Bethany's Readers' Advisory

The place to go for readers' advisory on books for children, teens, and adults

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood December 31, 2015

Filed under: adult fiction,dystopian fiction,Uncategorized — Bethany @ 10:08 pm
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Heart Goes LastThe economy has plummeted and things on the east coast are dire. Married couple Charmaine and Stan, once hardworking newlyweds fixing up their first home, are living in their car. Stan sleeps in the driver’s seat with the key in the ignition so they can quickly get away in case of trouble, of which there is much. Charmaine is bolstering their meager existence with tips from her bar job. Stan does the only thing left and seeks out his conman brother to repay a loan. Just when things seem most bleak, Charmaine sees the commercial on TV for the Positron Project, a social experiment in which people sign away their troubles for the promise of steady employment and a clean, safe home of their own. She and Stan sign up right away. Even the thought of regular showers is worth giving up their freedom at this point.

Everything seems fine at the beginning. The couple has a home of their own, some money to buy the essentials, and fulfilling jobs. The only catch is that they must share. Every other month is spent apart, living in a prison, while another couple uses the house. The system is set up to be economical and efficient. Only when attractions begin to brew with their “alternates” (the other couple who shares their house) do Stan and Charmaine realize they may have gotten in too deep.

I read Margaret Atwood’s famous book The Handmaid’s Tale this fall and LOVED it. This book began with a similar theme, the aftermath of a breakdown of society, the loss of freedoms previously taken for granted. I really liked the beginning of the story with Stan and Charmaine cheerfully signing their lives away to a social experiment. The idea of Consilience, with the alternating months between the home and prison, the job assignments, the carefully controlled social interactions, were fascinating. But then it got weird. The whole sexual thing was unsettling. Eventually things went from weird to goofy. I was interested in the story throughout, but I wish it would have gone a different direction. I would recommend this to adults who like dystopian futures and have a dark sense of humor.

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon December 27, 2015

Filed under: adult fiction,adult mystery,Uncategorized — Bethany @ 11:50 pm
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Night SisterIt’s 2013. Piper gets a phone call in the middle of the night. At first she’s worried it’s bad news about her very pregnant sister, Margot. But the news is about her childhood friend, Amy, whom she’s barely talked to since the summer of 1989. Amy has allegedly killed her family and then herself in her childhood home at the Tower Motel in London, Vermont. Margot called Piper to tell her about the one clue left behind, a photo scrawled with the words 29 ROOMS, a message only Margot and Piper understand.

What follows is an eerie tale that passes along the dark secrets of the Tower Motel from sisters Rose and Sylvie in 1955 to Amy, Piper, and Margot’s grisly discovery in 1989 to the horror in 2013.

This was a page-turner! The story was creepy but not terribly scary. The transitions between the different timelines were smooth and easy to follow. I was impressed with the writing and plan to check out other stories by this author. I would recommend this to adults who like mysteries. Just don’t read it alone at night.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Favorite books of 2015 and beyond December 18, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bethany @ 1:55 pm

When I tell people I’m a librarian, they often ask about my favorite book. Answer: I don’t have one. How could I possibly pick just one favorite? I do, obviously, have some books I like more than others. I keep track of all the books I read on Goodreads; each year I make a Top Ten of 20xx shelf. Some years, I’ve had more than 10 favorites. Other years, there are less than 10. My criteria isn’t well defined. It might be a book that I just really liked, that I was thinking about when I wasn’t reading it, that I talked about at great length afterward, and/or that I missed the characters like they were real people when it was over.

Here are the titles that made the Top Ten of 2015 list (in no particular order):

  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
  • The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quinteros
  • And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

On my list for Top Ten of 2014 were:

  • 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
  • Winger by Andrew Smith
  • Reality Boy by A.S. King
  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl

And for good measure, my Top Ten of 2013:

  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Future of Us by Jay Asher
  • Joyland by Stephen King
  • The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls
  • The Yonahlassee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

I’d highly recommend all of these books. Happy reading!

 

Landline by Rainbow Rowell December 17, 2015

LandlineJust a few days before Christmas, Georgie tells her husband Neal the bad news. Even though they’ve already booked a trip back to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska for Christmas, something came up at work and she can’t go. She knows it’s bad timing; she knows their marriage is in trouble. What she doesn’t know is how bad things are about to get. Neal goes to Omaha without her and takes their two daughters. He won’t answer his phone. Something is wrong and Georgie doesn’t know how to fix it. In a bizarre turn of events, Georgie discovers the cure for their relationship may be as simple as talking to Neal on the landline phone in her childhood bedroom. But is a little magic all they need… or even what they want?

I like Rainbow Rowell as an author. I LOVED her book Eleanor & Park. I like that she’s from Nebraska and got a little thrill every time I saw the word Omaha. (Close to my childhood home.) However, this book fell flat for me. I liked the flashbacks to the beginning of their relationship and the time travel-ish element, but the plot, the characters, and the ending were all a bit dry. This won’t be the last Rainbow Rowell book I read, but I probably won’t go out of my way to recommend it.

