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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, September 28, 2017


Bethan Woollvin's Rapunzel was high on my "get" list for Book Expo this year because it was such an empowering children's book. I knew that I needed to get it not just for myself, but for you all, dear readers.

We are all familiar with the traditional Rapunzel tale, but what would happen if we took away her reliance on a man (the infamous handsome prince) and just had a girl who was tired of being bossed around by the evil witch? We would have this Rapunzel, a new type of heroine who leaves the castle all the time to do her own thing and one day, when confronted by the witch who found a leaf in her hair, convinces her the wind blew it in to the castle, then leaves the tower. She cuts her hair off behind her and leaves for good, scaring witches henceforth. Now that's a strong female lead.

I was particularly drawn do this story because I want my child to see portrayals of girls that don't necessarily do things for males or because of males; I want him to see girls that are strong in their own right. Don't you think this Rapunzel is a more fun girl to hang out with? I sure do, and not just as a friend, either. I want my child to think of all people as those who make choices for themselves and don't stand by while people don't ask for their consent. Believe it or not, that's an issue in this book. The witch never asks Rapunzel if she can snip off some of her hair to sell it; she just does it without permission. It's a hell of a signal, then, when Rapunzel just whacks off all of her golden, luscious hair and walks away from it for good.

I'm excited to have this book on my son's bookshelf, and I'm looking forward to reading it and talking to him about it. It's really amazing to see old stories that don't exactly work for our family retold in ways that do. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean

Amy Dresner's memoir, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean stuck out for me as it sounded funny and honest, and we all know I love those two things. 

Amy is an addict. Although she prefers opioids, anything will do. Alcohol makes her violent, cocaine works too, and sex fills the void when she is sober from substances. She can't be alone, and she doesn't know how to cope. A 40-something woman who grew up wealthy and spoiled, she's never learned coping mechanisms for the curveballs life throws. Her seventh stint in rehab after a domestic violence incident (by her) finally forces her to deal with who she is and her choices in life. No one said it would be easy, though. 

Addiction is no joke, and it's a disease that takes the ones you love. Amy was no different. It was incredible to read her searing honesty and raw wit as she lays her soul bare in this memoir. It's tough to tel us the whole, honest truth, especially using such dark humor (my favorite), and she's doing it in writing for the public. Although I do understand that she. You are writing, it is sometimes the most cathartic thing and others reading or not it doesn't well matter. It was amazing to read her recounting of her wrongs in her own way, and to know that dealing with addiction and shame is a common experience. 

Shame is a powerful emotion that drives many of our choices as human, and Amy had every reason to be ashamed of many of her choices, even while sober.  Maybe especially when sober. Some parts elicited so much sympathy from me, and some mad respect for her ability to put it out there an own it. This included a few sexual exploits, and her embarrassment in what she was willing to do to fill the empty void inside her. I cheered for her when she finished her community service, laughed with her at the irony of having to call the graffiti removal squad, and hid my head for her when she agreed to continue sleeping with losers. We are all human, and we all have our fair share of shit. I'm thankful that Amy could lay here out there for us so others could feel not so alone. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Max and Bird

Max and Bird is the latest in Ed Vere's Max series, and I almost died when I approached the Sourcebooks booth at Book Expo and asked if they had a new Max book out this year. I love Max with my whole heart and soul, and he is by far my favorite children's series. (You can read about the other books here and here.) Mr. Vere has not let me, or you, down here.

One day, Max and Bird meet. Max is used to chasing birds, and Bird is used to being chased by cats. However, they decide to be friends -- at least until Bird can learn to fly. Together the pair embark on an adventure to teach Bird how to fly, including a visit to the library and plenty of practice. Once they are successful, Bird offers for Max to eat him, as that was the deal. Max decides he likes Bird too much to eat him, and they agree to stay friends.

