We Are Still Tornadoes, Michael Kun, Susan Mullen

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I guess I must have subconsciously had a thing for novels told in letters, since this is the second one that I've read in the last month. Unlike  Ella Minnow Pea, however, I really enjoyed We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen.

The book details the first year after high school of two best friends, Scott and Cath. Cath has gone off to Wake Forest College, Scott has stayed home to help in his father's men's clothing store, and maybe start a band. Cath and Scott send letters back and forth sharing all of the ins and outs of their new lives; boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, family trouble, song lyrics...Both Cath and Scott had some major stuff go down in their lives-divorce, death-and throughout it all they managed to keep their friendship alive and kicking.

I think part of the reason I loved this book as much as I did is that it was set in the 80s, which is when I was in high school and college, and because I also had a best friend named Scott who became my penpal after he moved away in middle school. We corresponded all through high school and into college, and I consider it one of the great disappointments of my life that I managed to lose him somewhere between college and the real-world. Like Cath and her Scott, my friend and I shared all of our joys and sorrows and successes and failures, our goals and dreams, and had the kind of supportive friendship that I didn't have with most of the people I saw every day.

Besides the personal connection to the main characters, I also loved how the authors brought back the 80s through the offhand cultural references the characters make in their letters, especially about music. There are so many musical references to everyone from Michael Jackson to Joy Division that I had to go to my music library and evaluate whether I had enough 80s music (the answer? You can never have enough 80s music).

My only complaint about the book was the ending, which I won't spoil, but just know that I really wanted it to go a different way. The strength of their friendship was the heart of this novel, and I think that the ending turned it into something else. But despite that, I would still recommend this novel to young adult and adult readers alike. I think it appeals to both in different ways, because as nostalgic as it felt for me, the themes explored are still completely relevant to youth today.

Ella Minnow Pea, Mark Dunn

Monday, January 15, 2018

Like most readers, I am fascinated by language. The ability to create entire worlds with nothing more than some black squiggles on a piece of paper (or some zeros and ones on a computer screen) is magical and miraculous. Like many readers, I find myself drawn to books about language, and reading, and libraries, and bookshops, and anything word-related.  So when I picked up a copy of Ella Minnow Pea at a used book sale, I was just sure that I was going to devour every page and still want more. Alas, that was not to be.

Ella Minnow Pea is the story of a mythical island of Nollop off the east coast of the South Carolina, a place that was founded by Nevin Nollop, the inventor of the unique sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.", which contains every letter of the English alphabet and is the bane of typing/keyboarding students everywhere. The novel is told as a series of letters between the titular Ella and her cousin, detailing the increasingly authoritarian rules and behavior of the Island Council, which begins eliminating letters from lawful usage due according to which letter tiles fall off of the statue of the island's founder.

Obviously, the story was not meant to be hyper-realistic, but I found Dunn's world-building to be lacking. I suppose the events of the story were supposed to be absurd, but I found myself not able to take myself out of reality sufficiently to go with it. I didn't really believe that an entire island's worth of people would agree to abide by the ridiculous rules that were handed down. I did find some of the letters rather charming in their use of slightly formal, almost Victorian-type language, there just wasn't enough there there for me to feel anything more than casual indifference to what happened to the characters.

While the story itself didn't really do it for me, I can appreciate the skill that went into writing lengthy, detailed messages to tell the story with a slowly shrinking list of usable letters. Since the story was told entirely from the point of view of these two characters, who were bound by the bizarre and draconian rules of the island council, their narration of events had to successfully navigate around the outlawed parts of the alphabet. And these young ladies were not stingy with their words.  This feat of mental and linguistic gymnastics deserves respect, regardless of whether I actually liked or cared about the story. I can also see how a case could be made that the plot was a commentary on censorship and free speech, but it felt too heavy-handed.

My final recommendation is meh. If you, too, are interested in books about wordy things, then I'd say give it a go. If not, you should probably skip it.

