Kids books we’re loving lately

In honor of International Children’s Book Day (which is today), here are some of the recent favorite kids books in our house.

The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston is so awesome. Two kids discover that the success of the Google type business in their town is due to the existence of a department within it run by monsters, and that department is in danger. It’s up to the two kids to become friends and save the monsters! It’s a great story that also features boys and girls being friends, working with science, and has a little “love yourself for who you are” thrown in with an interesting twist.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George is the first in a four part series about a magical castle that changes its rooms around every Tuesday. Celie is the youngest of the royal family that lives in it, and when her parents are attacked and presumed dead, she and her brother and sister have to defend the castle and the country against those who would try to take it away. Strong, smart, compassionate female characters work and fight alongside strong, smart, compassionate male characters, and individual’s talents are celebrated.

Ms Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera is just fantastic. Ms Rapscott runs a boarding school for daughters of extremely busy parents (so busy that the daughters arrive in cardboard boxes in the mail) where she teaches the girls practical life skills as well as lessons like “how to find yourself” and “how to get lost on purpose”. The characters are diverse and flawed and each grows in a realistic way. There’s lots of humor and the takeaway lessons don’t clobber you over the head.

Masterpiece by Elise Broach is a lovely story about a little boy who befriends a very talented beetle. When the beetle draws a miniature picture for the boy for his birthday, everyone thinks that the boy drew it himself, and he gets pulled into a tangle of lies and tricks as a museum curator asks him to help foil an art thief. There’s a lot of action and low key tension in this one, as well as real information about the artist Albrecht Durer and museums.

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder is a cute story about a dragon whose pet human dies, only to leave her house and her “house guest” to her niece, who believes that the dragon is now *her* pet. The little girl gets a hold of a magic sketchbook, and when her drawings come to life and begin to run amok in San Francisco, dragon and girl have to go gather them all up again. Told from the perspective of the dragon, it’s a nice twist, and the story is sweet and imagination provoking. There’s an undercurrent about grief which is quite effective, and it’s a fun story over all.

Villain School: Hero in Disguise by Stephanie S. Sanders is the longest book that Tiny’s ever read by herself (240 pages), and she loved it. She says, ” It’s about a school for villains. The main characters are good guys but they go to a villain school. In part of it they have to use a blueprint to figure out how to get past booby traps so that they can get to the girls’ dormitories. They want to go there to cheer up one of their friends whose best friend had to go to another school. Going there would cheer him up because you have to do a lot of girlie things to get there and it’s really funny. There aren’t very many scary parts in it, and there’s a part with a crystal ball where you tell it to do stuff and it does it. I think you should read this book.”

Pilfer Academy by Lauren Magaziner is the most recent book that Z read, and she loved it. She says, “It’s about a kid who gets kidnapped and taken to a thief school. He doesn’t really like it at the beginning but then he likes it and then he doesn’t. It’s complicated. The school itself was actually stolen from a Duke in France, and the boy and his friend have to return it to him. It’s very funny and not scary at all. There’s ice cream in it called Triple Diple Ultra Deluxe Melty Creamy Creamer Rainbow Swizzle Milk Munch Ice Cream. I would recommend this book.”

Playing Juliet by Joanne Stewart Wetzel was another big hit with Z. She says, “Playing Juliet is about a twelve year old who is in theater and wants to play Juliet. There’s lots of jumping out the window and sneaking places you’re not supposed to be at night. It’s highly enjoyable but not too long. It made me want to be in theater. I would recommend this book.”  For the record, the sneaking out is dealt with responsibly and the girl does get caught and in trouble for it.

Bake Sale by Sara Varon is a graphic novel “about Cupcake, who is literally a cupcake, who has a bakery and is in a band, but then he’s too busy in his bakery to have time for the band, so they hire a potato. I really liked this book. It’s in color and I liked the art,” Z says.

Mr Pants: Trick or Feet by Scott Mccormick and RH Lazzell is “about three kitties and their mommy who is a human. They want to go to the zombie walk but all of the costumes are sold out. Then they try to get to the zombie walk but they miss their plane because it’s snowing so they decide to trick or treat in the airport but Mr Pants only gets bread and soda cans while the others get candy. I like the art and it’s very funny,” Z says.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth  by Judd Winick is a favorite in our house. Z says, “it’s a book about a little boy who falls from the sky and he thinks everything is outstanding. He stays with another little boy and he enrolls in his school by putting a raccoon in the office and signing himself in. He’s trying to stop a bad guy and it’s really funny.”

Books I read this week: March week 4

These are the books I read last week. Most of them were library books, which doesn’t help me toward my goal of reading more of the hundreds of books I have on the Haunted Kindle, but it does help me toward the goal of not buying new books and my goal to Read Wide.

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero looked right up my alley- creepy gothic house, ghosts, potential family curse- it really looked like a fairly standard haunted house story, which I was totally up for. It ended up fracturing off into a totally unexpected conspiracy theory/treasure hunt/secret society thing that was even better than I could have anticipated, though I did end up wanting more of the stuff that came at the end. There was all of this build up and then once the revelation was made, I realized that I wished the whole book was about the stuff that was revealed, rather than the build up. But it’s a fun book, and I really enjoyed it.

