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Happy 6th Birthday, SPR!

As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Goodnight Selfie

Where do I even begin with one of the most adorable children's books I have ever read? This is Goodnight Selfie by Scott Menchin and illustrated by Pierre Collet-Derby. 

A young girl receives the gift of an old phone from her older brother when he gets a new one. While she doesn't have the capability of calling, she does learn the art of the selfie. She goes nuts, taking selfies everywhere in every place. She even takes "elsie's," which are selfies with other people. She takes them all day until it's finally time for bed. She agrees to go to sleep -- on one condition. She gets to take one last selfie of the day: a good night selfie. 

I have been fawning over this book for more than a year now. I meant to review it after the 2015 Book Expo, but it got lost in the shuffle and I just enjoyed it from time to time, taking it off my bookshelf to paw through it and get a good giggle going. This past week, I read it aloud to my boyfriend who was surprisingly amused, although whether it was my very serious reading as though he was a child or if it was the actual book, I will leave up to him to know and me to find out. 

This book was completely loveable and positively enjoyable for the young set. This is a book even for the very young, as it's easy to comprehend and can be read by a young reader or to an even younger reader by a parent. It's a easy-to-comprehend story, as smart phones are so ubiquitous now that any child can relate to taking a selfie. In fact, just this week I saw at least four selfies friends have taken with their infants. So yeah, we can all relate. 

The illustrations are outstanding, the story is adorable, and the protagonist is a young girl. What more do you need to love this book?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Max at Night

Oh, Max. My sweet, sweet Max. I adore this cat, and I want every future book that Ed Vere writes. He is adorable and small and round and rolly and I want Max for myself. I picked up his first book, Max the Brave, last year, and when I saw galleys for this at BEA this year, I literally gasped. Like, out loud. I almost lost my marbles. Because, MAX. This year, it's Max at Night, by Ed Vere.

Max is about to head to bed, and he's saying goodnight to everything he loves. When he gets to the moon, he doesn't see him. Can Moon hear him? Does Moon know that Max is trying to say goodnight? What if he doesn't know? Max can't take that chance, so he starts to search Moon out. He goes out onto the balcony. He goes on to the roof. He climbs a tall tree. Finally, as high as he can get, so close to the sky, he finds the moon. Moon tells Max goodnight and tells Max that even if he can't see Moon, Moon can hear him.

Max Max Max Max Max. I love this cat so much, and I want all the books that Vere wants to write about Max. He's adorably round and squishy and roly-poly, and he's ridiculous to watch move through the story. Ridiculous because of the love, I mean. Max isn't just cute either -- he's precocious, and he gets himself into just enough trouble to be sweet but not enough to ACTUALLY be trouble. He is a little sassy but not enough to be a bad influence, and he tries to fix problems that aren't really problems, but are darned cute anyway.

I want every Max book that will ever be created. I love having Max in my library of children's books that will never actually be read by my own future children because I want them all to stay nice. I will buy them their own copies, so Max will be doubled up and in abundance in my home.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Brighton: A Novel

This was another gem that I picked up at BEA this year, one of those happy accidents that I am thrilled happened. I was passing by the booth with a Michael Connelly novel in my hand, and the PR rep was like, "If you like Connelly, you will love Michael Harvey." I was like, "SOLD." This is how I ended up with his newly released novel Brighton in my hands. 

Kevin and Bobby were inseparable in their childhood in Brighton, a part of Boston. Bobby was the older, wiser one, and Kevin was the baseball-loving kid who looked up to him. Then one night when they were teenagers, everything changed, and soon Kevin left town and in time, became an award-winning journalist. Bobby stayed behind, got into trouble, and now spends his time as a bookie in his hometown. Kevin, living a quiet life, comes back home after winning a Pulitzer and gets pulled into a murder investigation by his girlfriend, a DA in the district. Unfortunately, it's an investigation that runs wide and runs deep involving multiple murders, entangling all aspects of Kevin's life. Suddenly he finds his past catching up with him and his childhood best friend is the most likely killer -- and the law suspects that Kevin himself has a hand in it as well.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this book and my dedication to seeing it to the end, which wasn't incredibly hard seeing as how it was a very well-written book. The beginning took some time since I couldn't quite predict where it was going, but when the first murder happened, I was in it to win it. It felt as though Harvey knew these characters as though they were his own friends, and he painted them with such fine detail that they felt entirely real. Their relationships were sufficiently complicated, and there was an equal driving of the plot and the characters to a combination of a satisfying/disturbing ending. Kevin was a disturbed young man who grew up to be a damaged adult, and in turn this created a fantastic protagonist. I hated that his childhood was so rough, but I loved how that informed his relationship with his long-term girlfriend in the present. I also loved how strong-willed and gutsy she was, and it was a lovely combination that made for great reading.

