Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of Without a Summer, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Saturday, July 31st, 2021

Without a Summer

by Mary Robinette Kowal

Tom Doherty Associates (TOR), 2013. 381 pages.
Review written June 25, 2021, from my own copy
Starred Review

My sister Becky gave me this book years ago (Thank you, Becky!), but alas, like so many non-library books that don’t have a due date, I didn’t get to it right away. But the time was finally right when I signed up for the 2021 Jane Austen Summer Program, a four-day virtual symposium on Jane Austen, and Mary Robinette Kowal was one of the speakers, giving two wonderful talks about putting fantasy into your Jane Austen adaptation.

At the conference, I also learned that the year 1816 really was a year without a summer. The note at the back says that after a volcano erupted in the West Indies, the ash disrupted weather everywhere, and there was snow in Washington DC in July. In fact, Mary Robinette was able to determine the weather in London for the days covered in this book. I had assumed when I started reading that it must have been a side effect of magic – so I was quick to believe that people would have looked for magic users to blame for the strange weather, which turns out to be a key point in the book.

This book is another Austen-like story, with magic. The author does write each book as a stand alone. In this third volume of the Glamourist Histories, Jane’s sister Melody needs to find a husband and is running out of options in the country, so Jane and her husband take Melody to London while they work on a glamural for Lord Stratton.

The author worked in ideas from Jane Austen’s Emma as Jane tries and fails to be a good matchmaker for her sister. But there’s a lot more going on as well. Sir David’s despicable father wants to renew their relationship and meet his wife – but there are some plots afoot. And the coldmongers are getting blamed for the wintry weather in summer – even though that is not how glamour works. It all builds to a big climax that puts Jane and her husband in danger, with Melody’s happiness also at stake.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed Mary Robinette’s sessions at the Jane Austen symposium tremendously, and gained a new appreciation of her craft in writing these books. She wanted to write a fantasy novel similar to the books Jane Austen wrote – where the fate of the world is not at stake, but instead the happiness of a few people. She wanted magic, but in order for it to be one of the womanly arts, it had to be magic that didn’t do much. The “glamour” in these books is all about illusion. And it’s typically done by women – except for professionals glamourists, who of course are men. So Sir David working with his wife is breaking ground and defying convention.

Another thing I found out when I looked in the back of the book is that my sister-in-law Laura (then Plett) is acknowledged! She does calling for English Country Dances, and gave the author some tips about how the dances were done in Regency England. So it was fun to come across her name in the back of my book.

This series is lovely and highly recommended. I hope this will give me the motivation to set aside the recently published books I need to read for Capitol Choices and read a couple more Austen-with-fantasy books purely for my own enjoyment. There are two more in the series, and it’s high time I caught up.

maryrobinettekowal.com
tor-forge.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/without_a_summer.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of My First Day, by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên

Thursday, July 29th, 2021

My First Day

by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên

Make Me a World (Penguin Random House), 2021. Originally published in Vietnam in 2017. 40 pages.
Review written May 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a mind-expanding book with lush paintings. This picture book doesn’t tell you what it’s the first day of until the end.

As the book opens, you see a boy come out of his house on stilts and get into a small boat on the big river. Every spread is entirely filled with one grand picture, and most of the pictures are mostly filled with the river, with the small boy in a boat somewhere in the spread. Here’s how the text begins:

Where the great river, mother Mekong, tumbles into the endless sea . . . that is where I live.

I wake up with the sun creeping into the sky and wait for tide and time to bring to me my little open boat.
Today is the first day.

This is the first time I’ve made this trip on my own, weaving through floodwaters and forests.
Mama said I’m big enough now to go by myself. Papa said to be careful because that’s what papas do.

The paintings make this trip into an epic journey. The boy goes through waves dwarfing his boat, rain and a dark forest all around, a crocodile and other creatures lurking in the water – and comes out to a bright sky with storks flying ahead of him, all manner of fish beneath him, and even a herd of water buffalo looking at him kindly.

Before he gets to his destination, we see many other kids in boats, traveling the same direction. “Hello, friends!”

And then with the final page of the story, we learn where this adventurous journey has taken him – to his first day of school.

Notes at the back set the story in the Mekong Delta and tell how the river is used as a roadway and in many other ways.

