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bite-sized book reviews

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: All about Princess Leia in PRINCESS OF ALDERAAN and BLOODLINE

BooksKristina PinoComment
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Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

If you've ever wondered what Leia's life might have been like on Alderaan as a 16-year old princess training to lead her planet as well as for her position in the senate, this is the book for you. In this book we are introduced to a Leia who hasn't gone to war yet or suffered any major loss in her life, is accompanied by her parents, and has her first kiss. Folks who have watched The Last Jedi will also recognize a few people (like Amilyn Holdo) and places (like Crait) of significance to this story as Leia starts to rise as the leader and rebel she becomes in Episode IV and beyond. This is a great read for anyone who enjoys a strong female protagonist, character exposition, and just a good story in general. I highly recommend it on audio. 

 
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Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

In contrast to LPOA, Leia is a bit older in Bloodline. This book takes place several years before the events of Episode VII, and it comprises the events leading up to Leia's ultimate decision to leave the government and become the resistance general she is in the latest films. A terrorist attack is carried out in the senate building, the government is divided between two parties that care more about opposing each other than actually making anything happen, and amid all this, Leia gets a taste of action again when she gets involved in an investigation of a crime cartel. This book also expresses the moment when the galaxy finds out that Leia is Darth Vader's daughter, something she's kept secret all this time because she simply can't reconcile it. I also highly recommend this on audio, and I recommend it for lovers of action, political intrigue, and just a little bit of nostalgia. 

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: DEAD WEIGHT: MURDER AT CAMP BLOOM and BINGO LOVE

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment
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Dead Weight: Murder At Camp Bloom by Molly Muldoon, Terry Blas, and Matthew Seely

To be released April 2018. 

If you enjoy a good murder mystery, this book is definitely for you. Served with body positivity, diverse characters, and beautiful art and coloring. A group of teenagers at a weight-loss camp witness a murder at the hands of a counselor, but can't identify exactly which one. Now they can't trust any of the adults, but they still intend to find the killer and bring them to justice. Great characterization and design really make this story shine. Great for fans of Lumberjanes or any other away camp setting in their comics.

cover by Genevieve FT

cover by Genevieve FT

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, et al. 

Released Valentine's Day 2018. 

Hazel and Mari met as young teens, become instant best friends, and fall in love at exactly the wrong time. Their families don't accept their love, and they go their separate ways, start "traditional" families of their own, and begin to grow old. Decades later, they meet again at the same place they met the first time around - church bingo. Is it fate? This beautiful romance spanning a lifetime explores love at different stages of life, the needs and desires of older women which are frequently under-represented, and how attitudes and conventions have changed over time. 

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: EL DEAFO and ONE CRAZY SUMMER for raising compassionate kids

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El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo is a somewhat autobiographical graphic memoir starring a cast of bunnies telling the story of a childhood dealing with deafness. Some of the events of the story come from Bell's own memories, others are more of a generalization of the sort of experiences children with hearing difficulties might have. It has its funny and sad parts, but most importantly, it tells a story at a young reader's level without talking down to them. Bell's character's thoughts: her frustrations communicating with people as well as her own delightful imagination of having super powers, are generally expressed through thought balloons. I'm including this in my...collection? Of books for raising kind and compassionate kids because it shows readers what sort of struggles come with some kinds of disabilities. Folks who read Wonder might find some similarities between Cece's equipment and experiences and Auggie's.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Delphine serves as the sensible, big sisterly voice to the story of her and her siblings' journey to California to meet their mother and spend a summer with her. Vonetta and Fern have big, vividly expressed and unforgettable personalities, just as any mischievous pair of little sisters do off the page. The three girls travel to Oakland and are not greeted with hugs and kisses, but with stern warnings to stay out of her mother's way. With nowhere to go but the neighborhood's community center, the girls join the local Black Panthers, who teach them about activism and advocacy. I found myself wanting for more by the end of the story, which is the kind of joyful ending readers cheer for (and perhaps shed a little tear, for us sensitive types). Great for mid-4th grade and above, this novel brings an important point in history to life through three sassy, funny, happy girls. 

