Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Book – Nancy’s parents don’t know what to do with her. She’s changed – she won’t wear colors any more, only shades of black and white; she doesn’t eat much, and sometimes, when no one’s looking, she goes very, very still. So they send her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where they hope she will become more like her old self. But Nancy’s parents don’t know what Eleanor West’s real business is. She counsels children who, like her, like Alice and Dorothy and the Pevensies, once stepped through a doorway into another world. And then they came home, to a world much less interesting than the one they’d visited (a different world for almost everyone), and more than anything they long to go back.

This briskly-paced little novella is an idea wrapped in a murder mystery: what would that kind of adventure, the portal-fantasy adventures that so many of us grew up on and dreamed about, really do to a person? What would they be like when they came back? The mystery is just something to keep things moving along, to give us an excuse to hear about all these kids (many of them teenagers, but some younger) and the worlds they visited. Anyone who’s ever dreamed about falling into a fantasy world will relish this story (and its sequel, due out in June).

Chasing Perfect by Susan Mallery

51IrrI7ov8L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Book- This is the first novel in the Fools Gold series by Susan Mallery. It is a brilliant book based on the small charming town of Fools Gold, California. Charity has made the move to the town in hopes of finding stability in her life. She ends up being hired by Martha, the town mayor, as the City Planner. There is a definite shortage of men in this town, and it is her job to bring them in and keep them here. While learning her townspeople and job, she discovers that someone is clearly embezzling money from the town. Martha pairs Charity up with Josh Golden – all American hero hunk professional cyclist – to sort out this money and men issue. Charity is absolutely against anything less than a professional relationship with Josh, since he is the “bad boy” of the town. Slowly but surely she learns that Josh isn’t the bad boy he is perceived to be. He has some flaws and a shocking secret that comes to the surface when he helps Charity with one of her “Attract the men” events.

Susan Mallery has done a wonderful job setting up the town and several great characters for us. There is Pia the party planner who knows everything about everything, Josephine who owns the bar in town with a mystery past, Katie who was dumped by her ex boyfriend to go out with her sister, and Crystal who is a widow with cancer. I have read all 19 stories in this series (most of which we have here at the library) and I can tell you each book goes into another character or two more in depth. I cant say enough about this series. Romance always progresses through the story and is never an instant issue in any of this series.

Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

Book – Carthage is the story of a family in anguish in a small town in upstate New York.  The novel begins with the search for recently returned college freshman Cressida in the woods of the Nautauga Forest Preserve.  Her father Zeno leads the search.  Foul play is suspected when the young woman is not found.  Things get complicated when witnesses come forward stating that they saw her throwing herself at Brett, her sister Juliet’s fiancé. Cressida was convinced that she and Brett are destined to be together, because they are both misfits in their hometown of Carthage. Brett is afflicted by many demons, having recently come home from the war in Iraq suffering severe injuries both physically and psychologically.  He is a shell of his former self and has become prone to fits of delusion and violent outbursts. The authorities conclude that Cressida must have been murdered. During the search, Brett is found unconscious in his blood-spattered jeep. Due to pressure from the police and because Brent has no recollection of what happened, he confesses.

The story then picks up 8 years later at a maximum-security prison in Florida and focuses on a young female assistant working for an investigator who champions for social justice issues and fighting corruption. The young woman was found beaten and bruised almost 7 years ago in the Adirondack Mountains.  Her Good Samaritan brought her to Florida where the investigator hired her as an intern, even though she shares nothing about her past life.

Oates is a brilliant storyteller and in Carthage she manages to convey the complexity of family relationships, human frailty, mental illness, and the casualties of war, but above all the power of forgiveness and the will to survive.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

29340182Book–In Shrill, online columnist Lindy West shares a series of highly personal essays on topics ranging from abortion to being fat to her father’s death. The essays seem to be organized vaguely chronologically, but also with a progression from funny and light to more serious and vulnerable. My favorite of the essays was late in the book, a gut-wrenching account of Lindy’s experience with an online troll who, not content with the pedestrian vitriol usually lobbed at women on the internet, decided to pose as Lindy’s recently deceased father and insult her using his face and personal details. Also unlike other trolls, when confronted on how depraved his actions were, he sincerely apologized and gave some insight on what prompted his actions.

Lindy’s brand of humor is crass, sharp, and laden with modern internet parlance; readers will either respond to it or they won’t. While I did enjoy her essays in this collection, I think that her writing is perhaps better suited to shorter form pieces and journalism. I found that her writing style becomes too abrasive to read for long periods and is best enjoyed in short chunks. If you enjoyed this collection, I would also recommend books by Jessica Valenti and Andi Zeisler.

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.