Book Bites: Starstruck
Wow, y’all. Fall publishing season is officially here, and boy has it ever started off with a bang. We’ve received box after box of exciting releases over the past two weeks, including new books by some of our very favorite authors. In the middle grade section, how about Nic Stone, Katherine Applegate, and Sara Pennypacker? For adult fiction, we’ve got Helen Hoang, Colm Toíbín, and Lisa Jewell. Throw in a great novel by writer and musician Josh Ritter, an adorable early reader book, and a poignant memoir of immigration, and it’s clear: A trip to the bookstore is in your future. We’ll see you soon!
Kraken Me Up by Jeffrey Ebbeler
Izzy brings her pet kraken to the pet show, which frightens all the other attendees and their pets, while entertaining the reader. A charming early graphic novel sure to delight families.
READ because this is a delightful easy reader comic with laugh-out-loud humor and a sweet message.
PASS? We think you’d better reconsquider.
Fast Pitch by Nic Stone
Shenice Lockwood is the proud captain of the Fulton Firebirds—the first all-Black 12U softball team to play in the Dixie Youth Softball Association. You could say that playing ball is in Shenice’s blood—her father saw a promising baseball career cut short by injury, and his father had a brief career in the Negro leagues. But just as Shenice is getting ready to lead her team to the regional tournament, her great-uncle Jack throws a real curveball when he shines new light on a long-kept family secret. Can Shenice solve the mystery and steer her team to a win? Discussions of race, history, and the civil rights movement are woven into this fun, fast-paced adventure.
READ because this engaging mystery is a real home run.
PASSed ball? Shenice would never.
Willodeen by Katherine Applegate
The village of Perchance is famous for its spot on the annual hummingbear migration, and for the glittering nests these creatures spin atop the beautiful blue willow trees. But lately Perchance has fallen on hard times. A rash of mudslides, droughts, and wildfires have threatened the village and its residents, and the hummingbears have disappeared. Eleven-year-old Willodeen believes she might know why, but no one wants to listen to the opinions of a shy, odd child. Or so she thinks. As Willodeen sets out to test her theory with the help of a new friend, she slowly finds her voice—and earns the respect of the other villagers.
It’s classic Katherine Applegate: Quiet yet deep, fantastical yet relatable, and with sensitively-drawn animal characters. Above all else, it’s a gently insistent reminder that no one is too small to make a difference. Willodeen is a heroine we can all learn from and admire.
READ because this is an inspiring environmental tale by a beloved favorite author.
PASS if you look around at all the wildfires, floods, and droughts in the news and think, “eh, everything seems fine.”
Pax, Journey Home by Sara Pennypacker
Oh! Pax, Journey Home will take your breath away! Sara Pennypacker seamlessly weaves in backstory so Journey Home reads easily as a standalone, but is that much richer if you’ve read Pax. And illustrated by Jon Klassen—what more could you ask for? I think it might even be better than the first book—can I say that???
A year has passed since Peter, now 13, lost his father to the war and his fox, Pax. Peter is physically fit but emotionally is far from it. His leg has healed, he has learned to be self-sufficient, but he refuses to think about Pax or allow anyone into his heart. Joining the Water Warriors, a youth group remediating the water supply devastated by chemical warfare in his old town allows Peter to instigate his plan. Determined never to return, Peter leaves Vola and the cabin he’s spent a year building to return home to bury his father’s ashes and live as a recluse, thereby avoiding pain forever.
Meanwhile, Pax and Bristle now have three kits. His heart is growing with love for his family but he remembers Peter fondly. When Pax must set off to find a safe home away from encroaching humans and poisoned habitat, one mischievous kit follows.
And their paths cross.
Powerful and poignant, Journey Home reminds us to choose love, choose happiness. Targeted at 8-12 year-olds, but I know my 7th and 8th graders would have devoured it. A perfect family or classroom read-aloud.
READ because “better than Pax” is pretty much the highest praise Jennifer can give.
PASS if you need to hurry up and read book one first. You’ve had five years!
