doesn’t meet the typical standards of beauty. Though he knows it shouldn’t matter what she looks like, Will feels betrayed, and is unprepared for all the changes his newfound sight has brought to him. A coming of age story of young love, life-changing decisions and friendship.

For more fiction stories dealing with blindness, check out: Love Blind by Christa Desir, and Things Not Seen* by Andrew Clements (*Followed by Things Hoped For, and Things That Are. All three books of the trilogy are available on our pre-loaded Middle School Battle of the Books Kindle.)

Modern Children’s Classics to (Re)Visit Soon

Books – Revisiting childhood favorites may be the definition of comfort reading.  Some children’s books inspire a ‘what was I thinking?’ response when revisited later in life, but some have enough depth to genuinely repay a fresh, or first, look from a grown-up perspective.  The following are four children’s classics which I find myself rereading often–not just for nostalgia, but because their messages still resonate and they still make me think even as an adult.  (They’re all from the mid-20th century, because I needed some limit or this list would be five miles long).  It goes without saying that they’re still great choices for today’s kids, too!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid has a stiflingly samey middle-class upbringing and an indefatigable independent streak.  Accompanied by her younger brother Jamie, mostly because she needs the financial security of his scrupulously hoarded allowances, Claudia runs away from home to an astonishing destination: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The description of Claudia and Jamie’s escapades in the Museum will never fail to be delightful, but re-reading now, what sticks with me is the depth of the story’s messages about emotional resilience and how life’s challenges teach us who we are.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I think it’s a disservice to this fantastic mystery to call it a children’s book–and I say that despite thinking that children’s books are for everyone, and despite the fact that it’s a beloved Newbery winner.  The mystery at its core is deliciously twisty, but what’s striking about this story is the size and breadth of its beautifully-drawn cast.  You could cut out the mystery element entirely and still have a fascinating story about strong personalities thrown together through the simple circumstance of apartment living, not unlike Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series for adults.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I may be one of the two people in the world who loves the movie version of The Phantom Tollbooth, but I still really wish it had been better, because the book deserves the universal fame of better-adapted works like The Wizard of Oz.  All the classic portal fantasy elements are there: Milo receives a mysterious package in the mail and is drawn through it into a whimsical nonsense world that needs his help.  The Phantom Tollbooth is, sort of, a traditional good-versus-evil story, but it stands out because it’s actually less about outright wickedness and more about the perils of inaction: boredom, not heroism, sets Milo off on his adventure, and instead of moustache-twirling villains he faces enemies like the “Terrible Trivium”, the ultimate waster of time. Juster’s is a deeper, more complex, more contemporary and relevant kind of morality than usual in children’s fantasy, one that could easily be marketed as ‘fractured’ fairy tale were it not so full of genuine heart.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

If The Hunger Games is YA lit’s answer to 1984, then The Giver is its Brave New World.  I’m as much of a Katniss fan as the next Youth Services librarian, but The Giver did YA dystopia long before, and arguably better.  It’s a profoundly political story about every citizen’s complicity in government actions and the high price we pay for a life without discomfort, and it’s as touching, as painful and as thought-provoking now as ever.

 

 

 

The Raven Boys By: Maggie Stiefvater

Book- Blue Sargent has never been like the other women in her family, especially after her clairvoyant mother, aunts and cousins tell her she is going to someday kill her true love with a kiss. She is an outsider even within her own home, not possessing the psychic abilities everyone else has. Until one day she meets the Raven boy’s, a group of guys who attend Aglionby Academy and seem to have their own secrets.

Gansey has been searching mystical energy roads called Ley Lines for the powerful, dead Welsh king, Glendower. When his quest brings him to the home of 300 Fox way to seek the help of women known to be in the business of telling the future, he meets Blue. Things don’t go as planned when sensible Blue rejects advances of friendship from him and knowing he is just another rich Aglionby boy, but things change between the two as the story progresses.

Join Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah on the magical quest of a lifetime, where forests talk, the future is told and long buried secrets come to light. This book is defiantly in my top ten favorite reads, following the journey of all these kids is so much fun.

Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand

Graphic Novel – What happens when a bear named Ernesto brings a friend home? They die of course! Not because the bear mauled them, but because Ernesto lives in space and no one can breathe in space. Except Ernesto of course! Poorly Drawn Lines is a collection of comics with a few situations/short stories sprinkled throughout. Created by Reza Farazmand, Reza began drawing this comic while in college.

There is really no summary to give except the comics it will make you laugh or question your place in the universe. Other topics include ghosts, absurd gun violence, bird bullying, and animal drug abuse. The reader need not follow any order. All the comics are conclusive. There are reoccurring characters like Ernesto the green bear, but most of them are not given names. The comics are heavy with sarcasm, illogical scenarios, and absurdity. If you are looking for a very quick read with this type of wit, this is the book for you. If you do not like this humor, then stay away.

I am a fan of dark, sarcastic humor and enjoyed this book. Sometimes we all need to find a way to shed our daily stress and decompress. What better way to do this than by reading a comic about a suspicious box, or a stressed out hamster question your own existence. One more thing do not skip over the short stories in between the comics. They are a little bizarre, but may give you a good chuckle.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Book – My favorite kinds of mysteries are the ones that play games with your expectations – things like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – so I was intrigued by the description of Anthony Horowitz’s new novel. It’s a murder mystery inside a murder mystery: Alan Conway, author of the bestselling Atticus Pünd series of whodunnits, committed suicide just after turning in his latest manuscript. Except that the manuscript is missing the last chapter, and Susan Ryeland, one of his editors, thinks he didn’t commit suicide at all. The first half of the book is Magpie Murders, the final Atticus Pünd novel; the second half is Susan’s investigation into Conway’s death. (Don’t worry; you do get to read the final chapter in the end.)

Horowitz is a bestselling author and screenwriter in the UK – he’s a co-creater of the longrunning TV show Midsomer Murders – but despite his two excellent Sherlock Holmes novels, he’s not as well known here. He does a terrific job with both mysteries in Magpie Murders, Pünd’s classic whodunnit set in the 1950s and Susan’s modern, genre-savvy investigation in the modern day. Readers who love the puzzle aspect of mysteries but who are turned off by the violence and heavy reliance on forensics in modern thrillers will love this unique novel.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

Audiobook – If you are a fan of Gillian Flynn and want something to listen to that is a bit shy of 1 ½ hours, then I would recommend the audiobook The Grownup. The unnamed narrator and main character is a young woman, who from birth was taught to be a swindler. Her current employer notices that she can read people very well and tell them exactly what they want to hear.  Because of her aura and intuition, she is promoted from performing minor sex acts in the back to being a spiritual palm reader at the front of the establishment. Our scam artist thinks she’s found her perfect con when Susan comes in to have her palm read.  Susan is haunted by the evil in her expensive Victorian house and is seeking help to banish the ghosts and forces affecting her and especially her teenage stepson. This beautiful, rich, and paranoid woman is willing to pay any price for spiritual guidance and for her house to be cleansed. Upon visiting the house the psychic soon realizes that there really is something menacing, though not sure whether it is the work of paranormal forces or if she is caught up in a game of cat and mouse with one of the residents.

Typical of other Flynn’s writings there is a lot of suspense and some twists.  Even though this is a short story it is still a fun ghost tale. If you enjoy this you may also enjoy Gillian Flynn’s novels and some other ghost stories – Heart-Shaped Box, The Thirteenth Tale, and The Supernatural Enhancements.

Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich

51ksxjzFaRL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book-– Many are familiar with Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, a journalistic experiment in which Ehrenreich take a series of low-wage jobs to investigate the difficulties faced by the working poor. Bait and Switch is a lesser-known companion to this book and explores the raw deal faced by the white collar unemployed. Ehrenreich gives herself 10 months to find a white collar job (defined here at $50,000+ per year, full time with benefits) which is the average length of time it takes most white collar job seekers to find employment. She will then work that job for about three months and do an insider report on corporate culture. What follows is a series of shifty career coaches, wardrobe updates, endless resume tweaking, networking events, and endless web-searching, and no job to show for it at the end.