I am blown away by this book, as much as I have been by Vere's previous Max books. I would rank this one my second favorite after Max the Brave. I love the simplicity of the message -- friends help friends, and don't ask for anything in return. There is another message, which is keeping your word. When Bird offers to sacrifice himself because he told Max he would, it was a sweet, if martyr-ish offer. Max's willingness to turn his new friend down on a very tasty offer was kind, but it also showed a desire for friendship over carnal desires. It is sweet, but it is also a very good message of kindness and caring for others. As per usual, the illustrations are to die for, Max is a dreamboat, and Vere has a way of reaching the deep recesses of adults' sense of humor to make this book a huge winner in terms of children's books. Or any books, for that matter. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Stay With Me: A Novel

One of the big books to drop this fall, I anxiously awaited approval for an advanced copy of Ayobami Adebayo's Stay With Me. I wanted to pick up a hard copy at Book Expo, but by drop time (4pm ish) I was in so much pain and could barely walk, so I taxi'd home. I'm so grateful to have been approved for an electronic copy. 

Yejide and Akin have been married for years, and theirs is a love at first sight story. Their union, however, has not produced offspring, which in their Nigerian culture is the worst thing that could befall a marriage. Akin is forced by his family to take a second wife. When Yejide is finally with child, the hope is that it will cure all ills, but unfortunately it is the beginning of a series of events that may rip the couple apart and will have a resounding affect on the family for the rest of their lives.

This novel was by far the best I have picked up in recent months. It was beautifully written in terms of the story; the narrators shift between the couple and there was never a moment when I didn't know who was speaking. Each of their voices broke my heart in their own ways; the unbearable pain of desperately wanting a child and then losing one was difficult to read at all, but especially as my little boy sleeps in my arms while I read through the couple's pain. You learn early on that there is a secret between the couple, and as it unravels through the course of the novel, I was flabbergasted at how simple it was yet how it deeply complicated several lives, some to the point of no return. 

I was struck by how simply stunning this novel was. It was impossible to keep the characters at a distance as they will burrow themselves in your soul. As their relationship became fractured, I couldn't side with one over the other. My heart hurt for both players, and I secretly hoped for a happily ever after. I held my breath for them and I rooted for them. I only wanted their dreams to come true. You may not be able to get what you want, but you can live within the confines of this incredible piece of work and experience the joy and the sorrow Adebayo gifts you for a few hours. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Burning Girl: A Novel

I was crazy excited to get a copy of Claire Messud's newest novel, The Burning Girl, at Book Expo. I always love reading her work. 

We have all been there -- one of your oldest and dearest friends pulls away and you don't know why. Sometimes it happens to us in adulthood, but for many of us it happened in childhood. This is what Julia experiences when Cassie, her best friend, begins to find new friends and ask out new experiences early in high school. Julia doesn't understand, and she has to watch her friend slowly make decisions that will alter her life, some of which are her choice and others she is forced into. It's hard to predict what will happen to Cassie as she slips away from her old life, but one thing we can know for certain is that Julia and Cassie's friendship will never be the same -- that is, if Cassie lives to tell the tale. 

I found this novel to be fascinating, and I was particularly taken by the younger characters Messud has written about in this novel. It's hard to find well written adult novels that focus on younger characters, and Messud really hit the nail on the head with this one. Julia came across as someone I could relate to -- a young woman in the making who feels babyish and uncool compared to her former best friend, who has chosen a new crowd and a new life that not only doesn't include her, but also makes her seem infinitely cooler than Julia. I think we've all been there and we can relate to that. However, in the context of the story, I would rather be Julia. It was a starts reminder that not everything that glitters is gold. 

I was absolutely creeped out by the presence of the new man in Cassie's life. I have to be deliberately vague in this description as it is an important point in the story that you have to read for yourself. Messud has this knack for creating super creepy characters who are deceptively necessary to the story arc. It's quite incredible, and it's what, IMHO, makes her a master at her craft. The fact that I finished this book a week ago and am still unsettled by this character when thinking back on the book is an unmistakable sign of a well-crafted, full-bodied character in the story. It makes both the man and the story take on a life. So yes, I think this book is worth your eyes and your brain power this fall. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

At Book Expo this year, I happened to be at the expo early, so I grabbed an autographing ticket for Mo Willems' Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals. I am so glad I did -- it is one of the greatest gifts a new mama could have for her baby.

There is so much to see and do in this world. There are songs to sing and rides to ride and cats to watch. There as passwords to learn and there are mirrors to look into and there are families to love. Life is so big and so wide, and we are happy that you have decided to join us here. Mo Willems puts together a welcome book for babies, and what a glorious welcome it is. 

