Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

2015
08.27



Sometimes you come across a book on your bookshelf that you read so much ABOUT that you’re convinced you also READ the book. I read so many reviews and accolades for Deborah Heiligman’s award-winning book about the life and marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin (first published in 2009) that somehow I believed I had also read the book itself. But in looking over it again, I realized I had never actually cracked the spine, which I rectified immediately and was delirious with delight when I did. You might think that the story of a 1800’s marriage between a full on science nerd and his whip smart brainiac cousin might be a little, well, boring. YOU WOULD BE WRONG. Charles and Emma’s relationship, while a loving one, was replete with comedy, tragedy and the on-going debate that fueled their marital discourse their whole lives: science vs. religion. Charles was the famous scientist who wrote Origin of Species, while Emma was a renowned novel reader who steadfastly believed in a Christian afterlife. How these two found common ground is the basis for this intriguing biography, which provides readers with an intimate portrait of a couple that on paper (Charles even made a pro/con list for marriage) shouldn’t have worked but did, and did so marvelously. That didn’t mean that there weren’t hardships along the way. They suffered through the deaths of more than one child, and Charles worried constantly about how his controversial theory was going to be received by a largely God-fearing public. But through it all they sustained each other, and their marriage is one of the greatest love stories you never even heard of. So don’t be like me! Get this fascinating non-fic post-haste from your nearest library, bookstore, or e-reader.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

2015
08.08



SPOILER ALERT: Before launching into this luscious sequel of epic proportions, please do yourself a BIG favor and read the utterly delicious first book in this planned four volume series. And if you’re already a fan of the fabulous paranormal Roaring Twenties tome, then by all means, READ ON! Picking up right where The Diviners left off, Evie is now enjoying superstardom as the “Sweetheart Seer” of WGI radio, streetwise Sam is working alongside steadfast Jericho and Evie’s Uncle Will at the Museum of the American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, BFF entertainers Theta and Henry are playing the nights away at the Ziegfeld Follies and secret poet Memphis runs numbers during the day while working on love poetry for Theta after hours. Though they seem happy and busy on the surface, each continues to come to uncomfortable terms with the hidden abilities they have discovered within themselves. While exercising his dream walking talent to try and connect with his lost love Louis, Henry runs into Ling Chan, a Chinese/Irish teen who uses dreams to confer with the dead. Together they discover a seductive netherworld where a vengeful ghost is tapping into the dreams of innocent New Yorkers, causing them to fall into a deadly sleep from which they never wake. The ghost’s presence is tied to an old, bricked over subway station that was recently excavated. Once her bones are stirred, the veiled woman covered in blood and her army of soul sucking phosphorescent zombies haunt the train tunnels and only Ling and Henry have the clues to solve the mystery of her death and lay her spirit to rest. Meanwhile, on the romantic front, Sam and Evie embark on a news worthy romance that may or may not be the real deal, Theta and Memphis encounter the difficulties of interracial dating in the era of KKK parades and the Eugenics movement, while Jericho struggles with who to give his heart to PERIOD. As the story climbs inexorably to a tension-filled conclusion, the rag tag band of friends begin to realize that a greater evil than the previous Pentacle Killer and present Hungry Ghost is afoot and that they will need to reveal their clandestine supernatural skills to each other if they ever hope to win against it.

SO. MUCH. HERE. TO. LOVE, so I will spare you too many gushy particulars and just say that as a librarian I was delighted that Ling did research on the abandoned subway station at the Seward Park library with the help of fictional librarian Mrs. Belpre, and as a New Yorker I appreciated what seemed like a heartbreaking reference to 9/11 when the 1920’s train entrances were papered with handmade signs of people who have gone missing since the subway ghost started haunting. Finally, I laughed aloud with nerdy glee when the historically real Carl Jung made an appearance to talk dreams with Evie and Theta. Author Libba Bray’s ability to infuse a paranormal thriller with such nuanced and layered themes of bias, identity, and culture and how they are all integrated messily into the fabric of our collected American history is completely amazeballs. This rich, detail-packed second book does not disappoint with its deepening of the characters and relationships we came to know and love from the first book, and tantalizing hints of the horror to come, including additional references to the mysterious Project Buffalo and the enigmatic crow-coated man in the stovepipe hat. While it was definitely worth the wait, it’s going to be hard drumming our nail bitten fingers as we anxiously anticipate the next chapters in the newly formed Diviner crew’s supernatural adventures. Coming to a library, bookstore, e-reader or pillow near you August 25 2015.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

