Friday, December 31, 2021

Favorite Reads of 2021

It's that time of year again! I love seeing everyone's favorites read of the year.

Some stats before we get to my favorites:

I read 109 books this year. It's definitely less than previous years, but I feel pretty good about it because I had a lot on my plate this year.

I gave 20 books 5-stars this year, which is pretty consistent with other years. The 5-stars reflect not only how objectively "good" I think a book is, but also how much I enjoyed it. Some books got 5-stars because they were a good time.

As in previous years, my consumption of audiobook is way up and reading with my eyes is way down. I listened to 87 audiobooks and only read 22 books with my eyes. A new full-time job is definitely a factor in those numbers. 

I read 66 YA and Middle-grade books. Those include the books I listened to with my kids this year, as they too have become big audiobook fans. The rest of the books I read were adult non-fiction and fiction. You'll see titles marketed to younger readers mixed with titles marketed to adults in my favorites. 

Generally I stick to 12 favorites books of the year, but this year I decided to throw in two extras and make it 14. It's my blog, and I can do what I want, and I didn't want to leave any of these books out even if they couldn't all be in the graphic. This year, all of my favorites are 2021 publications, except the book club books.

 And so, without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2021 in a variety of categories.
 


Favorite YA Contemporary: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner
Cash and Delaney live in a small Appalachian town in Tennessee. It's the type of place that can trap you with its lack of opportunities. However, Delaney is smart and ambitious, and when she discovers a new algae with antibiotic properties, she secures a full ride scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut for both herself and Cash. Another beautiful book from Jeff Zentner! This book is raw and beautiful and clever and full of poetic observations about the world.
 

Favorite Genre-Bender: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
This is a lovely nesting egg of a book. Historical, contemporary, and futuristic. In each timeline, the reader follows characters for whom a little-known Ancient Greek text called "Cloud Cuckoo Land" means a lot. Seeing the pieces come together was the most rewarding part of this book. As I got closer to the conclusion, more and more puzzle pieces started clicking into place, and it was so impressive how it all came together.


Favorite Pandemic Book: The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold
One of the best books I read in 2021. This book is so weird in all the right ways. Set in a world that is decimated by the fly flu, Nico has to leave the safety of the Farmhouse. I think it's best described as a mash-up between Station Eleven and Recursion, but I worry that even saying that is too much. It has beautiful writing and that contemplative tone that I am always searching for in a book.


Favorite Historical Fiction: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Believe it or not, this was the first book by Kristin Hannah that I've read. It's already not the last. This book was harrowing. The dust bowl scenes, especially. I was very into this book. I even looked up which of my friends had read it to see who I could talk to about it. And when that happens you know it needs to end up on the favorite list.
 

Favorite New Book in a Beloved Series: Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore
A favorite in a list of favorites. This new addition to the Graceling series is perfection. I love Queen Bitterblue most of all, and I'm so happy she got another story. The new land is fascinating, and the writing is exquisite. Also the cover is gorgeous. 
 

Favorite Nonfiction Book Club Book: They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars
For a while I was in three book clubs this year, which made for a lot of options when it came to determining my favorite book club books of 2021. Rather than limit to just one, I decided to have a nonfiction and a fiction category. Bev Sellars was forced to attend the residential schools for Indigenous Americans in Canada. She writes of the legacy of trauma the schools wrought on her family members and community. An important read. 
 

Favorite Fiction Book Club Book: All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner
I'm so glad that book club brought this gem to my attention. It's the story of an old man and his neighbors. Behind this seemingly simple premise is a book full of deep philosophical questions about life and death. It is incredibly well written and made for an excellent discussion.


Series That Brought Me the Most Joy: The Simon Snow Series by Rainbow Rowell
No other series brought be quite as much pure joy and as many dopey smiles this year as this one did. It started with the publication of the last book in the series, Any Way the Wind Blows, which sent me down the Simon Snow rabbit hole. I reread all the books, included Fangirl, and just let myself lean into fangirling all over the series.