It’s a lovely starting-to-school story that shows children in another part of the world are the same – excited about starting school – but different in the way they get to school. Along with the stunningly beautiful pictures, this is a book you won’t forget. Because the book was originally published in Vietnam, it won’t be eligible for the Caldecott Medal, but the illustrations are so amazing, it would surely be in the running if that weren’t the case.

kaaillustration.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/my_first_day.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Love Is the Way, by Bishop Michael Curry

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021

Love Is the Way

Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times

by Bishop Michael Curry
with Sara Grace

Avery (Penguin Random House), 2020. 259 pages.
Review written May 24, 2021, from my own copy.
Starred Review

My church small group has been going through this book, at the rate of a chapter per week (with a 6-week break in the middle for a Lent study), and we’re finishing up this week. It’s been a wonderful book for discussion.

The tone is devotional, with personal stories from the bishop in every chapter. It starts out a little bit general about loving others, but does continue to specifics like loving LGBTQ people and loving people of different races and different political views.

He frames the book with each chapter having a subtitle that’s a question about love, a question he’s actually been asked. He begins with “What is love?” and “How do I find God’s love?” and continues through things like “Do I have to love even my enemy?” “How can love overcome what divides us and move us forward together?” and “Does love mean avoiding politics?”

I expected something with less depth than what I got. His willingness to delve into practical issues means the book challenges the reader, because we can all get better at loving.

And he’s also inspirational. I enjoyed the chapter “It’s Not Easy,” which had the question “I’m just a regular person – can my love have an impact?” No surprise, the answer is Yes, and that answer is proved by stories in the chapter. Here’s how that chapter ends:

It is impossible to know, in the moment, how a small act of goodness will reverberate through time. The notion is empowering and it is frightening – because it means that we’re all capable of changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love. We can all plant seeds, though only some of us may be so lucky as to sit in their shade. Since we can’t start twenty years ago, the best time to start is today.

And here’s how the book ends. (It’s not a Spoiler with Nonfiction! Here’s where this book will take you.)

When God, who is love, becomes our spiritual center of gravity, and love our moral compass, we live differently, regardless of what the world around us does. The world changes for the better, one life at a time.

So don’t give up on love.
Listen to it.
Trust it.
Give into it.
Obey it.

Love can help and heal when nothing else can. Love can lift up and liberate when nothing else will. May God love you and bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

You can think of this book as a compelling call to love.

penguinrandomhouse.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/love_is_the_way.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Allergic, by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Allergic

by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter

Graphix (Scholastic), 2021. 238 pages.
Review written June 25, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Allergic is a sweet graphic novel about a girl who’s planning to get a dog for her tenth birthday – and breaks out in a rash after she’s given her heart to one. It turns out that she’s allergic to anything with fur or feathers.

This has repercussions. Maggie’s class can’t have a class pet. When her new friend who moved in next door gets a puppy, that means Maggie can’t come over any more.

She tries to cope in ways that turn out to be both bad and good. The idea of trying to secretly keep a mouse in her closet turns out to be not so great. Meanwhile, Maggie’s mom is expecting a baby soon, and Maggie’s feeling a little left out.

The pictures in this graphic novel are adorable, and the reader will love Maggie and her family. Her plight will capture the sympathy of readers, helping them see a perspective maybe different from their own. All while reading and viewing a great story with plenty of conflict in a popular format. This book will fly off the shelves, and deservedly so.

meganwagnerlloyd.com
michellemee.com
scholastic.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/allergic.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of We Are Not Free, by Traci Chee

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

We Are Not Free

by Traci Chee

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 384 pages.
Review written November 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 National Book Award Finalist

We Are Not Free is a novel about Japanese Americans forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated during World War II. An interesting and effective choice made for this novel is to present the story from multiple perspectives. Every chapter has a different perspective.

We start with a 14-year-old kid in a community of Japanese Americans living in “Japantown” in San Francisco. We hear about the older teens he looks up to who will end up being viewpoint characters as the book goes on.

The book starts three months after Pearl Harbor when people of Japanese descent are getting targeted by racists. It continues as they have to sell off their possessions, because they’re only allowed a little bit of luggage in the slightly-refurbished racetrack where they’re taken next. It goes on through the war as the people in the camps have to decide if they will declare their loyalty to a government that removed their rights and volunteer to fight in the war.

By using so many perspectives, we get a broad view of what happened to different groups of people, including those who went on to fight in the war and those who refused. We learn about various levels of inhumane treatment, from the horrific conditions for those who were deemed a threat to the smaller indignities such as happened to those set loose with $25 and having to find a new place to live.

