Long Way Down

Long Way Down

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, narrated by the author

Published Oct 2017

I haven’t done a proper book review in awhile on here, but I really wanted to share this one because it was a book I probably would not have picked up on my own, if I hadn’t already been using it as part of a teen verse novel booklist already. It’s not a topic that jumps out at you to pick up. Will’s older brother Shawn is killed right in front of him. Will must follow The Rules (Don’t Cry or Snitch and Take revenge on whoever has hurt your family/friends) and exact his revenge on his brother’s killer. So he puts a gun in his waistband and takes the elevator down from the 8th floor down to the lobby. I liked that the author, in the notes at the end, called the book a combination of “A Christmas Carol meets Boyz in the Hood” and that’s pretty accurate. It honestly took me awhile to figure out if the people were all in his head or actually real. Basically, at every floor in the minute it takes to get from his floor to the Lobby, he sees all these important people in his life that were killed by guns, and each gives insight into Will and his brother Shawn, how things have come to a head with Shawn’s death, and how Will is handling or sometimes not handling his grief.

I also loved that the whole point of the book, according to the author, is for everyone to gain a little empathy into the lives of others, and the author does this by forcing us to experience Will’s pain at his brother’s death and giving us an insight into how things have been for his family and friends. In this review, the author also said “Even though this book is an obvious warning against gun violence, it is also meant to humanize young people in the midst of all of this.” I adored the poetry form that he decided to do the novel in and language he used was gorgeous and rich, despite the hard-to-hear subject matter. I really enjoyed this book and very glad I decided to listen to the audiobook read by the author because only an author knows how to put the right emphasis on the words. Highly recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars.

Best Books I read in 2017

I ended up reading a lot of books this year, despite it being a completely crazy year for me personally. It should be about 235 for the year, which was a bit more than I figured it would be. I tend to get uber distracted and ADD the crazier things get, so really it was miraculous that I managed to read this many books despite all of this. I discovered a lot of interesting manga and graphic novels and comics series once again, and read a ton of mangas (72 total this year), and even got to read a few as ARCs. The following books were my favorites for the year. I read too many to limit it to a small number, though I have tried to abbreviate the list. For all the ones my son also loved, I will add “Kid approved” to the titles. 

Children

The Very Fluffy Kitty: Papillon (Papillon #1) by A.N. Kang – It’s so adorable, I’m gonna squeal! Kid approved. 

Papillon-5

Pretty much all of Ryan T. Higgins’ books, as they are hilarious and have fabulous illustrations. Very much Kid Approved:

Wilfred (my favorite illustration below) – I want Wilfred for my friend! 

Wilfred

Be Quiet! – This book feels like trying to explain “quiet” to kids and then the 4 million “why?” questions start. 

Be Quiet

Hotel Bruce (Bruce #2) – I love Bruce’s facial expressions. 

Hotel Bruce

Bruce’s Big Move (Bruce #3)

Bruces-Big-Move

Escargot by Dashka Slater, illustrations by Sydney Hanson – you can’t help but do this in a cute little French accent. Kid Approved. 

Escargot

The Not So Quiet Library written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora – I love his illustrations and this book is adorable! Plus he always includes a character from a previous book (the bear was in Wolfie the Bunny). 

the-not-so-quiet-library-interior-zachariah-ohora

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez Gomez – loved the slightly creepy but lush illustrations of this graphic novel, plus the heroine uses her imagination to escape

Nightlights

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Editions by J.K. Rowling – Re-reading these to my son and loving them much more than the first time I read them. The illustrations really make these amazing and so accessible to children. Can’t wait to read Volume 3! Kid Approved.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Young Adult

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – I liked this book so much, it ended up in one of my fanfiction stories. Can’t wait for book 2 in the series!

Strange the Dreamer

The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan – hilarious audiobook for teens but really best understood by adults (I thought the title looked cooler in Hebrew). 