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore is kind of half way between a memoir and a series of essays. I was expecting more of a memoir, so I was a bit thrown, (and honestly, a little disappointed because I find Barrymore’s childhood/ teen years fascinating and wanted to know more about them, but it’s her choice what she shares and I’m just being nosy) but you do end up with a fairly coherent picture of her life by the time you finish. She comes across as a very conscientious person who is trying her hardest to be and become who she wants to be. Considering that she was basically raised by wolves, she’s done extremely well for herself. My one critique of the book is that she writes like she talks, which works for some people, but doesn’t always work here. She can pull off some disjointed sentences when she talks, and you know what she means, but written down, those same sentences come across clunky or ding-batty. But for the most part it’s a really enjoyable book.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwen Akpan is a book I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up if I wasn’t trying to Read Wide this year. I tend to stay away from books that I know are going to be sad or painful, and this one is about children living in various perilous situations in different countries in Africa, so sad and painful are pretty much guaranteed. But I went ahead and took it from the library, and I’m so glad I did. It was incredibly sad, and quite painful to read, but so eye opening. There are short stories set in Nairobi, Rwanda, Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia, and Akpan (himself Nigerian-born) traveled to each of the countries to learn about the cultures, the people, and their struggles. Each country comes alive in its own unique way, and poverty, teenage prostitution, child slavery, and violent religious conflict come alive as well in a way that leaves you changed and unable to claim ignorance. Akpan’s goal in writing the book (he says in an included interview) was to “see a book about how children are faring in these endless conflicts in Africa. The world is not looking. I think fiction allows us to sit for a while with people we would rather not meet. ” This is why I’m trying to read wide this year, and because of this book my heart has been cracked open and it makes me want to get involved with groups like the new I Was A Stranger initiative and the International Rescue Committee. The stories are hard, but the writing is beautiful and I highly, highly recommend this book.

Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin was a nice step down from the emotion stirred up by Say You’re One of Them. It’s the story of a man who falls in love with a woman named Maggie (Margaret) Towne, who due to a magic spell, splits off from herself at different ages, so that there is a 7 year old May, teenage angsty Mia, middle aged Marge, Old Margaret, etc. They all live together in a place called Margarettown, and if he’s going love Maggie, he has to love them all. It’s part fable, part psychological study, and it’s lovely and sweet and sad.

Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou is the third volume in her autobiography, and my goodness, Miss Maya Angelou had an incredible life! I had no idea! In this volume she tours Europe and Africa in the cast of Porgy and Bess, advances in her career as a singer and dancer, takes the name Maya Angelou, and reunites with her beloved son. This was interesting to read right after Margarettown because Maya Angelou is the epitome of changing names- she’s Maguerite, Rita, Maya, and more, and that’s just in this book. This was an exceptional read.

Books I read this week: February week 4-March week 3

I’ve been reading a lot and not writing a lot, so I’m a bit behind. This month’s worth of books are kind of all over the place, but they were all really good reads.

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton is the sequel to her excellent The Just City. It continues the story of Athena’s grand experiment to create Plato’s Republic with people pulled from throughout time, as the Just City has splintered into separate groups. Each group wants to create their own version of the Republic, and things go fairly well until people are killed in raids over art. Apollo incarnate and his children go out to investigate, and so many ideas about responsibility, fate, agency, art, grief, and so much more are explored in this book. The story is great, the ending is the best kind of out of nowhere (I’m thrilled that there will be a third book), and the ideas are thought provoking.

“Then why did you betray me?” she asked, her gray eyes hard as flint. “With Sokrates? Or by saying you were an angel?” he asked. “That there are multiple possible occasions does seem indicative of problems,” Zeus said.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths sent me down a glorious rabbit hole. Apparently there was really a special forces team during WW2 and their job was to create illusions using camouflage and stage design to trick the Nazis. This book is a murder mystery wherein two members of a similar team (one now a police officer, one a stage magician) investigate a murder with uncanny similarities to a trick in the magician’s show. It’s a clever mystery, a great set up, with excellent characters.

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie is one I really thought I’d read before, but once I got into it I didn’t remember most of it. (I think that just means that I read it so long ago that it faded from my mind.) It’s a great set up for a closed room mystery- a woman is murdered mid flight on a plane. It could have been a blow dart found in a seat back, it could have been a wasp, and Hercule Poirot will figure it out.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak is really, really good. I got it from the library, but I might actually have to buy it. The stories are clever and inventive, and Novak has a distinct, wry voice that I appreciate. I don’t have a lot of detail to give, because the book is back at the library now, but I do recommend it.

If you love something, let it go. If you don’t love something, definitely let it go. Basically, just drop everything, who cares.

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente is a gorgeous ending to her Fairyland series. All of the rulers, past and present, of Fairyland have been brought back to life due to a mistaken spell, and September has to race them all to keep her claim as the Queen of Fairyland. But she doesn’t necessarily want to be the queen, and she doesn’t want to leave. Valente has created such a glorious world, with such beautiful, living characters. Her sentences are little gems, and this book goes exactly where it needs to go.

“You go paddle about in your supersecret lair of secretness and we’ll just lie out in the sun and discuss Agatha Christie and eat coconuts- ALL THE COCONUTS.”

For that is all a story is, my dears: a knife that cuts the world into pieces small enough to eat.

Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety by Donna B. Pincus has some really excellent information about how kids experience anxiety and fear, and what strategies have been developed to teach them to deal with those emotions. Pulling from cognitive behavioral therapy, the tools in this book would be helpful for any parent of any child, whether they suffer from aggravated anxiety or not. The suggestions she gives are clear and easily implemented, and she imparts a very straight forward vision of what is “normal” and when to reach out to professionals for help. I really highly recommend this one.

Euphoria by Lily King was fascinating. Based loosely on the experiences of Margaret Mead (another rabbit hole I’ll be falling down soon), it’s the story of three anthropologists in the 1930s in New Guinea. Two are married and have just left their study of  a cannibalistic tribe, the other is suicidal and in over his head. When they come together it becomes clear that all three of them have different views on what it means to experience, study, and understand other cultures and even each other. The characters in this book live and breathe, the cultures that King creates are full of depth and complexity, and she raises really important questions about how we interact with the world. This would be a great book club book.

When only one person is the expert on a particular people, do we learn more about the people or the anthropologist when we read the analysis? As usual, I found myself more interested in that intersection than anything else.

Unnatural Causes by P.D. James is another book that I know that I’ve read (because I know that I’ve read all of James’ mysteries), but I didn’t remember it at all. Not even a little bit. That’s glorious, because then it’s like a new P.D. James book! And it makes me wonder if I remember the others, or if I’ve got a new bunch of books to read. (And don’t go worrying that I’m losing my memory- I would have read them at least 15, if not 20 years ago. I think it’s acceptable to have lost the details.) The murder victim in this one is an aggravating little writer who sets everyone in the village’s teeth on edge, and who floats to shore in a little boat with his hands chopped off. The twists are fantastic, James is a brilliant plotter who sets up clues like glorious little dominoes. And her sentences- my goodness. The woman had beautiful, beautiful sentences.