The ending was, in fact, a little bit of a surprise for me. I was surprised by that, but at the same time I was incredibly happy with it as well. A mark of a good book, to me at least, is how I feel about it when I'm not with it. I wanted to get back to this book to see not just how it ended, but to see how it was going to get there. It was a fascinating process, and at one point I cried out a curse word while reading late at night, woke my boyfriend up, and he asked if I was ok. So yeah -- the book was good.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Daddy's Gone A Hunting: A Novel

Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that there exists a Mary Higgins Clark book that I have yet to read. And somehow, every year, there's a new one. How on earth I managed to skip over this novel a couple of years ago I'll never know. I picked up it at a lovely used book store in Ocean City, and it accompanied me to Japan this past May. This one is Daddy's Gone A Hunting, and I whipped through it like a sugary, airy, plump meringue.

Kate and Gus meet early one morning at her family's furniture factory, and minutes later the place is blown to pieces. Gus dies and Kate is hanging on for dear life. Gus, a former employee who held a strong grudge, and Kate, the daughter who has threatened to burn the place down out of anger at her father who is losing money hand over fist, are the prime suspects. Kate's younger sister, Hannah, knows she didn't do it. She sets out to prove that these two are not guilty of arson, but what she does find will put her life in danger -- there is someone out there who will stop at nothing to avoid being caught.

As I told my travel companions after finishing this book, what if love about MHC is how formulaic she is. This can often be a downfall, but I've been reading her long enough to know what to expect. I'm no fool, and I don't expect a departure from the story arc, and I pick her up for exactly that reason. This novel was no different, and as per usual, I knew where the story was going and I managed to be surprised a couple of times. I liked the characters, and I thought the plot was pretty original. I was surprised at the connection at the end to a point at the beginning, and I had the solid time I was expecting. I enjoyed playing along.

One thing I did notice this time around, and realized retroactively that I've always found this peculiar to MHC novels, is how she dates herself. For most of her novels, the characters all wear chignons in their hair, and we all know ain't nobody got time for that since 1996. In this book specifically, Hannah wears a scarf around her shoulders at dinner with her best friend. Now, she is a fashion designer in NYC in 2013 -- I'll tell you strait up that would NOT be what that woman would wear to dinner. There were some others, but I can't remember them off the top of my head. love these little nuggets of MHC, though. They make me giggle and appreciate how long she's been in action.

This was a fun read, and I'm grateful for my trade paperbacks like this one for my vacation reading. Keep writing, guuuurrlll. I'll keep reading.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Iggy Peck, Architect

Just like I loved Rosie Revere, I loved Iggy Peck. Iggy is inventive, creative, and for the life of him, he cannot stop building things. His dream in life is to become an architect and build the highest buildings, but his teacher has a strong dislike of the craft. Iggy has been building since he was a baby -- towers out of diapers, houses out of breakfast dishes, buildings out of school supplies. His love is tampered, though, by his need in school to make his teacher happy. Until, of course, the day that his class goes on a field trip only to find that their bridge has collapsed. His teacher faints, fearful that they will be stuck there forever. Can Iggy save the day with his skills?

I mentioned earlier this week when I wrote a post on Rosie Revere that I love this series, more than the world. I fell into STEM education research; in fact, this summer I am supervising undergraduate research interns in STEM education. I was never a big math and science girl (we could talk about the gender socialization patterns of school subjects forever...), so now that I work in STEM I find myself giggling often. It works for me. It also makes me love this series even more, as I love the idea that young kids could be so creative and smart and interesting, and this book (the series!) really makes that clear in a delicious and lovely and entertaining way.

Back to Iggy. He was a legitimately fun character and one that I am so happy to have sitting on my shelf. My favorite building of his, besides the final one that won over his teacher to his chosen career, was the castle he built of dirty diapers as a baby. I also loved the arc of the story, in which this young man felt defeated yet stepped up to the plate in a time of need to help his classmates and win over his teacher. It was the best, really, and I can't wait until Book 3 comes out. I will keep recommending these books to my elementary school teachers, and I will sing their praises far and wide.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rosie Revere, Engineer

How do I even begin to express my adoration for this book, this series, these authors in words? Here is the story:

At BEA this year, on the last day, I passed by the Abrams booth and saw, for the first time, this picture blown up on the side of their booth:



Now, I LOVE Abrams. They are the arbiters of the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks, and I just think they are the cat's pajamas in the way of being the leading publishers of children's and middle grade books that matter. So I see this picture, and I almost cry with joy.  Like, real tears. A young girl, a protagonist of color, doing complicated math -- with JOY?!? I had to know more.