When We Collided, Emery Lord

Saturday, January 13, 2018

For those of you who are new to my blog, it's probably important to know that I am a literacy coach at a high school in the south suburbs of Chicago. As a result, I find myself reading A LOT of young adult novels in an attempt to stay current on trends in YA, and to identify books we could add to the curriculum to supplement what we already offer. If you are a lover of YA fiction, you will definitely find inspiration for your to-read list here at Book Addict Reviews.

One of my favorite YA novels I read over my recent winter break was When We Collided by Emery year old should have to shoulder. Viv helps bring Jonah and his family out of their gray despair, and Jonah provides a stabilizing influence for Viv, at least for a while. Their love story spins out over the course of a summer, one that brings big changes to both of them.
Lord. It tells the story of two teens, Viv and Jonah, who unexpectedly find each other at exactly the right time. Jonah's family is dealing with the death of his father and his mother's subsequent depression. Viv arrives in the small seaside town where Jonah lives with her mother and a brand-new mental health diagnosis. Viv has a zest for life that is infectious and often reckless. Jonah is a rock for his family, taking on responsibilities that no 16

This novel explores themes of family, love, loss and mental illness with tender yet ultimately hopeful care. The brokenness of both Jonah and Viv actually makes them more, rather than less, beautiful as human beings. While mental illness has been a more frequent theme of YA books of late, Lord really focuses less on diagnosis or treatment and more on the kind of strength and perseverance it takes to live day in and day out with depression or bipolar disorder. She seems to really understand that rather than being a sign of weakness, living with a mental illness and having the quality of life that you want is a sign of incredible endurance.

I think this novel would be great to use for high school literature circles, or as part of a unit on mental health or coping with loss. Both Jonah and Viv experience the loss of a father, though in very different ways. Jonah knew and loved his father, and is constantly being struck by things that remind him of his father's exuberance, wisdom, and humor. Viv feels deeply the loss of a father she never had, the man who provided the genetic material for her existence but who has never been a part of her life. There are many youth who would be able to relate to the type of loss Jonah and Viv feel, and that could lead to some interesting discussions in a classroom setting. I'd definitely recommend this book for inclusion in any high school classroom library!

My Year of King: Carrie, 1974

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Finally! I started re-collecting King's books at the end of 2017 in preparation for my 2018 goal to re-read all of King's books, and there they sat, taunting me, until the new year. I am so excited to start this journey into the world of Stephen King. I've read his books regularly since I was a teenager, and I am really curious to see how my reaction to his stories has changed as I have moved from adolescence into middle age.

Because I am reading the books in the order they were published, Carrie was up first. This was also the first King book I ever read, so we've come full circle. Going into it, I wondered if I would still find it as engaging as I did when I was 13, or whether the intervening years would change my opinion. If I started reading King today, would I still love his books as much as I do?

I am relieved to report that I enjoyed Carrie as thoroughly in 2018 as I did in 1983. While I now recognize that it reads more like a young adult novel in a lot of ways than I did when I was an actual young adult, it still captured my interest as an adult reader, and kept me hooked even though I already knew how the story would come out.

The story, for those of you who have managed to avoid both the book and the two movies based on it in the last 40 years, is about a teenage girl named Carrie. Carrie lives with her religious fanatic mother, a woman who is so hateful and cruel it almost defies belief. Because her mother won't allow her to have friends, dress like the other girls, or go out to school events, Carrie is an outcast, ostracized and bullied everywhere she goes. After an especially heinous bullying incident in the girl's locker room (scene of many cruel incidents, both fictional and real), Carrie discovers that she has an amazing power-she can move objects with her mind. More drama ensues both at home and at school, culminating in the worst.prom.ever.

