Friday, December 1, 2017

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) by Seanan McGuire

I've read the Wayward Children books in a topsy turvy manner, starting with Down Among the Sticks and Bones, then Every Heart a Doorway (I actually bought another book with a similar title thinking it was this one, and by the time I figured it out, had "Sticks and Bones" in my hands so read that first). The only one I've read in order is this, and I'm so glad I did, because it answered a lot of questions I had from Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

Children disappear for a number of reasons, some nefarious, some with an element of magic. That there are doorways between worlds is accepted, thanks to wardrobes, subtle knives, portals, and other devices so many of us have come across in literature. (I personally believe books are gateways, too, but that's another story.) Sometimes those of us who leave one world and enter a different one can stay there, sometimes we come back for one reason or another, sometimes we long to return to that other place-- to find the doorway to take us back. Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, provides a place for those wishing to return to their new world from their home world of Earth, r wait for a new door to open.

In the second book in the series, we were introduced to Eleanor West's home and some of the students living there. This book doesn't exactly take up where that one left off, though it does take place after in time. What it does do is focus on some of the other students, peripheral in the original story, and weave a story where they go on a rescue mission, taking them to a couple of other worlds.

Again, a fascinating story -- one which proves there is a place for each of us, and that maybe it's true: those who live in gingerbread houses seem to have cold, cruel hearts.

The book is due out January 8, 2018.

Thanks to friends at Tor for sending me this advanced readers copy. You're the best!

From the publisher:
Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the "real" world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

Bowl of Memories

Bowl of Memories
The story goes that the level of my grandmother's cooking was so good, that she used her oven to store her mail. It never got turned on. Ever. That fabulous chicken remembered from childhood visits to her home in Brooklyn was from the deli down the street, under the El* across from Uncle Izzy's candy shop.

My grandmother was a small, but strong  woman. You had to be to run a business, raise 4 children, keep a home, and support the love of your life in his endeavors, all during the depression, and while speaking a language not your native tongue. There's even a story our uncle told us, which our mother denied, and my eldest brother adopted as a gospel truth. The icebox in one of the apartments she rented out to tenants died, and a new one was delivered, but the person who delivered it refused to take it to the 4th story walkup. It was summertime in the city. The man was no fool. Faced with a problem, and no one available to help her, my bubbe* managed to heft the thing and carried it up. By herself. Did I mention she was 5 feet tall or less? In our childhood imaginations, it was our tiny 80 something bubbe hauling the Matag refrigerator/freezer that graced out kitchen, up an impossibly long flight of stairs. Our bubbe was tough.

 Our bubbe while not the best cook, did excel at a few dishes. She made a mean chopped liver, and good gefilte fish. (Each parent claimed their mother made the better gefilte fish, which resulted in my mother not making it, and opting to buy it from the deli.) When she made these dishes, she used a wooden bowl and a hackmesser, a chopper similar to a messaluna or ulu, though not crescent shaped. This variant was from Eastern Europe; messer means "knife" in German, and hack translates pretty obviously.

Chopping Bowl
The bowl where she did her chopping was simple and wooden. And she passed her bowl and hackmesser to her eldest daughter, when her daughter got married. That daughter was my mother. The bowl and chopper were ever-present in our home. I remember chopping spinach and hard cooked eggs in it as a teenager. When my mother moved to South Carolina to live with us, it moved too. Somewhere along the line, something noxious had spilled in it, staining a portion of the inside black, sinking deep into the wood, and leaving a residue that was questionable enough that nothing further was chopped in it. Resanding didn't help. The bowl stayed with us, and after my mother died, became mine. When we moved, it moved with me, because even though it was no longer used to chop, it help all those memories.

I've struggled what to do with it-- it's a hand carved bowl, with an uneven rim, and smooth sides. The inside holds the chopping scars of a multitude of meals, and has helped make the food that nourished four generations of family. I did not want to discard it, simply because it could no longer be used for what it was originally intended.

The bowl is full again, though not of food. Though I probably enjoy cooking far more than my mother or grandmother, the bowl now contains something else that is a part of me: my art. Depicted in the design are images of the cities my grandmother and mother lived. There are representations of important aspects of the lives of both, pictures of memories. Many may only be discernible to the artist, but the artist knows they are there. It is a bowl of memories. It is cherished, still. 

