Friday, May 18, 2018

Longstockings, Please

Picking a book for this week’s challenge of reading the first book in a new-to-you YA series was almost too easy. When it comes to YA literature, you can’t go wrong picking up something written by The Longstockings. Although they no longer maintain their blog, you can find references to them in the acknowledgment pages of each other’s books or interviews.

Jenny Han’s series The Summer I Turned Pretty begins (as all summer books worth their salt) with a family pulling up in front of a beach house. Belly and her brother have been spending summers with her mother’s best friend and her two sons for as long as she can remember.  However, this summer their relationship shifts as they begin looking to her as a peer rather than a little sister. As the teens relish their new independence, the moms take it easy, spending entire days indoors watching movies.  Distracted by a new boyfriend and an ongoing crush, Belly doesn’t realize until summer is almost over that not everything is as it seems.

Although the plot may seem predictable with its unrequited crushes and dying mothers, Han doesn’t dismiss the turmoil of teen emotions or neglect to portray the tensions of family dynamics. With flashbacks, she also gives the characters not only a shared history but depth as they mature. However, they all still have some growing up to do. As I’m sure we’ll see in the second book of the series. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Study Break

While I’ve had a month off from writing this blog, I haven’t been slacking off on my reading. From microagressions and power to virtues and race, I’ve been trying to assimilate a variety of provocative thinkers and ideas. Having finally selected my ethics project topic and written three of the four papers I need to finish the quarter, I decided to pick up Sourdough by Robin Sloan for a tiny study break. 

There went my afternoon.

But at least I was able to check off the challenge for a one-sitting book.

When Lois Clary lands her dream job as a software engineer in San Francisco, she never expected to be so lonely or exhausted. A phone call to Clement Street Soup and Sourdough introduces her to two brothers who end up providing not just nightly nourishment, but a new vocation. When the brothers are deported, they leave Lois a magical sourdough starter. Soon her bread baking turns from hobby to venture. Her draining days in front of a screen are replaced by the sensory explosion of mornings spent baking at a new underground food market.  

Reading this book reminded me of the first bread book I bought in college. For a semester or so I actually did bake bread every week. However I was never so ambitious as to try a sourdough starter. Now that my kids are interested in baking maybe we can make that our summer project. After I finish all my assigned reading. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Lenses On

Teen bounty hunter Emika Chen is behind on her rent. She’s just eaten the last packet of ramen in her possession.  To escape the problems of her current reality she turns to the alternate world of Warcross – a virtual computer game played by anyone who can afford a pair of NeuroLink glasses.  Finding a glitch in the system, Emika hacks her way into the opening ceremony game of the Warcross world championships.  And accidentally reveals herself to, well, the world.

Warcross creater, Hideo Tanaka, invites her to Tokyo to try her luck as a draft pick in the championships. Using her player status as a cover, her task is to find Zero, a nefarious character trying to sabotage Tanaka and the world of Warcross.  

With engrossing play-by-play matches, a colorful backstory (her dad was a fashion designer), and romantic intrigue, author Marie Lu has written a novel almost as addicting as a video game.

Although Lu’s Warcross fits the challenge of reading a sci finovel with a female protagonist by a female author, she sets up an even more rigorous trial. Can the reader wait until October for the sequel?

Friday, March 30, 2018


March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell just happens to be the selection of our Pierce County Reads program.  It also seems an apt choice for this week’s challenge to read a comic written or drawn by a person of color.

Illustrated dramatically in shades of black and white, Congressman John Lewis, a Civil Rights activist, narrates the story which opens on January 20, 2009. As Congressman Lewis is waiting to go to the inauguration, he is visited by a woman from Atlanta who wants to show her boys his office. Not expecting to actually meet him, she is amazed when he starts telling them his story.

In Book One, he starts with his boyhood raising chickens and his ambition to get an education despite the challenges of segregation and his parents’ wish for him work. He then tells his young visitors about his participation in the nonviolent sit-ins at lunch counters around Nashville. As the book ends, Dr. King’s words flow through panels depicting two young black men trying to get service at the newly integrated restaurants. “Walk together children," Dr. King proclaims. “Don’t get weary.”

