Monthly Archives: July 2015

Other Beach and Poolside Reads…because it’s summer!

Mindy & Lemoncello

As soon as summer vacation rolls around, my reading list drastically increases — and it’s awesome! One of my favorite pastimes involves reading by any body of water… basically, if my toes are in the sand, there’s sure to be a book in my hand. (Did I mean to rhyme? Maybe… maybe not… but it’s true!)

And so that brings me to my beach and poolside reads while vacationing with family and friends on a lovely cruise to Bermuda:

* Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling. Let me start by saying that Mindy is hilarious! She is a funny, accomplished woman who is also quite different from the typical Hollywood gal — and I love that she embraces it and celebrates it and that she felt her musings and struggles and selfies were the makings of a book… because I found it all very entertaining! There are funny anecdotes (and pictures) of her childhood, explanations of her struggles to make it into the comedy industry, and a whole lot about how much she loves her friends. I giggled, laughed, and connected with many ways. It’s a great summer read. (I am looking forward to her upcoming book this fall!)

* Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. Now, I’ve been seeing this title on the New York Times best seller list for a while, and so I figure, let’s see what all the fuss is about… but I didn’t actually know what the book was about. (I like to just pick up a book and start reading). So, I thought this was a book about some crazed Mr. Lemoncello who trapped children in his evil library and they had to escape to save their lives! … That is NOT what this book about. It is actually about an eccentric billionaire game-maker, Mr. Lemoncello (who just so happens to be very “Willy Wonka-like”). He is from a small (and imaginary… it’s not a real place, kids!) town in Ohio, called Alexandriaville. When Mr. Lemoncello was young, he found the town’s library to be a safe haven for his thoughts and learning. Thus, when the library was closed down, the decided to rebuild it in style! This takes a very long time — and so the children of the town (12 year-olds, to be exact) have never known a library. For a grand opening, Mr. Lemoncello chooses 12 twelve year-olds to partake in a sleepover game at the new and improved library. It’s full of puzzles, riddles, and games! It’s a whole lot of fun… for those who are really into working with others and enjoying the discovery of knowledge… for those who a selfish, egotistical jerks, not so much! The objective: be the first to escape from the library… without using the entrance through which you came in. It’s a really fun read!

And now… off to find some new books! (Unfortunately, I don’t think many more will be read with my toes in the sand). Thus, I will also be looking for some great spots to do my reading. Stay tuned!

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Filed under Book Review, Memoir, Middle Grade Fiction, New York Times Best Seller, Summer Reads

The Dark Side of Life / The Bright Side of Death

it's what you leave

“’Ladies and gentlemen,’ I shout, ‘I would like to welcome you to my death!’ You might expect me to say ‘life,’ having just woken up and all, but it’s only when I’m awake that I think about dying.”

Theodore Finch – horribly nicknamed ‘Theodore Freak’ by his awful classmates – is actually a pretty awesome guy. He’s charming, spontaneous, kind, and clearly bipolar. He begins his narrative by discussing being “asleep” – his time of depression, which seems to have passed… for now. He is now Awake, and keeps track of these days, as he is aware of how fleeting they can be… he is fighting his hardest not to be overtaken by the “Asleep” again.

As Finch contemplates what jumping off the school’s tower might feel and look like, he notices Violet Markey at a ledge as well – she’s popular, pretty, and scared at this great height. Violet lost her older sister Eleanor in a car accident almost a year ago. She feels overtaken by the “extenuating circumstances” of her life these days… nothing feels normal… nothing is normal… and now she’s shivering on a ledge six flights above the ground. Fortunately, Finch is there to talk her down and save her from herself. But who’d believe Theodore Freak talked the beautiful Violet Markey out of killing herself, and not the other way around? Yet, Finch is the kind of person who allows that kind of gossipy misconception to spread, so as to protect Violet’s reputation and her own feelings… after all, “This is my secret – that any moment I might fly away.” … and then nothing will matter anyway.

But so long as Finch is awake, and Violet needs someone to keep an eye on her, he is determined to stay awake, to put off death another day. “Is today a good day to die?” … Not if he can help it, and we sure do hope he can.

After many attempts to get her attention once again, and finally forcing Violet to be his partner for a Geography project via public peer pressure/mild humiliation, Finch determines to show Violet the great state of Indiana and all the quirky places they can discover and experience together. It is this journey that brings them closer together, gets her to ride in a car again, and allows them to discover all that life has to offer. It is enough to make Violet appreciate her life—her words, which were once gone, have come back in a new way, and she begins to write once more. Though still fraught with survivor’s guilt, she can see just what a wonderfully captivating guy Finch truly is… no matter what others at school might say about him. She falls for him, and looks forward to their wonderings, making sure to always leave something behind, for posterity’s sake.

They explore the highest point in Indiana, Hoosier Hill—1,257 feet above sea level— a field of retired bookmobiles, the Purina Tower, homemade roller coasters, and Indiana’s very own blue hole in a lake. Visiting these places with Finch gives Violet a reason to rediscover how amazing life can be again – but with darkness descending upon Finch, is it enough to keep him from trying not to die?