So I whipped around, spoke with a lovely rep, and she was just as excited as I was. It turns out Ada Twist, the leading lady of that book, was just part of a larger series of books about a class of kids who achieve educationally. These kids are diverse, and they love learning while pursuing educational goals. I almost melted right then and there.

This past spring semester, I taught a child development course that ran in tandem with the students' literacy course. We spoke at length about the need for more children's books with protagonists of color, and is promised my students I would seek out what I could at BEA. I fell in love with this series.

I then got to meet the author later that day and I told her all of this. She was just as exited as I was, and so kind and gracious to this new fan of hers. So thank you, Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, for this series. What a difference you are making.

So now onto Rosie Revere. She wants to be an engineer so badly. She is laughed at, though, for her inventions and that makes her self-conscious. She is afraid to speak up in class for fear of looking dumb, and she stops inventing altogether when she is mocked by her uncle for trying to help him. That is, until her aunt calls and asks for her help. She gives Rosie the confidence she needs to follow her dreams of becoming an engineer.

If you think Rosie's name sounds familiar, it's because she is named after her aunt... You guessed it: Rosie the Riveter. What a lovely surprise for the adults reading the book. I was just positively tickled to read the whole thing. I adored Rosie and her dream, and I understood that lack of confidence to not speak up in class. She is an incredibly relatable character, and I just wanted to reach in the pages and squeeze her tight.

The book provided a strong story arc along with characters that children, especially girls, could relate to. I can't wait to pick up the rest of the series and share these with my students moving forward. These books are vital additions to your bookshelf, be it your personal one at home or your shelf for your students at school.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've come. Especially in such a hard year, the fact that I could make it this far is really amazing to me.

I haven't done a half-decade round up, so I'm not quite sure the exact number of books I've read and reviewed in 5 years, but it's definitely been a ton. Since starting this blog I have made it most of the way through a PhD program, been on more dates than a girl should ever have to go on, fell in love with my best friend, and moved three times in one year. 2016 was rough; I had a hard time reading at all, let alone reading and putting up reviews. Thank you for your loyalty through my silence. I promised myself that when blogging here that I would only do it as long as I was having fun. I'm still having fun -- so on to another year!

Total stats for my fifth year: 81 books reviewed, 7 of those guest posts from Charlotte. (Thank you, Charlotte!)

Now for my list of Best of 2016. As usual, my disclaimer is that not ALL of these were published in the past year, but I did read them all this year. The list is shorter in past years due to my early 2016 sabbatical, but I am still pretty happy with the list. It's a mishmash of non-fiction, fiction, thrillers, and memoirs. Enjoy!

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Approval Junkie by Faith Salie

The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

The Best of Youth by Michael Dahlie

This is Water by David Foster Wallace

In a Dar, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

The Girls by Emma Cline

While the City Slept by Eli Sanders

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The History Major: A Novel

I have read some of Michael Phillip Cash's stuff before, and he is overall a genuinely funny writer. En route to Book Expo America in Chicago this year, I needed a short book for the flight there since I knew I was going to be getting a ton of books at the Expo and whatever I was reading I wanted to finish it in one sitting so that I would have less to carry home. At just over 100 pages, this novella was exactly what I needed. This is The History Major.

Amanda wakes up one morning after a night of partying ended with a huge fight with her boyfriend. Only she has a new roommate with much different habits than her own, and she has a different schedule than she has been on so far in the first semester of school. She is scheduled to take history with Professor Totle -- which, ugh. She hates history. Who are these people in her class? Why does that bad boy sitting next to her look familiar? Why is she taking this class that she despises? Where is her boyfriend?

One thing that I appreciate about Cash's work is that he weaves a strong, intense tale, and he often manages to keep the truth under wraps until close to the end of his stories. This one I had suspicions but didn't quite guess until the big reveal, and I found that to be very enjoyable even if I didn't love the premise itself. That's about all I can say without giving away spoilers, so you will just have to trust me on this one.