Carrie introduces us to a few stylistic characteristics that will become well-known to regular King readers (or Constant Readers, as he called us). Throughout the book, he lets you know that folks are going to die, and when. He creates characters that feel like real people, though they are less nuanced than his later characters. One of the things I love about King is how even his villains are often sympathetic, or at least conflicted about the evil they do. The good guys and bad guys in Carrie are pretty one-dimensional in that respect. The bad guys appear to have no redeeming qualities, and even when Carrie is literally destroying her entire town you still feel sorry for her. But there are glimpses into the types of characters he will write later, namely Sue and Tommy, the "it" couple who play such a large role in getting Carrie to that fateful prom.

Overall, re-reading Carrie has got me super stoked for book number two, 'Salem's Lot. I remember enjoying it, but that was before the Twilight phenomenon caused the literary world to be Carrie it will almost be like reading it for the first time all over again.
oversaturated with vampire stories. I remember very few specifics about the plot of this story, so unlike

New Year, New Look, New Goal

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

If my blogs were children, I'd be arrested for neglect. Over the last couple of years, I just have not had the time, or so I told myself, to keep up with my blogging. I was reading just as much as I always had, but I just couldn't find the motivation to keep up with my book reviews. I've always enjoyed it, but a new job and new family responsibilities left me with very little emotional or physical capital at the end of the day. Since I still like to eat and have a roof over my head, the things that had to go were the things unrelated to either of my jobs-playing music and keeping up with my blogs.

BUT, new year, new goal! Recently a friend asked me for a book recommendation, and in the course of our conversation she mentioned how she used to check my blog first, and she was disappointed I had stopped writing. I realized I was disappointed, too. I missed having a place to write about the books I've read. I enjoyed knowing that people were reading what I wrote, and finding new books to love-or new books to avoid! I missed taking the time to read other book blogs, something I stopped doing when I stopped writing. So, it's time to get back in the literary saddle! No more excuses, I'm going to set a blogging schedule and stick with it!

Since I've got a new outlook on blogging, I figured I needed a new look on my blog! Thank the BTemplates, and I couldn't be happier with the design. If I manage to stick with my goal
Universe for people who create free Blogger templates. I'm not quite to the point in my new blogging adventure that I want to pay for a background. The template I am using came from
and build my readership back up, I will splurge on a custom design!

And, of course, a new year brings a new reading goal. This year I've decided to re-read all (well almost all) of Stephen King's books, including the short story collections, in the order in which they were published. I am skipping the Dark Tower books, because that is a 3800-page commitment all by itself, and also the Bill Hodges series because I just finished it. I haven't decided yet about Doctor Sleep, Revival, or Joyland since I've read all of those in the last three years, but we'll see.

I already finished Carrie, the first book he ever published, so expect a post on that soon. I will also still be reading lots of young adult novels for school, and whatever books my book club picks, so it won't be all King all the time.If King isn't your thing, you can still check here for my thoughts on whatever non-King books strike my fancy.

The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Unreliable narrator? Check. Unique location? Check. Good guys who might be bad guys, and vice versa? Check. Basically, The Woman in Cabin 10 has all of the elements that made last year's The Woman on the Train so popular.

Lo Blalock is a journalist who writes for a travel magazine. The night before she is set to leave for a super-exclusive preview of a new cruise ship, she is awakened by an intruder in her apartment. The intruder gets away, and Lo is too unsettled by the whole experience to get any sleep. Arriving exhausted at the ship, she prepares herself to enjoy the plush suite and extravagant services available to the exclusive guest list. But then, in the middle of the night, she witnesses (or thinks she does) a woman thrown overboard by an unknown assailant. But when none of the passengers or crew come up missing, Lo is forced to question everything, including her own sanity.

This was a quick, easy, engaging read. I was sucked into the mystery almost immediately, though I feel like there are some loose ends that may have been meant simply as red herrings, but in reality seem like missed opportunities to make the story knottier. I've read so many mystery/thrillers at this point in my life that it's pretty hard to keep me guessing until the end, but this story did. Lo is actually sort of unlikable, which I think makes the fact that the author made me care about what happened to her an impressive feat. Overall, if you are looking for a fun, quick, relaxing-but-exciting read, you can find it here.