While I can see how this book might be a cathartic read for a white collar professional struggling after a lay off, I think Ehrenreich’s work suffers from going into her job search with all the wrong motives. I felt that Ehrenreich’s insulation from the real-life consequences of her simulated unemployment causes her writing to be permeated with smug coldness, especially when describing her fellow white collar job seekers. She lacked the compassion for the corporate job-seeker’s plight that would have humanized this book. Nevertheless, Bait and Switch stands well as an indictment of how difficult it is to enter (and re-enter) the corporate world, especially as a middle-aged woman. However, I think the work would have been even stronger if either written by an actual laid-off corporate employee or if Ehrenreich simply chronicled the journey of a white collar job seeker instead of going undercover and shoehorning herself into a story that’s not hers to tell.

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett

Book – Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett has the most adorable bunny cover I have ever seen by far. But whilst one might expect to find a cute story of an adorable rabbit beneath this cover, we are instead met by death, mourning, and sleepwalking. The back synopsis was insane; there was such an onslaught of information I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow everything going on when I actually started reading.

Elvis is 11 years old, and her mother has just committed suicide, or so everyone says.  Elvis is skeptical, and thinks something more sinister may be afoot in her mother’s death.  In the wake of her mother’s passing, Elvis is forced to undergo weekly sessions with the school counseling, and begins tracking her journey through the nine stages of grief. Her father mourns by dressing up in her mother’s clothes and wearing her lipstick. Elvis’s older sister, Lizzie unfortunately inherited her mother’s sleepwalking, and it’s quickly growing out of control. In the midst of trying to save her sister from meeting the same ghastly fate of her mother, Elvis works furiously on her mother’s unfinished memoir, and searches for answers into her death.

There is so much going on in this story; it’s dark, a  fair bit depressing, and very quirky. The sleepwalking was a huge aspect of the story, and I was so fascinated by it. Though it wasn’t the sweet story I anticipated from a glance at the cover, this book exceeded my expectations.

A Matter of Trust by Susan May Warren

Book- This is the third book in the Montana Rescue series by Susan May Warren. In my own literary journey, I have come to know her as a definite Christian fiction writer. I am not a personal fan of religious views being thrown at me, but I feel she does an amazing job getting into the nitty gritty of the story with just a touch of Christianity spliced into a few scenes. I highly adore this series, and once I get my paws on one of these books, I can usually read them within a week! Impressive I think for someone who used to HATE to read as a kid.

This story revolves around Gage and Ella. Gage is a worldclass champion free rider in snowboarding. Ella is a lawyer turned senator. Gage has always had a thing for the limelight. He shines in every aspect of his life. Unfortunately he is blamed for the death of a young man who wanted to be taken on an epic snowboarding run through the back wood country. Ella happens to be a junior attorney at the time and is assigned to his case. This lawsuit has all but destroyed Gage. He now works for PEAK rescue team and also works at the local mountain lodge as a ski patrol. Ella has come back to this fateful mountain to chase down her brother that insists on following in the footsteps of his hero Gage on an epic run down the mountain. Ella and Gage team up reluctantly and set off to rescue her brother. There are many obstacles physically and emotionally for these two as they relearn to work together and gain each others trust again.

The scenery is set up amazingly in this book. As you read you will feel the icy wind blow down your neck, the salty taste of your lips coated in tears. I highly recommend this one for someone who is looking to “check out” of reality for a little.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Book – Anything Is Possible is a set of connected short stories about the people living in the small, rural town of Amgash, Illinois. Retired school janitor Tommy Guptill reflects on the lives of some of the former students as he shops for a birthday gift for his wife. The three Barton siblings attended the school and  we learn about their difficult childhood and lives as adults. Linda Peterson-Cornell relates the consequences of her husband’s voyeurism and infidelities. A war veteran searches for love and redemption. I loved seeing characters through the eyes of different townspeople, as they encountered them in their daily lives. Despite the obstacles and difficulties they faced, there were also moments of grace and hope. I have found myself reflecting on these stories and on the bonds of families and friends. Stout also wrote Olive Kitteridge, My Name is Lucy Barton, Amy and Isabelle and other popular novels.