Category Archives: Reviews

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

garden spells

Readers, I have found you a summer read that’s just about as light and fluffy as a vanilla cake!

Summary:

Meet the Waverleys – a family a bit more magical than most. Claire, one of the last remaining Waverleys in their small town, resides in their ancestral Victorian and uses her culinary and horticultural skills to single-handedly run a successful catering business famous for her unusual flavor and ingredient combinations. Content with the security of her known world, Claire is deeply unsettled by the sudden arrival of her sister, Sydney, and Sydney’s daughter, Bay, after 10 years of absence. Sydney, as well as possessing some of her own unique Waverley magic, is dogged by troubles of her own, troubles she hopes to leave far behind the safety of her family home.  Both will find that being together again will set events in motion that neither can fully control, events that will change them and their relationship with each other forever.

Read this if

You like Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman – it’s like its Southern cousin.

My Wish List by Grégoire Delacourt

my wish list

What would you do if you won the lottery?

This is exactly the question facing Jocelyne, owner of a fabric shop in small-town France. Resigned to a life different than she had dreamed of as a young woman, Jocelyne’s unexpected win forces her to re-evaluate the meaning of her life – is she living it the way she wants? Would she change anything? And when the unthinkable happens, what will she do?

A beautifully-written rumination on what makes a life valuable, Delacourt’s Wish List  will make you ask yourself “what would I do with 18 million euros??”

Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto

One of the great things about working in a library is finding great material through the interests of our patrons. Would I have ever found this gem on my own? Probably not! Thank goodness for the library.

Marchetto’s comic memoir (literally – she is a cartoonist for The New Yorker and Glamour) about her experience with breast cancer and the resulting treatments is a poignant and hilarious window into the life of an NYC “it” girl – and what happens to her life after it is upended by her diagnosis. Fashion, food, illness, family, love – Marchetto’s life is vibrant and full, even when she thinks it is falling apart, a vibrancy only enhanced by its comic form.

cancer v

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean – David Almond

Billy Dean

I can bet that you have never met anyone like Billy Dean.

Like David Almond’s other transcendent novel, SkelligThe True Tale deals with a central figure who may or may not be divine. Billy, kept in a single room for the first 13 years of his life, is raised mainly by his mother, although is also sustained by increasingly infrequent visits from his angry, fervent priest of a father. Why Billy is hid away for so long is only slowly revealed through the course of the book, but (I think) is, when finally revealed, somewhat irrelevant.

What truly makes this novel, and the character of Billy Dean, so astonishing and unexpected is Billy’s own unique perspective on the world. Perhaps the most magical thing about him is the how he is able to effortlessly see beauty everywhere.

A word on the writing style – I was entranced by how Almond chose to portray this unusual story. Billy is the narrator of his own life, and not only that, but we truly read Billy’s voice. Written phonetically, the words and sentence structures help to transport us into Billy’s mind, as well as into the cadence of speech in the small-town, war-torn England of the book.

Check out this stunning novel by one of the leading YA authors out there; Billy Dean just might change your life.

 

 

 

Film Review – Short Term 12

short term 12

Summary:

Originally adapted from a short film about the writer’s experiences working as line staff at a residential treatment facility for young people dealing with the after-effects of domestic abuse, Short Term 12 is an intimate look into the lives of residents and staff members during a particularly revelatory week at the center.

Review:

Grace and Mason, a long-time couple who work together in the facility, are the true heart of the film. Grace dedicates her life to the kids with a zeal and a love both complicated and enhanced by her own past trauma, a trauma which rears its head when a girl comes to the center with a story similar to Grace’s own.

The facility at the center of the film is bathed in golden light, the colors are soft, the noise is muted – all reflecting how hard Grace has worked to create a safe space for her kids. As Grace explains, “I take good care of everyone.” Yet Grace has still not managed to find the same haven for herself – she has a wonderful partner and a job that she loves, yet she is still haunted by events in her past.

This is a film about our own narratives. How do our stories define us? In the case of abuse, the film clearly shows us that we can become trapped within the stories of our lives, daily reliving horrors from months and years ago. But these same stories of horror can be used, as Grace does again and again with her kids, to forge a connection with others and claim ownership of our histories. It is no coincidence that the movie is framed by a story at the beginning and the end – the power of how we choose to claim our own stories should never be underestimated.

