Book Review: The Island of Dr. Libris

The Island of Dr. LibrisThe Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 24, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

What if your favorite characters came to life? Billy’s spending the summer in a lakeside cabin that belongs to the mysterious Dr. Libris. But something strange is going on. Besides the security cameras everywhere, there’s Dr. Libris’s private bookcase. Whenever Billy opens the books inside, he can hear sounds coming from the island in the middle of the lake. The clash of swords. The twang of arrows. Sometimes he can even feel the ground shaking. It’s almost as if the stories he’s reading are coming to life! But that’s impossible . . . isn’t it?

Billy’s mom rents Dr. Libris’s cabin for the summer. There is no TV, no computer and his iPhone is broken. What will he do all summer? Dr. Libris has an extensive library and with nothing else to do, Billy reads the books in the library.

Strange things start happening in the library as he reads and he is drawn to the island in the middle of the lake that is near the cabin. Once he gets to the island to explore REALLY strange things happen. The characters in the books he’s been reading are alive on the island! He and his new friend Walter, who’s family lives next door to the cabin, have many suspense filled adventures on the island with the characters. But how did the characters appear on the island? And why are they there? This is the core mystery of the book.

One thing I have to point out that I loved about this book is the fact that Walter is African American. It’s only mentioned when his little sister is described as having “chocolate colored skin, bright brown eyes and hair knotted into three braids.” It’s important to characters of color in books that are not about race.

I think this book will have a ripple effect on young readers. After reading about the characters in Robin Hood, Tom Sawyer, etc. they might be interested in reading the books that those characters are in. The author provides a reading list of books that inspired him while writing this book that would come in handy for young readers.

The Island of Dr. Libris is a fun little middle-grade mystery that both boys and girls will enjoy.

(I received this book courtesy of the publisher.)

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

Book Review: Don’t Let Me Go by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Don't Let Me GoDon’t Let Me Go by Catherine Ryan Hyde
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: February 10, 2015

Publisher’s Description:

Former Broadway dancer and current agoraphobic Billy Shine has not set foot outside his apartment in almost a decade. He has glimpsed his neighbors—beautiful manicurist Rayleen, lonely old Ms. Hinman, bigoted and angry Mr. Lafferty, kind-hearted Felipe, and 9-year-old Grace and her former addict mother Eileen.

But most of them have never seen Billy. Not until Grace begins to sit outside on the building’s front stoop for hours every day, inches from Billy’s patio. Troubled by this change in the natural order, Billy makes it far enough out onto his porch to ask Grace why she doesn’t sit inside where it’s safe. Her answer: “If I sit inside, then nobody will know I’m in trouble. And then nobody will help me.”

Her answer changes everything.

Don’t Let Me Go is a wonderful story about how a group of strangers living in an apartment building come together to help Grace, a plucky nine-year old girl whose mother is a drug addict. I absolutely fell in love with most of the of the characters, especially Billy. Billy is an agoraphobic. He used to be a dancer but he hasn’t left his apartment in 10 years. He is so sweet and so adorable, I just wanted to hug him close like a teddy bear.

I liked that the cast of characters was diverse. Persons of color are sorely unrepresented in the literary world and it’s always nice when a book includes some.

I listened to the audio version. The book alternates between Billy and Grace’s point of view. Chris Chappell narrates Billy’s voice and Cassandra Morris is Grace’s. I found it interesting that Cassandra read Felipe’s dialogue with a Mexican accent but Chris did not. It didn’t bother me but I wondered why the director made that choice. Cassandra did an excellent job of sounding like a nine-year old girl.

Don’t Let Me Go is heartwarming without being trite, truly a feel good novel although there are certainly suspenseful and sometimes sad moments. Catherine Ryan Hyde is a new author to me. She wrote Pay It Forward, a very popular book that was made into a movie a few years ago. After reading this book, I will definitely be seeking out more of her books.

(I received this audio recording courtesy of the publisher.)

Book Review: Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficut Dialogues on Race

Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on RaceRace Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race by Derald Wing Sue
Publisher: Wiley
Release Date: January 20, 2015
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Unspoken social rules determine much of what we say and do at home, at school, and at work with clients and coworkers. Often, these rules are good for society—they allow us to get along with one another in the world. But occasionally, these hidden rules have a detrimental impact, and in those situations the rules must be brought to light and eliminated. In avoiding this emotionally charged topic, we usually have good intentions—a concern for politeness, a desire not to offend—but Dr. Derald Wing Sue’s research has shown that we do far more harm than good when we stay silent about race.

