Staff Picks for March 2015
This month we have a wonderful array of books for all ages, fiction and non-fiction, from picture books to recipe books (which are akin to adult picture books)!
We especially recommend you check out the books for young adults and teens, whose stories will resonate across generations.
Review by Virgie: (Recommended for 8-12 year olds) The words, listen and slowly, may be two words that a typical American teen cannot relate to! Mai, a daughter of Vietnamese parents, finds herself in Vietnam for the entire summer, to help her Grandmother Ba, finally determine the fate of her long lost husband. Mai accompanies Ba out of respect, but in reality, this is the last place on the earth she wants to spend her summer.
On the other hand, Mai’s parents consider this the perfect opportunity for their daughter to become familiar with her roots, but Mai considers the U.S. to be her only roots.
As the summer progresses, Mai slowly transforms from a spoiled child to someone who can look beyond herself with compassion.
Review by Virgie: (Recommended for 8-12 year olds) Inspired by the author’s own childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam as a refugee and immigrating to Alabama, this novel, told in verse, is sure to capture young readers’ hearts and open their eyes.
The insights into the struggling and confusing life of immigrants serves as an inspiration for main-stream Americans to do all they can to make this country a more inclusive, welcoming place for them.
It is beautifully written and the sparseness of the verse makes the story that much more powerful!
It moved me to tears!
Review by Virgie: If American Sniper caught your attention then this is another book you need to read!
This novel, written by a veteran of the war in Iraq, is the unbelievable story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive. It provides insight about war and its effects on the men and women who take part in it.
Powers compares rushing into battle to the moment before you collide with another car in an accident. There’s that same feeling of helplessness – the knowing that you may very well die in a mere second.
The person who left for war is not the person who returns, and thus must deal with returning to the life in the U.S. as they knew it.
This short novel is engrossing, had an immense impact on me and will haunt me forever!
Logan's book review: After I read her debut novel The People in The Trees, I knew that Hanya Yanagihara was a force to be reckoned with.
Her new work, A Little Life, is a deeply moving, heart-wrenching intimate brick of a novel, one that spans decades in the lives of four friends who move to New York City after college. The focus is on Jude St. Francis, whose secrecy about his troubled past has left him a mystery to all who know him.
Yanagihara pulls no punches in describing the experiences of Jude’s youth, and the reader should be prepared with tissues for the 720 or so pages. This story is unforgettable, and further establishes Yanagihara in the ranks of today’s most impressive authors.
Shannon's Book Review: This is my new favorite cookbook in the way it makes healthy cooking fun and delicious.
After I first bought the cookbook, I found myself cooking one or two of Thug Kitchen’s recipes everyday (I highly recommend the Black Bean Tortas with Chipotle Mayo).
The Thug Kitchen crew writes, “A Torta is a bada— sandwich with the soul of a burrito, make this mother— stat and see what your narrow sandwich world has been missing.”
Thug Kitchen also shows how to make basics you never thought you were making wrong, such as: essential marinara sauce, a delicious green smoothie that packs all the nutrients you need without the big price tag, and tons of breakfast foods - my favorite!
The food packs in so much flavor that I didn’t realize the recipes were vegetarian until the fifth dish I made. Even though the recipes are vegetarian, there’s always a way to substitute meat in, if you like.
I find myself recommending this book to all my friends and hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Shannon's Book Review: (Recommended for 3-6 year olds) Love you Forever was originally published in 1986, but its beautiful message about lasting love between a mother and her child spans generations.
As her child grows, the mother sings to him every night, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
This story is accompanied by the illustrations of Sheila McGraw. Love You Forever is listed on Publishers Weekly All-Time Bestselling Children’s Books list for paperbacks.
Jamie's Book Review: Though this book might seem daunting for a young reader because of its length, it is well-written for children to both engage and to teach.
The book takes place before and during World War II in different settings—Germany, Philadelphia, and California, from the perspective of three interesting children.
I would highly recommend this book for a child who is an advanced reader but perhaps too young for certain subject matters in the Young Adult section.