Favorite Retelling: Gilded by Marissa Meyer
This novels is a Rumpelstiltskin retelling mixed with the Erlking legend. Serilda was blessed by the god of lies. At least, that's what her father has always told her. She is a natural story teller, but her stories tend to get her into trouble. But nothing compares to the trouble she faces when her story catches the attention of the Erlking. This book is so magical. Full of stories and romance and danger and magic. 


Favorite YA Historical Fiction: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Set in San Francisco in 1954, Lily Hu and Kathleen Miller are high school students who begin frequenting a lesbian bar called The Telegraph Club. This is great YA historical fiction. The setting was so well done, and the characters felt authentic to the time and place
 

Favorite Mental Health Rep: Yolk by Mary. H.K. Choi
Mary H.K. Choi is so good at writing damaged characters. This book features a set of sisters who are each damaged in their own ways. The sister relationship in this book is so good. Jayne and June both love and need each other and also drive each other mad. I don't want to give too much away, but both Jayne and June have health issues that they are not dealing with in the healthiest of ways. They are also struggling to negotiate the relationship they have with their immigrant parents and some lingering childhood trauma. As gritty and raw and fantastic as Mary H.K. Choi's other books. 
 

Most Killer Cliffhanger: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Can my review for this book just be "AHHHHH!"? That cliffhanger was so killer. I read A Deadly Education at the beginning of the year, pushed it hard on everyone I knew, and then waited on pins and needles for the sequel. I love everything about this series (expect maybe the killer cliffhangers). The characters, the world building. It's just all so much fun.


This book was such a delight. I loved being back with the Montague siblings, and it was so heartwarming to see them come together as a family. This book could have also claimed the "Favorite Mental Health Rep" slot as Adrian is both anxious and obsessive. It was tough at times to be inside someone who is suffering as much as Adrian is, but it is also truly gratifying to see Adrian come to accept and love himself and realize he doesn't have to be "fixed." As much as I adore Monty and Felicity, Adrian may be the most lovable of all the Montagues. 
 

Favorite YA Thriller: The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky
I enjoyed this YA thriller so much! Rachel is a new student at an elite New York prep school, and she's a bit lost. Then she discovers a secret club that loves horror movies and designs pranks to scare their classmates, and she thinks she's found her people. I want a sequel to this so badly.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Blog Tour: Walls by L.M. Elliott


Walls by L.M. Elliott

Publisher/ Year: Algonquin Younger Readers - July 27, 2021

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

Source: Review copy from the publisher

 

Publisher Summary:

 

Drew is an army brat, a hotshot athlete poised to be his high school’s star pitcher, when he has to move for the sixth time in fifteen years—this time to West Berlin, where American soldiers like his dad hold an outpost of democracy against communist Russia in Hitler’s former capital. Meanwhile, in East Berlin, his cousin Matthias has grown up in the wreckage left by Allied bombing during World War II, on streets ruled by the Communist Party’s secret police.

From the opposing sides of the Cold War, Drew and Matthias begin to overcome the many ideological walls between them to become wary friends. They argue over the space race, capitalism, socialism, and even the American civil rights movement, and bond over rock ’n’ roll—music outlawed in Matthias’s part of the city. If Matthias is caught by the Stasi’s neighborhood spies with the records or books Drew has given him, he will be sent to a work camp for “re-education.” At the same time, Drew’s friendship with the East Berlin Jugend—who ardently spout communist dogma—raises suspicions about his family’s loyalty to America. As the political situation around them gets all the more dire, Drew and Matthias’s loyalty—to their sector, their countries, their families, and each other—will be tested in ways that will change their lives forever.

Set in the tumultuous year leading up to the surprise overnight raising of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, and punctuated with real-life photographs, headlines, and personalities of the time, Walls brings to vivid life the heroic and tragic choices of the Cold War.

 

My Thoughts: 

 

L.M. Elliott is a master of Young Adult Historical Fiction, and I absolutely loved this book. Drew comes across as a completely believable 1960s American teenager. 


I really enjoyed how Drew's relationship with Matthias progressed over the course of the novel. Matthias, Drew's East German cousin, gives readers a glimpse into the indoctrination East German teens received during the Soviet Era. Matthias is slow to trust and difficult to get to know for good reason.


