Books—Wishtree is narrated by the oak tree Red. He is more than 200 years old, home to raccoons, opossums, owls and Bongo, an entertaining crow, who together form a delightful community. Red also is interested in the humans around him–in no small part because each year people come to tie their wishes on his branches.
When Samar, the little girl who lives across the street, ties a wish for a friend, Red feels compelled to intervene. He and Bongo concoct several schemes to help Samar and her next-door neighbor Stephen become friends. But everything becomes complicated when Francesca, the owner of the land Red stands on, decides to have him chopped down.
This is a fairly simple story, and I loved reading it. The personalities given to Red and the animals are amusing. The themes of friendship, inclusion, kindness, and appreciation of nature are ones many will enjoy. I highly recommend Wishtree as a family read-aloud because, even if your kids are old enough to read this by themselves–why let them have all the fun? Even if you don’t have children, you may just want to just read this sweet, little, well-written story for yourself. I certainly did.
Book – 30 Before 30: How I Made a Mess of my 20s, and You Can Too by Marina Shifrin is a fantastic read. Marina details her journey attempting to and succeeding in achieving 30 goals before turning 30 years old. Some goals were bigger: “Getting a Dog”, “Visit Russia”, and “Live in a Different Country”, while others were easier to accomplish: “Eating a Meal Alone” and “Take a City Bus Tour.” For any millennial working through their mid 20s, or for any age seeking to create their own bucket list, this book is a fun beacon of light in all the stresses adulthood can bring.
I was so inspired by Marina’s list that I decided to create my own! I will admit I stole some of her goals, specifically “Getting a Dog”, “Eating a Meal Alone”, but some of my other goals include: “Baking an Obscene amount of French Macarons” (Because why not?) and “Taking a Roadtrip Through the 6 States Most Abundant in Cacti” (and of course buying a ton of new houseplants along the way). Because of the format of the book, it was easy to browse for chapters that were most relatable to me, but I still found myself reading through each section. Marina’s humor is a great addition to this memoir, and I really enjoyed her writing style. Her parents emigrated from Russia and it was interesting to see how that heritage has influenced Marina in her life and partaking of the 30 before 30 project, especially in her goal to travel to Russia. An easy but fun read for anyone!
Book – Helen Russell is a magazine journalist, living in London with her husband. Their days are filled with commuting and long hours at work. Their evenings are packed with social engagements and alcohol. They have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a couple of years. Helen dreams of retirement at the age of 33. Then, Helen’s husband gets an unexpected offer to work for Lego in Jutland.
Helen begins to research the country of five and a half million people, and discovers that they pay high taxes, get free healthcare, free education and subsidized daycare. Danes average a 34 hour workweek. And, according to the UN World Happiness Report, Denmark is the happiest country on earth. Helen and her husband decide to move to Denmark and this book documents their first year of living in their adopted country.
Helen’s chatty writing style and witty observations entertained me. She shares her experiences with food, relationships, religious traditions and the many unwritten “rules” she encounters. The Year of Living Danishly was an enjoyable exploration of a different culture and a lifestyle change. If you like this book, you may also want to read Happy as a Dane or the Little Book of Hygge.
Book – It’s pretty much a guarantee; if you put a kitten on a book’s cover I’m at least going to pick it up for a closer look. And although Samantha Irby’s cat (Helen Keller, the world’s angriest rescue) is largely a secondary character in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, I was definitely not disappointed.
Irby’s writing is in turn hilarious, sexually explicit, vulgar, moving, emotional, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Irby, who also blogs under the title ‘bitches gotta eat’ explores both the anecdotal and the deeply personal, always with refreshing candor and wit. Essays in her second book cover everything from her Bachelorette application (she’s 35 but could pass for 60 if she stays up all night) to growing up with an alcoholic parent (who once punched her in the face for doing the dishes wrong). It’s also wryly—and sometimes laugh out loud—funny and feels more like conversing with a dear friend than reading a stranger’s inner thoughts.
Irby grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, so local readers will find much of her experiences familiar and relatable. Her essays are loosely interconnected, making this an easy book to pick up and put down at your leisure. Anyone looking for a funny and emotional memoir that is nevertheless easy to read should look no further.
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.
Book – Sh*t My Dad Says is the hilarious, wonderful memoir detailing the quirky relationship between author Justin Halpern and his father. As the title implies, readers will quickly discover the foul mouth of Justin’s always blunt, yet caring dad. The memoir began online as a Twitter page titled “Sh*t My Dad Says,” which featured all the many quotes of Justin’s beloved dad. All of Justin’s friends that his Dad’s quotes were hilarious and it soon became clear that the internet loved him too. The Twitter account quickly accrued a mass following with news stations requesting interviews with the writer and the man of the hour himself.
Justin is a very relatable narrator, chronicling life after college, moving back home, and trying to survive in the chaos of adultdom. The introduction starts with Justin’s longtime girlfriend breaking up with him, the catalyst that causes him to seek refuge at home while searching for new life prospects. The life lessons his father instills upon him as a child, adolescent, and adult are often filled with-tough love, and are downright brutal.
Each chapter is titled with a different theme/life lesson and relevant Dad quote.
