Some Kind of Happiness

13260524by Claire Legrand
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

This was recommended to me last summer and this book impressed me with every page! The writing breaks your heart or makes you laugh with each chapter!

Finley Hart is facing the worst summer of her life. Her parents are sending her to her father’s estranged side of the family while they “work things out.” (Finley knows what that means.) Meeting her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all at once and then staying with them for three months is not her idea of fun. Her only escape is the Everwood–stories she’s been writing about a magical forest for years. But she didn’t expect the Everwood to be real, and right behind her grandparents’ house. And she didn’t expect her cousins to be knights or the neighbor boys to be pirates. Suddenly her summer of adventure might be fun! If the secret darkness inside her doesn’t destroy it all.

Finley’s struggle to hide her anxiety and depression is just heartbreaking. The girl who reads all the time, who does crossword puzzles with her father, still doesn’t have words to understand the heavy sadness inside her that can make getting out of bed feel impossible. She knows she’s lucky, she has family, a place to live, food to eat–she should feel happy! Everyone else does, what is wrong with her? So she writes and writes and writes trying to find out.

Understanding herself through her stories is such a cathartic experience and it doesn’t present everything as “fixed” in the end. There’s new truths, and hope, and ways to help herself get through her “blue days” but the blue days aren’t going away. For anyone facing these feelings, it’s a good reminder that you aren’t broken.

All of this is the underlying theme of the book, but the main story is about Finley finding her family, and uncovering dark secrets in the past that led to the rifts in the present. How bringing these things to light is the only way to heal, even if it’s painful. There are so many moments of warmth and just as many arguments that hit your vulnerable parts in the way only family members can.  An emotionally messy portrait of the only kind of family there is: an imperfect one.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Some Kind of Happiness is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – Emmaline is one of many sick children staying in the countryside during the war. But she is the only one who can see the winged horses in the manor’s mirrors. When the Horse Lord sends an injured white horse named Foxfire to her world for protection, Emmaline must brave her fears to keep it safe. See my review here.
  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm – This illustrated story features children dealing with serious adult situations and how they can learn to cope with them. Sunny’s determination to know the full truth leads her to uncover many family secrets as she spends the summer at her grandfather’s retirement community. See my review here.
  • Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes – After surviving several terrible accidents, Maguire is convinced that she is bad luck and a danger to others. But when her mother mentions a family trip to Ireland to see their family’s roots, Maguire knows it will require getting on a plane–and decides maybe it’s time to stop isolating herself. With the help of a new therapist and a new friend also trying to complete some “therapy challenges” Maguire might be able to let go of the past to save her future. See my review here.

The Hate U Give

32075671by Angie Thomas
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 28, 2017

I don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said – important, powerful, emotional, hopeful – all of those things and more.

Starr Carter has two identities. She is one of the only black students at her preppy high school, careful never to present herself as “sassy” “loud” “angry” or any other stereotype that will make her friends raise an eyebrow. In her neighborhood, she’s Big Mav’s daughter who works at the store, “too snobby” to hang out at parties or date any guys. (Her boyfriend is Chris–rich, white, and definitely a secret). When she does go to a neighborhood party with her friend Khalil, they have to leave when shots ring out. But on their drive home, a cop stops them–and five minutes later, Khalil is dead. Starr is the only witness to the shooting, and what she decides to say or not say about that night will have far-reaching consequences.

Although there are definitely moments of humor, love, and hope, the overall mood is somber, as it should be. I suppose the pacing is unhurried, but it definitely captures the feeling that law enforcement is unhurried when you need them. When it’s your situation, the waiting is agonizing. Around all that, Starr shows us how her two worlds are colliding and it can be the best or worst thing imaginable.

The true strength of this story is Starr’s voice. Everyone you meet and every place you go feels so real you could blink and be there. I loved her, her parents, her friends (even her “annoying” younger brother). This story doesn’t pull any punches–I teared up so many times–and it’s something I will recommend to everyone.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Hate U Give is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – When Julia puts a graffiti mural over an offensive slur meant for her best friend, she’s shocked when her friend rats her out. Being expelled and becoming the only Deaf student in her new high school is another shock. This is a fun, fast read that deftly takes you to new turf. See my review here.
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – A brutal, unflinching take-down of rape culture in America. Alex Craft took vengeance into her own hands when her sister’s killer walked free, but keeping that secret becomes harder when star athlete Jack and preacher’s daughter Peekay befriend her during senior year. See my review here.
  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – An excellent and uncomfortable portrayal how insidious toxic relationships are, especially when it’s someone in your immediate family. Cassie is determined to put her abusive relationship with her mother behind her as she goes to college, but when her mother turns up promising a fresh start and the love Cassie has craved her whole life, she wonders where a second chance will lead. See my review here.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is caught between two worlds, trying to please her traditional Mexican American family, and trying to fit in at school. Both worlds give her nothing but stress: college apps, one best friend coming out to his religious family, her pregnant sister, her father’s drug habit, and her mother’s constant advice to lose weight. Finding her voice through poetry might be the only way she survives. See my review here.