The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast.

I wanted another mystery to follow up Unnatural Causes, so I chose Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), which I got for my birthday. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, and I have mixed feelings about it. The first two books in this series were such lovely little mysteries, little puzzles you could hold in your hand and sort through. And the characters and story of Cormoran and Robin were moving forward in a nice little way. They fit nicely into the formula (as it were) of the kind of mystery series that I love. But Rowling is all about character, and I can see that it would be impossible for her to have characters involved in a series of murders that had no effect on them, because Rowling’s characters exist in the real world, not in the murder mystery bubble. They’re not Jessica Fletcher, solving murder after murder and moving on, blissfully unaffected. So this book is all about the real life repercussions of murder and abuse, and it’s a pretty nasty piece of work. No one in it (save Cormoran and Robin) is a good person, and there’s so much darkness. Someone from Cormoran’s past sends Robin a woman’s leg in the mail, and as they investigate the murder and obvious threat, Rowling lays out Cormoran’s past as well as the past and present of the three suspects. Interspersed throughout are the thoughts of the killer, which gives the book more of a suspense/thriller feel than a mystery, because there’s really no way to solve the murder before the book leads you to the end.

It’s very well written, but you have to go into it knowing what you’re getting into. There’s lots of abuse and cruelty, and lots of language. It reminded me in a way of the 5th Harry Potter book- unpleasant, but necessary to set things up for what was to come, and I’m really hoping that now that this one is out of the way, we can get back to murder mysteries.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson was another birthday present. I’ve been wanting to read it since Furiously Happy was one of my top books of last year. It’s not quite as brilliantly hilarious as Furiously Happy- this is her first book, and you can see how Lawson has developed as a writer- but it is full of absurd real life stories. Lawson had a very unusual childhood, and while some of it is legitimately laugh out loud funny, some of it is sad and uncomfortable. But she’s not afraid to tell her stories, as crazy as they are, and I appreciate that.

I can ignore that piles of clothes on the guest room bed because I know they’re all straight from the dryer and just waiting to be folded. Victor, on the other hand, will glare at he growing pile and huff loudly over and over until I finally break down ans ask him why he sounds like he’s deflating. We look into the same guest bedroom and see two entirely different things. Victor sees a dangerous volcano erupting with clothes that I must be intentionally refusing to hang up because I’m lazy and am purposefully trying to make him have a nervous breakdown. I see it as a personal achievement… a physical manifestation of all the laundry I’ve done over the last few months. It’s like a strange trophy made of clothes that I’ve forgotten I even owned. Victor says it’s like a crazy person lives in our house and is sculpting Mount Vesuvius out of the sweaters that need to be in storage. This is when I remind him exactly why doors were invented, and I close the guest bedroom door. “See?” I say. “Problem solved.”  “You can’t fix a problem by just not using rooms in the house,” he argues, and I point out how ridiculous he’s being, as I use that room all the damn time. I use it as a giant drawer for clothes that need to be hung up.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller was an interesting book to read directly after Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. The settings are completely different- rural Texas versus revolution torn Rhodesia- but both are the stories are young girls trying to find their way amidst a bit of chaos and uncertainty, and possible mental illness of parents. Fuller grew up on farms and plantations in Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe, and her story is fascinating because they personify colonialism and third culture children and institutionalized racism and so many other concepts. Her parents were British, and moved to the British colony of Rhodesia in the 70s, and they fully believe that whites are superior to blacks, and that whites should be in charge, and that they have every right to be there. They refer to the native people who are fighting for independence from Britain as terrorists, and talk casually about the idea of drinking from the same cup as a black person as appalling, and they’re so very sure that they are right. As the revolution is successful and their farm is taken by the government, you feel badly for them, and badly for Fuller, who in her mind IS African- it’s the only life she can remember- but they’re still on the wrong side. It’s just really really interesting. Fuller’s childhood is so very different from what I’m used to, and this book is a fascinating look into a time period and a place that I’m not very familiar with. I highly recommend this one.

No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel is a sneaky kind of Holocaust novel. There are no Nazis, no concentration camps (explicitly in the story- they do exist in the world of the book), just a little tiny Jewish village up in the mountains that decides to pretend that nothing outside of their borders exists when the war begins. There’s an element of magical realism to the book, but it only serves to highlight the very real tragedies that the people of the village inflict upon each other. I don’t know that I have words to describe or explain this book, I just finished it this morning and I’m still trying to process it. But it’s got some wonderful ideas about how we claim and use people, how we interact with God, what we do in the name of parenthood and love. I have the feeling this one is going to stick with me for a long time.

My mother beckoned all three of us. She held us against her chest, my father crying and my brother and I stunned cold. She whispered into out hair, “You are reasons to live. You are enough to survive for.” I grew older and heavier then, my mother’s love bigger than my own small body could hold. Her love would hang on to my ankles and wrists on every journey I would ever have to take, even if she was the one who sent me on it.

“You are thinking of it wrong,” she comforted. “Everything stays true. You are yourself, no matter how much you have to change.” Until a long time later, until I was a mother myself, until I lost everything, until it found me back, I didn’t believe the stranger’s words. Everything stays true. Now I know that. Now, it’s all I know. And knowing it saves my life again every time I wake up.

Books I read this week: February week 3

I started a number of books this week that I ended up abandoning, but here’s what I finished this week.


Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou is breathtaking. I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school and loved it (I should read it again), but I’d never read further into her autobiographies, and now I need to hit the library and binge on the rest of them. Her life is FASCINATING. She was so naive, but so headstrong, and so brave, and she made some colossal mistakes in judgement, but she’s so honest about them. You can definitely see in this book how she learned her two axioms that Oprah lives by- “When you know better, do better”, and “When someone shows you who they really are, believe them”. In this section of her life Maya’s son is kidnapped, she stumbles into owning a whorehouse, and becomes a prostitute herself, for a short while. And she learns and grows and becomes more of herself. It’s really so so good.


