Close Enough to Touch: A Novel by Colleen Oakley

Book – Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley is the wonderfully whimsical story of a girl who is allergic to human touch.  Young Jubilee Jenkins was an oddity in her small town, due to an allergy that seemed too ridiculous to be true.  Doctors diagnosed her with a severe allergy to physical contact to other humans.  Her body lacked something that all humans possess, an unfortunate reality that caused her to break out in hives at even the lightest touch.  As a child, a fatal event nearly takes her life, and so Jubilee becomes untouchable, living alone and hidden from the world for nine years.  When her mother passes unexpectedly, Jubilee must finally face the world on her own.  Finding solace in her very first job as a Circulation Clerk at the local library,  Jubilee slowly begins to open up after an encounter with a struggling divorced father named Eric.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book.  I thought the concept was really unique.  As soon as I opened the book jacket and read “allergic to touch,” I was hooked.  I’m also a sucker for stories involving libraries or working in libraries, so this novel was a good match for me.  The only thing that really bothered me was that I thought it ended much too soon and abruptly.

 

 

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

30689335Book – Lane Roanoke only lived in Roanoke House, a sprawling Kansas estate, for one summer, but it’s shaped her entire life. Her mother ran away from there, and her cousin Allegra refused to leave. Allegra was who was the one who told Lane, “Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.” When Allegra goes missing, eleven years later, Lane forgets the promise she made to herself to never go back and goes to look for Allegra, and hopefully to lay to rest some of her own ghosts.

I love a good Gothic novel, and this has all the elements: an isolated house too weird for its own good, terrible family secrets, codependency, hidden messages. Lane is a fascinating character in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Libby Day: broken by the secrets she’s had to keep, but unable to fully break free of them. The difference between a traditional Gothic novel and a modern one is that the unthinkable comes much more easily to mind nowadays; it’s pretty clear early on what’s been going on in Roanoke House, and the tension is in waiting for Lane to come to terms with it and, finally do something about it. This book doesn’t quite have the sharp edges I was expecting it to, but it was so compelling that I read it all in a day.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (2016)

MV5BNjQzMTczNjI0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODY5MTY5OTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,631,1000_AL_Movie –  Having been kicked out of a couple previous middle schools Rafe (Griffin Gluck) is sent to a super conservative strict school with many rules. This school is void of any creativity and personalization. Its more about the test scores than the student taking the test.  Rafes only outlet is a journal he doodles in day in and out. With his active imagination anything is possible. At this new school, along with his best friend Leo, he vows to anonymously (as to not get expelled again) break each and every rule the principal has set.  At home his life is not much better. Mom is dating a total freeloading jerk who hates kids. Rafe and his little sister do the best they can to stick together and get through life. Overall its been a rough few years for Rafe.

To be honest, I was up in the air on if I even wanted to see this one. I wasn’t sure I would be able to empathize with any of the characters of this age group. This movie is rated PG, but I feel the overall story line is superb. The pranks that are pulled in this movie are hysterical, and the dramatic parts are well highly dramatic. This movie had me in tears at the end.  This movie is based off of The Worst Years of My Life by James Paterson and Chris Tebbetts. Although I have yet to read the book, I suspect it will dive into the educational system structure and flaws in a comical manner.

Instructions Not Included (2013)

Movie – Valentin Bravo (Eugenio Derbez) made a life for himself as a local playboy of sorts in the city of Acapulco, Mexico. Being a playboy has its consequences. One morning, Valentin hears a knock at his door. Julie is standing at the door with a baby, his baby. Valentin, still waking up, is in shock about what is happening. Julie asks for some money to pay the cab and decides to go, leaving Valentin with the baby. This starts one of the most heart-wrenching  movies I have seen in a long time.