Friday, March 2, 2018

All Broken Up

When my brother and I were in elementary school, my parents decided to drive us from Dallas to Disneyland. Among the notable places we visited along the way was the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. 

Apart from vague memories of a mock shootout and some knowledge of the litany of familiar names from movies and TV westerns, I wasn’t as familiar with the history of the characters. I was curious, then, to learn more about Doc Holliday when I picked up the novel Doc by Maria Doria Russell for this week’s reading challenge – a western.

The book opens like a biography. We learn about Holliday’s childhood and follow him from his home in Georgia to Texas (a harrowing journey in the late 1800s). I was amazed to discover that Holliday had a dental practice in Dallas (56 Elm Street if you’re ever in the neighborhood).

As he draws closer to Dodge City, the action picks up as Russell introduces the key players of the boom town:  the law officers, cowboys, and entrepreneurs. A young boy’s murder even draws out the local Jesuits (a Russell signature).

Befriended by the Earp brothers, Doc becomes embroiled in the politics and power plays of the bustling city. The brothers even manage to help drum up some business for his fledgling dental practice. However, suffering from tuberculosis, Doc’s every waking moment seems to be racked with pain.  He finds some solace at the card table, and the bottomless glass of bourbon, but can never seem to get ahead. Even in love, his on-again/off-again partner Kate, accomplished in Latin and bed, packs her bags more than once.

As the novel ends, Doc and Kate have received a letter inviting them to move West. Russell chooses not to dramatize the famous fight, but focuses the last chapter on Kate’s memory of how events played out. It’s satisfyingly sad.

Friday, February 16, 2018

"I don't need your help, OKAY"

Any mother of teenager might recognize this quote. And anyone who's survived the teen years themselves may recognize the poetic beauty of having "shape shifting" be a teen villain's super power. 

This week’s challenge was to read a comic written and drawn by the same personOne look at the book flap of Nimona by Noelle Stevenson - “Nemesis! Dragons! Science! Symbolism!”- and I was sold.

The comic begins when shape shifter Nimona shows up on Ballister Blackheart’s doorstep, announcing her intent to be his new sidekick. Together they will plot evil plans and defeat his nemesis/romantic interest Goldenloin.  

At first glance Nimona is just like any other teen, sipping soda while hoisting herself onto the kitchen counter. She sounds like a teen, her word balloons filled  with reluctant “fiiiine”s  and teasing “you liiiike me”s.

However, in monochromatic flashbacks, Stevenson unveils a dark past of tragedy and abuse. Nimona’s rebellion is trying to convince society that she’s not the tortured creature they make her out to be. And in this, she’s also like any other teen.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Devil in a Blue Dress

I love a good period-mystery. The intrigue, the clues, the lipstick. Immersed in a plethora of British mysteries lately (like this one and this one), I decided to read something set on this side of the pond for this week’s challenge.

The task: read a classic of genre fiction. So I turned to one of my favorite mystery writers – Walter Mosley. It’s been years since I sat down with one of his Easy Rawlins’ detective stories. When I picked up Devil in a Blue Dress, I had forgotten how hard it is to put down.

From the first page, Mosley not only sets the scene but immerses the reader in the middle of post-WWII Los Angeles. Easy Rawlins is minding his own business, hanging out in Joppy’s bar, wondering how he’s going to make his house payment. Joppy introduces him to a shady character named Albright who offers him a job. All Easy has to do is find a young woman named Daphne Monet. Unlike his name, the job is anything but.

It’s a world of violence, racism, hatred, and two-timing men not much different than our own. Through it all, Easy hears a steady voice that comes to him at his worst moments, when all he wants to do is run. As he says, “The voice is hard. It never cares if I’m scared or in danger. It just looks at all the facts and tells me what I need to do.”

And he gets it done.