Pride and Prejudice  by Jane Austen. This is the first time I’ve read this book, after a lifetime of holding out against it. I actually live blogged my reading experience on Facebook, which was highly amusing to myself (and hopefully to others). There’s a reason why this book is a classic, it’s brilliantly written and bitingly insightful. I’m probably in the minority that prefers the biting insight to the romance at the core of it- I’m actually not a huge fan of Elizabeth Bennet (or really, hardly anyone in the book), and I don’t really think Austen was either. I am honestly a bit puzzled by the obsessions this book has spawned, with so many people writing sequels and things. But, to each their own, I suppose. I did really enjoy it.


Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer is a really interesting book. It’s about a 15 year old named Jamaica (Jam) who has been sent to a special school for teenagers with psychological issues. She is dealing (or not dealing) with debilitating depression stemming from grief at the death of her boyfriend. They had 41 days together, and all she wants to do is relive them. She gets selected to be one of 5 students in a Special Topics in English class, and finds herself studying the works of Sylvia Plath with 4 other students struggling to deal with great trauma. Each student is also given a journal, and they soon discover that when they write in the journal, they find themselves in a netherspace where their trauma never occurred. Jam gets to be with Reeve again, her friend Sierra’s brother was never abducted, Casey was never in the accident that paralyzed her. And then, of course, they have to figure out what to do with that, because being in the netherworld doesn’t change anything- they can’t progress there or go anywhere that they didn’t in their original time line. It’s a really interesting look at grief and healing, and Wolitzer does a good job of capturing the vulnerability of kids that age. That feeling of knowing  and being responsible for so much, and yet knowing so very very little at all. There are a  couple of  revelations at the end that I’m still working over; I don’t know that I think they were effective, but I don’t know that I think they weren’t. Anyway, there’s lots in here about the power of words and literature and finding your voice, and it’s worth a read.

Books I read this week: February week 1 and 2

Lots of good books over the last two weeks, and I’ve succeeded in not buying any new books for another two weeks. Go me! Go the library! Go the Haunted Kindle!


The Just City by Jo Walton has an intriguing premise- Athena decides to create the city that Plato wrote about in The Republic, set up and run by adults from throughout time who have prayed (even in a moment of whimsy) to Athena with a desire to live there, and peopled by 10 year old enslaved children taken from throughout time. The children are bought from their enslavers and brought to the city to grow up and learn and live (and not be slaves, though at least a couple of them don’t see the distinction). The city is run on the principles Plato laid out, and what he always intended as a thought experiment becomes a real experiment. Add into the mix a child who is Apollo in human form, the arrival of Socrates, and possibly sentient robots, and things get very interesting. The story is told from a few different perspectives, and it’s very thought provoking. There’s not ever really a feeling of urgency or conflict, even when there is conflict, which results in a bit of an emotional remove. But I really liked it, and I’m excited to discover that there is a sequel.


I made a list of the Agatha Christie books that I haven’t read, and have been working my way through them. Cat Among the Pigeons  might be the first of her books that has ever disappointed me. It’s the story of murders that occur at a prestigious girls school, and it just doesn’t have the same flow or sense of character as her other books. One of the major plot points is telegraphed really loudly really early, and other clues are completely missing- overall the book read as though someone was trying really hard to write like Agatha Christie and didn’t quite make it.


At Bertram’s Hotel  by Agatha Christie was definitely a step up from Cat Among the Pigeons, but not quite top drawer Christie. Strange things are afoot at Bertram’s Hotel; a man goes missing, a man is murdered, a girl is threatened. Miss Marple is there to observe and ultimately figure out what’s going on. There’s a decently sized conspiracy going on, which isn’t my favorite thing in Christie books, I prefer her closed room/one house mysteries. But the clues are all in this one, and the characters are interesting.


Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie is the best of the three I read in this binge; it’s based completely in relationships and motivation. Elinore loves Roderick, and they both stand to benefit from their aunt’s death, especially since they are going to be married. (Elinore is the aunt’s sister’s daughter, Roderick is the aunt’s husband’s nephew, so there’s no biological relation between the two.) Mary is their childhood friend and the aunt’s caregiver. When the aunt dies, Roderick sees Mary for the first time in a long while, and falls in love. Then Mary dies of morphine poisoning, and it is discovered that the aunt died of the same. Elinore is the only one with the means and opportunity to have done it, and acts guilty, yet Hercule Poirot does not believe that she is the culprit.  This book is such a marked difference from Cat Among the Pigeons, and I’d actually put it really high in my rankings of Christie’s books. The characters are complex but distinct, and their actions are consistent and reasonable. The solution is tricky but there’s no cheating- all the clues are there.


The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide is a lovely little book. It’s the story of a couple who befriend a cat. The cat belongs to someone else, but comes to visit them on a regular basis, and the book is about how the humans are changed by interacting with the cat. It’s very Japanese; not much happens but so much happens. It would be a gentle introduction to Japanese fiction.


Still Alice by Lisa Genova is really a stunning book. It’s about Alice, a brilliant psycho-linguistics professor who develops early onset Alzheimer’s. As she begins to lose her memory she hides her condition from her family and colleagues, until she (and they) have to come to terms with the reality of her situation. I thought the book was going to be overpoweringly sad, but it really wasn’t. Alice is a strong person, and as she begins to lose the things that she thinks define her, she realizes what truly does make her who she is. It’s a very thought provoking book that brings up questions of end of life decisions (and when those can and should be made), and of identity and the meaning of a worthwhile life. I think it would make a great book club read; there’s tons to discuss. It’s also very possible that it will give you hypochondria about any little memory slips, but that’s to be expected, I guess.

     
The Price You Pay Is Red  and The Long And Silent Ever After  by Carlie St. George are the second and third novellas in the Spindle City Mystery Trilogy.  I hope that St. George continues writing in this world, because it’s a gorgeous world that she’s created. The Price You Pay is Red is loosely based on the story of Snow White, while The Long and Silent Ever After is based on Sleeping Beauty and The Frog Prince. The stories are excellent; twisty and dark. The characters continue to develop nicely, and in interesting ways.


