Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down  by John Green

16-year-old Aza has a problem.  It's not school--she gets good grades.  It's not friends--her best friend Daisy is the Best and Most Fearless Friend Ever. It isn't money--though Aza's family isn't rich, they have enough for food, housing, transportation, and relatively up-to-date technology.  It's not even her mom--though her mom doesn't always understand Aza, she definitely loves her daughter.

Aza's problem is her mind:  sometimes she can control her anxieties, but sometimes the worries spiral in tighter and tighter until Aza is almost strangled by them.  

When Aza and Daisy decide to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a friend's dad (who happens to be a billionaire), nothing goes according to plan.  Aza wants to be involved closely with Davis, but every time they kiss, her anxiety kicks into high gear.  

This is not a simple book to read.  Aza's intrusive thoughts are nearly crippling at times, and those who love her aren't having much fun either.  But, as storyteller/author Elizabeth Ellis observed in her book Inviting the Wolf In
"Perhaps that is the greatest disrespect we can pay anyone: 
to be unwilling to look at their pain.  
If they could live it, I could look at it.  
Perhaps it was the very least I could do."

Author John Green didn't just research obsessive compulsive disorder in order to write this book; rather, he lives with it.  His expertise, painfully acquired, shines through.  It's painful to read, but not nearly as painful as it is to live.  The least we can do is to look, and learn.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, this story takes up where the first book ended: Vasya has left her family and her village. Together, she and her marvelous horse (with some help from Morozko, the frost demon) journey towards Moscow, and (of course) things go terribly wrong along the way.

Familiarity with Russian folklore will definitely aid in understanding and enjoying this dense, dark tale. Vasilisa and Morozko figure in many traditional stories, as do...oh, but that would be a spoiler. If you know the stories, you may recognize characters along the way; otherwise, you will be as surprised as Vasya herself when true identities are revealed.

Some kissing, some bloodshed, some nekkidness, some demons and devils, and quite a lot of magic. This is second in a trilogy, but does not end on a cliffhanger.

Highly recommended reading for cold, blustery nights when the fire is ticking in the stove, and winter is just on the other side of the wall. Ages 12 to adult.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Dress Codes for Small Towns

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

*Dress Codes for Small Towns* starts with the night that Billie McCaffrey and her best friends accidentally burn down the church youth room. That sentence leads you to think some things about Billie and her friends, and those thoughts would probably be inaccurate. Preacher's kid Billie has a good relationship with God, a strained relationship with her dad, a rocky relationship with the church people, and a confusing relationship with her friends.

Billie's friend Janie Lee might be in love with their other friend Woods, which is confusing because Billie might also be in love with Woods...or with Janie Lee. Or maybe Davey? She really isn't sure. But she's pretty sure what the church people think of her.

She might be wrong.

All the stereotypes of small-town Kentucky that you've ever seen in books are not in this book--at least, not the way you've seen them before. The characters are dimensional and lovely, and almost nobody does what you think they might do. And yet, the story makes sense, beautifully, from beginning to end.  I was especially pleased that, in this book, "church" and "belief" and "religion" are not weapons used to clobber non-conforming kids.  May it be ever so in the real world.

This may be the best book I've read in 2017.  Highly recommended for readers ages 12 to adult. Some kissing and cussing on the page. Also some praying, some square dancing, a broken bone, and Batman.

Thursday, January 4, 2018


Wintersong  by S. Jae-Jones

Liesl's grandmother makes sure that all the children in the family know the stories of the Goblin King: of his changelings, his love for bright human things, and the danger of letting the fae folk too close.  And yet, when Liesl's sister is taken away Underground, she doesn't hesitate to offer herself as a hostage instead.

Gradually, the grim existence of life under the fairy mound begins to wear down even the toughest of humans--they lose their sense of song, of taste, and gradually fade away as the goblins drain them of their humanity.  But Liesl is different...isn't she?

Some reviewers have compared this to the 1986 movie "Labyrinth" but of course the story of humans taken away underground by supernatural forces is older than Persephone herself.  Students of folklore will detect faint traces of Thomas the Rhymer, Tam Lin, and even Rip Van Winkle, and each portion of the story is preceded with stanzas from Rossetti's "Goblin Market."   

The pacing is steady, with excellent character development for Liesl and her family, and also a nice amount of detail developing the various fae folk, especially the Goblin King--who, despite his grounding in world folklore, probably looks a lot like David Bowie.

Minor cussing, some blood, violence, some sexual situations.  Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  This is first in a series but stands alone.