The Magician by Colm Toíbín
As he did with Henry James in The Master, Toibin imagines the life of another literary giant in this novel about Thomas Mann. Although Mann's literary accomplishments are acknowledged in some detail, this is also a saga about a remarkable German family who lived during the traumatic first half of the 20th century, moving from Germany to Switzerland, then to the United States and back to Europe. It was not an easy life, despite a Nobel Prize and the wealth associated with a successful writing career. Mann had a lifelong sexual interest in young men, an inclination that he kept fairly well-hidden from his public persona. Yet he married a feisty and complicit woman and fathered six children, with whom he had complicated relationships as the entire family dealt with political upheaval, activism, and exile. Toíbín blends well-researched fact and fiction masterfully, and the result is a fascinating picture of the personal life of a creative genius.
READ because this is a remarkable blend of research and narrative by masterful writer.
PASS if you’re trying to squeeze in one more beach read this summer.
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang
Violinist Anna Sun's life is not going as smoothly as she'd like. She finds herself unable to play at the standard she's known for, and her longtime boyfriend wants an open relationship. She decides that the best way to move forward is to begin a series of one-night stands. Her first attempt results in a panic attack, and her purported partner, Quan Diep, recognizes the signs and helps her through it. Fans of rom-coms can see what's coming and will delight in the deep look author Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient) takes at Anna's life, bringing Anna's issues to life and resolving them in an authentic, realistic way. This is Hoang's best novel to date.
READ because Helen Hoang wrote The Kiss Quotient… and yet this is her best novel to date.
PASS if you like dull books about rotten people who hate one another.
The Great Glorious Goddamn Of It All by Josh Ritter
Weldon, a cantankerous 99 year old resident of smalltown Cordelia, Idaho, reflects about his rough and tumble life. Set during the early part of the twentieth century, this spectacular tale begins with Weldon’s explaining about his lifelong mortal enemy, Joe Mouggreau, and continues to tell about his experiences growing up. Dealings with Linden Laughlin, a despicable lumber boss, plus the kindness from the saloon owner, bootleggers, and others, shape the young Weldon. Early on, when his father dies under abrupt and suspicious circumstances, Weldon’s first instinct is to cower and run. Instead he faces his many fears and with the help of memorable characters, dives headlong into the world of lumberjacks. Cruelness and harshness that the characters face is softened by Josh Ritter’s spectacular writing and in the way his exaggerated tone gives a legendary humor with doses of campfire-like warmth. Fortune telling, curses, and wicked superstitions of these lawless towns and far away camps are entwined with the staggering glory of the landscape. Highly recommended.
READ because the title alone is enough reason to pick this up.
PASS if you don’t mind skipping a book that’s lyrical, funny, profound, and altogether impossible to forget.
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
The novel is set in an English suburb around the lives of two young adult parents, Tallulah and Zach, who have disappeared. After going out one night, they were invited back to a party hosted by one of Tallulah’s friends. However, no one is able to reach either Tallulah or Zach following this night, causing Tallulah’s mother to worry. An investigation takes place, but a year later there is no resolution. However, things begin to change when the new headteacher, Shaun, and his girlfriend, Sophie, move into a cottage near the woods and the house where the party was held. Shortly after, Sophie discovers a sign that says “Dig Here,” the first of a series of events that reopen the case.
READ because Lisa Jewell is an absolute master of suspense… and this might be her best yet.
PASS if you’ve had a lifelong vendetta against the name Tallulah and you don’t intend to back down now.
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang
Now a successful lawyer in New York City, the author describes the sometimes painful and often traumatic experiences she had as a young immigrant to the U.S. from China in the 1990s. She and her parents overstayed their tourist visas and, as undocumented residents in New York City, they lived in constant fear of deportation for four years before emigrating to Canada. These are the author's indelible memories of a $20/week food budget, going to school (2nd - 5th grades), helping her mother in a clothing factory by snipping threads, and the slow process of making friends. She narrates in the voice of her younger self, so the account is straightforward and unencumbered by an adult understanding of her situation, which makes it all the more poignant.
READ because this is one of those memoirs that will stay with you for a long, long time.
PASS if you think there’s nothing to gain from learning about the lives of others.