Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The is a celebration of America, its diversity, and its flag.

What made me pick it up: I really like this illustrator, Kadir Nelson — he did Henry’s Freedom Box and If You Plant a Seed although I didn’t realize that until I got the book. It must have been reviewed well somewhere or sounded intriguing, so I placed a hold on it.

My favorite things: The illustrations are beautiful! Combined with the spare prose this is a powerful book. It really conveys the message of the American flag across history and throughout the vastness of the country, its people, and its customs. I enjoyed such a simple, yet positive, message.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who needs a small reminder of why America is great, especially when it might not feel that way. Readers who enjoy great illustrations and want to feel briefly that they are in an art gallery while reading a book.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book on Amazon or in your local library.


 

What Erica Has On Hold

To Download

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper because I had someone tell me they were his favorites from childhood and I’d never heard of them.
To Provence with Love by T.A. Williams because I am all about everything France.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith because a coworker told me she thought I’d identify strongly with it.
Second Star to the Right by Mary Alice Monroe because Peter Pan.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho because my friend said she loved it and I haven’t read it.
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande because I’m all about lists.
Give and Take by Adam Grant because it’s about giving and I’m a huge fan of Grant.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue because Oprah said so.
My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul because book about books.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore because women in science.
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace because female empowerment.
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn because Jane Austen and sci-fi.
The Liberal Redneck Manifesto by Trae Crowder because I’m curious.
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan because I grew up a stone’s throw from Ontario and I wish we cared for these amazing ecosystems as we should.
The Rules Do No Apply by Ariel Levy
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon because movie and good press and I read The Sun Is Almost a Star and it was pretty good.
Word by Word by Kory Stamper because words.
Blockade Billy by Stephen King because it’s short and about baseball and I’ve never actually read it.

In Print

Beartown by Fredrik Backman because I like his other stuff.
Whereas by Layli Long Soldier because Native American poetry.
White Working Class by Joan C. Williams because I read White Trash and am just on a jaunt on that subject.

Picture books Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus, The Banana-leaf Ball by Katie Milway, This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek, and Sea Otter Heroes by Patricia Newman because they looked interesting and also ‘merica, play, otters, and Scotland.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell

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Originally published in: 2013

What it’s about: COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg considers her own experiences and gives advice for women on investing fully in career and life. You can also read Erica’s review of Sandberg’s later book Option B.

What made me pick it up: I’ve been meaning to check it out for a while and the audiobook was available to check out.

My favorite things: Some will argue that this is geared only toward certain women, but Sandberg does a great job of identifying her own privileges and trying to adapt her advice to women who may not have the same opportunities. She also encourages women to fully commit to whatever decisions they make even if they aren’t the same ones she would make.

Who it’s great for: Women looking for advice on career and life or insight into one woman’s rise to the top. Readers who enjoyed Sandberg’s later book, Option B.

Abby’s rating: three-shells


Find this book at Amazon or in your local library.


 

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: In this second book of the Lowriders in Space series, three friends close their garage and journey to the center of the earth to rescue their cat, Genie, from Mitlantecuhtli the Aztec god of the underworld.

What made me pick it up: This was recommended and lent to me by a coworker.

My favorite things: Camper’s liberal use of Spanish vocabulary (with translation in footnotes and a glossary at the end of the book) adds depth to the story. The translations appear after only the first time each Spanish word appears and I appreciated the assumption that the readers are capable of learning terms that might be new to them. The art, making use of only blue, red, and black, is fun and engaging and has the feel of something that might have started as a (very impressive) doodle.

Who it’s great for: Tweens looking for a fun adventure with a bit of mythology thrown in the mix.

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


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Unbound by Ann E. Burg

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A family who escaped slavery and their journey to join the colony of maroons in the middle of Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp to live freely.

What made me pick it up: A coworker came down to tell me she was working on her book talk for it and I realized I had read the author’s previous work (Serafina’s Promise) and love a novel in verse so I took it from her when she offered and checked it out.

My favorite things: This book is powerful. The verse nature of the writing makes it go very quickly. The first-person narration helps bring to life the experience of slavery for Grace. As someone who once was a nine-year-old who had trouble keeping her thoughts in her head and not saying whatever she thought, it really brought home how that once had much worse consequences. I could relate to all of Grace’s emotions — especially guilt. Even though you are fairly certain of the outcome, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat read as Grace and her family flee for their lives.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to learn more about a lesser known group of runaway slaves/slave settlement. Readers who want an emotional portrayal of the slavery and runaway experience.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


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


 

Witch, Please

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First released in:  2015

What it’s about: Feminist scholars Hannah and Marcelle re-read and watch all of the Harry Potter books and films and tear them apart. With love.