This book does an excellent job of explaining why being “color-blind” is actually harmful to improving race relations. Sue also breaks down the concept of white privilege and why it’s important for white people to be aware of their privilege. However, the book is so repetitive that reading it becomes tedious. He cites his sources within the text instead of using footnotes or endnotes and this interferes with the flow of reading the book.

I didn’t agree with his section on communication styles. His source for the basis of his analysis was from 1985. I think more recent research into communication styles of different races would have been more accurate.

The last thing that bothered me about this book was the overuse of the phrase” brothers and sisters”. For instance, “Persons of color, more than their White brothers and sisters, are aware of the frightening implications of this expectation.” He used this phrase dozens, maybe hundreds of times. To me, it’s too touchy -feely or just plain weird for this type of book. A small quibble but one that really irritated me as I was reading.

This book has some great information but it’s overshadowed by its flaws. If it were paired down by cutting out all of the repetitive pieces., it would be a great in-depth magazine article. I think there are better books out there that make the same points as Sue.

(I received this book courtesy of Amazon Vine.)

Stitch Fix #9 – The One In Which I Kept It All!

Spoiler Alert: I kept every item from this Fix – that’s the first 5 out of 5 for me! My stylist Kalesa rocks! I’ve had her for three Fixes now I think and she just gets better and better with her choices for me.

Let’s back up. Have you heard of Stitch Fix? It’s a personal styling service. For a $20 styling fee, your stylist will send you a box of 5 items chosen just for you based on the style profile you fill out when you sign up. If you keep at least one item, the $20 styling fee is waived. If you keep all five items, you get a 25% discount on the whole Fix. You can choose to receive your Fixes at regular intervals (I get a box every 2 months) or just schedule a Fix whenever you want one.

First up is the Skies are Blue Nat Embellished Neckline Blouse:

Being a red-head, I love to wear green. And Kalesa mentioned in her note that the color would look great with my hair. That means she’s been looking at my Pinterest fashion board where I have pictures of myself wearing items from previous Fixes. (You can link your Pinterest board to your Stitch Fix profile and pin pictures of clothes that you like to give your stylist inspiration when picking your items.) I also love to wear sparkly clothes. I’m like a magpie in that way!  I love the jeweled neckine on the blouse and the deep green color. Perfection! I’m also wearing the jeans that came in this Fix. More about them later.

Next is the Fate Milani Colorblock Sweater:

When scheduling a Fix, you can  give your stylist ideas of what you’d like to receive in the next Fix. I asked Kalesa for warm clothes since it was still FREEZING here in Missouri. She delivered with this sweater. It’s so soft and comfy that I don’t need to wear anything underneath if I don’t want to. I really like the color blocked look. Another winner!

Now for the Pixley Leandro Chevron Stripe Knit Shirt:

Chevron is my favorite pattern right now and I mentioned that to Kalesa. I also have a lot of chevron clothing pinned. This top fits and looks great. It’s also really comfortable. Love!

Just Black Ankle Zip Skinny Jean

I’m wearing these jeans in all of the above photos. This is the zipper detail – it’s hard to see in this photo. I’ve received a few pairs of Just Black jeans from Stitch Fix and I love them. Very comfortable and their stretchiness makes them fit perfectly. They hold their stretch too – no bagginess at the end of the day. A couple of months ago I gained a bit of weight and increased the pants size on my profile. Well, I lost the weight and forgot to update the size on my profile so these jeans were too big. Boo! I emailed customer service to see if they had the smaller size. They did! I sent these jeans back in the handy dandy prepaid envelope provided with each Fix and had my new pair just a few days later. I love Stitch Fix customer service!

Bajee Collection Arturo Fleece Jacket

This coat was just okay and I already have a black coat so I really didn’t need it. However, since Stitch Fix gives you 25% off your entire order if you keep all five items, I actually would have LOST money if I didn’t keep it! So I did. I’ll either wear it myself or gift it to someone who will. Win/win!

So there you have it! Five awesome pieces of clothing that I didn’t have to leave the house to buy. I love the convenience of Stitch Fix and the fun of being surprised.

(This post contains referral links. If you click on one to sign up for Stitch Fix, I will get a small credit to feed my addiction. Then after you sign up, you can get referrals and credits too! I am not compensated in any other way for this honest review.)

Book Review: The New Indian Slow Cooker by Neela Paniz

The New Indian Slow Cooker: Recipes for Curries, Dals, Chutneys, Masalas, Biryani, and MoreThe New Indian Slow Cooker: Recipes for Curries, Dals, Chutneys, Masalas, Biryani, and More by Neela Paniz
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Release Date: September 2, 2014
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The New Indian Slow Cooker was not what I expected in a slow cooker cook book. When I think of slow cooker recipes, it’s something that I can throw together quickly in the morning, let cook all day while I’m out and about and it’s ready for my family to eat at dinner time. The recipes in this cook book do involve a slow cooker but there is a lot of preparation required beforehand and then the food is just in the slow cooker for a short time – I’d say the average was around 3 hours. I think the slow cooker is mainly used as substitute for a simmering pot that you’d have to keep an eye one, not for simplicity.

