Recent Reads / 03

Hello!

Happy Tuesday! How is your week coming along? I had a wonderful and restful long weekend with my family—it was just what I needed, especially now that my winter break has come to a close! I move back to Brown today for the new semester; classes start next week, but over the next few days, I’ll be in non-stop rehearsals for my next stage management project: an all-femme production of Julius Caesar in February.

I’m excited for the coming months, but I admittedly wish I didn’t have to swap my young adult novels for course textbooks. I may not be able to read as much as I did on break, but I can at least share a few reviews that have been sitting in my drafts! I did a similar format back in the summer, and I loved how it allowed me to highlight a few favorites from my recent reading pile. What books have you read (and would recommend!) as of late?

Recent Reads 03[1] To start, anyone in the literary world would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about Angie Thomas’ stellar debut, The Hate U Give, at this point. It has been on my feeds since it was published last February, it continues to dominate the NY Times Bestsellers list, and filming for its big picture adaptation has already begun! Such praise is wholly deserved. While I felt it was a touch too long, the areas that plod – and there are few – are readily made up with dialogue that immerses you in every scene, an authentic and touching family dynamic, and a plot that speaks to the injustice of police brutality. This is a book that the YA community needed years ago. I’m only glad it’s found such a large following now.

[2] For middle-grade readers, let me recommend Greenglass House, a wintery, adventure-filled mystery from author Kate Milford. It was the first book I read this year, and I can’t think of a better note on which to start. It’s modern, yet timeless, charming, yet distinct, existing in a world where winter storms are reason to share stories around the fireplace, inn guests are not who they always claim to be, and attics hold trinkets and decades-old secrets (If you couldn’t guess, Milford has a way with atmosphere). You can be sure that my next snow day will be devoted solely to reading the newly released sequel, if only because I’m anxious to return to main character Milo’s story.

[3] Have you read anything by Emma Mills yet? If you haven’t, can we remedy that? I myself waited until this past Christmas to read a book from the well-established YA author, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t check out one of her novels sooner. Foolish Hearts, her latest work, is nothing less than pitch-perfect contemporary. Following narrator and high school senior Claudia as she works on a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it has a plot that had me grinning from beginning to end and characters that I want as my very own friends. If that all isn’t enough to convince you, grab it simply for the stunning cover. In short: love, love, love.

[4] Finally, another book I read on my winter break was Being Mortal, a thoughtful and sobering meditation on modern aging from surgeon Atul Gawande. In just under three hundred pages, he deftly switches from an explanation of nursing homes and current elderly care practices to recounts of his experience with patients nearing the end of life to finally, a reflection on his own father’s passing. At times, it felt intense, but that’s less a fault of Gawande’s skillful prose than a result of a culture that so rarely discusses death. If the subject piques your interest, I think you’d do well to read it alongside When Breath Becomes Air and What Makes Olga Run?. 

Have a terrific Tuesday!
Bella

Psst. In December, The Hate U Give was banned from school shelves in Katy, Texas. Fortunately, as I write this post, it’s back for students to read, but it nevertheless highlights how stories can be taken from and made inaccessible to the very readers who need them most. That in mind, and if budget allows, consider donating a copy to the campaign above and/or to your own local Little Free Library. It’s a book that deserves to be in the hands of high schoolers.

Recent Reads / 02

Hello, and happy Monday, friends!

What a weekend that was. I have the residents of Texas on my mind today, and I’m hoping those I know from the blogging community have found shelter and remain safe. I applaud the efforts of first responders and reporters covering the storm and found this list helpful for anyone, like me, who wants to send support from other parts of the country. A few other links of note, if you’re in the browsing mode (that’s what Mondays are for, surely :)): if you missed the bestsellers scam that dominated YA Twitter last week, here’s a recap; a guide to why pardoning Joe Arpaio is a horrifying move; and a newsletter addressed to the white population that I have found informative and to-the-point.