2015
08.02



In 1911 rural Pennsylvania, fourteen year old bookworm Joan Skraggs is done with letting her domineering farmer father dictate the direction of her life. After he refuses to give her the egg money she’s earned, shames her in front of her beloved teacher and burns her only books, Joan takes the money her dead mother sewed into the skirts of her childhood doll and takes the train to Philadelphia. There she has the good fortune of finding a job as a hired girl with the wealthy Rosenbach family and tastes real freedom for the very first time. Of course, she still works her fingers to the bone, but now there are afternoons off, new hats to be bought with her hard earned salary, and an entire home library to explore. But with these little luxuries come a whole new batch of problems. There are bewildering new rules to follow in the Rosenbach’s formal Jewish household. Malka, the elderly servant she works under is difficult and easily offended. And finally, what about school? Joan longs to return to her education, but now that she’s passed herself off as eighteen to gain employment, how can she ever go back? Because Joan has big dreams of being a teacher like her mother wanted. And cleaning houses isn’t going to cut it. “The truth is, most of the time I don’t think of myself as the hired girl…After all, I’m not going to be a servant all my life.” Can Joan escape the tight constraints of her narrowly defined station? Or will she find a way to beak free of her hired girl status and make her mother’s dream come true? This delightful homespun tale, comprised entirely of Joan’s earnest, unintentionally funny journal entries, is powerfully reminiscent of old and new classics like Little Women and A Northern Light. This ode to the power of the written word and the strength and ingenuity of women past and present is as warm, witty and wise as all of award winning Laura Amy Schlitz‘s other works, and I predict that lovely sepia cover will be sporting a bright medal or two come January ’16. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2015.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

2015
07.27



Matt hasn’t been doing so well since his mom passed away from cancer. Once a stellar home chef, now he can barely look at his mom’s recipe book. Instead he orders take-out, worries that his dad is drinking too much, and listens to Tupac’s “Dear Mama” over and over. When Matt is gently encouraged by his neighbor and local funeral director Mr. Ray to take a job at the funeral home assisting with services, he is shocked to realize that instead of “reliving my mom’s funeral everyday,” the job is actually helping him heal. “I liked watching other people deal with the loss of someone, not because I enjoyed seeing them in pain, but because, somehow it made me feel better knowing that my pain isn’t just mine. That my life isn’t the only one that missing something it will never have back.” It’s at a funeral that Matt meets Love Brown, a girl who has lost everything but still manages to see the sun behind the rain. A girl who truly understands how he feels. And that’s when the Boy in the Black Suit learns to stop grieving and start living (and Loving:) again. This heartfelt story of devotion and mourning by the author of When I Was the Greatest will feel comfortingly familiar to anyone who’s ever fallen in love or lost a beloved someone. (And honestly, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep the Kleenex handy.)

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

2015
06.16



Normandy Pale’s life is…complicated. She and her two best friends have embarked on a truth telling crusade where they ask people at their arts high school the one burning question everyone wants to know about them. As you might imagine, this sometimes puts them into some fairly uncomfortable and occasionally hilarious situations. Normandy’s older sister Keira is an eccentric genius who publishes the Diana Chronicles, which is an exaggerated, unflattering comic version of Normandy’s family– another fairly uncomfortable and NOT always funny position to be in. Now the intensely private Keira has laid a pretty hardcore truth on her right as Normandy begins developing “like like” feelings for one of her best friends. How is Normandy supposed ask people the truth when her own sister is begging her to keep an awful secret and her crush has no idea how she feels? Normandy may want the truth, but she just may not be able to handle it! This wickedly sly, smart read could only come from the ever fertile brain of Canadian author Susan Juby. Full of funny footnotes and sardonic scribbles, this utterly original read is ripe pickings for fans of John Green, My So Called Life or Degrassi High. If you’re looking to fill your beach bag with intelligent laughs this summer, then this is the book for you!