*elevated rail; elevated train
** bubbe (also spelled bubebubbie, bubbeh, bobbe, bobeh and bubby)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Taxonomy of Love (Hardcover) by Rachael Allen

Normally I am not that fond of novels that mix letters, emails, etc into the text as plot movers. In this case, I didn't mind, as some really fun taxonomy drawings were part of that mix. (Also, the emails/texts between Hope and her sister made sense, as they were separated by an ocean, not by an office wall or city block as often seems to be the case when electronic communications are used as a device.) Two other things endeared this book to me -- it covers the course of a relationship between the characters (and among the characters) over 5 years, 8th grade to 12th grade, showing ebbs and flows, giving room for growth or exposures of weaknesses. It also featured a main character with a disability. Spencer has Tourette's syndrome. The author uses this as a teaching tool, modeling how (and how not) to relate to someone with a disability, be it Tourette's, Spina Bifida, or Sickle Cell Anemia. The medical treatment o Tourette's was also interesting for me, as a retired RN. It really is am alphabet soup of trying to find the right drug to do the trick along with awareness of triggers/responses.

All in all, I enjoyed this story of exploring what being a friend means, and how love grows and changes over time. Thanks to the publishers who gave me this copy while at YAllfest 2017. The book is due out in January 2018.

Tags: 2017-read, advanced-reader-copy, fantasy, read, rounded-up-in-star-rating, ya-lit, yallfest

From the publisher:
The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.

Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

Had not heard a thing about this book before it caught my eye on Blogging for Books, but it really grabbed my attention once I started reading it. Yes, it's YA, and has a lot of familiar elements, but there were some totally unexpected moments. It felt real. Matt's dilemmas with the girl next door/best friend and his passionate relationship with basketball all felt honest, even to woman of a certain age. (I'm not so old that I don't remember first love.) I loved the character of Mr Ellis, and wished I'd had him for an English teacher when I was a freshman. And thanks to this book, I'm going back and picking up Sherman Alexie's  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I've started and stopped several times in the past. I need to read the tree scene, especially since I hd my own tree scene when hiking in the mountains last weekend.

Good job, Jared Reck.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending me a copy.

From the publisher:
The unrequited love of the girl next door is the centerpiece of this fiercely funny, yet heart-breaking debut novel.

Fifteen-year-old Matt Wainwright is in turmoil. He can’t tell his lifelong best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her; his promising basketball skills are being overshadowed by his attitude on the court, and the only place he feels normal is in English class, where he can express his inner thoughts in quirky poems and essays. Matt is desperately hoping that Tabby will reciprocate his feelings; but then Tabby starts dating Liam Branson, senior basketball star and all-around great guy. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough; but, as Matt soon discovers, he’s close to losing everything that matters most to him.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

One of the nice things about having Yallfest in my backyard every year is that there's the opportunity to hear and meet some really fantastic, interesting people, who love books, love reading, and in some cases, write books, too. Hearing the keynote address at the 2017 YAllfest, with Patrick Ness and Renée Ahdieh was perhaps my favorite event this year. The two spoke brilliantly, eloquently, and passionately about a number of things, but for me, the takeaway message was how they each responded to not finding characters like themselves in books they read as teens, so they wrote them. As a result we have some damn fine books that explore the issues which confronted these two authors: Patrick as a gay teen, and  Renée as a girl with a face that reflects her Asian heritage. (As she said, she was pretty sure there were no books out there about girls who were half Korean, half Scottish, who played the cello.)

An offshoot of all this was a brief mention of a recent Patrick Ness book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Not everyone gets to be Buffy or one of her pals, some kids just want to go to prom, graduate, maybe kiss the person they're crushing on, and do it before the Buffy-types blow up the high school-- again.