Greenglass House by Kate Milford is a pretty great middle grade book. Milo lives in a hotel at the top of a mountain with his parents. He’s looking forward to Christmas vacation alone with them (since the hotel usually doesn’t have guests during the winter), but guest after guest arrive, all with an interest in the hotel, its past as a haven for smugglers, and its former owners. When something is stolen from Milo’s room, he teams up with Meddy, the only other kid in the hotel, to investigate. Meddy plays role playing games, and brings an element of her game playing into their interactions, which allow Milo to break out of his shell as well as analyze his feelings about being adopted as he “becomes” someone else. There’s a pretty decent mystery at the center of the book, and a twist toward the end that literally made me catch my breath because I didn’t see it coming at all. Milo is a great character- sensitive and bothered by change, but courageous and loving. The sub story about adoption is well done; Milo’s family is loving and portrayed very positively, and their conversations about his feelings and thoughts about his identity and adoption are sensitively done.  Some of the RPG sections are a bit overwritten, but overall it’s a highly enjoyable book.

Books I read this week: January week 4

words

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale is fascinating. In 1860 a 3 year old boy was murdered on the grounds of  his family’s estate.  As he was taken from the room where his nanny and sister slept, it quickly became obvious that the murderer was someone who lived in the house. The question of who did it became the purview of Mr. Whicher, top detective at Scotland Yard.  This book is part mystery, part history lesson, and it reads like a novel. One of the most interesting elements is the lack of trust most people had in police and detectives at the time, and the somewhat dysfunctional relationship between local police and Scotland Yard. Whicher detected his way to the murderer, and even had them in custody, but was unable ultimately to prove it to the courts’ satisfaction. The fact that the person that he suspected eventually confessed didn’t matter in the course of things; Whicher’s career was ruined, as was the family’s life. The whole thing is so interesting, and very well written.

A Victorian detective was a secular substitute for a prophet or a priest. In a newly uncertain world, he offered science, conviction, stories that could organize chaos. He turned brutal crimes- the vestiges of the beast in man- into intellectual puzzles.

Many felt that Whicher’s inquiries culminated in a violation of the middle class home, an assault on privacy, a crime to match the murder he had been sent to solve. He exposed the corruptions within the house-hold: sexual transgressions, emotional cruelty, scheming servants, wayward children, insanity, jealous, loneliness, and loathing. The scene he uncovered aroused fear (and excitement) at the thought of what might be hiding behind the closed doors of other respectable houses. His conclusions helped to create an era of voyeurism and suspicion, in which the detective was a shadowy figure, a demon as well as a demi-god.


Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 1) by Jeff Vandermeer is a book that I’ve had my eye on for a while, and finally picked up at the library. I’d been on the fence about it, but after reading a description that described it as a cross between Lovecraft and Lost I decided that I needed to read it. That description is pretty apt, as a group of scientists enter a quarantined area to investigate it. They’re the 12th expedition to go in, and the return rate has been far from positive. Things get really strange really fast, and that’s really all I can tell you without ruining things. It’s great science fiction that also falls solidly in the weird fiction category. I’ve read my fair share of weird fiction, so some of the big surprises were perhaps not as surprising as they could have been, but it’s really well written and highly enjoyable. 

Far worse, though, was a low, powerful moaning at dusk. The wind off the sea and the odd interior stillness dulled our ability to gauge direction, so that the sound seemed to infiltrate the black water that soaked the cypress trees. This water was so dark we could see our faces in it, and it never stirred, set like glass, reflecting the beards of gray moss that smothered the cypress trees. If you looked out through these areas, toward the ocean, all you saw was the black water, the gray of the cypress trunks, and the constant, motionless rain of moss flowing down. All you heard was the low moaning. The effect cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.


Authority: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 2) by Jeff Vandermeer takes everything from the first book and turns it on its head as you get more information (or perhaps misinformation) about what’s going on. If we’re going with a Lost analogy, the first book is on the island, and this book is about Dharma. Kind of. It’s also excellently written and a great read.


Acceptance: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 3) by Jeff Vandermeer takes the previous two books and kind of puts them in a blender. You do get answers, and it’s pretty awesome.  I really recommend all three.


Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher is a collection of essays, written after a while of her undergoing electro convulsive therapy (or shock treatments). ECT affects memory, and that’s a theme of a number of the essays. She writes a bit about fame, a bit about her parents, a bit about Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. There isn’t completely a through line, but the essays are conversational and sly, and her personality shines through them. She’s a compelling person, and she’s not shy about her shortcomings or mistakes. She’s also not reticent about her successes, which is nice. This was a quick read, but I enjoyed it.

There’s a breed of women in Hollywood who wander among us looking very tense and very mad. Of course they’re angry. Who wouldn’t be enraged about having to ensure you’re looking an age you haven’t been in a generation?

I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.

Books I read this week: January week 2 and 3

Aaaaah! I get behind a week and all of the sudden there’s a million books to post about. Ok, so just 8. But still. I’ve been reading really good stuff.

Come Hell or Highball: A Mystery (Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries) by Maia Chance is a quick, clever mystery. Lola Woodby’s husband dies and she finds herself with a pile of debt and kicked out of the ancestral manor by her husband’s brother. With only her cook for company (who insists on staying with her until she can get paid), she hides out from the creditors and her family at her husband’s love nest. Together they get swept into a hunt for a stolen film reel, a murder, and all sorts of madness.

(I got this one from the library and I’ve already returned it, so I have no quotation from it.)

Slade House by David Mitchell is weird and creepy and awesome. Every nine years, on the same day, a doorway appears in Slade Alley that opens into a grand mansion. The people who go in, don’t come out. As the book moves through time and through unfortunate visitors, the reader discovers more about what happens in the house and why. I can’t really say more than that without ruining things, but it’s definitely worth a read. It apparently ties in to his book The Bone Clocks, though I think you’re supposed to read The Bone Clocks first, as I think this probably spoils elements of it. But I haven’t read The Bone Clocks and this stood up perfectly well on its own.