What made me tune in: There was no chance I would pass up a podcast with both the perfect premise and the perfect name.

My favorite things: If you love something, rip it to shreds. Or, that seems to be the guiding idea behind this podcast. Hosts Hannah and Marcelle rejoice in the strong characters and engaging storytelling that make Harry Potter what it is, but still aren’t afraid to challenge various aspects of the books and films that are problematic. I think my favorite recurring segment is the one where they consider that Harry’s narration may be unreliable and that the story should be read with a grain of salt. A very big grain of salt.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who loves the Harry Potter stories but has struggled with some of the details. If you’ve tuned in to listen to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text you might enjoy the way this podcast approaches the books from a new angle.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


Find it for free wherever you access your podcasts. Or here.


 

Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power by Jennifer Hamburg

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This post contains affiliate links.

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Third grader Hazy starts having premonitions about what will happen the next day and the results of her trying to use those fuzzy visions to prevent (or maybe cause) catastrophe.

What made me pick it up: I saw it recommended a couple times by our children’s librarians for reader’s advisory requests. I looked into it and thought it might be something my soon-to-be third grade niece might like for Christmas so I placed a hold on it and read it as a gift preview.

My favorite things: This book is really fun. I like giving my niece books that contain characters that get up to high jinks but really only have good intentions. Previously I gifted her The Astounding Broccoli Boy and this is similar in tone. I liked Hazy’s realistic relationships with siblings, parents, and friends. It nailed being a third grader and all the complications that can come with that. It also has a good acceptance of self and others story line. I look forward to future Hazy books.

Who it’s great for: Third graders. Kids who stumble and blunder their way through sometimes. Readers looking for tiny adventures.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find a copy of this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

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This post contains affiliate links.

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: After a horrendously neglectful and abusive childhood with their movie star mother, the three Sunshine Sisters are brought back together to deal with her impending death.

What made me pick it up: Jane Green is just the right level of fiction for me. Not terribly literary but not too fluffy either. I had previously read Summer Secrets and seen her speak and enjoyed both so I definitely keep an eye on her upcoming to her books now.

My favorite parts: Yes, there are love stories and mostly happy endings but there is real drama in this book as well. The damage of their childhood affects each sister differently, but definitely has negative consequences in their adult lives both in how they deal with their trauma but also in how they support or fail each other. I always appreciate personal transformations through adversity and all three of the sisters go through this in one way or another.

Who it’s great for: Readers looking for chick lit or romance with a little more substance. Fans of domestic fiction and family stories.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Marlena by Julie Buntin

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Fifteen-year-old Cat is uprooted from her middle-class suburban life and finds herself a member of the rural poor. She fills her days with Marlena, the neighbor with whom she develops a teenage friendship defined by wildness, loss, and addiction.

What made me pick it up: I heard a review of this on a podcast and was immediately intrigued.

My favorite things: The story is told through both reflections by an adult Cat still struggling to make sense of her time with Marlena, and by teenage Cat as she experiences the life-defining friendship. Cat’s two voices weave together to seamlessly to illustrate the desperation and urgency of her friendship with Marlena. Bonus: the whole time I was reading I had that one Wallflowers song playing in my head.

Who it’s great for: This is a good choice for fans of Elena Ferrante or readers looking for something with a similar feel to Winter’s BoneThe Lovely Bones, or History of Wolves.

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


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Set in the politically charged late 1960s Chicago, a young girl struggles to solve the mystery behind the death of her strange and alluring upstairs neighbor. She lives her life through monsters and horror films, desperately trying to escape the reality of her family’s struggles and her own outcast status.

What made me pick it up: I read a preview of this that made it sound incredible. (It was.)

My favorite things: First, let me just say that I was so pleased to find “Book One” written on the spine because this volume opens up far too many threads to close. The story is mysterious, heavy, exciting, and grim, and it pulls you in from the beginning. The art is made up of these beautifully crosshatched panels made up to look like the notebook of a young girl, and Ferris effortlessly recreates classic works of art in her own style.

Who it’s great for: Fans of graphic novels looking for monsters, murder, mystery, or history.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.