Not Just Your Parents’ Summer Reading!

2015
06.07






Dear teen peeps, I was recently given the opportunity to review some fabulous up and coming YA fiction titles for the New York Times that are considered “crossover” books–that is, books that both you AND the adults in your life might enjoy reading. The print review appeared in the May 31 issue of the NYT Sunday Book review, but you can read it online here. Any of these titles would make outstanding summer reading choices and maybe even give you and your parents something to talk about while sunning at the beach or grilling the ‘dogs. Want more suggestions for laid back vacation prose? Then check out the entire 2015 NYT super-sized Summer Reading Book Review!

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

2015
05.24



Sydney has always lived in the shadow of her older brother Peyton. Bigger than life Peyton has always more confident, more charismatic, more EVERYTHING than Sydney. “I was used to being invisible…I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother or smart and dynamic like my friends.” But when Peyton’s bad boy antics climax in a drunk driving accident in which he paralyzes another teen, Sydney is thrust into the spotlight. Suddenly it seems like everyone knows what her brother did and are silently judging her and her family. So she isn’t too upset when her brother’s costly legal defense forces her parents to trade her private school for public. At least at Jackson High she can escape some of the scrutiny that comes from being Peyton’s sister, and distance herself from her brother’s creepy ex-addict friend Ames. It’s at Jackson that she meets bold Layla and her dreamy musician brother Mac, and embarks on a journey of self discovery that includes, but is not limited to:  taking lessons in French fry etiquette, riding a secret carousel, donning the image of a mysterious saint, standing up to her take-no-prisoners-mom, and falling deeply in love. It is only when the worst happens that Sydney is able to uncover the best of herself. This latest offering from Sarah Dessen will be no doubt embraced by her legion of devotees, while new fans will quickly be drawn into her polished, quietly powerful orbit by her trademark Everygirl heroine and quirky secondary characters who steal both scenes and hearts in every chapter. As for me, seasoned Dessen reader that I am, this will always be the book where I discovered that Sarah Dessen LOVES THE REAL HOUSEWIVES FRANCHISE AS MUCH AS I DO. Sydney’s preferred method of escape  is to watch a reality TV show that is clearly based on the RH. And the particulars were just WAY too detailed for Dessen to just have a passing knowledge of Kyle, NeNe and Bethany. That alone was worth the price of a hardcover :)

Sweet by Emmy Laybourne

2015
05.14



Laurel should be grateful that her best friend Viv’s wealthy dad footed the bill for the two of them to join the SOLU luxury cruise. After all, the producers of the brand new sweetener promise that anyone who sprinkles it on their cereal will drop 5% of their body weight in the first week, and even though Laurel has come to terms with her size 14 jeans, Viv is convinced that they both need to lose at least a dress size. So Laurel agrees to go, even though she secretly thinks that she and Viv look just fine the way they are. Soon they are partying with the likes of Tom Fiorelli, a hot teen celebrity spokesperson who wants to become the next Ryan Seacrest, and downing SOLU like water at every meal. Well, at least Viv is. Laurel is too seasick to eat anything for the first few days and by then, it’s clear that SOLU works, maybe a little too well. Laurel notices that within hours,  all newly thin Viv wants to eat is SOLU. In fact, the fake sweetener is so addictive that soon everyone that has been eating it craves more. And when there isn’t any more, they begin to turn on each other in order to get their fix–in blood. The only ones who remain sane are those who never developed the craving, including Laurel, Tom and a few smart crew members. Now it’s up to them to ditch the cruise and warn the world that the greatest weight loss drug ever created has fatal side effects. There’s only one problem: the passengers are hungry. And the chance that Laurel and Tom will escape the ship with their lives is slim to none. But they have to try, because when it comes to SOLU, slim is better than DEAD! This highly entertaining dietary horror story manages to be compulsively readable while also imparting serious messages about identity, body image and the drug industry. If you like humor/horror mashups like Scream or Shaun of the Dead, then you will devour SWEET. Skip the latest dystopian blah blah, THIS should be the first book to grace your beach bag this summer. Get ready to become addicted when SWEET comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you June 2015.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

