Girl Power

I read these three books over the past month or so. There is a common thread of female strength, accomplishing self-love, and introspection in all of them. Meanwhile, they are all very different in their plot lines! They are here in one post considering so much time has passed since reading the first title and it makes the most sense for me to keep them together.

Luster by Raven Leilani is a book I saw on a list of top new reads. Unfortunately, my memory is a bit foggy on this one since it is my earliest read of this set.

Edie is a black woman in her early twenties who is trying to figure it all out. She ends up involved with a married, white man (not the first time), but this experience is much different. After being discovered in the man’s home, she slowly becomes part of his household. She loses her job and her apartment and is scooped up by his wife. She moves in to their home while he is away on business, and begins building relationships with his wife and adopted daughter. Throughout this very odd experience, Edie is trying to reconcile who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Her mother’s artistic talents are in her, but she struggles to let them take over.

There are so many other nuances to this book. It’s definitely a unique voice and plot about people and their eccentricities.

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch is Cleo’s story of righting wrongs. She is considering a run for governor (I think??? I finished it several weeks ago). Cleo is an extremely driven woman, with a strong work ethic while also raising her teenage son as a single mom.

A former high school friend decides to make a public admonition against her in an attempt to tarnish her campaign. Cleo and her good friend/adviser decide she should publicly address the accusation to make a point of showing her humanity to gain votes. They travel back to her hometown in Oregon so that she can apologize to her former friend and set the record straight. Doing so does not result in forgiveness, but it does bring Cleo back to her roots. She realizes how much she has in common with her dad, including keeping a lengthy list of regrets. She begins tackling many of these regrets, while acknowledging her own truths and those that affect her son.

Similar to Luster, this book becomes a journey of self-discovery while also affirming her role as a political figure.

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner is my most recent read, so it is freshest in my mind. Daphne is a plus-size social media influencer. She built her following and her brand after a potentially humiliating experience went viral. The terrible experience was the breaking point of her friendship with the very beautiful and wealthy Drue Lathrop. Drue was supposed to be her friend, but she was far from kind.

Everything is going along well for Daphne, until Drue suddenly seeks her out.

Drue is planning a very public, expensive wedding at the Cape. She asks for Daphne’s forgiveness and for her to be one of her bridesmaids. Daphne goes along with it, knowing that it will help her with the new fashion deal she is publicizing. Their friendship seems to be rekindling as the wedding draws closer. The weekend has the potential to be amazing, until Daphne finds Drue dead the morning of her wedding day.

Daphne works with her close friend Darshi and her new friend Nick to uncover the murderer. This is important considering she appears to be a possible suspect. Their sleuthing uncovers unexpected information, while also reminding Daphne that perfection is often an illusion.

This is a book that perfectly fits the beach read category.

Treehouse Ten

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff is my final Intermediate Nutmeg read!

Winnie’s parents are so competitive and spiteful of each other, that they decide to handle their divorce by splitting Winnie’s time equally between them. This leaves an odd day every week in which Winnie lives in her incredible, apartment-like tree house between her parents’ homes.

Her parents start trying to outdo each other during their days with Winnie, leaving her no time for schoolwork. She is in danger of failing fifth grade. She decides to make a stand by not leaving her tree house and soon her nine best friends join her for their own reasons. It is a standoff between parents and their children.

Everything seems great until they reach almost twenty days at a stalemate. Winnie decides to do what’s best for her friends, and ultimately herself. She finally attempts to get her parents to listen to her side.

The story is written as a collective “memoir” by Winnie and her friends. There are cute touches throughout the book which keep it engaging and fun, such as artwork, post-it notes, how-to sections (everything from how to build a sock lizard to how to make Cheetos marshmallow squares), news clippings and more. Elements of the story were a bit far fetched for me, but I guess there is nothing impossible these days! This story will appeal to young readers who crave independence and taking a stand against their parents.

Personality Switch

Restart by Gordon Korman is my penultimate Nutmeg nominee.

Chase Ambrose goes from star football player to amnesia patient after a nasty fall from his roof.  He can’t remember anything from before his fall, but his classmates sure do. He was one of the school’s worst bullies along with his two best buddies. Now he isn’t able to play football due to concussion protocol. He finds himself hanging out with the very kids he used to terrorize while still trying to keep a foot in his former life, all while trying to remember what happened before the fall.

Major changes in his character include becoming a member of the film club, as well as befriending a war veteran at the senior living facility. This facility is the same spot where Chase and his football buddies were doing community service for a terrible bullying prank.