When the Moon Was Ours

28220826by Anna-Marie McLemore
YA Contemporary / Magical Realism
5 of 5 stars

The trouble with reviewing a book of this quality is the fact that your own writing will be so inadequate you’re left using bland superlatives in an attempt to communicate the sublime experience you just had. It’s “incredible” “amazing” “beautiful” and really all anyone can take from that is “So you liked it a LOT.”

Yes, I liked this story a LOT.

This is magical realism at its most powerful. Miel fell out of a water tower when she was five and grows roses from her wrist. Sam is a bacha posh who paints moons and hangs them all over town. The two have been inseparable best friends until now, when they are seventeen and facing feelings that could change their relationship. Their growing attraction has to bend around Sam’s gradual realization that his identity as a boy goes deeper than the clothes he wears or the body he has. Miel has another reason for hesitance: the Bonner sisters (four girls the town views as witches) decide they want Miel’s roses and threaten to reveal all of her secrets—and steal Sam’s love away—if she doesn’t comply.

The small town is full of delicious, dangerous magic, and people that are all struggling to claim their identities despite the lies they tell themselves or the gossip other people whisper about them. Everything addressed in this story is handled sensitively and with an emotional resonance that will inspire you to see yourself and others in a nicer light.

That was the best I can do—add this to your list no matter what you normally read and let its magic unfold.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, When the Moon Was Ours is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby – Finn is horrified when Roza goes missing, just like the rest of Bone Gap, Illinois. He alone wants to keep searching for her several months later, despite his disgrace. He was the only who saw the man that took Roza–but he can’t remember his face. This story is filled with magical realism and heartbreaking truths about people. See my review here.
  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – Another story featuring bees and magical realism, this one takes place in the Southwest. Carolina’s family is spending the summer at her grandfather’s ranch, prepping it for sale. Her grandfather is going to an assisted living home (against his will) and Carolina is caught in the middle of her family’s drama. Then her grandfather’s story about a village, a tree, and magic bees starts to seem less like fiction and more like family history. See my review here.
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is only “out” with his mysterious email pen pal Blue. Both of them haven’t told each other their real names, but their growing relationship is threatened by another student who will expose their emails to the school unless Simon helps him land a girlfriend. See my review here.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Another story about learning not to spit on your roots–Gabi is Mexican-American and it seems like she is always becoming either too Mexican or too American for those around her. This book explores her senior year through her diary as she opens up to writing and dealing with the complex highs and lows of high school. See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – I love this magical realism story about a small town with a reservoir and two sisters–Ruby, who is everything, and Chloe, who looks up to her older sister. Ruby will do anything to keep her sister safe with her–even if it means bending the reality of their town and everyone in it. See my review here.

Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan

740082by Junichi Saga
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My lovely CP Ella rec’d this to me for Fox Story research and it was immensely helpful! Aside from that though, I just found it to be incredibly interesting.

Informative and brutally honest, this collection of interviews details life in a poor fishing village from a variety of perspectives. It was all fascinating, and made it feel like you were there. The sections are well-organized so that you can see how the different layers and branches of the town functioned together. Each section is short as well, as the person describes a specific detail of life. This kept the narrative focused and honestly, had me wishing for even more.

Anyone fortunate enough to get anecdotes like this from grandparents or great-grandparents knows the feeling of getting a sneak peek into the past. Not what a history book tells you or what a history teacher may have tried to instill (probably with limited success, bound as they are by the “Memorize these names and dates!” teaching philosophy). These are stories from experience, and they make you feel like you were there.

This period in Japanese history was a brutally impoverished time for most people, right before industrialization created wealth for so many (though these interviews express the dubious change in societal values as well).

I’m so glad this doctor saw the value in capturing these stories and viewpoints and I would love to see more books like this one about so many regions. I enjoyed reading this a few chapters at a time–it would probably be overwhelming to read in a few days!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Memories of Silk and Straw is available on Goodreads and on Alibris’ website here. (It is currently out of print, so secondhand stores are your friend).


Similar reads:

  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller – An interesting memoir about growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the ‘70s. There are moments of humor and heartbreak as she grows to understand her mother’s alcoholism and the social issues of the time.
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox – An anthropologist’s take on the quirks of modern British society that (in my limited experience) is spot on. Often hilarious, and definitely informative!
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – A really cute find I stumbled upon at the library! These stories are both funny and poignant, detailing her experiences in NYC in 1945 during a lively time in U.S. history.  Anyone who has worked in the service industry will find her snapshots interesting and relatable. Marjorie and her friend Marty were the first two women to work the shop floor at Tiffany & Co.

This Adventure Ends

27779275by Emma Mills
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

I grabbed this last year because it’s essentially my favorite color–I thought it would be fun (it definitely was!) but I did not expect to feel so connected to Sloane. I did not expect to feel like Emma Mills was calling me out on my sh*t. It’s a special book that makes you feel vulnerable, understood, and inspired without ever alienating you. So glad I randomly added this to my pile last fall!

But let me back up.

Sloane moves from NYC to Florida with her family for her senior year. She knows this would really piss off most seniors, but she doesn’t much care. She has turned “not caring too much” into an art form, until she breaks up a fight at a party and finds herself drawn into the dynamic and broken lives of popular twins Gabe and Vera. When a beloved painting from their deceased mother goes missing, Sloane makes it her mission to get it back.