3 out of 5 stars

 

We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

We Should Hang OutJosh Sundquist’s story begins when he is 25 years old and realizes he has never had a girlfriend. Sure, he came close. In 8th grade, he went out with a girl from his youth group for 23 whole hours. In high school, he spent the whole summer hanging out with a girl that he never worked up the nerve to kiss. There was a disastrous prom date and a failed attempt to declare his intentions on a canoe. As he looks back through his love life, he doesn’t understand where things went wrong. In attempt to figure out the fatal flaw in his date-ablility, Josh tracks down the girls who got away and asked them what happened. Their answers lead to a surprising revelation.

Highlights of the book:

  • Josh’s discussion with his extremely conservative Christian parents about him transitioning from home school to public school. My favorite line in the book: “It was a well-known fact among Christian homeschoolers that public schools were bastions of gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy, rap music, pop culture, secular humanism, witchcraft, and body piercings.”
  • A golf date that resulted in him trying to correct his prosthetic foot that had gotten turned in the wrong direction.
  • The aforementioned failed attempt to declare his intentions on a canoe in the middle of a lake.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read. I finished it within a few hours. I laughed out loud many times. Even though he struck out a lot, his confidence and his continuous efforts to get out and try again were admirable. I can see why he became a motivational speaker; he has the ability to turn a perceived failure into a story his audience can relate to or at least sympathize with and turn it into a learning experience.

I would recommend this book paired with Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw. Both touch on overcoming adversity using humorous and relatable life stories.

5 out of 5 stars

 

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd December 11, 2015

Filed under: adult fiction,adult historical fiction,Uncategorized — Bethany @ 5:18 pm

Invention of WingsSarah Grimke is a smart, opinionated girl living in early nineteenth century Charleston, South Carolina. Her wealthy family owns a number of slaves, including Handful, daughter of the family’s seamstress. On Sarah’s eleventh birthday, Handful, whom the family calls Hetty, is given to Sarah as her maid. Sarah tries to release ownership of Handful and is denied. This begins a lifetime of fighting against the institution of slavery in her home and later the country. The stories of Sarah and Handful are told in alternating chapters throughout much of their lives as they both strengthen their bond and move into their separate roles in society; Sarah, born into privilege but a slave to her gender role, and Handful, born as a slave and free only to dream of what is outside the walls that surround her.

Wow, this was a powerful and thought-provoking book! Even more so when I read the author’s note at the end and found out Sarah and her sister Angelina were based on real people, early advocates for abolition and women’s rights. Sarah, Angelina, Handful, and Handful’s mother Charlotte were well-developed characters who changed the world in big and small ways with their daring and spunk. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction and strong female characters.

5 out of 5 stars

 

On a Dollar a Day by Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard December 10, 2015

Filed under: adult non-fiction,Uncategorized — Bethany @ 5:38 pm

On a Dollar a DayThis nonfiction book stemmed from a project taken on by two high school teachers in California. The high prices of groceries made them wonder what it would be like to live on just $1 a day. After a carefully planned trip to the grocery store, the two lived on $1 worth of food apiece for one month. The results were two tired, hungry, and cranky teachers. Later, they decided to try living on a little over $4 each day, a number they reached based on the allotments for families using SNAP assistance (formerly known as food stamps). The final section of the book consisted of their reflections on the project and their conclusions about the state of the American diet when restricted by income.

I will preface my review by saying that I lead a pretty frugal lifestyle and fancy myself a decent cook. This book did its job to spur a discussion in my household. It also taught me about the history of food stamps and made me realize how others think much differently about money and food than I do. My criticisms of this book revolved around the fact that they seemed snobby and uncreative when it came to food. They complained incessantly about eating oatmeal for breakfast every morning but didn’t try to make it taste better. In the second part of the book, they followed some suggested recipes that are available to SNAP recipients and complained about how awful the food was and the lack of nutritional value. They were vegans and bought meat substitutes to make the casseroles even though this surely hurt their budget. Why not just leave out the meat or substitute it with beans or lentils? I’m sure they could have made meals that were less expensive and more to their liking while still illustrating their points. The scene in the book that really blew my mind was when she forgot her water bottle at home and was so thirsty that she had to spend money to buy a can of pop from the vending machine. Even the most poverty-stricken schools (which was definitely not the situation here) have water fountains. When they finished their project, they claimed to be more conscious of their spending and had whittled down their monthly grocery budget to a little over $400. This amount seems absurdly high.

While this book was interesting and thought-provoking, it could have been better. A listing of their menus for the two months and a breakdown of their costs by item and by meal would have added value. Tighter editing would have been beneficial as well.

I guess I should do my own project and write my own book.

2 out of 5 stars

 

 
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