This book takes place through one calendar year, from August 1960, when Drew and his family, newly stationed in Berlin arrive at their post until August 1961 when the Berlin Wall was erected. Although the reader knows the wall is going to be raised, it still comes across as shocking and harrowing for both the characters and the reader. Each chapter is set during one month of the year, and L.M Elliott sets the stage with historical photographs and news headlines from that month. This technique sets the stage for the story and firmly plants the reader in 1960-1961. 

 

I would recommend Walls to anyone who loves historical fiction. I also think it would be a great book for teens, especially younger teen boys, who want to learn more about the Cold War. 

 

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound



To celebrate the publication of Walls, I've brought back older blog post featuring a "Reading on a Theme" all about the Berlin Wall. Read Walls, and then if you are hungry for more historical fiction set in Cold War Germany, check out these books: 
 

I've found myself drawn to novels about The Cold War recently. This Reading on a Theme brings together five Young Adult and Middle Grade novels set during the Cold War Era. All of these books focus on the Berlin Wall from the point of view of East Germany, but they do so in a variety of ways, from the Russian who is helping to construct it, to the American child whose parents might be spies stationed behind it, to the Berliners who seek to escape it.



The Time Traveler:
On a trip to Berlin, Ellie Baum suddenly finds herself in 1988 East Berlin. Trapped in the past and behind the Berlin Wall, Ellie falls in with a resistance group that helps people escape via magical balloons. Ellie and her new friends must unravel the mystery behind her time travel, which proves to be more and more sinister with every discovery. The Girl with the Red Balloon is a fascinating combination of magic, historical fiction, and mystery. I love how Katherine Locke moves between Ellie's story and her grandfather's during WWII. The family ties made the tale so much richer for me. I want to know where else these balloonists have been secretly working. Out September 1, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.


The KGB Agent:
In 1958 Russia, Svetlana is a resident of an orphanage for children of Enemies of the People. Sveta is also an incredibly passionate and talented ballet dancer, and she's determined to be a star of the Bolshoi Ballet, if only her family's past was not such a black mark. Seeking political redemption, Svetlana begins working with the KGB (not that she really has a choice). She has talents they find useful; talents that will help with the plan to build a wall in Berlin and stop a showdown in Cuba. Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn is part of Elizabeth Kiem's series following three generations of dancers in the Dukovskaya family. Svetlana's story is really where it all begins in the heart of Cold War Russia. Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn is out August 22, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.


The Resistance Fighter:
Troubled teens, Molly Mavity and Pepper Yusuf, are brought together under the most unusual of circumstances. They've been told that they must solve the mystery of who killed Ava Dreyman, a teenager whose published diary is said to have brought down the Berlin Wall. Oh my, The Arsonist is such a strange and wonderful book. Told in a series of letters and journal entries written by the three main characters, the story that unfolds reveal secrets, lies, and family tragedies. Stephanie Oakes' book is masterfully constructed. I'm so impressed by the way she weaves the mystery between characters and timelines. I also love the layers of symbolism in this book. The Arsonist is out August 22, 2017.


The American Child:
Noah Keller's parents are acting really weird. When they picked him up from school they told him they were leaving for East Berlin right away so that his mother could do research for her dissertation. Then they explained the long list of rules he must follow, including going by a different name, while in Germany. Noah is pretty sure his parents aren't what they seem. This middle-grade story by Anne Nesbet of a boy behind the Iron Curtain was not exactly what I expected, but I liked it all the same. I could especially appreciate the book because in 1989, I was the same age as Noah. It was interesting to imagine myself in his shoes. Cloud and Wallfish was out September 2016.


The Deserter:
The night the Berlin Wall went up, Gerta's father and brother were in the west. With her family divided by the wall, Gerta can't seem to settle into life in East Germany. She can't help but watch the wall, despite the danger, and one day she sees her father and brother standing on a tall platform in West Berlin. They seem to have a message for her. With her brother Fritz due to report to the army in a matter of weeks, Gerta and Fritz undergo a desperate plan to escape. A Night Divided is so good. It's emotional and gripping, and I wanted so badly for it to end well, but I was so afraid that it wouldn't. Jennifer A. Nielsen did a spectacular job conveying the tense atmosphere of the German Democratic Republic. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Reading on a Theme: Parallel Realities and Multiple Dimensions

I generally love a good parallel realities story. In fact, I think I wrote that very sentence in nearly all the reviews below. I love parallel reality stories so much that this is the third Reading on a Theme dedicated to parallel reality tales. You can find the first two installments here and here and another post here. However, it's been since 2016 so I think we are overdue for this latest installment.