 

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: WONDER and FORGET ME NOT for raising compassionate kids

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I had the pleasure of actually reading this as a read-along with my students. It's an excellent book about kindness and compassion and empathy, all great qualities we should instill in young people. In Wonder, we follow the life of August, or Auggie, who has a rare facial deformity and, up until the point the story begins had been homeschooled. He decides to start going to school and try being part of a general education classroom. There, he meets a few friends and learns a lot about both himself and about other people in general, and the way people treat those with apparent/physical differences. This heartfelt story is told in multiple perspectives and really drives home the point that everyone has their own struggles, even those who seem to have all the right things going for them, or whose broken parts are invisible. I'm also pleased to note that this is being adapted to film and will be released sometime this year. 

 

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

This story explores the experiences of a girl who lives with Tourette syndrome and her classmate and neighbor who also happens to be the most popular boy in school. She just wants to hide her quirks from people and not be labeled a freak or ostracized. He's clinging to his social status in school and is afraid that befriending her publicly would jeopardize that, even though he really, really wants to. There are two things I love about this book. First, it's told in multiple perspectives and styles. Calliope's chapters, where she expresses her thoughts and fears and talks about her day, are told in beautiful poetry. Jinsong's are told in prose and get deep into his moral struggle throughout the story. And second, the author herself lives with Tourette syndrome, and it shows in the thoughtful way she writes about it. The main characters are in middle school, but it's an appropriate read for upper elementary (about 4th or 5th grade and up) and another great read for raising compassionate and empathetic kids. 

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: THE MOTHERS and THE WANGS VS THE WORLD

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The Mothers by Brit Bennett

In this story, expressed in multiple perspectives, but generally narrated by one of the mothers, or the group of church moms who do various tasks for their community, we learn about a girl's decision to terminate a pregnancy and everything that follows it. Bennett does an amazing job of showing readers what it's like when you're from a conservative community and you make certain decisions without really making the book about abortion or anything like that. Nadia, the protagonist, wants to just move on with her life, but unfortunately living in a small town, everyone gets in everyone's business. This is an emotional, deeply engrossing read, and I couldn't put it down. 

 

The Wangs Vs the World by Jade Chang

Charles Wang found his fortune in America with his cosmetics empire, and raised his family in luxury. But a few bad decisions led to his losing everything. In this funny, heartfelt story, readers get the perspectives of all the Wangs throughout their adventure finding a new place in the world for themselves. Charles in particular becomes obsessed with reclaiming the lands of his ancestors in China, while his children are finding their place in different ways. I enjoyed the bits of Chinese dialogue peppered in, much like Junot Díaz does with Spanish in his books. 

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: STAR WARS: AHSOKA

BooksKristina PinoComment

I'm always up for a good Star Wars adventure, and Ahsoka didn't disappoint. It takes a little bit to wind up to the action, but once Ahsoka starts making some decisions about where she wants to take her life and the kind of person she wants to be, things pick up quickly. For some reference: Ahsoka has survived the Jedi Purge and is hiding out in the Outer Rim as Ashla. She is a mechanic for hire and is trying to avoid attachments. Soon enough, she finds herself drawn back to a life of do-gooding, but this time, it's on her own terms. This story had me cheering at the end of it and wanting for more. Great for any kind of Star Wars fan, but especially those who enjoyed Clone Wars and Rebels.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: PS I STILL LOVE YOU, WRITTEN IN THE STARS, and THE FORBIDDEN WISH

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P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

I picked up this book without knowing it's a sequel until it was "too late" (the first book is called To All The Boys I've Loved Before). Even so, I had no trouble getting into the story and Han does a good job of dropping hints and exposition here and there so everyone's on the same page. This is a sweet romance-type story, but it also covers a lot of ground when it comes to modern teen life in general. The consequences of posting mean things online, gender politics and how circumstances affect different people, and an examination of love and heartbreak are all touched upon here through Lara Jean's perspective. I liked being in her head through all of this and seeing how she reacts to and learns from these experiences.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This is one of those hard to read, gut-wrenching type stories. Naila's super conservative parents don't allow her to date, or even speak with any boys, and it's their tradition to choose her future husband for her. She gets caught dating Saif, and they whisk her away to Pakistan where she thought she was just going on vacation to visit family, but later finds out her parents have chosen a husband for her and planned for her to wed and stay behind. Eventually, as a reader, you start seeing that things are just going to get worse and worse, and you read with sort of a sense of dread for Naila, but there's hope: Saif is looking for her and trying to get her out of her horrible situation. I found myself rooting for Naila the entire time, facing all these things happening to her and choosing to survive.