The teens have widely different attitudes. Many are angry. Some just want to make the best of things and move on with their lives. All of them encounter grave injustices, and seeing the situation from so many different eyes helps the reader understand the whole thing better.

And, yes, there are a lot of painful things that happen. This isn’t a feel-good book, but it is a book that shows you many sides of a terrible historical injustice perpetrated by our own government. I wish this book weren’t as timely as it is.

tracichee.com
hmhbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/we_are_not_free.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Before They Were Artists, by Elizabeth Haidle

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

Before They Were Artists

Famous Illustrators as Kids

by Elizabeth Haidle

Etch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2021. 64 pages.
Review written July 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a picture-book-sized nonfiction book for children in graphic novel format telling about the childhoods of six distinguished illustrators.

I would have never thought to put these particular illustrators together in a book, and I love the variety of backgrounds they represent. We’ve got:

Wanda Gág, who wrote Millions of Cats, born in 1893 in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Maurice Sendak, who wrote Where the Wild Things Are, born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York.
Tove Jansson, who wrote Finn Family Moomintroll, born in 1914 in Helsinki, Finland.
Jerry Pinkney, who wrote The Lion and the Mouse, born in 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Yuyi Morales, who wrote Just a Minute, born in 1968 in Xalapa, Mexico.
Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, born in 1941 in Tokyo, Japan.

Each illustrator gets a title spread with one book featured (the one I listed above), a picture of the illustrator as a child in the landscape of their own books, with a quotation coming from a speech bubble. There’s a time line across the bottom with notable events in their lives, including other books they’ve written. Then they each get six to eight more pages with panels in graphic novel format telling about their childhoods, how they got started in art, and their many accomplishments.

This book is delightful to look at and presents lots of information in an entertaining way. It’s sure to inspire other young artists or at least get them thinking about what their love for art could lead to.

There’s a spread at the front with the title “What makes an illustrator?” It talks about how they had many different backgrounds, but they loved to draw.

In all cases, inspiration from someone else helped pave the way: another artist, animator, cartoonist, or painter whose books, films, or paintings moved hearts and imprinted themselves on minds. These heroes and mentors made a path of possibility to walk down.

May the stories in this book inspire other artists in turn.

hmhbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/before_they_were_artists.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Hidden Palace, by Helene Wecker

Sunday, July 18th, 2021

The Hidden Palace

by Helene Wecker

Harper (HarperCollins), 2021. 472 pages.
Review written July 14, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com
Starred Review

I loved The Golem and the Jinni so much, I preordered this book as soon as I heard that there was a sequel. I think you’ll enjoy this more if you’ve read the first book (and you definitely want to read it!), but even though it had been eight years since I read the first book, the important parts came back to me as I read.

Like the first book, I’m tempted to call this Historical rather than Fantasy, because the historical details of life in New York, both the Syrian neighborhoods and the Jewish neighborhoods, ring true. This comes after the crisis of the first book, and talks about what’s next for the golem and the jinni, now they’ve found each other. How do you build a life when your lifespan goes far beyond your human neighbors?

Meanwhile, we find out about two other creatures like our heroes: There’s a golem whose master is the young orphaned daughter of a rabbi, hiding in an orphanage. And across the sea, there’s a jinniyeh, outcast from her own kind because she can tolerate touching iron, but who hears about the iron-bound jinni who lives across the sea.

Chaya the golem still hears the thoughts of all around her, so she discovers when they notice that she’s not ageing. She’s going to need to make a new life for herself. Ahmad the jinni is much less deliberate. When his partner dies, he becomes obsessed with making a palace out of metal inside their warehouse. And when someone who doesn’t need to eat or sleep becomes obsessed, he can truly withdraw from the world.

This is another rich tapestry of a book, dealing with two people who aren’t actually human, but who are full of nuance. Can they stay in each other’s lives, or are they too different? This book feels completely realistic as it explores this question. We also see how each one has become part of a community, and lives all around them are touched by their existence. And we’ve got further thoughts about what it means to be human from the perspective of those who, technically, are not human at all.

This is a wonderful follow-up to an amazing story.

harpercollins.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/hidden_palace.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Garden of Small Beginnings, by Abbi Waxman

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

The Garden of Small Beginnings

by Abbi Waxman
read by Emily Rankin

Penguin Audio, 2017. 9 hours, 51 minutes.
Review written June 15, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I read this book after reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by the same author, because all of Abbi Waxman’s books had been recommended in my Silent Book Club Facebook group as feel-good reading. They were right! This is a nice happy story about a young widow named Lilian, the mother of two girls, who gets signed up for a gardening class by her boss – and the class is led by a handsome instructor from Europe with a marvelous accent (especially appreciated in the audiobook version) who is also attracted to Lilian.