The Dark Prophecy - Hebrew

The Prince and the Dressmaker written and illustrated by Jen Wang – I loved this graphic novel about being yourself no matter what

The Prince and the Dressmaker2

The Other Side of the Gate and The Empty Sea by Craig Michael Curtis – a series my friend wrote, they’re awesome, please check out his works! Third book will come out soon.

The Other Side of the GateThe Empty Sea

Manga: To check out more info on most of these series, and why I liked the leading males in Manga/Anime, please check out this previous post!

Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 28 Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 27 , and Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 26 by Karuho Shiina

Kimi Ni Todoke

High School Debut Vol. 1- written and illustrated by Kazune Kawahara – I am Haruna and I need some help. Where’s my hot teacher? Also, Yoh is super adorable below. 

High School Debut

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition Vol 1-12 written and illustrated by Natsuke Takaya – after watching the anime again, I felt like I needed to read the original manga version and it was even better than the anime. This might be one of my favorite series’ ever!

Fruits Basket vol 21 Ch 120

Library Wars: Love and War Vol 15 written and illustrated Kiiro Yumi – last volume 😦

Library Wars Vol 15

Adult

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn – also coincidentally the best audiobook I listened to as well; I have always been a fan of the Chiss, but had never read anything about Thrawn in particular. Loved Thrawn –>Eli–>Governor Pryce as top three characters. Plus it was awesome to listen to the audiobook then literally a few weeks later see both characters in Star Wars Rebels Season 3.

Thrawn

Saga Vol 1-7 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples – best comic series I’ve read in a long time, hands down!

Saga

Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, The Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell 

Black Dahlia

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore – Tie between this book, Thrawn and Black Dahlia for the most interesting book I’ve read this year.

Wonder Woman

The Empty Sea

The Empty Sea

The Empty Sea (Into the Realms #2) by Craig Michael Curtis

Released originally April 30, 2013

Daniel, Eleanor, Immy and Oka have spent two years traveling through the perilous Labyrinth in the Fifth Realm before they finally managed to escape, only to be betrayed by a temporary member of their party. Eventually they make it to the oceanic Sixth Realm, only to be separated almost immediately. The boys are press-ganged onto a Yellow Star Guild Ship, while the girls end up with the opposing New Start Guild. This trip around the Sixth Realm is a real test of faith for both Daniel and Eleanor, and they find themselves continuously questioning themselves and their decisions. After a very circuitous route and acquiring a few new companions, they finally manage to make it to the Seventh Realm and meet back up again. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story. There were several spelling/grammar errors that I feel could’ve been corrected with some good editing. The beginning up until they got to the Ocean of Storms in the Sixth Realm was rather exciting, then the story really dragged in the middle, and picked back up again in the end.  It took me forever to finish this one because I ended up reading a couple of ARCs in-between. Even though I didn’t understand all of the sailing ship references, different parts of the ship etc, I enjoyed the Horatio Hornblower/Master and Commander feel to it. In that respect, it reminds me of L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, which I adore. The map in the beginning of the book was very helpful as each group of characters jumped around in the Sixth Realm a lot, and I had trouble keeping track of where they went. 

I know the separation between Daniel and Eleanor was great for the story-building, but it was also super frustrating. This is especially true during the part where they literally missed each other by a couple hundred feet but didn’t meet. I know I wasn’t the only reader to scream out “No!” at that moment. Despite their separation, or maybe because of it, there was a lot of growing up done by both Daniel and Eleanor. I feel like they’ve really learned what they are capable of and what each of them can endure, which will become more important the further into the Realms they go and especially with their sort of forced separation (when Eleanor goes back to the Fourth Realm with Oka because of her promise). 

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the author in exchange for my honest review.