 

Reliving the Last Four Months:
Things changed for Jack Ellison King when he met Kate. Sadly, this isn't the rosy story of first love because Jack only has four months with Kate before she dies. But instead of the story ending there, Jack is sent back in time to the moment he met Kate, and it all begins again. And again. Maybe next time Jack will be able to save Kate. Opposite of Always is a mix of first love, first loss, and Groundhog's Day. I'm always a sucker for the parallel reality set-up, and this book kind of falls into that camp. A story like this can easily become repetitive, but I think Justin A Reynolds did a pretty good job of keeping the timelines fresh and continuing Jack's character arc even when the event did repeat.
 
 
 
 
One Coin, Two Choices:
Stevie Rosenstein is new in town. Best friends Drew and Shane are both taken with Stevie and want to ask her out, so they decide to flip for it. Where It All Lands follows the two timelines that result from that coin toss. I tend to think that the best parallel reality stories navigate the character to the same general conclusion or outlook on life despite the path they take, and Jennie Wexler's book does this well. I could easily see how either path would have been completely realistic for Stevie to take. I loved the music element of this story and seeing the three characters work to develop their music skills. Where It All Lands is out July 6, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 
 
 
 
Hit Into the Next Dimension:
The main character of Game Changer, Ash, is a defensive end on his high school football team. During his games he gets knocked into a series of alternate realities or parallel universes. With each shift the world or his personage is slightly different. As Ash moves through the various alternate worlds he learns about inequity and privilege and what he can change and what he can't. This is definitely a thought-provoking book, and I think it could be really eye opening for its intended audience (which I'm assuming is teenage boys). I generally like Neal Shusterman's work, and I'm glad I gave this one a try. Game Changer is out February 9, 2021. Review copy from Edelweiss.




A Summer of Possibilities:
Adelaide Buchwald is floundering. Her family has been through a lot, and it is impacting her emotionally and mentally. She has one summer to pull together a decent project or be kicked out of the boarding school she began attending when her dad got a job there. Again Again is a parallel realities story where multiple timelines play out across Adelaide's summer. Parallel reality books usually work for me, and this one was no exception, but it was the tone of the book that hit me just right. With this book E. Lockhart reminds us that boy can she write. It has a melancholy, wistful quality to it with just the right touch of hopefulness. I also loved the contemporary art gallery. I really enjoyed this book. Again Again was out June 2020. Review copy from NetGalley.
 


A House With Many Doors:
Jane, Unlimited is quite the trip. It's about a girl who accepts an invitation to a mysterious island mansion because her recently deceased aunt told her to never turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens. Kristin Cashore's book is essentially about choices, and the routes that open and close when a choice is made. In general, I'm a big fan of parallel reality stories, so I'm not surprised that I liked this book. Also, I really loved the whole art heist story line. I just love imagining what the famous Vermeer painting, Young Women Writing a Letter with her Frog, would look like. (No frogs in any real Vermeer paintings.) The abundance of frogs and umbrellas in this book were details that I found quite endearing and amusing.

 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Reading on a Theme: A Wedding Setting

What is it about a wedding setting that makes for such a great summer read. In this lineup we have a bunch of characters who are part of wedding season, for one reason or another. What are your favorite books that involve a wedding?


The Wedding Planner's Daughter and the Caterer's Son:
Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour are both heirs to family businesses in the wedding industry, but Quinn isn't sure being part of the family business is what she wants and Tarek wants more responsibility in his family's catering company. It's been nearly a year since Quinn saw Tarek and running into him at event after event isn't exactly the most comfortable situation seeing as he ghosted her last year. Quinn's got a lot on her plate this summer, and she has a lot to learn about love. I loved Rachel Lynn Solomon's Today, Tonight, Tomorrow, and I was so eager to dive into her new fun, summer romance. We Can't Keep Meeting Like This is out June 8, 2021.