When I haven’t been catching up on the news and social media, I’ve been taking day trips across New England with my family; wishing teary good-byes to my friends (almost all of whom have already moved in); and reading the last of my library books – the plentiful reading time that summer provides will be sorely missed, that’s for sure! I have a number of reads I hope to discuss and review in some manner throughout the fall, but today, I thought I’d take a cue from Rachel, blogger at Elephantine (her site is an absolute gem if you want to take a peek), and share a small sample of the books I enjoyed this summer. Any good recommendations on your end?

Recent Reads 02[1] First on the list is Anthony Marra’s collection of short stories, The Tsar of Love and Techno. Set in Russia and spanning from 1930s to the modern day, the book is a lyrical masterpiece, asking questions of humanity, hope, and art among backdrops of war and failing industry. Alone, the stories are haunting and well-written, but when paired together, readers will see what threads Marra draws to connect the characters and their narratives. This was the freshman reading selection at Brown, and since I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to hearing the reactions of others too!

[2] Morgan Matson is without a doubt my favorite YA author (I’ve recommended Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour more times than I can count), but even so, her latest release had been sitting in my bookshelf for over a year before I sat down to read it. Why? Blame the always-growing TBR pile. Nevertheless, The Unexpected Everything was, quite literally, everything I’ve come to expect from Matson: a pitch-perfect story of friendships and romance and teenage summer fun. It’s a large book, particularly for the contemporary genre, but I, admittedly, didn’t want my time with Andie and company to end. Sneak it in before the summertime comes to a close.

[3] While I have far grown out of the middle grade audience, I still keep tabs on new releases in the genre, which led me to Ellie Terry’s debut – and novel-in-verse! – Forget Me Not back in July. The cover is charming, and the story even more so: Calliope June has Tourette syndrome, a fact she feels the need to hide until she befriends her neighbor. It’s a quiet read, but what it lacks in action is easily made up for in superb character development and strong writing. I read it in an afternoon, and were I not devouring a copy from the library, I would have a pencil in hand for underlining any and all passages that stuck with me.

[4] Finally, one of my goals this year is to take a more active interest in the authors I’m reading from; in other words, I’ve tried to diversify my choices, an effort made all the easier thanks to the slew of new releases from #ownvoices authors. Among them is sophomore novel from writer Maurene Goo: I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a sweet, hilarious romance that had me smiling from beginning to end. Taking inspiration from the rich world of K-Pop dramas, the story follows high school senior Desi in her attempt to find love and redeem her numerous flirting failures. If you need a little silly joy this week, this will certainly fit the bill.

Wishing you all a lovely week,
B

The Distance from A to Z: A Book Review

Hello!

I apologize for my mini hiatus – it’s simply been one of those weeks! Fortunately, I’m home from school today due to a wet and heavy snowfall, allowing me a leisurely morning of reading Jenny Lawson’s memoir, Furiously Happy, watching a few episodes of Scandal {my sister and I, as you can likely guess, are hooked}, and finishing up this book review that has been sitting in my drafts. What’s up for your weekend? What have you been reading?

The Distance from A to ZTitle: The Distance from A to Z
Author: Natalie Blitt
Published: January 12th, 2016 by Epic Reads Impulse
Pages: 316
Genre: Young Adult / Contemporary
Source: Author / E-Book
Series: Nope! This is as adorable of a standalone as it gets.

This full-length novel by debut author Natalie Blitt is a pitch-perfect blend of Stephanie Perkins and Miranda Kenneally that proves the age-old adage: opposites attract.

Seventeen-year old Abby has only one goal for her summer: to make sure she is fluent in French—well, that, and to get as far away from baseball and her Cubs-obsessed family as possible. A summer of culture and language, with no sports in sight.

That turns out to be impossible, though, because her French partner is the exact kind of boy she was hoping to avoid. Eight weeks. 120 hours of class. 80 hours of conversation practice with someone who seems to exclusively wear baseball caps and jerseys.

