Review: Mochi Queen

“In the kitchen, the rice cookers set on timers were already steaming, filling the kitchen with the smell of rice. My mouth watered.” p. 53

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Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Jasmine Toguchi #1) by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic.
Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillian, New York, 2017.
Elementary fiction, 115 pages.
Lexile:  560L  .
AR Level:  3.6 (worth 1.0 points)  .

Jasmine and her Japanese-American family are getting ready for the New Year.  That means lots of cousins, mochi-tsuki, Obaachan coming to visit, and two more years before Jasmine is old enough to make mochi with the women.  Rather than wait two whole years, she has an idea…

Jasmine Toguchi 1 Mochi Queen

In the last few years we’ve been seeing a big rise in the number of early elementary chapter book series featuring diverse characters, and I am over the moon about it.  As you’ve heard me rant before, it’s crucial to have diverse books at every reading level, including the very earliest.  Working a little understanding of different cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles into early fiction also helps students out when they later encounter the same topics in middle school or high school, and it sets a foundation for tolerance and acceptance.

Series like this one are particularly great because they can be read aloud to children over a range of ages, and information about Japanese-American culture is seamlessly woven into the storyline.

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Review: Secret Keeper

“Asha paused to flick the sweat from the crook of her elbow. Suddenly she caught sight of a face staring at her through the coconut leaves.” p. 31

Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins.
Delacorte Press, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2009.
Historical fiction, 225 pages.
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 7.0)  .

Asha’s father has gone to America to look for a new job, leaving his family in the care of his older brother’s family.  Already saddened by the move from Delhi to Calcutta, Asha, her beautiful older sister Reet, and their mother wait and try to fend off marriage proposals, rebukes from the other women, and a life of servitude and confinement.

Secret Keeper Mitali Perkins resized

Asha’s mother suffers from depression and fits that her daughters describe as visits from the Jailer, when her face and mind go blank.  She attempts methods of coping such as knitting or cooking, but as their life circumstances deteriorate, she’s unable to function, leaving Asha in charge of their physical safety and everyday needs.

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Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

“It would be easier to be a criminal fairly prosecuted by the law than an Indian daughter who wronged her family. A crime would be punishable by law rather than this uncertain length of family guilt trips.” p. 29

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.
William Morrow, HarperCollins, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction, 298 pages + 14 pages of extras.
Not leveled.

Nikki is a modern British girl, but financial troubles lead her back to the gurdwara, where she takes on a job teaching English classes to widows at the community center.  Kulwinder is working hard to be accepted as an equal by the male leaders so she can advocate for other women, especially the widows who have little voice in the community.  Both run afoul of the conservative group the Brothers, who feel it’s their duty to keep rebellious women in line.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

First don’t worry, I will be returning to my normal reviews!  The title of this book didn’t interest me, but Wendy listed it as a 2017 favorite, so I chose this as one of my targetpicks.

Before we get to the book itself, the reaction people had to this cover was intriguing.  Everyone seemed to assume it was very raunchy.  Even at the cash register, this book merited a double take and pursed lips as I purchased it together with our normal family groceries (although no kids were with me).  People had so many surprised or negative reactions that eventually I hid it in our room rather than face more awkward conversations.

Despite the title, this is not proper erotica.  It’s highly literary, dark, yet comedic, with elements of the mystery and thriller genre along with a touch of romance and some steamy scenes.  Or rather, it’s a book that’s likely to get typecast but difficult to classify.

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Review: Circles of Hope

“Facile had no gift for his baby sister. No tikado at all. He ate a juicy sweet mango, licked his sticky fingers, and thought.” p. 7

Circles of Hope by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Linda Saport.
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005.
Realistic fiction, 32 pages.
Lexile:  AD590L ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  3.9 (worth 0.5 points)  .

Facile’s is excited about his new baby sister, Lucia, but he doesn’t have a gift for her.  When he was born, Papa planted a mango tree for him, but now Papa is working in the city.  Can Facile plant a tree for Lucia?

Circles of Hope cover
Circles of Hope by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Linda Saport.

First I want to note that this book was published in 2005, so it’s that rare children’s book about Haiti that has nothing to do with the earthquake.

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Graphic Novel Review: Suee and the Shadow

A deliciously creepy, magical MG tale set in South Korea.

Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly, illustrated by Molly Park.
Amulet Books, Abrams, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/horror graphic novel, 236 pages.
Lexile:  GN270L ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  2.7 (worth 2.0 points)  .
NOTE: Although this has a low reading level, it’s recommended for middle grades.

Twelve-year-old Suee is a new student at boring Outskirts Elementary, and she’s determined to get through her last bit of elementary school with no complications.  That means no friends, no sharing information with the counselor, and no getting involved in anything weird.  Too bad a voice is calling to her from the exhibit room and her shadow is alive.

Suee and the Shadow

This book caught my eye even though it wasn’t time for a new Target pick (well I was looking for Aru Shah and it was sold out, which is great news).  Suee struck me as an unusual name, so I picked up the book and found out it’s by a South Korean author-illustrator team, and set there as well.  I suspect this will do well with fans of The Jumblies, because it has the same creepy-magical vibe.

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Review: The Red Pencil

This illuminated novel in verse tells a story of internal displacement for middle grade readers.

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2014.
Middle grade novel in verse, 331 pages including extras but not excerpts.
Lexile:  HL620L  (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 3.0 points)  .

Amira is a young village girl who dreams of going to school and learning to read the Koran.  But her mother desires a more traditional life for her.  Then the Janjaweed attack, and it seems like all dreams, and words, are gone forever.  Can a gift restore hope?

The Red Pencil cover resized

This one was a bit of a gamble.  I have yet to dislike a book by any of the Pinkneys – individually and collectively they are so talented that the name alone can sell me on a book.  Plus I have loved Shane Evans’ work, and the kids find his illustrations appealing too.

But.  This is a novel in verse.  I wasn’t actually aware that it was illuminated until after purchasing, and Shane Evans’s illustrations did take the edge off.  But as I’ve said before, novels in verse rarely work for me.  I love poetry and novels, but feel that the combination usually loses something.  For this reason, I don’t often seek those books out unless they come highly recommended or with an author/illustrator team I can’t ignore.

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Review: Everything She Lost

“She didn’t think she’d ever be capable of hurting her children,and she couldn’t get over the fact that she’d gotten to a point where people felt they needed protection from her.” p. 72

Everything She Lost by Alessandra Harris.
Red Adept Publishing, Garner, North Carolina, 2017.
Adult thriller, 309 pages.
NOTE: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Nina Taylor is in recovery from a mental breakdown, and honestly, still suffering from an unexpected loss almost a decade ago.  Her best friend is single mom Deja Johnson, a woman with a tragic past of her own.  While Nina is wondering if a full recovery is even possible, Deja is wondering where her own life will go next.

Everything She Lost

I don’t review many thrillers, mainly because I haven’t found many good diverse ones yet.  The description of this one immediately sucked me in, especially since I’m always looking for new books about people of color with disabilities.

This book has alternating viewpoints, with one chapter from Nina’s point of view, and the next telling Deja’s part of the story.  Normally I’m not a fan of alternating viewpoints, but it worked well here.  The narration is from a third person limited point of view rather than first person, and the action moves so quickly that the back-and-forth worked.  This book takes place over only a few weeks.

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