The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

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Originally published in: 2014

What it’s about: Kolbert talks about how we (humans) may be orchestrating the sixth major mass extinction on Earth and the possible consequences.

What made me pick it up: I tried to read The Ends of the World and while it was good, I didn’t finish it. When I found this book available on audio I remembered it being similar in theme and highly recommended by Jon Stewart a few years ago so picked it up.

My favorite things: I learned so much about past extinction events (the ones before the dinosaurs) as well as the diverse evolutionary backgrounds of humans (I might be 4% Neanderthal). It does a great job of exploring how other extinctions occurred and why our current situation appears to be the same, if happening at a faster clip. It’s horrifying to think that more species than we are aware of are presently dying out without our knowledge, but honestly not all that surprising. Tl;dr – this isn’t good for humans either so let’s get it together.

Who it’s great for: Readers interested in the history of Earth. People concerned for the future of our planet and our species. Animal and plant lovers. Science nerds.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get this book from your local library or from Amazon.


 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

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Originally published in: 2007

What it’s about: An orphaned boy living in a train station in Paris where he steals food to survive and takes care of the clocks.

What made me pick it up: Abby said it contained a lot illustrations so it was practically a graphic novel.

My favorite things: This book is like reading through a silent film. The illustrations are breathtaking, and rightly so, since this was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 2008 for illustrated work. I don’t think I’ve felt so strongly for a character since Harry Potter. Now this is no HP but there are a lot of similarities. It follows a boy on his own as he makes friends and works to solve a mystery before time runs out all while trying to protect his secrets. Magic might be involved. This was heartfelt and also very fun. Plus it flies by so the 533 pages are done in a blink. Seriously, I started this after work and was so drawn in I finished it in one sitting.

Who it’s great for: Readers of all ages. HP fans. Film buffs, especially from the early days of movies. Those looking for adventure.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon(affiliate link).


 

Movie Review: Persepolis

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Originally released: 2007

What it’s about: Illustrator Satrapi’s childhood in and out of Iran during and just after the revolution.

What made me pick it up: I had read Persepolis and Persepolis 2, graphic novels by Satrapi, and was curious to see how they had been turned into a film.

My favorite parts: This was a very faithful retelling of Satrapi’s graphic novels, with pieces moved around in just the right way to tell it visually without it being dryly chronological. I actually think her illustrations work better as animations so I highly enjoyed the movie. It is in French as well (with English subtitles), so Francophiles can rejoice!

Who it’s great for: Readers of Satrapi’s books. Anyone interested in Iran, especially during the revolution and its aftermath.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get a copy of this movie on Amazon or from your local library.


 

Patina by Jason Reynolds


Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A young teen girl dealing with a new school and a new family situation while finding her place on a new track team.

What made me pick it up: I’ve been wanting to read something by this author for a while. When I saw this audio was available I placed a hold.

My favorite parts: As a former track runner I enjoyed the depictions of how important running is for a runner, as well as how much it is a team sport even though it seems so individualistic. Made me want to run a relay again. I also enjoyed how much this was a just a plain every day story about a regular girl and her situation and how she is dealing with it. It was incredibly authentic both in relationships and experiences.

Who it’s great for: Older chapter book readers looking for a good, but realistic, story. Those looking for proof that you can come through any situation. Runners and wannabe runners.

Erica’s rating:


Find this book on Amazon(affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

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Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A modern southern gothic story set in a contemporary rural Mississippi Gulf Coast community chronicling a family’s struggles with poverty, addiction, incarceration, and the ghosts of past injustices.

What made me pick it up: I read Ward’s early novel Salvage the Bones last year and was excited to pick up her newest work.

My favorite things: Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully written and almost painful to read from the first page. The climax, however inevitable, left me stunned and heartbroken – but I’m here for it. The saddest parts of Ward’s stories don’t feel like cheap shots or emotional manipulation the way writing sometimes comes across. Instead, it feels honest and necessary. I love the way she seamlessly incorporates ghosts and spirits into the fabric of this family’s life.

Who it’s great for: Southern gothic readers; fans of Beloved.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

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Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A teen girl who is working through the grief and guilt of losing her baby sister.

What made me pick it up: I was reading The Kite Runner when I just got really sick of what a fucking bummer it was so I went looking for a lighter book and stumbled upon this YA novel in audio on OverDrive. On double speed you’ll get through it in just a couple hours.