In the beginning, Paniz spends some time explaining how to set up an Indian kitchen including explaining what each spice is and why it’s used. It’s very informative and handy. At the beginning of each recipe she give some tidbits about the recipe – it’s origin, how and what it is served with, why her family enjoys it or something else of that nature. That knowledge will make me feel more comfortable ordering something other than my usual the next time I eat at an Indian restaurant. Also, after reading the actual recipes I will know more about what’s in the various dishes on the menu.

Although this book does offer some great information about Indian cuisine, it’s not for a busy person on the go. I would recommend The New Indian Slow Cooker cookbook to experienced home cooks – weekend gourmets who love spending time in the kitchen.

(I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.)

Book Review: Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate ChangeDon’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall
Publisher: Audible Studios for Bloomsbury
Release Date: January 6, 2015
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don’t Even Think About It isn’t a book about the science behind climate change; it’s a book about why people don’t believe the science behind climate change. Marshall delves into the psychological reasons why people don’t believe in climate change as well as why the current strategies to try and get them to believe aren’t working. He interviews high-profile people on both sides of the debate. His dry wit keeps the book from becoming too depressing.

I listened to the audio version of this book. The narrator, John Lee, has a British accent which makes sense because Marshall is British. He has a jolly sounding voice which also serves to keep the book from becoming too depressing. He did a great job of bringing Marshall’s wit to life.

Some have said that this book is preaching to the choir – that only people who already believe in climate change will read it. That may be true but this is still a valuable book to gain insight into what is going on in the deniers heads and how to structure the message of climate change in a way that might possibly change their minds. If climate change is an issue near and dear to your heart, then this is the book for you.

(I received this book courtesy of the publisher.)

Book Review: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

We Are Not OurselvesWe Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: August 19, 2014
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

We Are Not Ourselves is an epic novel, following Eileen Tumulty from childhood to her golden years. When her son Connell is born, the book follows his life as well. Eileen grows up the daughter of Irish immigrant parents and dreams of a better life. When she meets and marries Ed, she thinks her dreams will come true. He’s a very intelligent scientist who could go far in his field. Unfortunately for Eileen, he loves teaching at a small college and has no desire to advance and make more money. Later, Eileen wants to move from her neighborhood where she’s lived all her life because people of other races and ethnicities are moving in and that makes her uncomfortable.

Then something happens that forces Eileen’s focus from her dreams. (If you don’t want that something spoiled for you be wary of other reviews!) Her priorities are forced to become different. She wants Connell’s help but he wants nothing more than to get away from his family so that he doesn’t have to deal with their problems.

This book is beautifully written and doesn’t pull any punches. The story is told in alternating third person from Eileen and Connell’s points of view. they They’re multidimensional and have thoughts that make you upset with them and thoughts that make you sympathize with them.

We Are Not Ourselves is over 600 pages, which I was not aware of when I chose it. I was nervous that I would be wasting a huge amount of time reading such a long book. I had nothing to worry about. Even after 600+ pages, I was sad when it ended. I could have read even more about the Leary family. It’s well worth the investment of your time to read. Highly recommended.

(I received this book courtesy of Amazon Vine.)

Book Review: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

Jesus LandJesus Land by Julia Scheeres
Publisher: Counterpoint
First published in 2005
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Julia and her adopted brother, David, are sixteen-years-old. Julia is white. David is black. It is the mid-1980s and their family has just moved to rural Indiana, a landscape of cottonwood trees, trailer parks, and an all-encompassing racism. At home are a distant mother—more involved with her church’s missionaries than her own children—and a violent father. In this riveting and heartrending memoir Julia Scheeres takes us from the Midwest to a place beyond imagining: surrounded by natural beauty, the Escuela Caribe—a religious reform school in the Dominican Republic—is characterized by a disciplinary regime that extracts repentance from its students by any means necessary. Julia and David strive to make it through these ordeals and their tale is relayed here with startling immediacy, extreme candor, and wry humor.

