Review: Little Fires Everywhere

“Moody never thought much about money, because he had never needed to. Lights went on when he flipped switches; water came out when he turned the tap.” p. 13

Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng.
Penguin, Penguin Random House,  my edition 2019 (originally published in 2017).
Fiction, 338 pages plus Reader’s Guide.
Lexile:  1000L  .
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 18.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not posting it on Fiction Friday.

A tense novel about the unexpected connections between two families, which change all of their lives.

Little Fires Everywhere cover

Well.  Sometimes I hesitate to review a book because it feels like everything there is to be said about that work is already out there.  While I don’t mind reviewing popular works, especially if my opinion differs vastly from the usual, sometimes it simply doesn’t seem like there is much for me to add to the discourse.  That is the case with this novel, which seems to have been generally well-reviewed, and which I generally agree with other reviews I’d seen prior to reading the book. Continue reading “Review: Little Fires Everywhere”

Review: Dragon Egg Princess

“In the middle sat an elegant woman with a medium brown complexion who appeared ageless and formidable. She held a large ivory staff decorated with leaves and flowers in one hand. There was no doubt in Jiho’s mind that this woman was in charge.” page 109

The Dragon Egg Princess by Ellen Oh.
HaperCollins, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 248 pages.
Not yet leveled.

Jiho Park is an anomaly in his highly magical kingdom – part of a family not affected by magic, which makes him destined to become a ranger protecting the Kidahara.  But he wants nothing to with the forest and the magical creatures it protects and instead is intrigued by the foreigners from technologically advanced lands trying to tear down the forest in the middle of Joson.  Meanwhile, two girls whose lives have been heavily affected by magic both have their own agendas – and when all three cross paths, the whole kingdom might be affected, for better or worse.

The Dragon Egg Princess
The Dragon Egg Princess by Ellen Oh.

I wanted to love this so much – bought the hardcover, so yes I fully invested in this story.  Sadly, it underwhelmed me on many points despite the appealing blubs from several authors I trust and the fabulous cover.  Let me just take a minute to mention that I completely support Oh’s mission, her work on WNDB, and even her excellent anthologies, and continue to do so despite really not liking this book.

The setting had a unique feel.  The land of Josen, the Kidahara forest, the permeation of magic in the kingdom, everything had a twist to it somewhere.  But on the other hand it had some steampunk or even science fantasy elements, as some of the other kingdoms have no magic but focus instead on technology.  The one other region with magic was also different, so a lot was packed into this book.

Worldbuilding was clearly a major focus of Oh’s, and she has a fairly detailed mythology likely to appeal to young fans of speculative fiction.  While this book focuses on Joson, based in Korean mythology, Shane and Calvin are from another country called Bellprix and mention vampires, werewolves, and zombies.  I only wish that more of the essential information about this world had been organically included in the action or dialogue, instead of being infodumped .

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Review: Lalani of the Distant Sea

“But maybe her mother was right, and everything would be okay. It wasn’t a given that she would get mender’s disease. // Then again, it wasn’t a given that she wouldn’t.” page 69

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly, illustrated by Lian Cho.
Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 390 pages.
Lexile:  600L   .
AR Level:  4.4 (worth 7.0 points)  .

Sanlagita is a cursed isle, with harsh conditions and strict predetermined roles.  The only festival left is Sailing Day, a time of fear as the strongest Sanlagitans are sent to certain death.  But now a drought is changing things on the island for the worse.

Lalani of the Distant Sea
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly, illustrated by Lian Cho.

This book reminded me of nothing so much as Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  Although the story and flavor are quite different, Kelly also uses the device of stories within a longer story to great effect.  The stories are short and set off from the main text by the use of a different font and a decorative border around the margins.

Continue reading “Review: Lalani of the Distant Sea”

Review: Aru Shah and the Song of Death

“Aru knew that not all parents stick around – not all can, for whatever reason. It isn’t the kid’s fault, and sometimes it isn’t even the parent’s, either.” page 306

Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Pandava Series #2) by Roshani Chokshi.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 381 pages including glossary.
Lexile:  700L  .
AR Level:  5.1 (worth 13.0 points)  .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the previous book.

Aru Shah and her friend Mini are back – and need to clear Aru’s name quick after a thief wearing her form stole the god of love’s bow and arrows.  In order to stop the thief’s horde of heartless zombies, they’ll have to team up with extra-strength Brynne and that unusual guy from across the street.

Aru Shah and the Song of Death cover resized
Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi.

This installment of the Pandava series introduces two new characters, sidelines some who were main players in the first book (mostly Boo) and involves a lot of courtly intrigue.

The underworld apparently operates under the idea of guilty until proven innocent, so even though there’s a picture proving that a malicious doppelganger stole the bow and arrows, not Aru, she still has to quest to clear her name by finding the real thief and retrieving the stolen goods.  Plus some of the people they’re battling have the favors of the gods, and Aru and friends don’t get extra help while they’re considered criminals.

Continue reading “Review: Aru Shah and the Song of Death”

Board Book Review: Little Trailblazer

The 41st board book in our collection ultimately underwhelms.