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The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

You might know the story of Aladdin, but you won't recognize this version. Aladdin is the son of rebels, expected to rise up with the people, but chooses a life of thievery instead. Jinni has been stuck in her lamp for eons, punished for befriending her last master, sitting in the ruins of her dear friend's old kingdom. When Aladdin finds the lamp and whisks her away, the king of all the jinn charges her with a mission in exchange for the tantalizing reward of freedom. The problem is, using her new master to her ends is at odds with the simple fact that she's falling in love with him. As far as love stories go, this one is ridiculously satisfying, and the whole thing is written as if it were a long, long letter to her dear, old friend. Fresh format, and excellent spin to the story of Aladdin and the lamp.

Bite-Sized Audiobook Reviews: WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

This memoir, read by the author, jumps around between various topics and anecdotes relating to her sexuality, life with her adoptive parents, discovering literature and finding solace in libraries, looking for her birth mother, being exorcised, and other events of her life. Some of them are funny, and she does indeed inject loads of humor and wit throughout, but there are a lot of profoundly sad moments, too. Her intensely religious mother made it difficult for her to be herself growing up, and she suffered many punishments and hungry nights for it. When she wouldn't be "cured" of her sexuality in her teen years, she was driven out of her home altogether, and took up residence in a car or with a girlfriend. If you've read her book Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, you may be familiar with some of her story, but the reality behind it is much darker, even if it did end in her freedom and successes as an adult. I recommend reading both, but you might need to keep a tissue handy.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: GULP and PICNIC IN PROVENCE

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Gulp by Mary Roach

Gulp is an exploration of the journey foods make, starting with sniffing and tasting and on through eventual dumpage. Some of it is pretty gross! But it's all very fascinating and Roach approaches all these topics with her usual wit and impressive thoroughness. Of course, she also goes into cultural taboos: how they affect scientific research and even the way we eat. I don't recommend snacking while reading this book, but I do recommend snatching it up if you're in the mood for some real science-based investigations, warts and all. If you've never read any Roach previously, though, I highly recommend getting started with Packing For Mars, which is all about space exploration and astronauts.

Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard

In this memoir, Bard talks about her life in France with her husband, their decision to move to the countryside, her pregnancy (and the subsequent birth of their son), and all their other experiences leading up to their eventual decision to open an ice cream shop. Her descriptions of the village life, the way the French rear children and approach food, and how she reconciled her American, Jewish identity with her life in France through traditions old and new are all major themes in this memoir. She also includes excellent recipes in between chapters, many of which I intend to make for myself or for family and friends. I enjoyed the way she approached her stories with humor, and now I'm looking forward to reading her other book, Lunch in Paris, which was published four years before Picnic.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: THE THRILLING ADVENTURES OF LOVELACE & BABBAGE, and X: A NOVEL

Books, Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage by Sydney Padua

This book, which comprises approximately 40% comics, 40% footnotes, and 20% straight up notes, copied letters/documents, and illustrated references, begins with a short biography of the lives and works of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, followed by an alternate history series of comics as if they had successfully build the first computer and continued to live long, healthy lives full of adventures and successfully solved mysteries. While the alternate history (named the Pocket Universe) is all in good fun and sort of made-up, many of the events and characters are absolutely grounded in real history, all of which is explained in footnotes and appendices. I've learned more about the era Lovelace and Babbage lived in and other pioneering writers, inventors, mathematicians, and scientists, especially ladies who are so often erased from this history, reading this "(mostly) true story of the first computer" than I ever did in history lessons. Give it a try. Read it slowly. Read all the footnotes. Super clever - appropriate for anyone into history, or computers, or math, or general nerdery.

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

Don't be fooled by this book's classification of "novel." Though the authors take some liberties when it comes to the general antics and conversations depicted within, all the events, and most of the people, definitely happened or existed. Its subject is Malcolm X, specifically his adolescence, that turbulent period of his life leading up to his arrest and his years in prison before emerging as a human rights activist. If you've read Malcolm's autobiography then you're already aware of the events of the novel, but it's presented in an entirely different way. X: A Novel gives his story so much life, and incredible intimacy. You spend the entire book in his head - really, it's a powerful read. At the end, Shabazz goes a little bit into some historical background, things or people she left out for brevity, and outlines exactly the few, inconsequential things that are entirely made up. This book is so gripping and so important. Appropriate for high school and above.