Review: An XL Life

“I had loved myself at 500 pounds. I loved myself now, even with my loose skin.” page 203

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An XL Life: Staying Big at Half the Size by Big Boy (Kurt Alexander).
Cash Money Content, 2011.
Autobiography/memoir, 237 pages.
Not leveled.

The autobiography of Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy, once known for his size as much as the music he played.

An XL Life resized

This book opened with Alexander talking about the father he never knew and how he didn’t feel that contributed to his weight at all.  It’s a marked contrast to the last biography of a black man I read, Un-Ashamed.

On the other hand, Alexander was greatly impacted by constantly moving around as a child.  His stories about homelessness and frequent moves reminded me more of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, although he wasn’t moving from relative to relative.  His mother must have been truly remarkable, because his six siblings stayed with the family through various moves and hardships, even after they were adults.

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Review: Sugar

“It’s pretty. ‘Til you get close. Then sugar gets nastier than any gator. Sugar bites a hundred times, breaking skin and making you bleed.” page 6

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes, illustrations by Neil Brigham.
Originally published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hachette, New York, 2013.
My edition is Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade historical fiction, 272 pages + author’s note.
Lexile:  430L  .
AR Level:  2.9 (worth 4.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the second book published (chronologically the first) in the Louisiana Girls Trilogy.

The ten-year-old narrator of this novel is named after the type of plantation she works on: Sugar.  Slavery ending doesn’t seem to have changed much, other than all of her friends moving away.  Orphaned Sugar doesn’t have the resources or family to leave.  But she does have spirit and dreams – dreams of playing all day, going to school, and even of making new friends.  When the plantation owner decides to bring Chinese workers in,  are they competition or potential allies?

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Since I’ve been complaining about historical fiction featuring black characters, I decided to try to find some good examples, so we took a trip to the used bookstore.  This historical novel takes place over the course of a year, measured by the different seasons of the sugarcane cycle.  It starts with winter in 1870 and moves through planting and then harvest in 1871.  The epilogue takes place in spring of that year. Continue reading “Review: Sugar”

Graphic Novel Review: Malice in Ovenland

An original, #ownvoices can’t-miss middle grade graphic novel.

Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess.
Rosarium Publishing, Greenbelt, MD, 2016.
MG speculative fiction, 126 pages including extras.
Not yet leveled.

Lily Brown is not going to camp this summer, or on a fancy vacation.  She’ll be staying home, eating her mom’s new ‘healthy’ organic cooking, caring for their plot in a community garden, and doing extra studying.  Her mom goes away for a weekend and Lily’s almost done with her chore list when she loses an earring inside the oven and discovers a magical world where they aren’t too happy about the sudden lack of grease in her family’s kitchen.

Malice in Ovenland cover resized
Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess.

There’s no way that my summary has done this book justice.  There are so many things going on here, and everything is wonderful. This is a book that kids love to read, and that parents can feel good about their kids reading.

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Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

“I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting there crying when another car rolls up in front of me. I look up, and it’s Peter Kavinsky’s black Audi with the tinted windows.” page 36

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.
Simon and Schuster BFYR imprint, New York, 2014.
YA Romance/realistic fiction, 355 pages plus recipes and excerpt.
Lexile:  630L  .
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 12.0 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would recommend this book for high school students and not elementary school.

Lara Jean is the middle of three sisters and her mother has passed away.  Her oldest sister, Margot, is moving to Scotland, leaving Lara Jean in charge of her younger sister and father.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before resized

I am probably the only person ever to read this book because I first enjoyed Jenny Han’s middle grade book Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream.  This series has been hyped so much that I thought it would be another Everything, Everything, but after reading and liking Clara Lee, I grabbed this at Target.

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Review: The Temporary Bride

“Each time I remove my scarf I pass it through my fingers, in awe of what a simple thing it is, the dilemma it poses. The rules from the Iranian embassy are surprisingly unclear, open to bewildering interpretation.” page 31

The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec.
Twelve, Hachett Book Group, New York, 2014.  My edition 2017.
Memoir, 230 pages including extras.
Not leveled.

Jennifer Klinec is a fearless jet-setter, leaving her London life behind to explore the culinary arts of every corner of the world.  This book is the story of her month in Iran, wearing a headscarf, finding locals who will let her cook with them, and unexpectedly falling in love.

The Temporary Bride

This was so random.  I had a long afternoon and wanted a book, so I grabbed this one, but then ended up reading another book that I already had instead.  It sat on the shelf for a while – I have to be honest that the subtitle reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love which was a DNF for me.  And there were some legitimate concerns about how Klinec would portray Iran, since she’s an outsider, a Canadian with Serbo-Croation roots living in London.

However, once I got started, I enjoyed this book.  Klinec lays everything bare.  She is brutally honest yet insightful, and not afraid to make herself, or her loved ones look bad.  There were points where I disliked Klinec as well as others in the story, but I did feel that she was telling the truth as objectively as she could, given that she was a major participant.  When she’s viewing things through her own unique lens, she’s generally up front about the perspective.

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Review: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

“When I first got my library card and wrote Blackbird Farm on the form, she didn’t know I was Dad’s daughter or Jim Brown’s grandniece, and she asked me how long my family was working there. I think she still feels bad about that.” page 76

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath.
Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, New York, 2015.
Speculative/realistic fiction epistolary novel, 216 pages.
Lexile:  880L
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 5.0 points)

Sophie Brown’s family has moved from LA to Gravenstein, California.  They’ve traded their apartment for a house and farm filled with all the many things her great-uncle Jim had saved.  A farm doesn’t feel right without any animals, but they’ll have to be cheap because money is tight since Dad lost his job and they started relying on Mom’s income as a freelance writer.  Then a chicken turns up… a very special chicken.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Amazon kept recommending this book to me since I started buying diverse books.  Nothing in the description suggests a PoC is in this book and in the tiny cover preview, Sophie didn’t look dark-skinned.  Eventually I ordered a copy – but mistakenly got a hardcover instead of the paperback.  Once it arrived I was glad for the mistake, because as soon as he saw this book, our reluctant reader started insisting that I read it to him that night.  I don’t turn down his book requests, and they are loving it so far.

This book was a wonderful surprise.  The format is unusual (just like those chickens).  There also is a paranormal/science fiction aspect that would be a major spoiler to discuss.

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Review: Pizza Party!

“It cooks./We look.//We read a book.//It’s done./What fun!” p.22-24

Pizza Party by Grace Maccarone, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully.
Cartwheel Books Imprint, Scholastic, New York, 1994, my reprint edition 2003.
Rhyming realistic fiction, 30 pages.
Lexile:  BR (What does BR mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  0.5 (worth 0.5 points)

Five people gather for a pizza party and work together to make, then eat a pizza in this diverse early reader for children who have just mastered the basic sight words.  This is the third book of my thrift store finds.

Pizza Party cover

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