Raw, honest, beautiful, funny – this movie will make you love its characters like I couldn’t help doing. I highly, highly recommend it.

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

“Once upon a time in a very busy city,

on a very busy street,

in two very small apartments…”

lived Herman and Rosie.

Herman and Rosie cover

Welcome to the wonderful world of Herman and Rosie, two city-dwellers who share a love of music and city life; who live close to each other but have never met; and who feel a little lonely sometimes.

This hope-filled picture book is a celebration of doing what you love. It is not a world without sadness – both Herman and Rosie experience difficult setbacks through the course of the book – but it is a world that, as soon as you look for it,  is full of sweetness. I dare you to read Herman and Rosie and not grin from ear to ear.

According to Amazon, this book is for those kidlets in the 7-10 range.

The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka

The sun and other stars

Summary:

Set on a breathtaking Italian island peopled with soccer fanatics, Pasulka’s novel chronicles a young man coming to terms with the loss of his mother and brother.  A chance encounter with a disgraced Ukrainian soccer star and his beautiful sister and the deep friendship that follows may be exactly what Etto, the narrator, needs to begin to live again.

Review: 

Soccer, a sun-drenched Italian island, tragedy, romance, redemption, this novel has it all! While two great tragedies have colored the life of Etto, the 22 year old narrator, this book is not tragic. It is a story of how we begin again, not only after a death, but after habits have been hardened into old age, after misunderstandings, after making mistakes. This book does not gloss over the realities of heartache, rather it chooses to focus on our ability to pick up the pieces and reassemble a different, still beautiful, life.

I love so much about this book. I love the swaggering, soccer-loving old men of the island, who congregate in bars to gossip and talk sports; I love the topography of the island, its steep hills, parched gardens, and the ever-present sea; I love the tight-knit community filled with bright and loving characters; and I love that the author chooses to use Italian curse words instead of their American counterparts (now, although I know a handful of Italian from reading this book, my vocabulary is almost exclusively wildly inappropriate for small talk). However, what I love most about this book is how much it makes me want to engage fully in the world. I want to play soccer! Eat good food! Make friends with interesting people! Live a passionate life! Great books should inspire us to live, and this particular novel certainly does that. So go out, right now, and find this book. You won’t regret it.

 

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

good omens

Summary: 

The forces of Heaven and Hell are assembling to bring about the end of the world. Only an angel and a demon who have grown to love the earth, a straightforward witch by the name of Anathema and her witch-finder consort, and the 11 year old Antichrist himself, may be able to save humanity.

Review:

First of all, this novel is hilarious. With Gaiman and Pratchett steering the ship I would have expected no different, yet the humor bears acknowledgment. I have never read anything quite like their brand of kind, occasionally dark lunacy. I imagine they consider humanity with equal parts bemusement, love and exasperation.

What do I love about this novel? The comedy is a given, but I think what is greatest about the story is its heart. Even in the face of the end of life as we know it, quite probably brought about by our own ineptitude, it is repeatedly obvious that Gaiman and Pratchett believe in us, in people, even though we spectacularly mess things up on a regular basis. The Antichrist, Adam Young, is at the center of the Earth’s moral battleground. Head of a pack of mischief-making kids in a sleepy English town, when the forces of good and evil amass Adam Young must ultimately choose whether or not to save humanity.

What is his choice? Ultimately it is this capacity to choose – whether for the “right” or for the “wrong” – that makes humanity so interesting. There is a curious flatness about the angels and demons who have remained in heaven or hell, respectively, that pales in comparison to the walking contradiction that is humanity. Crowley and Aziraphale, the demon and angel representatives on Earth, are drawn into the world of humans, ultimately becoming more human than satanic/divine, and therefore, according to the novel, more dynamic. Life is not black and white, Gaiman and Pratchett remind us through the choices of their characters, and thank goodness for that!

So if you are in the mood for some solid British apocalypse humor with heart, give this book a try. It will make you laugh, it will make you think, and it will absolutely be a fun, wild ride.

Freebie Bonus Interview!

Hear what the authors have to say about their collaboration, the apocalypse and everything in between.

Pratchett & Gaiman: The Double Act