This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub, illustrated by Daniel Roode.
Little Simon, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Nonfiction board book, 24 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Reader: 4.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .

A board book about ten empowering women’s lives.

This Little Trailblazer cover resized
This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub, illustrated by Daniel Roode.

This has been one of the most difficult board books for me to review.  For many I have a fairly strong opinion, or at least one of our children does, so there is a bit of a guideline.  If this was one of our first board books, I might have liked it better.  But this is our 41st board book, and the general reaction of our family has been indifference.

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Review: A Crack in the Sea

“Kinchen pursed her lips, thinking. She never told anyone about Pip’s strangeness with people; not wanting anyone to make fun of her brother, she covered up for him.” page 61

A Crack in the Sea by H. M. Bouwman, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu.
Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy, 360 pages + excerpt.
Lexile:  740L  .
AR Level:  5.1 (worth 11.0 points)  .

A layered fantasy draws together a 1781 slave ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean, a Vietnamese refugee boat in the South China Sea in 1978, and two very different groups in a magical place the inhabitants think of as the Second World.

A Crack in the Sea cover resized
A Crack in the Sea by H.M. Bouwman, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu.

I had seen this book even before writing my diverse fantasy booklist, but hesitated to read it as I was nervous.  A fantasy story that blends African and Vietnamese and English and different worlds and time periods and difficult topics all into a readable middle grade novel?  Many books struggle to do one of those and this was written by a white woman, so I was dubious.

But when I got to the sentence “Old Ren coughed, his unusually pale face even whiter than usual” I breathed a sigh of relief.  So many authors make the error of describing the race of characters of color only, that to see a white person’s skin described is a benchmark for baseline acceptability.

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Review: All the Women…

“All the Women in My Family Sing is a tribute to the many voices of women in a chorus of cultural refrains.  Each essay is a personal story about the victories and challenges women face every day as innovators, artists, CEOs, teachers and adventurers.  All of the essays reveal how glorious it is to live authentically in our identities.”
p. ix-x, Foreword by Deborah Santana

All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom, edited by Deborah Santana.
Nothing But The Truth, San Francisco, CA, 2018.
Adult anthology, 365 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTES: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  Because this book contains 69 pieces, I decided to review it in three parts.

All the Women In My Family Sing
All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom.

The essays and poems in AtWiMFS are roughly grouped into 8 categories, each containing between 7 and 10 pieces.  Most are quite short, but I do like to comment briefly on each one, so I’ve decided to break this up so it’s not excessively long.

Continue reading “Review: All the Women…”

Review: A Better Place

“I didn’t feel safe in crowds near my home because the person ringing up my groceries could be the person who shot my son.” page 140

A Better Place: A Memoir of Peace in the Face of Tragedy by Pati Navalta Poblete.
Nothing But the Truth, LLC, San Francisco, California.
Memoir, 255 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book.  See review for more details.

The story of one mother’s life after her son was a victim of gun violence.

A Better Place cover resized

When I get interested in a topic, one of the things I like to do is to read a variety of books that talk about the same subject from different angles.  This past winter I wanted to look at incarceration, gun violence, and forgiveness (as well as several other topics that aren’t related).  Among the books I’d purchased or put on hold at the library there were several friends gave to me or recommended.

However, this was mailed to me and I originally thought my prison volunteer friend sent it, but it came with a mug and he knew nothing about it.  Looking back through my emails I didn’t find any that mentioned this book either, so if I’ve accidentally deleted or missed one then my apologies!

I took some time before reading, since it seemed pretty intense emotionally.  Indeed, this title walks you through Poblete’s experiences, starting at the joyous moment when she and her fiance of several years finally booked a venue for their wedding… only to receive the call her son was murdered.

Continue reading “Review: A Better Place”

Review: In a Rocket Made of Ice

“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76

In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Not leveled.

Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment.  The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.

In a Rocket Made of Ice cover resized
In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt.

Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs.  That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.

Continue reading “Review: In a Rocket Made of Ice”

Review: Ghosts of Greenglass House

“It was a little thing, but sometimes the smallest details were far more important than they seemed.” p. 178

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/mystery, 471 pages including preview of the next book.
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.5 (worth 17.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Greenglass House series.

It’s Christmastime at Greenglass House again, and except for one pesky visitor, it seems that this year things will be back to normal – a quiet family vacation for 13-year-old Milo and his parents.  Then the bell rings…

Greenglass House 2 cover resized
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.

Since this is the second book in a mystery series, it will contain some spoilers from the first book.  The synopsis above and my final recommendation at the very end will be spoiler-free.

Kate Milford is back with another successful mystery/fantasy.  This book is far more fantastical than the first installment, although there are still elements of a mystery and secrets to be uncovered.  As previously, there is an ensemble cast, with Milo at the center of the story.  About half the characters are from the previous books, with a whole set of new people descending on Greenglass House from the Liberty, a free space for asylum which some people in the city confuse with a mental asylum.

Continue reading “Review: Ghosts of Greenglass House”