His football friends think he might be faking the whole thing for his own gain. It all comes to a head when they devise a way to implicate Chase in another bullying episode.

Will he resort to his former antics or has he truly changed?  What caused him to fall in the first place? This is a solid middle school read including relatable topics and important themes such as standing up for oneself and making positive changes. 

A Wild Ride

We’re Not from Here by Geoff Rodkey is another Nutmeg nominee taking place in outer space, but it’s WAY out there!  Mars is home to Lan’s family, including his parents and sister Ila, along with the remaining humans after a catastrophe wiped out planet Earth.  Time is of the essence for them to find a liveable planet.  The only prospect is the planet Choom, which is twenty years away and is currently home to some unique species.  The Zhuri, giant mosquito-like beings, are its main inhabitants, but there are also the Ororo and Krik (there were also the Nug- more about what happened to them in the story).

By the time Lan’s ship finally arrives in Choom’s orbit, the new regime has decided that humans are no longer welcome.  Lan and his family are the only ones allowed on the planet for a trial period.  His family needs to assimilate to life among the mostly hostile Zhuri, or the entire ship of humans will die. Lan and his family have several close calls as they try to fit into work, school and daily life on the planet.  

It is a uniquely strange story about how they manage to find a few understanding beings and how a dangerous government and its media twists events to best suit their agenda.  Readers of science fiction along with anyone looking for something very different will enjoy this one!

Moon Mission

I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Barstow-Logsted takes place in 1969 with events focused on Apollo 11’s moon mission. The entire story is written as letters to Michael Collins, which started as a final school assignment before summer break.  Mamie is a character who is not afraid to be herself, even if that makes her stand out. She is the only person in her class to choose Michael Collins instead of Buzz Aldrin or Neil Armstrong.  Mamie decided to keep up the letter writing through summer vacation. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know who  Michael Collins was before reading this!

Mamie and her best friend/neighbor Buster are obsessed with everything related to the upcoming moon mission. During the excitement, Mamie’s family is going through some tough times. Her mom leaves after an argument with her dad, and Mamie fears this indicates a divorce. Her dad eventually leaves to win back his wife, leaving Mamie with her sixteen-year-old sister Bess. Bess’s only concern is her boyfriend.  Meanwhile, their older sister Eleanor comes by to help, but she doesn’t stay for too long. Mamie finds herself home alone quite a bit.

The story includes strong messages about true friendship, courage to not follow the crowd, and the essence of teamwork.  Every team member may not get the glory, but every contribution is crucial to reaching the mission’s goal.  This story lends itself to so many research possibilities- the time period, NASA and all the elements that go into a rocket launch, and letter writing to name a few.  This is a solid read for intermediate grades! 

Witchy Women

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman is a prequel to Practical Magic (and it is another advanced reader copy I received).

Maria was left in a field for Hannah Owens to find. Hannah is a practitioner of the “Nameless Art” and she begins to pass along her knowledge to Maria. Maria is a fast learner and a natural witch which she discovers is inherited from her mother Rebecca. Rebecca visits one day both to check in on Maria, and more so, to get Hannah’s help breaking a powerful love spell that she now regrets.

Rebecca’s visit sparks a terrible chain of events in which Hannah perishes. Maria seeks out her mother, but she seems to only have eyes for her one true love. Maria is sent off as an indentured servant. She continues to hone her craft during this time on the island of Curacao. It is here where Maria falls in “love” and becomes pregnant by the uppity John Hathorne from Salem.

Several years pass until Maria is freed and decides to take her five-year-old daughter Faith to find her father. Along the journey, Maria cures the ship captain’s son, Samuel, and they develop a relationship. However, Maria is determined to ignore fate’s warnings and continue her search for John. There is so much more, including Maria’s ill-fated reunion with John, her near hanging during the witch trials, her off-and-on relationship with Samuel, and losing Faith (in more ways than one).

I need to look back because I think I already read Practical Magic, and I don’t remember enjoying it as much as this book. This story was a solid page turner, and will certainly appeal to those who enjoy tales of witchcraft. I also enjoyed all the natural remedies which are carefully scripted throughout the story. Aside from witchcraft, this is also a story about understanding true love.

Next up: my goal is to finish the remaining Intermediate Nutmeg nominees before the school year kicks off! Adult novels will be on hold until then.

Forever Friends

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman is an early edition copy I received. I decided to read this book due to its subject matter around the Chernobyl explosion, which is a new historical fiction time frame for me.