There’s a small black iron door, set into the brick wall. It’s small all right. I’m four feet eleven inches, and it’s only up to my eyes. A fat person’d need to squeeze hard to get through. It has no handle, keyhole, or gaps around the edges. It’s black, nothing-black, like the gaps between stars.

The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato is SO GOOD. SO GOOD. A pop star (with major Lady Gaga vibes) disappears without a trace. A little while later, a woman who has been investigating her disappearance vanishes in a boating accident. The mystery of their joint obsessions lies at the crux of this book, which is written in the form of an academic piece. There’s an abstraction from the story that gives the same effect (or the wanted effect) of found footage films, and the inclusion of real life references and context make the lines between fiction and non-fiction even more blurry. There are secret organizations, real life historical persons, the real history of the Chicago train line,  conspiracies, and so much more. It’s like Disabato took all of the things she knows and carefully researched about all of the things she loves and put them all together in this book. You can tell because none of it feels forced, it all just flows gorgeously together. I came away from this book with a list of things I want to learn more about.

They were at war with the whole world, but lightheartedly.

Molly’s Ghost Network is a strange piece; it catalogues not only a hypothetical transit system, but also one that would be nearly impossible to build and ridiculous to implement.  … The Ghost Network exists in a world without decisions, where every proposal is adopted, where construction isn’t based on the realities of the city.


The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper by Carlie St. George is short, only about 40 pages, but it’s so good. It’s a retelling of the Cinderella story, in a noir setting. That could be super hokey, but the tone and the flow of this work perfectly. There are two more stories set in this world and I can’t wait to read them.

It was half past eleven when I saw her. She was standing at the top of the staircase, with restless fingers and defiant eyes, wrapped in blue silk that clung to her hips. Her legs went on, and on, and on.

The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of “Joe” Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water by Kate Summerscale is the story of Joe Carstairs, a seriously fascinating woman. She lived from 1900-1993, and lived much of her life dressing and carrying herself as a man. She raced speedboats, bought her own Caribbean island which she ruled as its Queen, and generally just did whatever she wanted. She had a relationship with Marlene Dietrich, Dolly Wilde (Oscar’s niece), and a string of other women. It’s a fascinating read.

Dolly was known for her sparkling conversation. Yet Dolly’s words, unlike those of her uncle, were evanescent, careless, utterly resistant to repetition or transcription.


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is a mindblower. I finished it and immediately had to round up other people to read it because I HAD to talk about it. It’s one of those books that has so much in it that you have to talk it through and even then you won’t get to everything. The characters are so complex, so full of depth. Nothing that they do seems out of character, but you don’t necessarily understand why they do what they do. It’s just so thought provoking and excellent. And the writing is gorgeous. Beautiful, beautiful sentences.

Lotto is a golden boy, popular, lucky, rich. A talented actor, he has the world at his feet in college, and when he meets Mathilde and she agrees to marry him, he has everything he could want. They have struggles, as his mother cuts him off financially and acting jobs become harder to come by, but Mathilde works, and their love keeps them happy and content. The first section of the book is Lotto’s story, his perspective on their life. The second half is Mathilde’s, and let’s just say that there are some discrepancies. And my goodness is it gorgeous as you begin to realize how little we really know anyone, how much our perception of the world is influenced by our assumptions, how far from the truth we might be.

I remember coming out of watching the movie Identity (totally spooky movie, if you haven’t watched it, you maybe should) and feeling completely shaken about the world- was everyone else a figment of my imagination? Was I just in someone’s mind? It totally upheaved my sense of reality. This book did the same thing, as I started looking at everyone around me in terms of what I might not know about them.

There’s a decent amount of sex and some swearing, but if you’re comfortable with that, I highly recommend this one.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood is odd and strange and disconcerting, and everything I expect from Margaret Atwood. In the slight future, the economy has collapsed and most people are living out of their cars, prey to roving bands of thieves. Not quite Mad Max style; there are still laundromats and convenience stores and hotels, but most people are pretty hard up. Stan and Charmaine are a married couple hard on their luck, until they see an ad for the Positron Project. If accepted, they will move into the city of Consilience, where they will be given a lovely home to live in, a job, and a safe life. In order for the city to work, however, every other month they will be inmates in the city’s prison, while an alternate couple takes a turn in their home. When the month is up, they trade places, going back to their life while the alternates serve their time in prison. With the prison as the pivot on which the society turns (you either live there or work there) the economy and society flow easily and well. Life in the prison is pleasant, and everyone is happy. But when Charmaine begins a relationship with the man who lives in her house on the alternate months, the cracks begin to show and things take a very Atwood-y turn.

It’s a fascinating, weird book. I’m still thinking about it- some of the places Atwood goes are chilling in their potential. There’s a lot of sex in this one, slightly more than I would say is necessary, but it is in service of the plot.

Oblivion is increasingly attractive to the young, and even to the middle-aged, since why retain your brain when no amount of thinking can even begin to solve the problem?

Everything in this town is retro, which accounts for the large supply of black vintage items in Accessories. The past is so much safer, because whatever’s in it has already happened, It can’t be changed; so in a way, there’s nothing to dread.


I got The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George out of the library, and 5 pages in I realized that I had to just buy it because I wanted to mark passages on every page. So it has the distinction of the first book I’ve bought this year. I HAD to. I felt the same way reading it as I did when reading The Night Circus- that someone had written down my heart’s delight. It’s the story of Monsieur Perdu, owner and purveyor of The Literary Apothecary (which really should have been the title of the book. Why don’t people run these things by me?), a bookshop on a boat. Perdu is my kind of bookseller, the kind who won’t sell a book to someone if it’s the wrong book for them. He gives prescriptions for books that will heal the heart, fix the soul, make you cry if that’s what you need, give you courage, give a measure of grace. When a woman in need of all of those things moves into his apartment building, his own inner walls begin to crumble, and he finds himself (literally) on a journey to face his own past.

