Review: The Walls Around Us

From Goodreads: On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

Erin’s Thoughts: Oh my goodness, oh my goodness! This book completely wowed me! I should start by saying that the unreliable narrator is easily my favorite literary trope. I love the mystery of trying to figure out who and what to believe…what’s reality and what’s not. The Walls Around Us sings with unreliability in the best way. Nova Ren Suma has done a wonderful job of creating dual storylines, linked together, each with a distinct air or unreliability, all while keeping the plot moving. It’s truly an impressive piece of writing, and I’m eager to read more from her.

This is part ghost story and part murder mystery with a cast of creepy, detached characters to guide you through the book. I think it’s important to go into this book realizing that you will likely be confused.  Things will be unclear. That’s part of the fun of reading this. I found myself constantly trying to suss out what was what, even while I wasn’t reading. I very much anticipate this being a top book of 2016 for me!

Review: Ivy and Bean

From Goodreads: The moment they saw each other, Bean and Ivy knew they wouldn’t be friends. But when Bean plays a joke on her sister, Nancy, and has to hide quickly, Ivy comes to the rescue, proving that sometimes the best of friends are people never meant to like each other. Vibrant characters and lots of humor make this a charming and addictive introduction to Ivy and Bean.

Erin’s (and Charlotte’s and Evelyn’s) Thoughts: Charlotte and Evelyn got a boxed set of the first three books in this series for Christmas. At five years old, these are beyond their current reading level, but we have been having a blast reading them out loud over the past few weeks.  In fact, we’ve loved them so much that we’ve read each of the first three books twice AND books four through six once.

Evelyn says, “I love Ivy and Bean because they’re silly. My favorite part is the squid costumes. Those are so crazy!”

Charlotte says, “I love Ivy and Bean because they are friends. I love when they are squids in book 6!”

Since the girls pulled Ivy and Bean off of the shelf a couple of weeks ago, we haven’t read anything else. I love their imaginations, adventures, and friendship. I have seen a lot of criticism about the level of name calling and naughtiness in the books, but honestly it hasn’t bothered me. There is definitely a fair amount of name-calling, but Ivy and Bean are in second grade. Second graders love to call each other names, and I use the name-calling as an opportunity to talk about why we shouldn’t call people “potato heads.” Bean and Ivy get into some shenanigans for sure, and Bean is often the instigator, but again I find this to be pretty true to second-grade behavior.  With all read alouds, you may want to preview the the text first to make sure it’s a good fit for your family.  I can safely say, though, that Ivy and Bean will be part of our family reading time for quite some time!

Review: The Rogue Not Taken

The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal & Scoundrel #1) by Sarah MacLean

From Goodreads: The youngest of the infamous Talbot sisters scandalized society at the Liverpool Summer Soiree, striking her sister’s notoriously philandering husband and landing him backside-first in a goldfish pond. And we thought Sophie was the quiet one…

When she finds herself the target of very public aristocratic scorn, Sophie Talbot does what she must to escape the city and its judgment—she flees on the back of a carriage, vowing never to return to London…or to society. But the carriage isn’t saving her from ruin. It’s filled with it.

ROYAL ROGUE’S REIGN OF RAVISHMENT!

The Marquess of Eversley was espied descending a rose trellis—escaping an irate Earl and his once-future countess. No lady is safe from Eversley’s Engagement Ending Escapades!

Kingscote, the Marquess of Eversley, has never met a woman he couldn’t charm, a quality that results in a reputation far worse than the truth, a furious summons home, and a long, boring trip to the Scottish border. When King discovers stowaway Sophie, however, the trip becomes anything but boring.

WAR? OR MORE?

He thinks she’s trying to trick him into marriage. She wouldn’t have him if he were the last man on earth. But carriages bring close quarters, dark secrets, and unbearable temptation, and suddenly opposites are altogether too attractive…

Jennie’s Thoughts: I am a huge Sarah MacLean fan, though I only discovered her in the last year or so. But I’ve binge read all of her books, and couldn’t wait until it was my turn at the library for her newest.