But Lilian isn’t ready to date, even though it’s been four years. And she doesn’t believe her kids are ready either. So the book is about Lilian working through that, and the gardening class, and the friends she makes in the class, and the family and relationships around Lilian, including her wonderfully precocious kids.

I do have a caveat: I’m an older single and have my eyes open for a match – with very little luck. I recently told off a couple of married friends who implied that I was overlooking possibilities. Trust me, that’s not a thing! And this destroys my suspension of disbelief when it comes to reading a Meet-Cute story. There is no way I can bring myself to believe that in real life the instructor would be single and available, near her age, handsome, and a good match for her. It just wouldn’t happen. And they are not even the only couple that meets in this book!

So, I’m going to have to switch over and read some murder mysteries or nice tragedies or maybe a revenge novel. I’m still glad, though, I finished this book – sometimes fairy tales are nice to read. And if you’re looking for a happy and thoughtful romance-after-loss about some delightful people you’ll be glad to hang around, I do recommend this book. If you’re turning cynical, though, you might need to set it aside. This is a feel-good book for people who are already feeling pretty happy.

abbiwaxman.com
penguin.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/garden_of_small_beginnings.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of A Heart So Fierce and Broken, by Brigid Kemmerer

Thursday, July 1st, 2021

A Heart So Fierce and Broken

by Brigid Kemmerer

Bloomsbury, 2020. 445 pages.
Review written October 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

A Heart So Fierce and Broken is the second book in the series begun with A Curse So Dark and Lonely. And no, the series is not finished yet. The first book finished with a dramatic breaking of expectations with big implications for what would happen next – and so does this book. Both books seem to resolve most conflict brought up in the book – and then our tidy sense of completion is totally disrupted.

The first book is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” Harper is brought from DC in an attempt to break the curse. Meanwhile, the kingdom isn’t getting much governing, but she helps the prince get through that crisis and an attack from a neighboring kingdom. At the end of the book, though, without giving details, we learn there’s a secret older brother who should be the rightful heir to the throne. And he is the child of a magesmith and has magic in his blood.

This book is about that heir, who doesn’t want to claim the throne but also doesn’t want to be killed. We also follow the fate of a princess of the neighboring kingdom who was not chosen to be her kingdom’s heir but wants to see if she can bring peace.

I like the way the author puts realistic political problems (needing a harbor for trade) into the fantasy kingdom. There’s some horrific cruelty in both books which I didn’t like, though it does make the people working for peace shine more brightly.

I enjoyed this second volume greatly. It now doesn’t have much to do with the “Beauty and the Beast” story, but is an excellent tale of a group of travelers trying to navigate dangers on every side and figure out what course of action is best.

Yes, I’m going to want to read the next book. Amazon says it’s called A Vow So Bold and Deadly and will come out on January 26, 2021. And yes, Amazon says it’s the conclusion to the series. It’s been set up well.

brigidkemmerer.com
bloomsbury.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/heart_so_fierce_and_broken.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love

Wednesday, June 30th, 2021

Julián at the Wedding

by Jessica Love

Candlewick Press, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written 10/20/2020 from a library book
Starred Review

It’s another picture book about gender-nonconforming Julián, from the lovely book Julián Is a Mermaid. What I love about both books is that this is a story about Julián and his vivid imagination. He happens to enjoy pretending in ways that don’t strictly follow gender norms. That’s who he is, and that’s celebrated – but the point of the book is Julián and his imagination, not his gender-nonconforming.

In this book, Julián and his abuela are going to a wedding, and Julián is in the wedding, dressed in a snazzy purple suit that isn’t strictly masculine or feminine. Two women are joyfully getting married, and we’re told, “A wedding is a party for love.”

At the dinner after the ceremony, Julián makes friends with Marisol, the flower girl. They go to play in the “fairy house” made by the leaves of a weeping willow tree. When Marisol plays with a dog and gets her dress all dirty, Julián has a solution, and both kids get to pretend to be fairies.

In both books, I love the way the adults appreciate Julián’s and now Marisol’s antics, rather than scolding. It’s another celebration of the power of imagination.

candlewick.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/julian_at_the_wedding.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?