The story itself is fairly straightforward, but the prose is absolutely delectable. I just checked, and I marked 40 different passages, most of them because they were just so very pretty. This book falls solidly into my own personal set of scriptural texts, those books that bear witness to gospel of the power of stories. It’s one of those books that if you don’t like it, I don’t want to know, because it speaks so purely to my soul and to the things that I know to be true that someone not liking it would be a rejection of the parts of myself I hold dear.

But it’s well known that reading makes people impudent, and tomorrow’s world is going to need some people who aren’t shy to speak their minds, don’t you think?

He calls books freedoms. And homes too. They preserve all the good words that we so seldom use. Leniency. Kindness. Contradiction. Forbearance.

“Here you go, my dear. Novels for willpower, nonfiction for rethinking one’s life, poems for dignity.” Books about dreaming, about dying, about love and life as a woman artist. He laid out mystical ballads, hard-edged old stories about chasms, falls, peril and betrayal at her feet. Soon Anna was surrounded by piles of books as a woman in a shoe shop might be surrounded by boxes. Pedu wanted Anna to feel that she was in a nest. He wanted her to sense the boundless possibilities offered by books. They would always be enough. They would never stop loving their readers. They were a fixed point in an otherwise unpredictable world. In life. In love. In death.

I’m currently reading The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, which I should finish today.  Then I’ve got a stack of books from the library. I’m trying to alternate between library books and my library on the Haunted Kindle. I have a long list of books to get through, which is pretty much heaven.

Books I read this week: Jan. week 1

One of my goals this year is to buy less books (isn’t it every year?) and I’m going to achieve this goal by reading what’s already on the Haunted Kindle and utilizing the library. I’ve missed the library so much. This week’s reads include two from the library, woohoo goals!

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey is a dense book. I’m not quite sure why, but it took me 5 days to read its 272 pages where it took me a day to read all 455 pages of The Silkworm.  The book is in the form of a long letter from a woman to a friend she has known since childhood, a friend who has betrayed her. As the letter continues, the words flow in a stream of consciousness way until the full truth of all of the relationships are revealed. It’s a very “slice of life” book; not a lot happens that anyone would deem world changing, but the whole world is in the details of these people’s lives. It’s a very interesting, poetic read.

  We are all looking for miracles and small mercies. I mean this. Who are we to decide on another’s behalf what is miraculous, what is merciful?

All life is a joke and falling for it is the best we can do. Better than refusing to laugh along, which I sometimes think is the route to madness.

Time is a drug that wears off.


The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Book 2) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) is a solid followup to The Cuckoo’s Calling. It doesn’t quite have the same glitter- I didn’t enjoy the cast of characters as much- but it’s a twisty, enjoyable mystery. Strike is hired to track down a writer and bring him home by the writer’s wife, when he can’t do that, it turns into a missing person’s case. And when a manuscript by the missing man is leaked and it contains thinly veiled caricatures of almost everyone he knows, it’s not long before it turns into a murder case. As with Cuckoo’s Calling, the clues are all there, there’s no cheating, and there are plenty of plausible suspects and red herrings. The background stories of Strike and his ex-wife, and Robin and Matthew move along nicely.


The Daughters: A Novel by Adrienne Cole was an impulse library pick up. I rarely go to the library with particular books in mind (I did with The Silkworm), I usually just let books yell at me from the shelves, and this one did. It’s the story of Lulu, an opera singer who has just had a baby. She comes from a line of women who believe that, due to an ancestor’s “deal with the devil”, when they give birth to a daughter something they love will be taken from them. Lulu fears that her daughter’s birth will cost her her voice, as her own birth cost her mother her singing career. It’s a beautiful look at what motherhood costs, the sacrifices made, and the hopes we hold for future generations. It’s also a meditation on the role of stories in the formation of our identities, and how the past influences us. I really, really liked this one.

I could tell Kara a story. She has a lot to learn about me, about the past. Where she comes from, where she’s going. And anyway, isn’t that the function of stories? To teach our brains to dream? It would be daunting to fall asleep into the noise of complete darkness, infinite probability. Wihtout the guide of a little narrative, a little magic, how would we know where to go when we closed our eyes? 

Best Books of 2015

This is the first year that I’ve taken a look at what year the books I read were published, so I’m actually able to put together a list of my favorite books that came out this year.  Interestingly, the majority of the books that I rated 5 stars were 2015 publications (3 were super late 2014- late enough that I’m counting them as 2015. I can do that, it’s my list.)

Here are my top rated books of 2015, in no particular order. If you want more info on any of these books, click through to their Amazon page or search for the title in the “Search this Site” box to the left to go to my original review.

The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura: Such a fascinating, insightful look at how languages interact and how those who speak and write in English are privileged in a great many ways.


The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen: An incredibly fun read about a mysterious writers’ society. (Fair warning- one graphic sexual scene)


The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery: It’s all about octopus. What more could you ask for? Utterly fascinating.


Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp by Molly Tanzer: Pulpy westerny ghosty goodness.


Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert: One of my top 3 of the year. There’s just SO MUCH in this book. I think a reread is in order. It’s an electrical jolt of creative inspiration.


Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: This is another top 3 book. I have never laughed so hard reading a book. Lawson is honest and completely hilarious. (Fair warning- lots of swearing.)


Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente: Manages to be an utterly gorgeous ode to the golden age of film while also being completely solid sci-fi.


All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews: The final of the my top 3 books. The heartbreaking, gorgeous, thought provoking story of a suicidal woman and the sister who doesn’t want her to kill herself. SO SO SO SO SO good.


Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar: Another book about a suicidal woman and her sister, but that’s only part of the story, as this book focuses on Vanessa Bell, rather than Virginia Woolf, her sister.


The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock by Lucy Worsley: This book was exceptionally good. Chock full of fascinating information and history, written like a novel. I’d buy it for everyone I know, except that would look a little weird.

My other two 5 star reads (that did not come out in 2015, or close to 2015) were:


The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn R. Saks: An incredible memoir of living (and thriving) with acute paranoid schizophrenia. A truly exceptional book.