Valentin travels to Los Angeles with his daughter Maggie. He went there looking for Julie, but instead found a career as a stuntman whiling trying to save Maggie from drowning. He decides to stay in Los Angeles to give Maggie a better life. Valentin and Maggie have a good relationship, she translates for Valentin on set and he will do anything to give her the life she deserves. This includes writing letters pretending to be Maggie’s mom so Maggie does not feel like her mom never loved her. Eventually Julie contacts Valentin so she can see and meet Maggie. Valentin agrees for Maggie’s benefit. This decision will come back to hurt everyone involved.

Instructions Not Included is a good movie and will have you crying by the end. When I mean crying, I do not mean shedding a tear, I mean full out Disney’s Up opening scene crying. This movie was very well done and will have your emotions all over the place by the time it’s done. If you are looking for a bilingual film about family, and father/daughter relationships, you will enjoy this one. If you are not ready for an all-out cry-fest, leave this for when you are.

Penguins of the World by Wayne Lynch

9780713687118Book–Covering all 17 penguin species over multiple continents, nature writer and photographer Wayne Lynch covers penguins from birth to mating to death in interesting prose paired with well-chosen photographs. Topics covered include penguin anatomy (did you know they have spines on their tongues to help move prey into their mouths?), penguin predators, species differences, and environmental threats. Lynch’s writing is lively and infused with a genuine love for the penguins he studies. This is especially apparent when he chronicles mishaps befalling penguins, such as getting eaten by seals or predator birds called skuas or baby penguins getting abandoned by their parents, and the self-control he had to exercise to not interrupt and stop nature’s course in its tracks.

If I had any complaints about this volume, it would be that I think it could have stood to include even more gorgeous pictures. While I enjoyed learning more about penguins, I think a good coffee table book like this one can never have enough full-color picture spreads. Penguins of the World will appeal to all fans of these adorable creatures as well as to adults who wish those slim, brightly colored, non-fiction books about animals written for kids came in adult-aimed versions as well.

Awake by Natasha Preston

22881022Book – Scarlett Garner remembers nothing about her life before the age of four. She accepts what her parents tell her, that she lost it from the trauma of seeing her childhood home burn down. That is, until a horrible car crash brings back a lot of her memories and she struggles to find out who she really is, but the consequences of finding out just might kill her. Enter Noah, a charming and charismatic new boy at her school who vows to help her remember her past. But Noah isn’t all he seems… Could a pretty face be hiding something even darker than Scarlett’s own worse demons?

Awake is a great quick read and full of plot twists on every page. Awake will have you up until just the wee early hours of the morning drinking it up. Natasha has an amazing, original plot line that hasn’t been seen in a very long time. Awake started out as a book on the popular writing platform Wattpad, and quickly grew into something a lot bigger. With over 19.1 million reads this is one of my all time favorites.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

isabelBook – The Japanese Lover is a sweeping saga of enduring passion, friendship and reminiscing in old age.  It is also a tale of secrets.  Our central character, Alma Belasco in her 70’s has come to the realization that her health is failing.  Her personal assistant, Irina along with Alma’s grandson, Seth have been asked to help her write her family history.  They suspect that Alma has a lover, because she leaves her nursing home to go on secret errands every few weeks with an overnight bag packed with lingerie.  The story of a romance slowly unfolds as we go back to pre WWII, when Alma at the age of 8 arrives from Poland to live with her uncle’s family in San Francisco to keep her safe from the looming war back home. Feeling displaced, she quickly becomes friends with Ichimei the son of the family’s gardener.  Spanning over 50 years their love for each other remains strong, despite many separations including the internment of Ichimei and his family in Utah after Pearl Harbor.  The two manage to meet sporadically over the years despite children and spouses. Irina and Seth piece together some of the story by going through Alma’s correspondence and diaries. But Alma is not the only one with a mystery, Irina’s panful past is also revealed.

This is a lovely spellbinding, and bittersweet story. This book reminded me of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and you might also enjoy Garden of Evening Mists.  We have many of Isabel Allende’s other titles.

Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman

indexBook Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman is an exploration of anxiety and its effect on one woman’s life.  In 2014,  Kat went public about having General Anxiety Disorder, publishing a blog post on CNN.com titled “Living With Anxiety, Searching For Joy“.  The reception following the publication was incredible; she received an overwhelming response from readers overjoyed to hear a voice that resonated so much with their own lives.

I have to mention first how much I love the cover art of this book;  I’m always a sucker for cute animals, (especially bunnies) and I snatched this off the shelf without a second thought.  It also seems appropriate given the subject matter–rabbits are by nature skittish, nervous bundles of fluff, in my opinion a perfect mascot for anxiety.

Kat Kinsman is a funny, relatable author who does an amazing job showing what life is like for someone living with anxiety.  She delves into all aspects of her life in a format that switches between chronological chapters, and sections titled irrational fear.  The irrational fear segments detail specific activities and instances that incite anxiety in Kat, including but not limited to: “Seeing the doctor,” “Having No way Out,” and “Driving”.  My favorite thing about this book is Kat’s focus on personal relationships–the role anxiety plays in her relationships with others, and specifically its impact on the pursuance of romantic relationships.  Embarking on romantic endeavors is difficult enough without anxiety and I found that Kat’s personal narrative of love and loss really resonated with me.

It’s easy to feel a connection to Kat’s words thanks to the intimate and honest nature of her writing.  Whether or not a reader struggles with a mental disorder, I think anyone can find a connection with some aspect of Kat’s experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

indexBook – Miranda is a troubled young woman; she has pica, the compulsion to eat things that are not food, and rejects her pastry-chef father’s attempts to get her to eat normally. Her mother, a photographer, died while on a trip to Haiti, and Miri hasn’t been the same since. Her twin brother wants to help but doesn’t know how, especially when she’s accepted to Cambridge and he’s not. The house they live in, their great-grandmother’s house, wants to keep Miranda at any cost, which is not the same as protecting her. When Miranda brings home her Black girlfriend from college, the thin barrier separating the reality of the house from the reality of the rest of their lives starts to slip.

Although this was a short book, it took me a while to read; there’s a lot to digest (pardon the pun). It has a lot to say about the prejudices we inherit, and how hard it is to shed them; and the things we’ll do to keep ourselves in (what we perceive to be) safety. Try this if you like The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, another story about insane houses and troubled women.

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham

a-1-black-dudleyBook – I have a fundamental problem with the term ‘cozy mystery’.  I agree that it’s a useful term to distinguish the darker, faster-paced, harder-edged tone of a thriller like Gone Girl from an all-ages mystery puzzler like the marvelously re-readable Westing Game.  It seems patronizing, however, to imply that there is anything remotely ‘cozy’ about the slow-burn psychological horror of stories featuring protagonists trapped in increasing danger, like Christie’s terrifying And Then There Were None or J. Jefferson Farjeon’s pleasingly creepy Mystery in White.

For the same reason, I would hesitate to label The Crime at the Black Dudley–the first book in Margery Allingham’s classic Campion series–as a ‘cozy’.  Yes, it’s written by one of the Queens of mystery’s Golden Age, and yes, it features an eccentric amateur sleuth in an English country house.  But it’s also a story about a group of innocents, and one unknown murderer, locked in a remote house by a gang of international thugs, in the company of their dead host, facing increasing and violent pressure to hand over a document which one of the party has already destroyed.  It’s a nightmarish (if over the top) scenario, and Allingham skillfully milks the claustrophobia of the situation for all it’s worth.  The story is wonderfully told in other respects as well, like the fact that the narrator, an undercover policeman, turns out not to be the one who saves the day; Allingham intended him to be the star of her series, but Peter Wimsey caricature Albert Campion unexpectedly stole the show instead.

The Crime at the Black Dudley was a great find hidden away in our stacks, a reminder of the manifold delights of cozy mysteries–or whatever you might want to call them.