The Wedding Chapel Owner:
Holly Nolan's grandfather left her his Las Vegas wedding chapel in his will. Grandpa Jim also left her a letter to deliver to Dax Cranston, the grandson of his mortal enemy and the owner of the chapel next door. The Chapel Wars is a deceiving little book. You think that it's going to all light and cute, but it deals with so much and so many emotions.On top of mourning Grandpa Jim and dealing with a budding relationship with Dax, the Rose of Sharon chapel is in financial straits. For Holly the chapel is more than just a job. It's family, it's home, it's her grandfather's legacy, and she's desperate to save it. Lindsey Leavitt really delivers with this one.
 
 

The Groom's Sister:
The follow-up to Saints and Misfits, reunites us with Janna just in time for her brother's wedding. Nuah, who has been off at college, will be there for the festivities, and Janna has decided that she's ready to tell him that she's interested in a relationship. However, it wouldn't be a wedding if everything went according to plan. I loved this sequel! S.K. Ali doesn't let Janna have it easy, and the book is all the better for it. Janna's life feels real in all its complicated messiness. There's also a lot of love here. The connections between family and friends in this book are so strong. (And that tie-in to Love from A to Z!) Janna is going to be all right. Misfit in Love is out May 25, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 
 
 
The Florist:
Sophie Evans works for the local florist. She works at all the major events, from weddings to funerals, held in her small Alabama town along with her best friend, Micah Williams, who is the daughter of the local caterer. But, this year things are different because Micah's dad has won a mentorship with celebrity chef, Jet Hart, which means that this year the arrogant Jet and his annoying son Andrew are going to also be at all the events. I enjoyed the format of Maybe This Time. It takes place over the course of one year and nine events. The narration moves from event to event. Along with the romance (it is a Kasie West book), we also have some more complicated issues including some parent-drama, friend-drama, coming-of-age drama, and, of course, relationship drama. 
 

The Wedding Planner's Daughter:
Louna is the daughter of the popular wedding planner, Natalie Barrett, and every summer she works for her mom during the busy wedding season. This summer her mom decides to also employ Ambrose, an infuriating boy Louna's age.
I really enjoyed Once and For All. The wedding planner setting was so much fun, especially coupled with Natalie, William, and Louna's cynicism when it comes to lasting love. Ambrose, on the other hand, is full of optimism, even if he is an unabashed serial dater. It's tough to resist a hate-to-love romance, and Sarah Dessen's characters have just the right amount of chemistry. This book was the perfect summer read.



Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Reading on a Theme: Summer Camp

 I love a good summer camp setting. Campfires, hiking, bug spray and sunscreen, swimming in the late. Camp is such a great way to get into a summery mode. Here are five books that will take you to summer camp.



Camp Reynolds:
After taking a mail-in DNA test, Abby learns she has a full sister, Savannah, whom she's never met. Confused over why her parents never told her about her sister and feeling like a consolation prize, Abby doesn't tell them she's found out about Savvy or that she will be spending the whole summer with Savannah at camp. Suddenly having a sister doesn't mean that you suddenly have a new best friend, and clearly there's some backstory behind the sisters' parents. You Have a Match would make for a great summer read. Emma Lord doesn't take the easy way out with this story. Finding out you have a secret sibling makes for a rocky ride. Out January 12, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 
 
 
 
Bear Meadow Camp:
A Kasie West book set at summer camp! Count me in! Avery Young is headed for two months of family summer camp in the California mountains. Being off the grid makes it easy for Avery to avoid the drama she left behind at home, for better or worse. A series of events makes Avery realize that she needs to take more risks and that happens to include spending time with Brooks, the lead guitarist of the camp band. As a member of the staff, Brooks is strictly off limits, but as Avery sees Brooks reaching for his goals, it makes her want to face her fears too. Sunkissed is sweet and very cute. While it is a little predictable and requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, it is also the best kind of fun and fluffy summer romance. Out May 4, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley.  
 