The Rogue Not Taken is the first book in MacLean’s newest series, one that I’m certain I will be gobbling up. Not only was the drama high (society outcasts and gossip papers and carriage road trips!) but the characters were fabulous in their own right. A bruised guy with a big heart and the youngest sister of a collection of dramatic sisters. Plus, a super mysterious doctor (I really want his novel soon!) and a collection of hilarious and fantastic secondary characters.

I think it is the characters in her novels that make me the fan that I am. (Confession: I am such a sucker for characters over plot, which I think is why I like reading series so much…I get to follow characters along for a long ride.)

Oh, and there is a cross-dressing heroine which is reason enough in itself for anyone to read this book!

Review: Neurotribes

From Goodreads: What is autism? A lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more—and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. WIRED reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.

Going back to the earliest days of autism research and chronicling the brave and lonely journey of autistic people and their families through the decades, Silberman provides long-sought solutions to the autism puzzle, while mapping out a path for our society toward a more humane world in which people with learning differences and those who love them have access to the resources they need to live happier, healthier, more secure, and more meaningful lives.

Along the way, he reveals the untold story of Hans Asperger, the father of Asperger’s syndrome, whose “little professors” were targeted by the darkest social-engineering experiment in human history; exposes the covert campaign by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner to suppress knowledge of the autism spectrum for fifty years; and casts light on the growing movement of “neurodiversity” activists seeking respect, support, technological innovation, accommodations in the workplace and in education, and the right to self-determination for those with cognitive differences.

Erin’s Thoughts: My earliest memories of autism are with my uncle who hardly spoke, lived with my grandparents, and was obsessed with organs (the musical kind). I spent time in high school volunteering in a day school for students with special needs, many of whom had autism. I grew up to be a special education teacher and welcomed a great number of children with autism and their families into my heart. Over the years, while loving many people on the autism spectrum, I’ve sought to learn as much about autism as I can. I have read a lot of books. A lot. I’ve read the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. All of this to say that when I tell you that Neurotribes is not only one of the best books on the subject that I’ve ever read, but destined to become critical reading on autism in the future…well, I’m speaking with a touch of experience.

Despite being pretty familiar with the names Kanner, Asperger, Rimland, Lovaas, and many others, I learned so much from Steve SIlberman’s detailed, well-researched, and engaging work. This book really is the legacy of autism.  Silberman deftly describes the existence of autism as a neurodiversity throughout history while also shining a light on the work of many professionals who have defined and redefined autism throughout the years. You do not have to be a psychologist or educator to understand this book.  Even if you’re only experience with autism is Rain Man (it isn’t, trust me), this book is highly accessible and completely enlightening.  Neurotribes joins the ranks of Unstrange Minds by Roy Richard Grinker and the works of Temple Grandin as my most highly recommended reading on autism.

Review: Ana of California

From Goodreads: A modern take on the classic coming-of-age novel, inspired by Anne of Green Gables

In the grand tradition of Anne of Green Gables, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Andi Teran’s captivating debut novel offers a contemporary twist on a beloved classic. Fifteen-year-old orphan Ana Cortez has just blown her last chance with a foster family. It’s a group home next—unless she agrees to leave East Los Angeles for a farm trainee program in Northern California.

When she first arrives, Ana can’t tell a tomato plant from a blackberry bush, and Emmett Garber is skeptical that this slight city girl can be any help on his farm. His sister Abbie, however, thinks Ana might be just what they need. Ana comes to love Garber Farm, and even Emmett has to admit that her hard work is an asset. But when she inadvertently stirs up trouble in town, Ana is afraid she might have ruined her last chance at finding a place to belong.

Erin’s Thoughts: I received this book in my most recent Book Riot YA Quarterly Box – super fun bookish mail that is always more than worth the cost – and was immediately drawn in by the cover. I was also super intrigued by the idea of Ana in California being a modern take on one of my most beloved books, Anne of Green Gables. While there are certainly elements of Anne’s story in Ana’s, this is not a basic retelling of a classic.  Ana’s story is her own, and this book stands strongly on it’s own two feet.