He says, “It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting.” He may be the mildly neglected broken boy from a broken home, but on the outside, he is just Finch – likely to have a violent fit, throw desks at school, go wondering for days, and sweep a girl off her feet – but there is nothing visibly wrong with him… then again, who’s really looking? It becomes painfully obvious that he is fighting a losing a battle, one he cannot possibly overcome on his own… but Finch is not one to be labeled, medicated, or made to feel any less than who he is. He does not want help. He cannot be helped.

“Cesare Pavese, believer in the Great Manifesto, wrote, ’We do not remember days, we remember moments.” Finch and Violet share many days… many firsts… many wonders. They have their moments…

Heartbreaking at it all is, Jennifer Niven reminds us in All The Bright Places that in the end, “The thing I realize is that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

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Filed under Book Review, Young Adult

The One Thing That Matters

circumstances reveal

“I’m not a fan of the bouquet. I have nothing against flowers specifically, but once they’ve been plucked from the ground and clumped together in a grouping, I find them unnerving. Maybe even a smidge creepy. Nothing says Please admire my beauty while I die a long, slow death like the floral arrangement. Looking back, I realize it was probably some sort of omen that Benjamin Milton was standing beside a bouquet when I first met him.”

Maggie Sanders has it all: wonderful parents, a beautiful home, great friends, a promising professional career in soccer, and a bright future ahead. Her booming confidence even leads her rebellious streak towards an epic high school prank— an illegal prank, which leads her directly to a parole officer. And so Maggie’s perfect life begins its decent into darkness, as a bought of bacterial meningitis proceeds to take her sight, her friends, and her bright future along with it.

“Right now my life was so broken, so mangled. I needed to glue something back together before my shaking frame fractured into a million different pieces.”

However, as circumstances would have it, it is after meeting with her parole officer— and falling not “with the dignity and grace of a self-respecting blind girl,” but instead, with a four-letter word and loud crash onto the floor— that Maggie meets Ben. Benjamin Milton is a ten-year-old boy who just happens to think, “That was the most majestic fall I’ve ever seen.” He also happens to have Spina bifida – and excellent taste in hats. Yet, Ben’s most notable quality is that Maggie can actually see him… in bright and vivid color!

Being the only person Maggie has seen in six months, and because of his bubbly, energetic, and refreshingly upbeat personality, she and Ben become fast friends. She meets his mom, and to her surprise, his older brother: Mason, lead singer of the Loose Cannons, and boy of her dreams… also the boy who thinks she’s just a fan girl faking her blindness to take advantage of his naïve little brother. Mason, therefore, exudes all kinds of loathing whenever she’s around. How can she explain she really is blind… around every other human being but Ben? Is Maggie delusional? Concussed? Hallucinating? Or is this a miraculous road to recovery?

In The One Thing, Marci Lyn Curtis creates a world we are hesitant to imagine – after all, we are (most of us) naturally inclined to want to visualize Maggie’s world… yet that is exactly what she needs us to understand: there is nothing to see. Not until Ben comes into Maggie’s world, and she doesn’t need to worry about bumping into flowers, slipping on the floor, or not knowing what she is eating… not when Ben is around. Whereas, without him Maggie’s world is empty – there is no laughter, no color, no passion for random things like Doritos, or hats with funny sayings. There is just a sense of loss for what used to be… and a lack of interest in what still could be.

While Maggie hides behind her witty answers and sarcastic remarks, it is through her relationship with Ben that she realizes just how selfish she has been. In preventing anyone from throwing her a pity-party, she has actually alienated her family and friends, ignoring their needs and their losses. Ben teaches her that although there may be loss – and he knows all about that – everyone of us can still have “a thing” that drives us forward and gives us a reason to get up every morning. These things may change: circumstances arise, and sometimes loss is inevitable.

Nonetheless, the lesson is clear:

“Circumstances don’t change us, they reveal us.”

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Filed under Book Review, San Francisco Book Review, Young Adult

Reading Wonderful YA Fiction!

YA Fiction

To kick off my summer, I am focusing on what I love to read best: Young Adult Fiction!

Thus, I have had the pleasure of reading:

* Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen… ok, so this is actually middle grade fiction. But it is indeed awesome! Gabby Duran is just such an entertaining character, and once the story line pulls you in, you simply need to sit and read all the way through! Who doesn’t enjoy a good story about the best alien babysitter in the galaxy?

* Alice in Wonderland High by Rachel Shane is a great reimagining of Alice as a teenager joining a group of eco-vigilantes in an effort to teach her town how to be friendlier towards the environment. But does such a noble cause really excuse their extreme and rather illegal means?

* Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider, which was so amazing, it needed its own entry!

These book reviews should be appearing sometime soon in the San Francisco Book Review.

Happy summer reading!

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Filed under Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction, San Francisco Book Review, Young Adult