 
Camp Daybreak:
Lucy has spent every summer at the church camp run by her father. but this summer is different. Her mother's cancer has returned, and Lucy's mom might not have much time left. Somehow Lucy's parents talk her into taking a job as a counselor at the summer camp on the other side of the lake. It's a camp for kids who have been through tough times, and Lucy feels a little out-of-her depth. What do you say to kids whose world is falling apart when your world is crumbling too? I found Lucy's struggle with her faith after finding out that her mom's cancer has returned to be so poignant and heartfelt. I've long been a big fan of Emery Lord, and The Names They Gave Us is my favorite of her books. 
 
 
 
Camp Blue Springs:
Sam is off to summer camp to be a counselor to a group of young girls. Her boyfriend, Eli, is headed to Europe, all summer, and at camp, Sam is undeniably drawn to Gavin. What I really liked about Just a Boy and a Girl in a Little Canoe is that it shows how you can be doing awesome in one aspect of your life (it was so gratifying to see Sam hit it out of the park with those campers) while simultaneously really flubbing up another aspect of it. It's not pretty, but it is very realistic. Sarah Mlynowski's book is definitely on the older side of YA. Sam has just finished her freshman year of college, and so this book is not appropriate for younger reader of YA. (CW: There is cheating here if that is a turn-off for you.)
 
 
 
Knights Day Camp:
On her first birthday Abbi Hope Goldstein became the face of 9/11 when she was captured in a famous photograph and dubbed Baby Hope. Fifteen years later, Abbi is looking for one summer of normal where she's not Baby Hope. Her solution is to become a camp counselor at a day camp two towns over. She won't find the anonymity she seeks, but she will find Noah Stern, who has his own reasons for obsessing over the Baby Hope photo. Hope and Other Punchlines is a beautiful, poignant, funny, and hopeful read. I absolutely loved the relationship between Abbi and Noah. Julie Buxbaum's books always perfectly balance serious subjects with a bit of lightheartedness and a whole lot of humanity. 
 
 
 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Reading on a Theme: U.S. Incarceration Camps

It's been too long since our last World War II Wednesday. These books all tackle the incarceration camps that were built on American soil to hold primarily Japanese but also German and Italian Americans.


Haruko and Margot:
I absolutely adored Monica Hesse's first World War II novel, Girl in the Blue Coat, and, when I saw she was writing a book about the United States' WWII incarceration camps, it was a given that I would read it. Haruko is of Japanese descent and Margot is of German descent. The two would never have met if their families hadn't been detained in the same camp in Crystal City, Texas. The War Outside is the story of their secret friendship (and maybe more) across the invisible divide between the Japanese and German detainees. It's a book about the injustices of these events, made more poignant because it is about how those injustices impact individuals. 
 
 
The Takei Family:
They Called Us Enemy is a graphic memoir that recounts the years George Takei spent in Japanese Incarceration camps as a child during World War II. Personal stories like this really help to humanize history. To know the camps existed is one thing. To see how they impacted real people is another. It helps that George Takei is a household name these days. These events are not the distant past, and I'm glad that he was willing to tell his family's story. The incarceration impacts Takei's family, and how he understands his father. Their growing understanding of one another was one of the more poignant parts of the book. The artwork in this graphic novel is also stunning. It makes for a very emotional and resonant read. 
 
   
Evalina and Taichi:
Evalina Cassano is part of a close-knit Italian-American family, but she doesn't feel like she can tell them that her boyfriend is Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Evalina and Taichi's relationship is further strained after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as Japanese-Americans begin to be sent to incarceration camps. The narration in Stephanie Morrill's Within These Lines switches between Taichi within the camp and Evalina, who is studying political science at Berkley and getting involved in political activism. I really enjoyed Evalina's character and how studious and passionate she was about current events. Also, the romance between Evalina and Taichi was so sweet.
 