My favorite parts: I enjoyed the authentic depictions of various types of grieving and the discussion of and character arrivals at forgiveness. The relationships between all the teen characters were great, and very realistic. I appreciated the way it dealt with heavy themes in a hopeful way and didn’t feel like it was including horrific incidents just for show (looking at you, Kite Runner). It reminded me of Sarah Dessen novels mixed with just a smidgen of John Green.

Who it’s great for: Anyone struggling through something heavy who wants a break. Those looking for a quick, engaging read.

Erica’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Find this book on Amazon or in your local library.


 

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: Prolific author Brown tackles how to find true belonging by being your authentic self.

What made me pick it up: I love love love Brown and her works. She is a personal hero of mine and I always feel empowered and slightly shaken by her books. I recommend them to everyone so when I found out about this I grabbed it asap.

My favorite parts: This book was very powerful in a quiet, personal way. If you have ever tried to speak out and stand your truth and been ridiculed or worse, then you have an inkling of what she’s talking about in this book. Yet, she encourages you to do even more of just that. And if you haven’t experienced it, she makes the strong case for beginning. Being kind but fierce and living our truth are points she really hammers home but she has such a inviting way of phrasing that you’ll be thoroughly convinced and ready to give it a go. I may have teared up at the line “No one belongs here more than you.”

Who it’s great for: Anyone who needs a pick me up or a reminder that you are great the way you are. People who feel we’re too divided and want to find our way back together.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

White Working Class by Joan C. Williams

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A very astute explanation of the reasons for the class divide among white voters in America and how it can be bridged.

What made me pick it up: I had read White Trash and was intrigued by this one which seemed to be similar in theme, if not scope.

My favorite things: I appreciated Williams even-handed explanation of this divide and very easy to understand explanations of how and why the White Working Class votes. As someone who grew up smack in the middle of a WWC area I saw firsthand a lot of these beliefs and behaviors demonstrated both pre- and post-election in 2016. For those without a thorough upbringing or understanding of these folks this is a great read. More than anything I identify strongly with her plea that we pursue social and economic opportunity for all — which will work to alleviate issues besides class problems, like sexism and racism (to a point).

Who it’s great for: Readers looking to understand working class Americans and why their actions don’t always mesh with their interests. Anyone who needs a reminder that we’re all in this together, or at least we should be. You. READ IT.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon.


 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Think Winter’s Bone meets a politician’s pre-campaign book release and that’s pretty much what you’ve got.

What made me pick it up: Let me start by saying that I’m not from Appalachia, but I grew up in a much more economically stable (read: college town) community nearby. Growing up I was acutely aware that there was a sharp economic and cultural divide between families associated with the university and those from working-class backgrounds that had been around for generations. That is to say that I am not from the community Vance is discussing, but I have lived most of my life in close proximity to another part of Appalachia and have been consistently disappointed with the way it is represented and talked down to by people who want to ‘save’ it. When I saw the rave reviews for Hillbilly Elegy I was excited to read a voice from within Appalachia speaking about it.

My favorite things: Okaaaay. I did not love this book. I probably should have read reviews a bit more closely, but I wasn’t prepared for this book to be quite so politically charged as it is. Maybe I read it this way because I am inclined to disagree with nearly all of his conclusions, but it seems to me that Vance has incredibly little compassion for the members of a community he professes to love. Vance spends the first chunk of the book singing the praises of his hillbilly Mamaw and Papaw and then subtly, and perhaps not intentionally, turns toward a much more critical discussion of the challenges faced by these communities. What I am struggling with the most is that this book is being read and celebrated as universally true for people from Appalachian communities when it is definitely not. Vance’s Appalachia is comprised of people who would rather talk about working hard than actually work hard, suffer addiction due to poor choices, and are – apparently – all white.

Abby recommends: Look, everybody seems to be reading this book right now and many are taking it as a universal truth for Appalachian life and poverty. So, definitely read this, but then read bell hooks’ poetry in Appalachian Elegy.


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: An 11-year-old African-American girl named Stella growing up in a small North Carolina town in the 1930s and all the challenges she and her family and other African-Americans in her town face.

What made me pick it up: It came up when I placed another book on hold as a suggestion, but I can’t remember what that book was anymore. I’ll pick up almost any title with racial justice themes these days, so I think that may have played a role.

My favorite things: The language in this book is beautiful. I liked how just because it’s a children’s book it didn’t shy away from brutality and injustice to favor a happy ending. The depictions of bravery by young children like Stella, and family and community are very heartwarming and heart wrenching all at once.

Who it’s great for: Anyone interested in the poor treatment of African-Americans in the south during the Jim Crow era.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon(affiliate link).