But Zeke in French is a different person than Zeke in English. And Abby can’t help but fall for him, hard. As Abby begins to suspect that Zeke is hiding something, she has to decide if bridging the gap between the distance between who she is and who he is, is worth the risk. {Goodreads}

A love of reading and a love of traveling go hand in hand – that is to say, not the logistics of the trip, booking reservations and plotting daily schedules, but the experience, visiting cities and sights outside of your daily norm. Trips quench one’s thirst for knowledge or new adventures with ease, but when a lack of funds or shortage of time prevent you from voyaging any further than your home state, I think a good book has a similar effect. My own wanderlust has long been fueled by the settings of novels I’ve read, whether it’s the cross-county road trip in Amy or Roger’s Epic Detour or the European tour of The Conspiracy of Us. Natalie Blitt’s first publication, The Distance from A to Z, serves as yet another testament to that fact, creating a Francophile out of any reader with its immersive setting. Through it, Blitt proves herself an equal to established contemporary authors, and, more importantly, it has me excited for the books that remain in this year’s batch of debuts.

Unlike the rest of her baseball-obsessed family, Abby’s interest lie more in language than hitting a home run, so much so, in fact, that she jumps at the first opportunity she gets to enter a French-study program. Abby attends her first class, only to find herself face-to-face with sports again: this time, in the form of Zeke, her French study partner and avid athlete. Romantic contemporaries often get a bad rep – the common complaint is that they’re too light and all fluff – but The Distance from A to Z holds weight. Readers looking for nothing more than witty banter {some in French, no less} and cute kissing scenes will take pleasure in Abby and Zeke’s relationship, while those who want a more serious contemporary will appreciate the discussions on social anxiety and secrets.

What talent Blitt demonstrates in the plot appears in her characters as well. She crafts them all with a realistic eye, a fact illustrated no better than the interactions between them. Abby and Zeke’s relationship grows naturally, for example – taking a cue from Pride and Prejudice, they start as enemies only to find themselves feeling something more – as does the friendship between Abby and her roommate, Alice. These relations drip with an intensity that is unique to adolescents, and, better yet, they show that love comes in a multitude of forms. In addition, the characters’ passions are central to their development. Abby’s love of French is most prominent, as she quotes lines from the classic Amélie, describes French monuments in vivid detail, and translates from English into French before she even realizes she’s doing so, but Zeke’s appetite for sports and Alice’s enthusiasm for poetry are just as significant to the story.

Just as Abby often felt alienated from the rest of her family, however, so did I when it came to connecting with the characters. Perhaps it’s only a matter of the format I received it in or the slow pace at which I read the book, but I was never fully invested in Abby’s story, nor did I find a point in which I clicked with Zeke or Alice. This is not a discredit to their development, only an observation that I always felt as if I was observing the narrative from afar. Similarly, because the entire story takes place within a New Hampshire summer high school program, it was difficult for me to imagine Abby and Zeke outside of their French classroom. In other words, I couldn’t picture a future for them, as I believe Blitt wanted her audience to do. Nevertheless, the ability to connect with the narrator changes from reader to reader, so whereas I couldn’t relate to Abby, that’s not to say that the next reader will have the same problem.

There is a wedding saying that begins, “Something old, something new.” Britt applies that same philosophy here, taking what is known to work in the genre and adding her own signature elements: an intelligent protagonist who’s in the midst of growing up, as well as obsessed with French culture; a funny, if cocky, love interest, who happens to have an interesting hobby of his own; a supportive and caring friend, who has her own obstacles to defy. It’s in the same vein as Stephanie Perkins and Jennifer E. Smith, but don’t be fooled: Blitt has made a name for herself. If anything, it’s a fun, fulfilling read for your next snowy afternoon – I say that, speaking from experience.

Have a terrific weekend! :)
B

Psst. If romantic contemporaries are your jam, here are a few more selections for you to try: Anna and the French Kiss, More Happy Than Not, Better Off Friends, and Just One Day.