 
Fourteen Teens from Japantown, San Francisco:
We Are Not Free tells the story of a group of young Japanese Americans who must leave their homes in San Francisco for the Japanese Incarceration Camps of the World War II Era. I loved that Traci Chee told this story with 14 narrators. It allowed her to explore the whole range of experiences and attitudes that went along with life in the camps. She was also able to move beyond the camps to the war front itself as some of her characters joined the 442 Regimental Combat Team that was made up primarily of Nisei soldiers. At the same time, the connection that all the characters had to one another and their home in San Francisco really kept the story grounded. This was a really powerful read. 
 
 
Elise and Mariko:
In 1943 Elise Sontag and her family are relocated from their home in Iowa to Crystal City, an incarceration camp for United States residents of German, Italian, and Japanese descent. There Elise meets Mariko, a Japanese-American from Los Angeles and the two become inseparable, and they dream of their life together after the war. Often with war fiction, the story ends with the conclusion of the war, but Susan Meissner's tale doesn't stop with the Sontags' return to Germany or V-E Day. The Last Year of the War is a reminder that the consequences of war linger far beyond the last shot fired.

 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Reading on a Theme: Troubled Sisters


These sister have been through a lot. Despite the complications inherent in the sisterly relationship, these sisters have got each other. 

See more books about complicated sibling relationships here.


 

Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa:
The Torres home is not a happy one. It wasn't happy before Ana, the oldest of four sisters, fell out her window and died, and it certainly isn't happy after of her death, especially as Ana seems to be haunting her sisters. I'd describe Tigers Not Daughters as a work of magical realism or fabulism. The writing has that lyrical, ethereal feel that I associate with these genres. Samantha Mabry alternates between the perspectives of the three living sisters: Jessica, who has a tough exterior, Iridian, who hasn't left the house in months, and Rosa, who believes she can talk to animals. This is a strange and quiet book. I definitely recommend for anyone who likes a little weird. Out March 2020. Review copy from NetGalley.



Camino and Yahaira:
Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios are sisters, but they don't know each other. Their father travels between New York City and the Dominican Republic, keeping each of his families a secret from the other. Then their father dies in a plane crash and his secrets are spilled. Elizabeth Acevedo's novel in verse, was inspired by the crash of flight AA587 in November 2001 that devastated the Dominican community in New York and on the island. I really like how this book reminds the reader that behind every news story are the people who were personally impacted. Clap When You Land alternates between Camino and Yahaira's perspective and is a story of family and community. The ending of this book is also really satisfying, and that is always nice. Out May 2020. 
 
 
 
Jayne and June:
Mary H.K. Choi is so good at writing damaged characters. This book features a set of sisters who are each damaged in their own ways. The sister relationship in this book is so good. Jayne and June both love and need each other and also drive each other mad. I don't want to give too much away, but both Jayne and June have health issues that they are not dealing with in the healthiest of ways. They are also struggling to negotiate the relationship they have with their immigrant parents and some lingering childhood trauma. Yolk is just as gritty and raw and fantastic as Mary H.K. Choi's other books, and I am so glad I read it. Out March 2, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 
 
 
 
Abby and Savvy:
After taking a mail-in DNA test, Abby learns she has a full sister, Savannah, whom she's never met. Confused over why her parents never told her about her sister and feeling like a consolation prize, Abby doesn't tell them she's found out about Savvy or that she will be spending the whole summer with Savannah at camp. Suddenly having a sister doesn't mean that you suddenly have a new best friend, and clearly there's some backstory behind the sisters' parents. You Have a Match would make for a great summer read. I love a good summer camp setting. Emma Lord doesn't take the easy way out with this story. Finding out you have a secret sibling makes for a rocky ride. Out January 12, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley.
 
 
 
Agnes and Beth:
Agnes and Beth live in a Red Creek, a religious community isolated from the world and led by a visionary prophet. Beth chaffs at the restrictions placed on her, and Agnes is devote but conflicted. Agnes has been secretly meeting with a nurse from the outside to get medicine for her little brother's diabetes. The collision between inside and outside becomes more fraught when a deadly pandemic touches the community. Kelly McWilliams's debut is such a genre mashup. Part cult book, part pandemic book, part zombie book, part apocalypse book. I wish that I knew someone else who had read Agnes at the End of the World so we could discuss its weirdness. Out June 2020.
 

 
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