I would have liked to hear more of the main characters in the book. I never really felt that I got to know Amanda and her cohort well. The character arcs were skimpy at best, and so honestly, I just didn't care about the outcome. I felt I could put this book down and be ok with that, and it made me sad in a big way. I think that Amanda especially, but also her boyfriend Patrick and best friends Danielle and Kaitlyn would have made excellent characters if given a chance to be fully fleshed out. Instead they felt like props and therefore two dimensional.

I'm order for that to happen there would need to be less history. I love Joan of Arc, and I find the. Borgias, especially Lucrezia, to be fascinating. However, the amount of time spent relating these stories instead of those of the book's protagonist and supporting cast was to the story's detriment. I was incredibly interested when Amanda's backstory with her mother came out, and I wanted more of that relationship instead of just surface-level details.

If you want to pick up one of Cash's books, I would recommend Stillwell.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Partner: A Novel

This summer I had two Florida weddings, which meant two weekend beach trips. Cue my happy music! You knows what a trip to the beach means -- A JOHN GRISHAM NOVEL! I had The Partner on hand, so I packed that one for my day in the sun.

Patrick Lanigan has finally been caught. After faking his death, he stole ninety million dollars from a settlement his firm was expecting and disappeared into the night.  By night, I specifically mean Brazil. In a small town he had set up a perfect life -- quiet, serene, and happy. Now he is back in Biloxi, where he hoped he'd never return, facing a bevy of charges from the Feds, the state, and his "bereaved" widow. Patrick, however, knows more than he should about that ninety million -- and he's willing to tell all, if you are patient enough for him to play his cards right.

In the World of JG, I would rank this in the category of "super fun reads." I couldn't put it down, really, and when my boyfriend texted to see if I was available to chat, I may or may not have said that I could only talk for ten minutes because I needed to go to bed, and by "go to bed" I mean finish my book. Eep! I thought this was one of Grisham's most well-crafted stories, leading me on a wild goose chase blindfolded. I had no idea where the story was going, and the slow reveal of all of the moving parts made for very captivating reading. I was super impressed at his storytelling skills in this piece. Regarding where it fits into the cannon, it came at a time where he was on a roll with some of his best books.

It is truly hard to like Patrick on paper, because he's clearly an ass. I mean, the dude faked his death by using the body of someone else (whether or not he murdered him or her -- he still used someone's corpse), he stole someone else's money, and he left his wife and daughter (albeit with a two million life insurance policy). But he is a truly sympathetic character. I LIKED him. I ROOTED for him. I wanted him to get off scott free. I cheered him on when he outsmarted almost everyone he came across. That, dear readers, is the sign of good character development. Patrick may arguably be one of my two favorite Grisham characters.

So this book in particular made me thankful I picked it as my first Florida wedding weekend beach read. Congrats to my super private friends on their gorgeous, meaningful, intimate nuptials. I'm proud and humbled to have been a part of your night.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Being a Captain is Hard Work

Captain No Beard is back, and he's ready for a new adventure! This time he is a hard-headed young man who refuses to listen to his crew when the suggest making a better decision. This is Carole Roman's Being a Captain is Hard Work.

It's a regular day on the ship when the Captain yells to the team that it's full steam ahead. Crew members look up and tell the Captain that it looks like rain, but Captain No Beard is convinced that clouds don't mean rain, and no matter how many friends tell him, he refuses to listen. The ship ends up in a horrible storm, and everyone is put in danger. They survive by the skin of their teeth. Captain No Beard tries to explain his reasons, but the crew isn't having it. Hallie reminds the Captain that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Captain No Beard learns a very valuable lesson on this day -- that sometimes you have to work as a team to make the best decisions for everyone.

This book has stepped a little out of the mold for the Captain No Beard series. First of all, it's a little bit longer, which means more pictures (no complaints here!), and it comes across as a bit more serious than the rest of the series. I think all of these things are on the "plus" side of things. I love that this book is a little bit more mature and forces kids to think a bit more critically about why Captain made a bad decision, and to take a good look at the serious impact his decision had on his friends. A big part of being a leader is knowing when it's time to step back and let others lead, and along with that is the need to know when to listen to others and put your ego aside. Captain had a hard time doing that in this story, and it almost cost him his friendships. It's a great lesson to learn at a young age, and I'm impressed at this book and the direction it's moving in. I love that it's very much a small children's book, but it's teaching a very important lesson very early and on a level that young kids can understand. A lovely addition to the cannon!