The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: A gorgeous story of the power of literature and love. Vibrant, complex characters who will break your heart.

 

Books I read this week: December week 4

Here’s what I read over the last week or so of the year.

Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist was a bit of a hard book to get my head around to begin with. It’s a series of vignettes about different points in the lives of a married couple when they have had to deal with death. What threw me was that some of the vignettes concern experiences that only the wife had (when she was a child, before she even knew the husband) yet all of them are written in the voice of the husband. I thought that was a strange choice for a woman writer- in effect taking the woman character’s voice from her- but there did turn out to be a reason for it. I get it, and I don’t know of a different way it could have been done, but I’m still not sure I love it.

But anyway, the story itself is lovely and sad, as this couple find themselves dealing with the task of “cleaning up” after deaths of family members- selling homes, cleaning out belongings, finalizing finances. And through it all, they love each other and live their lives, and are strengthened by their experiences.

And even through every offering you make, we both know the baby himself is not really an idol. He’s just an altar- a place to lay sacrifices. The sacrifice you make here is so profound I’ve never dared to mention my own- real but lost and invisible in the face of the cataclysm of your new motherhood. But the look of sameness in the routine of my life is not real. I have laid something precious on the altar of the baby too. My own sacrifice– it was you.


After Birth by Elisa Albert was on a ton of best of 2015 lists, and for good reason. It’s a raw, honest, powerful book. It’s the story of a newish mother (her baby is a year old) who is struggling with post partum depression in addition to the general upheaval of her life that came with a new baby. She befriends another new mom (of a newborn) who is also struggling, and the two of them create a support system for each other. The whole book is in a stream of consciousness form, and every emotion connected with motherhood is present here. Reviews that I read found the main character abrasive and some of her views offensive (she is stringently pro-breast feeding and thinks formula is horrible), but I found her honest and real (and I totally used formula). Some characters in fiction have different opinions than we as readers have. It happens. The experiences that these characters have are not everyone’s experiences. But I found myself more aware of those with new babies around me after reading this, checking in, making sure that they’re ok.

Another day gone, okay, and I get it, I got it: I’m over. I no longer exist. This is why there’s all that talk about kids having as express train to enlightenment. You can meditate, you can medicate, you can take peyote in the desert at sunrise, you can self-immolate, or you can have a baby, and disappear.

Who can say I’m not a good mother? Who can say I don’t read the subject headings in the books? The How to Care for Your Child if there is Absolutely No One with Any Primal Knowledge Around to Guide You guides. What to Expect When There Is No Received Wisdom Whatsover.


On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn with Them by Melissa Dalton-Bradford is such a lovely book. Bradford’s oldest son died in a water accident just as he was starting college- he died saving a friend from drowning in a canal. Bradford wrote about that loss in her previous book, but this book is the result of her search for peace after his death. She read every book she could get her hands on about death and people’s experiences continuing on after their loved ones died, and she collected the passages that rang true to her. She put them in order of experience- the day they died, the next morning, at the funeral, a month later, a year later when people don’t talk about them every day anymore- and then added her own essays about her experience. The result is a compendium of shared experience that could bring comfort to the grieving and understanding to those who love them. I really highly recommend this one.

Remember: grief always outlasts conventional comfort.

The child was a gift. The grief does not smother the gratitude. And death is not the end. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Yet none says that since death is not the end, we should not grieve. Though grief does not smother hope, neither does hope smother grief.


Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More by Rachel Macy Stafford is a follow up to her book, Hands Free Mama. It’s a good look at ways to have less distraction and more connection in your day. It’s an easy read with some good ideas.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity to connect to what really matters lies in the silent spaces of our day. When we resist the urge to fill every minute with noise, excess, and activity, we open the doors of our heart, mind, and soul to let the joy come in.


The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a really solid read with a lot of good information. He breaks down how habits work, in practice and neurologically. When that foundation is laid, he goes into how to change habits. There are lots of good real life examples. We’ve already used the ideas to help a nail biter in our home.

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.


Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine is a really powerful book. It’s a collection of poems about being black in America, and it hurt my heart and made me angry and want to change the world. Many of the things that Rankine writes about are small moments of large import- when her friend (her educated friend) tells her that she didn’t know black women could get cancer, when a white woman chooses to stand rather than sit next to a black man on the train. All those little moments build on top of each other until they feel crushing. And then there are the larger moments, the moments that crush all by themselves, when men are pulled over and arrested because they fit a profile, when they are killed for daring to ask why. This is the kind of book (like After Birth) that probably makes some readers defensive, because this isn’t their experience, because they feel accused, complicit, because they don’t want to know. But sometimes reading is about reflecting your own experience, and sometimes it’s about listening to someone else’s.

As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache-producing: it is also that you have a destination that doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable, hasn’t happened before, and the before isn’t part of the now as the night darkens and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.

And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.


Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira is a sweet, sad, story. Laurel has just started as a freshman at a new high school, and is given the assignment to write a letter to a dead person. So she chooses Kurt Cobain because he was her sister May’s favorite before she died. Laurel continues to write letters to dead people (Amelia Earhart, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix) as she tries to sort through her grief, the break up of her family, her new friends, and her part in her sister’s death. Dellaira does a great job of capturing the feeling of being a young teen who knows too much and who feels responsible for everyone else’s happiness- both in the characters of Laurel and May. As they keep secrets from everyone else and believe that their view of what is happening is correct, they’re crushing their own souls. The characters are nicely developed and complex, and while some of the events are predictable in a YA novel sort of way, that’s not a bad thing.

River, you were a star so bright, One that people made wishes on. Until you took so many drugs that you took your life. Do you think that everyone gets to be a star like that? Do you think that everyone gets to be seen? Gets to be loved? Gets to glow? They don’t. They don’t get to do it like you did. They don’t get to be as beautiful as you were. And you just wanted to burn up.

There was something between me and the world right then, I saw it like a big sheet of glass, too thick to break through, I could make new friends, but they could never know me, not really, because they could never know my sister, the person I loved most in the world.