The main characters are Valentina and Oksana.  They begin as enemies but grow to be lifelong friends due to experiences that link them together. Their fathers were both working at Chernobyl when it erupted. Now they are being forced to evacuate their town. Oksana’s mother is sent to a hospital for radiation leaving Oksana with nobody to care for her. Valentina’s mother decides to take her with them. This sets the girls off on a new path living with Valentina’s grandmother (whom she has never met) in Leningrad.

Family history becomes a parallel story throughout the book, as “new” character Rifka is sent away from her mother and young brothers to escape the German soldiers during WWII. Eventually, the two stories’ connection is understood.

The plot is mostly engaged with the girls’ struggles and changes. But, I found it interesting to read about how the explosion was at first kept hidden. There are also tidbits about how they treated radiation exposure such as drinking milk, eating cucumbers, taking iodine pills, and staying low to the ground to name a few. For many, the exposure was too high for these remedies to work.

Sensitive topics of religious discrimination, physical abuse, and alcoholism are present. These topics are balanced by friends who become family with a message of being strong, kind, and generous.  It is a jump into a time period that may be unfamiliar to some, which can be a gateway to nonfiction about the place and time.

In the Details

Framed by James Ponti is another Intermediate Nutmeg Nominee to check off my reading list. The story begins with main character Florian being  kidnapped, before backtracking to the events leading up to this moment. 

Florian just moved to Washington with his parents. He is quite brilliant, owing much of his intelligence to TOAST (Theory of All Small Things). Basically this means he pays close attention to the small details in order to better understand the bigger picture. His new neighbor Margaret bonds with him over TOAST, and they use it to analyze people.

This is what gets them involved in a case of stolen artwork from their local museum.  Florian’s  attention to detail gets him recognition from the FBI and from the bad guys.  He is asked to be a covert asset to the FBI and goes through undercover training.  Unfortunately, he may not be as hidden as he thought.  Readers will find out how/why the head of the Ukrainian cartel kidnapped Florian, and if the true art robbers will be caught.

I appreciated this book’s clear plot and writing style. I think the story can lead to fun conversations and observation/writing exercises for kids to try TOAST in real life. 

Humanity

A box full of reading!

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman is a unique tale of a bank robbery gone amok, and so much more.  It is an advanced reader’s copy that I recently received in the mail. I chose this book from the box first because I remember enjoying A Man Called Ove (another title by this author).

We learn a bit about the bank robber’s background to understand what drove him/her to resort to robbery.  When the robbery gets botched, he/she inadvertently ends up running into an apartment’s open house event, which turns the robbery into a hostage situation.

Officers Jack and his dad Jim are on the case.  Jack is working hard to prove himself, but it seems that every witness is intent on giving him the run around. 

We discover more about the officers, while each person/couple viewing the apartment has their own tale to share too (some more riveting than others). I was most interested in Zara, an extremely wealthy banker who attends these open houses to see what the other half live like.  In actuality, she is haunted by a man who jumped to his death from a local bridge years ago. Unfortunately, we never get to read the note that she carries around in her purse.  The same man on the bridge has impacted police officer Jack and hostage Estelle.  Life connects us in unknown ways.

The characters’ interactions are both comical and poignant.  Oddly, I had a sense of the movies “Clue” and “The Breakfast Club,” in that strangers are brought together with a farcical element. Yet, among the comedy and idiocy is a serious note: a message of second chances, humanity and grace. 

Haunted Happenings

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie is another Intermediate Nutmeg nominee fitting the spooky category. Tessa’s family (mom, dad and little brother Jonah) moved from Florida to Chicago for her dad’s new job. Everything is different, especially their creepy, old house. 

Strange things start happening the very first night there.  Tessa hears strange noises, has random drawings appear in her sketch book, and her brother’s creepy doll seems to watch her (among other ghostly events).  Luckily, she manages to connect to a group of new friends who are willing to help her figure out the ghost’s message.  Andrew, along with twins Nina and Richie, join forces with Tessa to get to the bottom of the haunted house.  In doing so, they cause a riff with their friend Cassidy who seems angry to have Tess in the picture. 

Similar to a Scooby Doo episode, the gang goes out to solve the ghostly mystery which takes them on a search into the library, local cemetery (chase scene minus the music! lol) and secret places in Tessa’s home.  Eventually Tessa is able to figure out the cause of her ghost’s anguish.  

This book is a creepy mystery for grades 3-5 showcasing the undeniable strength provided by friends.