Small, Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Oh, Jodi Picoult! The author of "women's" fiction that some love to hate. Prolific, issues-driven, and earnest, every Picoult novel is a small exploration of some aspect of society, often with a ripped-from-the-headlines feel. Her emphasis on family, relationships, and feelings has been used by some supposedly "serious" authors to imply that what she writes is not "true literature". I think those literary snobs should take a long walk off a short pier, but it doesn't mean they don't have a point. Picoult makes sincere attempts to represent all sides of a topic, in ways that are thought-provoking and meant to encourage understanding and growth. Often those attempts work (My Sister's Keeper, Salem Falls, Plain Truth), and sometimes, well...

Small, Great Things is Picoult's BOOK ABOUT RACISM.  Just like she has books about SEXUAL ASSAULT and RELIGION and MOTHERHOOD and SCHOOL SHOOTINGS. Small, Great Things is about a black OB nurse who is caring for the newborn of a white supremacist couple, who promptly insist that she not ever touch their son again. When the infant has a medical emergency while she is alone in the room with him, she hesitates to provide the life-saving care, and the boy dies. The white supremacists promptly demand her arrest, and legal mayhem ensues. The book is told from the alternating perspectives of the nurse, her white lawyer, and the white supremacist dad. I found all of them problematic as characters.

I'm going to just come clean now and say I did not finish the book. I got not quite half-way through and had to put it down. I also want to say up front that I appreciate what Picoult was trying to do by offering this story, and I was glad to see from the afterword that the book is well-researched, as are all of her books. But research is not a substitute for actual experiential knowledge and relationships, and it seems like Picoult could have benefitted from both before writing the novel. Her main character, Ruth, is a black woman who has done everything "right" to try to fit into "white" society. She doesn't see it that way, of course. She worked hard, got a good education, is always professional, and tries not to make waves in her predominately white workplace. Her sister, portrayed as the stereotypical "angry black woman", thinks she's a sell-out, and appears to be proven correct when Ruth's white employers and colleagues throw her under the bus once she is charged. But the way both she and her sister are portrayed leads me to believe that maybe Picoult doesn't actually know any black women, at least not well enough to realize how stereotypical her characters really are. Neither one of them felt authentic to me; they felt like shallow caricatures of real people. This is often a problem when an author tries to make one character represent an entire, diverse group of people. The truth is that issues of assimilation, respectability policing, classism, and interracial friendships are way more complex than they appear to be from this narrative.

The white lawyer was also problematic for me. She is clearly the character Picoult herself most identified with, and felt the most true-to-life. But by making the lawyer's transformation to "woke" status so central to the narrative, it felt like once again centering the experiences of white folks in regards to racism, rather than creating a more nuanced representation of the black experience.

What finally caused me to close the book for good, though, were the chapters written from the point of view of the white supremacist. As a white woman married to a black woman, I have a slough of black in-laws, nieces, and nephews. It was just too painful for me to read the chapters describing the man's experiences in the white nationalist movement, knowing that those people exist in the same world as my precious family. I know there is a benefit to us as a society by exploring white hate groups; you can't fight what you don't understand. But to be honest, I was not at all interested in reading the justifications for hatred and racial violence that made up the early chapters of this character's narrative. He seemed to be portrayed as some hapless dupe who fell into the movement due to a troubled past, and while that may be true of some who make up the white nationalist movement, the truth is that the leadership is invested in fomenting racial tension to manipulate their followers for their own enrichment and power. I could not find it in myself to see the man as a sympathetic character. Maybe that's my own character flaw, but there it is.

All of those criticisms aside, I know that Picoult was trying in her slightly inept way to bring light to important societal issues. I will probably read more of her books. I am a believer that a clumsy attempt at doing the right thing is better than no attempt at all. I just hope that Picoult continues to learn about the experiences of people of color in America, preferably by building relationships and listening to black voices, and comes to a more nuanced understanding than is evident here.