Maybe I only connected to Sloane’s special brand of well-meaning earnestness that inevitably turns into awkwardness because it reminded me so strongly of myself, but I like to think the writing is strong enough to pull anyone in. It creates that wistful feeling that you wish you were friends with these characters.

This story revolves around the complicated nature of friendship, which is often overlooked in favor of romance. This one puts attraction on the backburner, choosing instead to study how you become and stay friends now that social media dominates the landscape (don’t worry, it doesn’t get all preachy about technology ruining Today’s Youth or anything). It actually just highlights how it’s harder to know if someone is your friend or just a follower, how you have a public persona and a deeply private one, and how you must reconcile those two sides of yourself. At times I felt guided along, but I did not mind.

What I really loved was the number of strained conversations between Sloane and everyone else. There aren’t snappy retorts and witty banter so much as the moments you feel you can’t tell the truth, so you give a one-word answer. You make a joke rather than addressing the real issue, even when the joke is terrible. Deflections rather than the deeper conversations. Finding ways to tell your friends you care without having to pull the words out. This book works hard in the best way—it’s a new favorite for me!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, This Adventure Ends is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – Another inseparable group of friends that you just want to be friends with (but possibly more so, because Magic). Blue, the psychic’s un-psychic daughter, joins a group of prep school boys to find a Welsh king in suspended animation so they can claim a wish. Or something. See my review here.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – Vivi’s summer in a beach town is already off to a great start when she meets the attractive and quiet Jonah. A summer romance, perfect! Because neither of them have intense personal secrets that could erupt at any time. See my review here.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – A co-dependent anxiety-filled twin must spend her freshman year of college apart from her sister, and decide whether her roommate’s friend can draw her out of her fanfiction world and into the real one.
  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – Another art-filled story of friendship–and rivalry. When Julia is expelled and becomes the only Deaf girl in a mainstream school, she throws herself into her art even more. But she unwittingly stumbles into a turf war and must figure out who is trying to push her out. See my review here.

Not Quite Narwhal

30312747by Jessie Sima
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 14, 2017

This little story is everything I could want in a picture book! Colorful, adorable, and full of narwhals and unicorns. I literally gasped out loud three times while reading this book, because of how adorable it is!

Kelp has never really fit in with his narwhal family and friends. His tusk isn’t as long, and he’s not a great swimmer. But then one day a current takes him to a beach where he sees strange creatures that look a lot like him!

This sweet story of acceptance is just delightful! There are some fun details tucked away on each page. A welcome escape for me that I’ll enjoy many times! I don’t often pick up picture books and definitely wanted to give this one a plug. I’m excited to see what the author/illustrator does next!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Not Quite Narwhal is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Percy and TumTum: A Tale of Two Dogs by Jill Hen – When floofy TumTum arrives in Percy’s home, he is not happy about everyone fawning over the new dog. But maybe Percy’s dislike is misplaced. This story is adorable, of course!
  • The Poet’s Dog by Patricia McLachlan – A dog saves two children in a snow storm and they spend a few days snowed in getting to know each other. Emotional and insightful, a cozy read! See my review here.
  • Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman – An illustrated adventure about one dad’s quest to get milk for breakfast and the mayhem that ensues along the way (including aliens).

A Conjuring of Light

29939230by V. E. Schwab
Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

The perfect ending to this series! I so rarely enjoy the last book in a series as much as the others, but this one hit all the beats I could have asked for. The end for each character felt right—probably because they all experience deep loss. Don’t worry, no spoilers!

This book picks up the instant after the cliff-hanger ending of book 2, which is perfect because I had to know what happened to Lila! She charges into White London to save Kell, and it is nonstop action from there. Essentially, Kell, Lila, Rhy, Alucard, and Holland must figure out if they can stop the warped magical incarnation Osaron before it destroys Red London in its quest for power. Of course, all the personal feuds and past history between them makes that task seem even more impossible.

Some of my favorite scenes in this series occur in this book! Lila in particular had me laughing out loud, and there are final revelations about magic in all the Londons that are clever and fun. It was probably important to include these moments to balance the relentless death and destruction. (Because it is absolutely relentless!)

Enjoy an excellent blend of dark magic, black humor, and awkward moments between these characters. It’s a bit faster-paced than the first two books and continues to build on everything I loved about the first two. Schwab stuck the landing and I can mark this trilogy as a new favorite series!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, A Conjuring of Light is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – A slow-burn story of dark magic in the wilderness of Rus’. One girl is destined by her mother to save her village from the growing power of the Bear. The atmosphere of this story is incredible and will keep a hold on you long after the last page! See my review here.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Because if you can’t get enough of magical doors in London you can read about Richard and how his encounter with the strange girl named Door sets off a chain of events that threaten everyone in the city.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A wonderfully dark story of a sorcerer and a girl with unusual magical talents that must learn to work together to save their land from the evil in the heart of their forest. See my review here.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – Even more adventures in magical futuristic London! Paige tries to gather voyants to her side as Scion’s threat grows. See my review here.

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