2015
05.04



“Food tasted better in Fairfold, people said, infused as it was with enchantment. Dreams were more vivid. Artists were more inspired and their work more beautiful. People fell more deeply in love, music was more pleasing to the ear, and ideas came more frequently than other places.” For the people of Fairfold, living alongside fairies is normal, and the many blessings they receive as a result helps soften the blow when an occasional foolish tourist disappears or turns up dead. Fairfold is where Hazel and her brother Ben have grown up, with artist parents, friends who are half fey, and the eerie presence of a horned prince who slumbers eternally in a glass coffin in the woods behind their house. Along with the rest of the Fairfold locals, they think they know how to navigate the strange waters of their town, know the right charms to mutter and the wrong places to stay away from. But then someone or something smashes the unbreakable glass coffin, and everything changes. The horned prince has awakened. Sorrow is suddenly stalking the homes and schools of Fairfold. No one trusts anyone anymore, especially those who have ties to the Folk who live under the hill. And guilty Hazel knows that it’s all her fault for striking that bargain with the fey so long ago. Now she’s going to have to try and make it right the only way she can–with a magic sword and just a little help from a new friend with a hard head and a soft heart. This captivating offering from renowned fantasy author Holly Black charms and beguiles at every turn of the page. Black drops clues like breadcrumbs that lead to a “holy crap!” twist about halfway through, revealing whole new layers to Hazel’s initial quest. Black also plays havoc with gender stereotypes, giving us new and  improved versions of knights, monsters and damsels in distress while still paying homage to the myths and legends of old. Boys fall in love with boys, girls fall in love with swords and heroes emerge from unexpected places. Prepare to be completely, utterly, thoroughly enthralled.

Dime by E.R. Frank

2015
04.17




“When I don’t have anything to read, I feel like a tortoise without a shell or a boat without an anchor. There is nothing to hide under. Nowhere to stop and rest. When I don’t have a book, there is nowhere good or interesting to be, there is nobody to care about, nothing to hope for, and nothing to puzzle over.” Fourteen year old Dime’s life with Daddy, L.A. and Brandy can sometimes feel hopeless. If it wasn’t for her books, she would never be able to imagine her way out of the life of prostitution that Daddy has forced her into. If not for Scout, Mandy, Charlie, Katniss and other characters from her favorite novels, Dime would drown in a sordid sea of dirty alleyways, anonymous hotel rooms and Daddy’s black silk sheets. She wouldn’t be able to withstand the loneliness of never being able to tell anyone the truth, or the fear that Daddy will actually kill her someday. Sometimes she wishes she was dead. But her books give her the strength to go on. Until Daddy brings home Lollipop, who is only eleven years old, can’t read and whose only understanding of life outside a hotel room comes from Nickelodeon.  And Dime realizes that stories aren’t enough. Now she has to leave her imaginary worlds in order to save someone in her all too real world. And if she’s very, very lucky, Daddy won’t realize what Dime is up to until it’s too late. Dedicated readers of this blog know E.R. Frank is one of my very favorite authors, and even though it has been ten long years since her last novel, her writing is just as rich and raw as ever. Dime’s brutal story is beyond sad, and often difficult to read. But her haunting voice and her abiding faith in the power of books make her absolutely unforgettable. Dime’s devastating story is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you May 2015. To read more about teen sex trafficking and what you can do to help (or get help), check out LOVE146, Womenslaw.org and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

 

Contact

Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict
swampophelia27@yahoo.com