I chose this book because my own family is transracial – my husband, my two boys and I are white and my daughter is African American. Because of that, I’m interested in hearing the stories of other transracial families. Good god – I’m glad my family couldn’t be more different from Julia’s family. Julia’s parents adopted her two black brothers because it was the Christian thing to do. It’s another story – this time true – of white people thinking that they can save the black children by immersing them in white society and not acknowledging their race. Julia’s parents are this and worse. They are “spare the rod and spoil the child” Dutch Calvinists. Julia’s mother is cold and distant. Her father, a surgeon, seems to be mostly absent. He is mainly mentioned in relation to beating one of her two black brothers as punishment.

The family lives in a small town in Indiana. It’s mostly white and the use of the n-word is common. David and Julia are best friends but even she distances herself from him when dealing with the issues surrounding his race become too much for her. To ease her guilt she turns to drinking and sex. David and Julia’s parents end up sending them both to a reform school in the Dominican Republic called Esculea Caribe, where life is even harder and more brutal than it was at home. I researched Escuela Caribe a bit after reading this and it appears that as unbelievable as the treatment Julia and David endured sounds, it was true. The school could get away with a lot more being in a loosely regulated foreign country than they ever could have in the United States.

Julia writes her story in a detached manner almost devoid of emotion. It works though because I think when she was experiencing these events as a teenager, she detached herself and became numb to the abuse just to get through it. Reading this book was like listening to the teenage Julia telling you her story directly. Much like The Glass Castle, this book was difficult memoir to read but I’m glad I did.

Book Review: In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

In a Handful of DustIn a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 23, 2014
My rating: 3,5 of 5 stars

This review assumes that you have read the first book Not a Drop to Drink and has spoilers for that book but not for In a Handful of Dust.

Publisher’s Description:

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already, and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through the community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on a daunting journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy feels as small as a speck of dust.

In A Handful of Dust is described as a companion to Not a Drop to Drink. I can see why it’s called that instead of a sequel. It takes place ten years after Not a Drop to Drink and easily stands alone. I tweeted Mindy to ask her if a third book is planned, since I’m pretty sure there is a law that all dystopian YA novels have to be part of a trilogy, but she said there are no plans as of yet. She has a new book coming out in October called A Madness so Discreet that sounds really good but nothing like her first two books.

Anyway, back to In a Handful of Dust. Lucy is a teenager now and has grown into the complete opposite of Lynn. She is social and trusting and naive because she has grown up sheltered and protected from the outside world by Lynn. Lynn hasn’t changed much in the past ten years. She’s learned to trust a small group of people but still assumes the worst of most anyone. This causes a fair amount of conflict on their journey, although they love each other a lot.

Along their way, they run into several interesting people and have some nail-biter problems. However, the pacing between these incidents was too slow. Also, the descriptions of what was going on in their down time became repetitive. It was mostly about how thirsty and tired they were.

The novel is told from Lucy’s point of view. She is more positive and at the same time, more unsure of herself and her choices than Lynn ever was so the general atmosphere is different than Not A Drop to Drink but not in a bad way. The last part of the book takes a deeply dark turn. I would have liked the author to have spent more time developing this section rather than on the journey to get there.
Overall, I think fans of Not a Drop to Drink will like this book and enjoy spending more time with Lynn and Lucy.

Click for my review of Not a Drop to Drink.

(I received this book courtesy of the Amazon Vine program.)

Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: July 29, 2014
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .

A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?

What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.

But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Madeline, Celeste and Jane are all moms of children starting kindergarten at Pirriwee Public School. Madeline is a flamboyant, flighty mom with no filter. Celeste is wealthy beyond comprehension but that wealth has come at a price. Jane is a young single mom. All of the other mothers have known each other for years making her an outsider when she moves to town right before school starts. Her son is accused of being a bully on the first day of school, making her even more of a pariah.

Big Little Lies is a mystery novel with several mysteries. First, who is the class bully? Secondly. who was killed? A thirdly, who did it? I liked the way the author did this because as I was reading and connecting with the characters, I had the added anxiety (in a good way) of wondering if any of the characters I had grown to love would be the one who was murdered. Because of this, I could not put this book down. I had a few almost sleepless nights up with this book. It’s the kind of book where I look up and the clock and wonder how it’s possible that’s it’s been over two hours since the last time I looked at it.

Interspersed throughout the book are snippets of the police interviews with the other mothers of children who go to the school. These mothers are minor characters and stereotypes of every kind of annoying PTA mom you can think of. That’s what makes the interviews so funny. They inject some hilarious dark humor into the book that keeps it from being too heavy. I find it amazing Moriarty could use humor so effectively in this otherwise serious book.

I have loved the other books I’ve read by Liane Moriarty (see list below) and with Big Little Lies, she has earned a permanent spot on my favorite authors list.

Other books by Liane Moriarty I’ve reviewed:
What Alice Forgot
The Husband’s Secret