I loved this book.  Loved it. I will be passing around my copy immediately. While this book came in my YA box and the main character is a young adult, it’s actually shelved as fiction – definitely a wonderful choice for adults and young adult fans alike. I completely fell in love with Ana. Her spunk, her art, her desperation to make a better life for herself. Ana isn’t the only vividly painted character either. The entire cast is diverse, lovable, engaging, and real. Plus, the small town of Hadley is a character in it’s own right. I truly cannot say enough great things about this book. Read it!

A Reading Funk

I could feel it coming. I would binge a few great books and then stare at my library pile with apathy. Indecision meant starting multiple books before setting them aside.

I was in a Reading Funk.

The fact that reading keeps me sane means a reading funk is no good. I picked up a few quicker romance reads and that kept me going for a few more weeks.

But then I was back to aimlessly staring at covers, my fingers slipping over the spines but ending up empty handed. It was time of the big guns.

The only thing that can save me from this situation is a good old fashioned reread.

Sometimes it only takes one more trip to Paris with Anna and Etienne to pull me out of my funk, but this time it felt bigger than that. I needed a series reread, but Anna wasn’t calling to me.

Sookie Stackhouse was calling to me instead. In the past few days I’ve read the first and second, and am starting on the third. I needed something fast, dramatic, and familiar, and this series gives me exactly that. I don’t know if I’ll reread the entire series (though that would surely help me recover from my lackluster beginning of the month) but I figure I’ll reread until I see an unread book on my shelves that jumps into my waiting hand.

What do you do when you hit a reading funk/slump? Power through? Take a break? Reread?

Review: Run Like a Mother

Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving- and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity, by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea 

Reluctantly, over the last year, I’ve become a runner. I started as a walker, setting out in the mornings and looping around our neighborhood or on paths near our house while the kids started to stir. Around the same time, my husband took up running during lunch breaks and started asking me to enter races with him, so I upped my pace. And it was fine. I was fine. Sometimes, I even enjoyed it. Last summer and fall, I ran two 5Ks and took part in the relay portion of our local marathon. Since it got cold, I have given up altogether but honestly, I miss it. My husband and I were discussing this a couple of weeks ago and got ourselves so wound up that we decided to run a half marathon in September. 13.1 miles seems do-able but when I think about it, I get crazy  nervous. I picked up this book and it’s companion Train Like a Mother because they sounded just right up my ally.

And I liked this, I really did. I thought that maybe it was aimed mostly at runners who were a bit further into their running careers than myself, but that’s fine- it was inspiring to read that someone’s favorite course to run was the 15 mile loop around their local lake. I loved reading about the nutrition changes and gear purchases I’ll need to make as my milage wracks up. Running low milage has meant that not eating before and wearing cotton legging has been fine, but I knew that all of this would probably need to change and it was great to get tips on that. I thought that the women who wrote this were funny and smart and open about their running struggles, which I really liked. I liked that there was one woman who was competitive and serious about numbers and one that wasn’t. I cannot at all relate to running to beat someone else, but running as a stress reliever, that I can get behind.

I felt like there was a big connection here to the little community we’ve built at WSR. These are women who have refused to give into the mom-bot “I am a mom. I am programed to mom” attitude- they have decided that this thing, running, is important enough to continually pursue. I feel like at WSR, we’ve said that this thing, reading, is important enough to keep doing although it doesn’t seem like there is enough time. This idea wasn’t ever really explicitly stated but kind of draped here or there in different chapters and it really stood out to me. What they were saying was that we, as humans, are important enough to have hobbies that can seem inconvenient for the sole reason of just plain old loving the hobby. Running, reading, whatever it is. I connect deeply with that.

However, the chapters on their kids and husbands? That I couldn’t really get behind. The kids chapter was more understandable for me- a mother running is important for them to see for many reasons (showing a healthy lifestyle, letting them understand that you have needs too, etc) as well as keeping you sane enough to love them when you are with them, also important. But how Sarah talked about her husband made me really sad. Pretty much she painted a picture of resentment and duty which made me really uncomfortable. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that if running were putting me in that place in my marriage, I wouldn’t do it.

All this to say, I think that the promises in the subtitle didn’t exactly come through for me. Yes, it’s a great guide on the hows/whys of running, maybe less so on family management.

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