 

Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 28

Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 28

Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 28 by Karuho Shiina

To be published: Jan 2, 2018

Ayane refuses to tell Pin (Mr. Arai) that she likes him because he is respected teacher at their school, even though she’s completely fallen for him and told her friends all about it. Meanwhile Sawako and Kazehaya are enjoying their Christmas break and spending more time together outside of school. Chizuru and Ryu are also spending time together when she realizes that Ryu hasn’t told Toru (his brother and Chizuru’s first love) about them yet, which makes Ryu a little jealous. However, when they tell Toru he is so happy for them. Over by the school, Pin is not coping well with being single on Christmas, especially with all the couples he keeps seeing. He runs into Ayane, and chides her for being hit on by so many guys. He offers to walk her home to get rid of the horde of men asking her out. But she gets mad at him after he calls her a kid.

Toru and his wife Haruka come with their baby daughter Ayu to visit the family and Chizuru falls a little in love with her. A snowstorm develops on New Years Eve, which also happens to be Sawako’s birthday, but neither she nor Kazehaya can wait to see each other so they both brave a snowstorm to do so. Kazehaya gives her a ring and promises to give her a wedding ring in the future, as they ring in the New Year together. The whole gang gets together the next day for New Years Day at their local shrine to pray for good fortunes and Chizuru has invited Pin, which makes things super awkward for Ayane after their last meeting. The girls reminisce about the last couple of years they’ve been friends and wish each other well on final exams to graduate high school. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars. 

If I didn’t already love this series, I can see how this series could drive a person crazy with its saccharine-y sweet scenes of first love and teen angst. And this volume had both by the dozen. I however just see it as just a fun shoujo series and being a hopeless romantic at heart, the adorable parts are even more adorable. 

There were so many sweet and hilarious scenes in this volume. For example, the line that Sawako says early on, “Everything I dreamed when I entered high school came true with you [i.e. getting more friends and a boyfriend so she has people to hang with].” And then she and Kazehaya exchange gifts and they get so embarrassed just holding hands. It is too cute! And oh my goodness, when Sawako can’t go home because of the snowstorm and has to stay at Kazehaya’s house and their faces are priceless, especially after he gets a sex talk lecture from his mom twice! Then there is the gift-opening scene, which was so sweet I wanted to cry, but also laugh a bit because they’re still so awkward together after all this time. 

I also love when Ryu and Chizuru are at his house, and he leans in for a kiss when Chizuru is fixing his Christmas antlers. Ooh and when Ayane sees Pin with his hair down and she gets so excited to see him, and then can’t help harassing him like old times. And later when they’re walking home together, I love when he tells her “to stop smelling so good,” like it’s something she could stop. After the snowstorm, on New Years Eve Day, Chizuru’s reaction to Sawako and Kazehaya-kun getting “lovey-dovey” was hilarious and reminded me of a similar reaction to Kyo in Fruits Basket with the protagonist’s two best friends. Overall, this was one of the best volumes yet and I can’t wait for volume 29, even though I know they will probably end the series in a couple of volumes. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Simon and Schuster (Viz Media LLC) in exchange for my honest review. 

Check Me Out

Check Me Out

Check Me Out by Becca Wilhite

To be published: Feb 6, 2018

Greta is a small town Assistant Librarian who really loves her job. Only her local library is in trouble and she takes on saving it single-handedly. She has been best friends with Will, the civics teacher and debate coach at the local high school, since they were little an he has always been there for her. Greta’s mother likes to criticize Will because he is chunky and therefore, in her opinion, not worth her time. This year for her birthday, she has asked for the perfect man and Will has delivered him in the form of his cousin, Mac. He is a poetry-spouting, drop-dead gorgeous man who likes to give her free hot chocolates whenever she visits him in the cafe that he works. Who wouldn’t want that? Plus he seems to be really into her. Is he too good to be true? To find out read this modern adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, and decide for yourself which man Greta should end up with. 3-1/2 stars. 