Justin traces stories of his childhood with his family and details the lessons he learned from his father. Many of these stories are experiences that everyone shares, though of course with the special touch of Justin’s father.
The humor reminded me of author Jack Gantos, specifically his series featuring a young man named Jack Henry. Gantos’ writing is full of crude, weird humor, very similar to Justin’s novel.
Movie – When the rulers of the lands of the dead make a wager one can only image what will happen to the living. This sounds like the start of a gory horror movie, but it not. It is the premise for an animated-film about the Mexican holiday: Día de Los Muertos. In The Book of Life, La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered makes a bet with Xibalba, the rules of the Land of the Forgotten. The wager involves three childhood friends and love.
Xibalba bets that Maria will end up with Joaquín, while La Muerte believes Maria and Manolo are destined to fall in love. Xibalba hedges his bet by presenting Joaquín with a pin that will protect him and makes him the town hero. With no protection, Manolo dies and Xibalba wins the bet. Manolo is transported to the Land of the Remembered where he meets all of his deceased family. He discovers Xibalba’s tricks and vows to travel to the Land of the Forgotten to tell La Muerte so he can get back to Maria.
The animation is colorful and imaginative. The characters were modeled after wooden childrens’ toys. The scenery for the Land of the Remembered depicts some of the most traditional images of Día de Los Muertos. There are colorful sugar skull shapes all over this land. The dead have faces like that of sugar skulls. In addition, there are scenes from the cemeteries where the families have set up offerings and alters with pictures, traditional flowers, candles, favorite foods, and pan de muertos (day of the dead sweet bread).
If you like colorful images, great animation, a cute storyline, and a fiercely independent lead female character, watch this. Also, if you ever wondered about this Mexican holiday, watch The Book of Life to get a small taste of what this holiday means to Mexicans. It is not about worshiping the dead. It is about understanding death is a part of life and this is how you get to celebrate the life of those who have passed on. By showing them how much you love them.
Book – “What’s your favorite book?” is a cruel and unusual question to ask any librarian, but when absolutely forced to give an answer, Good Omens is where I tend to land. In an effort to keep this review from getting too gushing, then, I’m going to try to focus more on comparisons than description, because allowing me near superlatives in this case is a dangerous prospect. Let me just give the basics on plot–namely, it’s a humorous take on the Apocalypse (no, really)–and hurry from there to the land of “you’ll like this if”.
The obvious ones first: if you already enjoy the solo work of either Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, then Good Omens is unquestionably worth your time. Even though it was written before the explosion of the internet and the resulting acceleration of mashup culture, it’s a perfect example of the kind of textual remixing that both writers did and do so well, deconstructing classic stories and themes and rebuilding them into something fresh and self-aware. It has all of Sir Terry’s boundless humor (and footnotes!) and sudden moments of profound emotional insight, with Gaiman’s unpretentious lyricism and finger on the pulse of the collective unconscious, and it reads so seamlessly that it’s impossible to tell that it comes from two different authors.
But you by no means need to already be a fan of either writer to love Good Omens; it was the first thing I read of either of theirs, and I was hooked from page one. If you already love Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Eddie Izzard or Christopher Moore, you’re a shoe-in; Good Omens is all about that same irreverent sense of humor. It’s a great choice, too, for fans of Roald Dahl or Ray Bradbury or Kurt Vonnegut, sharing their sometimes dark yet deeply compassionate lens on humanity. It’s for fantasy and sci-fi fans, but for humor fans too. It’s for the reader who wants a quick read that deserves to be called ‘light’ yet tackles big themes and doesn’t shy away from emotional impact. It’s for pretty much anybody who doesn’t mind allowing humor and religion to mix (never, in my opinion, in a way that mocks anyone or their beliefs). And it is–to allow myself just the one moment of gushing–an absolute, unqualified delight.
Book–Becky Bloomwood is a reluctant financial journalist with a dirty secret: she can’t stop spending money. Despite harassment from creditors, Becky cannot resist the siren song of shiny new things, particularly clothes, to the point where she invents a dying aunt to justify borrowing money to buy a new scarf. She tries spending less money (and fails), tries making more money (and fails), and even tries marrying rich. The fun of this novel comes from watching Becky squirm; she has a knack for getting herself into sticky, embarrassing situations reminiscent of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones and is a delightfully flawed character who with a distinctive and strong narrative voice. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, Confessions of a Shopaholicis chick lit at its light, airy, and compulsively readable best.
Book – Eleanor Oliphant is an awkward young woman who doesn’t have any friends. She works as an administrator in a design firm and spends her weekends drinking enough vodka so that she is neither drunk nor sober. Her only contact with people outside of work are shopkeepers, utility men and weekly phone conversations with her institutionalized mother. Then, Eleanor wins a set of tickets to a concert and develops a crush on one of the singers. Eleanor decides she must improve herself to win his love and changes (and hilarity) ensue. Eleanor’s observations about people’s habits and pop culture and her attitude about life are entertaining, but also also give a glimpse of what she has endured. I loved reading about Eleanor’s transformation and her eccentric new friends. If you liked The Rosie Project or Britt-Marie Was Here, you’ll enjoy this book.