Saturday, January 20, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 The Pants Project

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Anyone who has ever felt as if they didn't fit in or couldn't be themselves will empathize with Liv right away. Liv's parents are very concerned with education and want Liv to attend the best middle school in town. That's understandable, but the dress code that means Liv will have to wear a skirt for the next three years is not. Why is Bankbridge Middle the only school in town that requires girls to wear a skirt to school? It's bad enough for girls who prefer pants, or would like a choice, but are stuck in them five days a week (we won't even go into the awful itchy tights). But what about kids like Liv who may have a female body, but know that on the inside they are really a boy? The dress code doesn't take transgender students into account at all.

Liv has slowly come to the realization that he is trans, and has been feeling more and more stressed about hiding this knowledge from everyone. It isn't that his moms wouldn't understand. Mom and Mamma know all about being outside what others call "normal." Mamma's entire family in Italy disowned her for marrying Mom, and they both would support Liv. But as anyone who has survived middle school knows, it is a gauntlet of bullies, spoiled kids, ridiculous social expectations, and other forms of adolescent torture. Liv is already teased for having a different hairstyle and for having two mothers. What would they do if they knew the whole truth?

The good news is that there are also nice kids, the kind that become friends and make life a little more bearable. And Liv's family is awesome - Mom, Mamma, little brother Enzo, Gram, and their dog Garibaldi. Readers will see Liv come to appreciate those positive relationships, and find ways to fight against the system that garner support and admiration. As Liv says to his friend Jacob, "You were right last night. When you said there's nothing to be ashamed of. No one should ever be ashamed of who they are."

Friday, January 19, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Bingo Love

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Elle and Mari meet and are best friends right away. When they finally realize that they both feel romantically for each other, they are separated by their families and eventually pressured to marry young men and settle down in different cities. But after fifty years they run into each other again and those feelings are still there. Could things be different this time around? 

This is a story that tackles a lot of issues. There are the social expectations from the 1960s when the girls were first torn apart, and then the norms of today. The family dynamics in both time periods are complex. Mari says that her grandmother is mean to her because Mari saw her kissing a married deacon from their church, but grandma doesn't seem to feel it's at all hypocritical to condemn Mari for kissing Elle. Elle's husband expects her to be happy "barefoot and pregnant," while Mari's husband is more interested in his business than he is in her and their children. Their parents honestly believe it is better for them to be married to these men than to follow their hearts. When they meet again, will they have the courage to do what they want or will the expectations of their children and grandchildren constrain them? And even if they take a chance on happiness, will the effects of aging let them enjoy time together? 

For readers who are not intimidated by tough topics, characters who defy gender norms, or the possibility of romance between individuals who are not model-perfect 20-somethings, Bingo Love offers a different sort of love story. Highly recommended for those looking for diversity in their reading, whether it is characters of different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or for those who enjoy stories that explore what those in love are willing to do for their loved one.

I read an advanced copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Live Lagom: Balanced Living, the Swedish Way

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Anyone trying to find a way to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life could use this book as a starting point. The author draws upon her own experiences growing up with a Swedish mother and explains how the concept of lagom pertains to each aspect of life. She says that the word can be roughly translated as "just enough," a bit like what Goldilocks was looking for - not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft, just right. 

Lagom can be eating in moderation, but also occasionally having a celebratory splurge on special occasions (moderation even in moderation, as it were). It could also mean looking at all the accumulated objects and possessions in your home and finding a way to weed out the unwanted, unnecessary, and unused. Eco-friendliness fits in with lagom, so the objects that leave the house should be reused or recycled elsewhere, which also helps to make sure that there is just enough for others. As Brones goes through work, home, health, and the environment, she makes practical suggestions on ways to start finding this balance and even includes a few recipes for the home/food section. Photos of scenes that evoke lagom are scattered throughout the book. They might show some branches brought inside and displayed in a re-purposed glass jar, or a wooden chair with a warm throw across the back. Whatever the scene, each one gives a sense of peace and the contentment that the author refers to.

One of the most helpful things about this book is that it does not make the reader feel compelled to go out and immediately implement every suggestion, or that there is someone sitting in judgement on the efforts made to find balance. Any small step along the way is a personal choice and contentment is left as an individual feeling, not a goal that looks exactly the same for everyone. Visit the publisher's website for more information on the author and the book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day

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The five pillars of ikigai are: starting small, releasing yourself, harmony and sustainability, the joy of small things, and being in the here and now. Author Ken Mogi explores each of these pillars and uses general examples from Japanese culture, as well as specific individuals such as three-Michelin-star chef Jiro Ono to explain how each pillar influences one's life as it is embraced. The balance of using traits or habits of famous people, but also pointing out how the same characteristics are found in the population at large reassures the reader that anyone may embrace this approach to life - one doesn't have to be Walt Disney or another famous figure to have joy in small things or release oneself and experience flow in the pursuit of one's craft. A wonderful example of being immersed in the here and now is the Japanese tea ceremony, which also blends starting small (with details of setting the scene), the joy of small things (a  cup of tea,) a sense of harmony, and the losing of oneself by those performing the ceremony. It often seems that several of the pillars work together in this way.