This was the first book I read my baby boy. The first time I read it through I teared up (because pregnancy), and I knew it would hold a special place in our hearts and our home. It is simple enough to read to your baby yet complicated with big ideas for the big people. The graphics are big and blocked, perfect for tiny brains making sense of the world. It has a consistent tag line and it can be argued that the book is a metaphor for life at large. The world can be a big and scary place, and sometimes it's important to have a book to break it down for you. 

It is a proper introduction to the world if I do say so myself. Welcome to the word, indeed. 

As you can see, the book is baby approved. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Unraveling Oliver: A Novel

Liz Nugent's Unraveling Oliver was a huge get at Book Expo this year. I was super excited to get my hands on it, and Liz Nugent was crazy nice and genuinely happy people were excited about her novel. I downed this whole book in about five hours. I couldn't put it down. 

Oliver Ryan is a famous children's book author who is beloved around the world and in his own circles. Until, that is, the night that he beats his wife into a coma. Who is Oliver Ryan? No one really seems to know. Told in multiple perspectives by those in the couple's lives, the whole picture of who this man is, what motivates him, and what his past looks like starts to come into focus. It turns out that not everyone is what they seem. 

When I tell you that I couldn't put this book down, I truly mean that. I had many things to do before the baby came, but instead I needed to keep reading to find out what the bloody hell was going on. And not just the next chapter -- I needed to gulp down the whole book or else I would lose my mind not knowing the truth. One review on the back of the advanced readers copy called this genre "grip lit," and I had never heard that term before, yet it seems to be entirely accurate for this novel. I was completely gripped and held in a stranglehold by Nugent and her characters. Their stories were astounding and honest, so real that this book blurred the lines between fiction and reality. While Oliver Ryan may not be a real , living and breathing person in Ireland, facsimiles of him exist in the world. Men who are willing to casually and callously use what opportunities come their way to walk over whomever they can. 

This novel did a truly outstanding job of creating twists and turns in the story that I didn't see coming. They were more revelatory than they were shocking, and it worked for this story, which was completely driven by the characters and their complicated, twisted involvement with one another whether they knew it or not. Whether it was coming to grips with Oliver's family or finally understanding the true betrayal of the book, there was always another shocker that was more of a slow burn than a heart-stopping sensation. It was incredible to read, and well worth the accolades coming Nugents' way when this book is released. I tore through this novel, and you will too. Just be sure you don't have to be anywhere -- you will be late. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats

Hi all! I'm back! I wasn't planning on coming back officially until October, but after the wonderful stack of books I picked up at Book Expo 2017, I would be remiss if I didn't post on the books I read that are coming out this month. 

We start with Vyvyan Evans' The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats. When I teach development courses, I usually devote one class to language development. Of course we spend a good deal of time talking about phonemic awareness and development, but I also devote some time to discussion on how and why language morphs. We talk about emoji's in terms of semantics, which is how we understand the meaning of sentences and phrases. Semantics are much easier to get in spoken word as opposed to written word, and electronic communication has made this even worse. I have argued for years that emojis allow us to insert semantics into our texting communication in order to express meaning to the recipient. That being said, when I saw that this book was on deck at Book Expo, I stalked the booth waiting for it to drop. 

I'm so glad that I did. Not only did I highlight and annotate the crap out of this book, I also sent it to my professors who teach language courses. I'll also reference it in my language lectures for my students. It's a valuable piece of writing to use in eduction, but the key to this book is that it's written for the layman. It's a book you or I can read on the couch, and wach chapter has anecdotes to support the argument as well as data that will make you stop and think. If you've been a long time follower of this blog, you know that I LOVE smart books that are accessible for the general reading population, and this fits into that category. 

I was a traditionalist early on with emoticons and emojis. I still don't believe they have. A place in professional emails, but I now use them fairly liberally in my personal communication. I've grown to see the value in them as enhancing written communication, and I've learned to embrace them. In fact, I just returned an email to a former student (he shared an article with me about the importance of reading) and ended with an emoji. I agree with Evans' estimation that emoji is not a language that can stand in and of itself -- you will have to pick up the book and read the argument yourself -- but they certainly LT are useful in terms of semantics. I love that they enhance language rather than attempt to replace it. So use emoji away, friends.