This was a great read, and while the element of the supernaturals was present, it really was a good story about friends and friendship. It explored some aspects of life, particularly when life isn't perfect. As the cover says, sometimes you have to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. The chapter headings explore the life of the Chosen, and their story; the rest of the the chapter is devoted to a the regulars, in the form of Mikey, Mel, Jarrod, and Henna, who are, in fact, true stars, in their own rights,

Looking forward to future literary adventures with Patrick Ness (and Renée Ahdieh). I liked their straightforwardness, their honesty, their spoken thoughts, the way they related to the YA audience (with some old fart ringers, who like to read YA) and their honesty. It is with pleasure I find that I like their writing, too. (And I snagged a signed copy. Yay!)

Tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authorfantasygreat-covergreat-titlei-liked-itmet-or-know-the-authorreadwill-look-for-more-by-this-authorya-lityallfest

From the publisher:
What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions...

The Realms of God (The Shards of Heaven #3) by Michael Livingston

A pretty awesome wrap-up to a series that had both real history and fantasy to it. And did I mention it's partially set in Petra? Good stuff.

As a person who is fascinated by what has gone on before on this earth, the historical aspect of this book really grabbed me. It's not surprising because Michael Livingston knows how to tell a tale, whether it's in a university classroom, a convention for fantasy geeks, or, so I'm told by some who have heard him, an auditorium of medieval historians. He's taken his phenomenal breadth of knowledge about the days of the Roman empire, and woven a tale of mystery, suspense, added a pinch of loyalty, a dash of romance, some bad arse demons, and a healthy dash of the fantastic, then tucked it nicely around the elements of history as we know it (what is known in the trade as a "secret history".)

The Realms of God is the third, and final installation in a trilogy that starts in the times of Cleopatra (with some throw-back in the book and in a companion piece to the days of Alexander the Great) and finds its conclusion in the dusty stones of Petra. (Yeah, that Petra, which you probably remember from Indiana Jones and the something or other.) And if you're thinking that maybe Roman history isn't your thing, I've given the first book in the series to several non-history loving friends, who not only read it, but eagerly pre-ordered book 2 and 3 (which is pretty much what my history loving friends, also gifted book 1, did. I'm seriously mystified why this series wasn't marketed both as historical fiction/mystery and fantasy, but that's a complete other tangent.)

Bottom line. Read the trilogy. And if you're like I am, you'll be looking for the secret histories, hidden away in our past, everywhere. The only thing that could have made this book better for me would be if it was inscribed by the author. (Hint. hint, Michael Livingston. I could have bought a kindle version, but got the hard-copy so I can have a full inscribed set.)

tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authoradvanced-reader-copyfantasygreat-covermade-me-look-something-upmet-or-know-the-authorpart-start-of-a-seriesreadreallyexcitedtoreadsecret-historythanks-for-the-mapwill-look-for-more-by-this-author

From the publisher: The Ark of the Covenant has been spirited out of Egypt to Petra, along with the last of its guardians. But dark forces are in pursuit. Three demons, inadvertently unleashed by Juba of Numidia and the daughter of Cleopatra, are in league with Tiberius, son and heir of Augustus Caesar. They've seized two of the fabled Shards of Heaven, lost treasures said to possess the very power of God, and are desperately hunting the rest.

Through war and assassination, from Rome to the fabled Temple Mount of Jerusalem and on to the very gates of Heaven itself, the forces of good and evil will collide in a climactic battle that threatens the very fabric of Creation.

The Realms of God is the thrilling conclusion to Michael Livingston's historical fantasy trilogy that continues the story begun in The Shards of Heaven and The Gates of Hell.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden by Jeff Wilser

Disclaimer: this is not the sort of Joe I often am associated with. There is no "cuppa" before it.

For many, Joe Biden became a name well known when he became the 47th Vice President of the United States. Even though I'm not from Delaware, I've known of Biden for a long time prior to the Obama years. This little book, which doesn't claim to be a biography or all-inclusive, gives snippets of Biden's life, often in his own words. It's more like a love poem than a serious examination, but it's a quick and interesting read, and fills out the image of the man in the memes. (And for the record, all the mentions of Hot Young Joe Biden did succeed in sending me to the internet to look for pictures.)

For the record, my favorite memory of Biden thus far is the presentation of he Presidential Medal of Freedom, with distinction, which he received in January 2017. The man's response was priceless. He is a mensch.

Thank you Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending me a copy.