As we start a new year and many people are thinking of changes to their routines or making resolutions, reading this book could give some helpful ideas. As the first principle points out, it is always best to start small. Reading through the descriptions and examples can offer ideas of various areas in life where the principles might be best applied. Finding something that promotes harmony and joy in small things might just motivate readers to start each day with joy, too.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Winter Reading 2018 The Cruel Prince

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Fans of Holly Black will not be in the least surprised to find that she has created another world full of rich details and fascinating characters. Jude, the narrator, is half-sister to the daughter of a faerie lord. When Lord Madoc comes looking for his missing heir, he takes not only his own child, but Jude and her twin as well. The girls grow up in faerie, constantly reminded by everyone that they are only human and mortal, not part of the glittering throng. Jude yearns to earn her place as a knight of the court, which will offer her some protection. Taryn has plans of her own, and their older sister Vivienne wants to return to the human world and her lover there. If Jude takes the offer of one of the princes and becomes an agent prying into palace secrets, will any of the girls survive? 

The character of Jude captures all the angst of growing up, in any world. She misses the human world, but wants to fit in where she is. She feels herself growing apart from her twin, each of them with dreams and secrets of their own. The privileged young members of the faerie court that torment the girls are like any group of rich bullies, sure of their own untouchable status and furious with anyone who doesn't seem to fear them enough. The descriptions of the inhabitants of faerie include the bold, the beautiful, and the hideous. Everything from the sparkling costumes at palace balls, the blood and violence of battles to show the prowess of the young, the dangers of the beautiful fruits and wines, to the misshapen faces and figures of the hobs and other servants are all described in detail that allows us to see them.

If you enjoy stories of humans in fantasy settings, using their skills and even their weaknesses to foil the plots of powerful faeries, then you should pick up The Cruel Prince. Since this is the first in a series, you will be able to follow along and see how Jude and her siblings do their best to stay alive and even succeed in spite of all their enemies.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Winter Reading 2018 Last Stop in Brooklyn (Mary Handley #3)

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Mary Handley has been building her private detective business for a few years now. She agrees to take on a case for a man who fears his wife is cheating on him. It is not something she normally would pursue, but the man's mother is a friend of Mary's mother. Along with the marital fidelity case, she is also asked to look into a murder case from 3 years before. The accused man's brother is sure of his innocence and wants Mary to find proof. It seems that his brother was charged with a Jack-the-Ripper style murder, mostly on circumstantial evidence and the fact that he was Algerian. As usual, her investigation causes conflict with political powers in New York and Brooklyn. Police don't look kindly on those who say they arrested the wrong man, and the crooked cops don't want anyone looking too closely at their affairs.

For those who have read Mary's other adventures, the return of Brooklyn's first female detective will be a welcome reunion of reader and character. Those who are encountering Mary for the first time, will be amazed at the painstaking recreation of 1894 New York. Many notable figures of the day have a place in the story, including - Andrew Carnegie, Jacob Riis, Russell Sage, and Theodore Roosevelt. It is incredible how many real events and people are worked into the plot. Even the booths of Coney Island, the prevailing prejudice against immigrants, and the attitudes toward women are present. Mary is a complex character with intelligence, courage, stubbornness, loyalty, and a determination to succeed despite society's restrictions and the disapproval of her own mother. Readers will be eagerly awaiting her next appearance when they reach the last page.

Please visit the publisher's website for more information about the book or the author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Winter Reading 2018 You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living

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Pulled from many of Nouwen's writings, including his books and letters, this collection provides a thought for each day of the year. These thoughts cover topics such as gratitude, love, talents and gifts, and compassion. Nouwen draws on his own life experiences, readings, study with Christian leaders, and time living among the mentally handicapped. He explores how embracing our own brokenness and shortcomings allows us to feel closer to others, growing in understanding and our ability to serve. 

This is a good choice for someone looking for daily readings that prompt deep thinking and soul-searching. Nouwen's own honesty about his failings pushes readers to be more honest with themselves about their own shortcomings and what is needed to lead more deeply spiritual lives. The passages range from a paragraph to nearly a page in length, making them easily included in daily meditation and study. 

Visit the publishers' website for more information about the book, and about the author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.