The only reservation I feel in recommending Echo is that two of the three stories feature male protagonists. While I do believe that the book itself is appealing for girls, because I read (and ADORED) Esperanza Rising, which features a female protagonist, I felt disappointed by Munoz Ryan’s choice to portray such male-dominated realms in this book. We need more Esperanzas as role models for our girls!
Jamie's Book Review: I really loved this book, and reading it made me feel at once like I was learning so much and seeing ideas articulated that I have known all my life.
Rain is ubiquitous even to the point of being mundane, yet when Barnett explains how it has shaped civilization from the beginning of human existence, I realized how important it is.
When thinking about environmental issues, as we often do around here, this book brings to light the human dependence upon rain and just how crucial and vital it is (and not just so we can have snow on the mountain for skiing, although that is important too!)
I don’t think there has ever been a book such as this— perhaps anthropologists have studied the meaning of rain in different cultures but never in comparison with one another and all at once, and at times it felt like Barnett was trying to say everything at the same time, like she had learned so many interesting facts and was so eager to share that it all came out in one breath.
Otherwise, for non-fiction, it read fluently and well, and Barnett is a good writer who could make the content interesting and draw connections for the reader that you might not otherwise see. This is what I think makes for good nonfiction.
Emily's Book Review: 'The Underground Girls of Kabul' is the most thought-provoking, well-researched, and important books I’ve read in a long time.
Reporter Jenny Nordberg presents a groundbreaking story of bacha posh, girls in Afghanistan who are dressed and socialized as boys. Girls don’t become bacha posh by choice—their parents may choose to disguise their daughter because a son adds prestige to a family, so a daughter can work to help support the family, so she can walk her other sisters to school, or simply so she can enjoy the status and privileges associated with being male in Afghanistan. This practice is widespread and socially accepted (though kept private) because women and girls are considered to have less value than boys.
Ultimately, the practice of raising girls as boys is at once a concession and resistance to the patriarchal order in Afghanistan.
Nordberg uses her interviews with bacha posh to frame her discussion of Afghan history, politics, and culture. Nordberg argues that the subjugation of women should not be trivialized as “merely a women’s issue” to put on the back-burner as Afghanistan reestablishes rule of law.
Control over women is at the core of conflict, and countries with increased gender equality are less violent, and more economically and politically stable.
Chris's Book Review: (Recommended for 12+ years) Naila has had a relatively open childhood with her strict Pakistani parents. They have told her that she can be anything she wants when she grows up, she can have her hair the way she wants, but she cannot have any male friends, at all.
And when the time comes, they will choose her husband.
Her life starts to unravel when her parents find her at her senior prom dancing with a boy! They immediately plan a trip home to Pakistan. Naila feels that her whole life is being taken away, she will miss her graduation where she is Salutatorian. Her parents see in a very different light, that she has done the ultimate betrayal.
Will Naila come to terms with who her family is and things that they want for her.
This is a heart wrenching story of a girl who only wants to be able to make her own life choices, in a culture that doesn’t see it that way. This is a must read for all ages. I loved this book.
Chris's Book Review: Sarah is not overly happy when she sees who the 5 kids from the states are as they get off the plane for their African adventure. Having grown up in very remote places all over the world, Sarah knows that the Kalahari desert is not the place to have accidents happen.
When her dad fails to come back after a call about poachers, she must either risk leaving this groups of kids alone in a place they have know idea how to survive or rise taking them with her to find her father and having them alert the poachers about their whereabouts.
Kalahari is an action packed, fast paced adventure, with great characters and breath taking descriptions of the vast African landscape.
Chris's Book Review: (Recommended for 4-8 year olds) In Cronin and Lewlin’s classic style of Click, Clack, Moo, these ladies bring in a wonderful new character, Baby Duck. But with all babies, Peep is not really into sleeping and keeps everyone up on the farm. As always the story is to cute for words and the illustrations are wonderful. This is a great book for spring and Easter.