First things first, I usually do not read adult romance books. I would much rather read a historical fiction or a manga that has romance in it but is not the main focus. This one was pretty formulaic, and after I found out it was based on Cyrano de Bergerac, I knew exactly what was going to happen. The library element did add a bit of a twist, which I enjoyed, but pretty much everything was tied up in a nice bow at the end. Overall, I did enjoy the book. 

I picked this one up because it was about librarians, the main character has an MLIS (like me) and she thinks she might’ve found the perfect guy (courtesy of her best friend). And Mac is perfect: curly dark hair, loves poetry and writes it for her, and is gorgeous. He’s the total package, or is he? No surprise that this handsome guy can’t think on his own or that his bigger cousin is supplying all his fabulous lines. I didn’t so much like the whole “Will is fat so he can’t be a good choice for me” mentality that the main character, to an extent, and definitely her mother seemed to have. Just because you’re overweight doesn’t make you less of a person or less deserving of love and attention. I mean it was pretty obvious early on that Greta had a thing for him even if she never mentioned it out loud, especially the longer she hung out with Mac. And Will definitely had the hots for her, even if she was too dumb to figure it out. I always find it a little funny how some people can have advanced degrees but be totally clueless when it comes to love and sex. And no, this is not everyone, but it has been this way in my experience.

The librarian part of the story I enjoyed the most. While I’ve never worked as a small-town librarian, I have worked in small city branches and know all about the fight to keep yours open and viable, and the constant funding issues that you face in one. Greta was incredibly lucky to find a job right out of graduate school, as library jobs are few and far between these days. I have very personal experience with that issue. You really gotta love your job to stay a librarian long-term. I also loved her historical crush on Dr. Silver, and how he fought for integration in the local public school. I’m glad she eventually got to meet him and be a bit of a radical herself, even though the results were not exactly what she had planned. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for my honest review. 

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker written and illustrated by Jen Wang

To be published: Feb 13, 2018

The graphic novel is a historical fiction set in Paris in the late 19th Century, and stars Frances a talented but frustrated seamstress, and her employer, the shy Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium who turns into the fabulously outgoing Lady Crystallia, fashion icon to all the young Parisians. Problems arise when Sebastian must keep his personal life very secret as his parents are trying to marry him off at the earliest opportunity, so he is meeting eligible young woman during the day and becoming one at night. Of course things become complicated, and Sebastian pulls a really douche bag move trying to save himself and his reputation. Will he be able to salvage his friendship with Frances and become the person he really wants to be? To find out, read this fabulous graphic novel. Recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars. 

I loved that this volume was all about self-acceptance and self-discovery. Being on a bit of similar journey myself, I was really drawn into the story. I found it fascinating that it was involving a cute but awkward prince who doesn’t see the value in himself as a boy, and only feels confident when he dresses in women’s clothing. There has been a lot of press with this sort of story lately, so it is nice to see such as well-thought-out handling of the subject matter. Frances is able to show him how beautiful he can be in her gorgeous dress creations.She finds someone a real friend who supports her dreams and wants her to grow and improve, and finds the same in Sebastian. One example of this, is when Sebastian meets one of Frances’ idols Madame Aurelia when he is dressed as Lady Crystallia, and they both get invited to the Paris Opera House to see her latest creations for the ballet, and the opportunity to show her work to a master dressmaker and he’s as excited as she is. Then he takes her out to eat as the Prince, treats her like a princess, and tells her how much he admires her tenacity. Squeee! That is so adorable!

I love the artwork, especially all the gorgeous dresses and the time period (which seems to have been set sometime during the Belle Epoque – circa 1871-1914). The story, as other reviewers have commented on, does have a lot of “awww” moments where you just want to hug them both and tell them everything will be alright, especially Sebastian. And the part at the end with his dad was so sweet, though I’m not sure if it would ever happen like that in real life, at least not with royalty (we can always hope!). The part that almost made me cry like a baby was at the end when the King says to Frances, “When I first learned the truth, I thought Sebastian’s life would be ruined. But seeing you, I realized everything would be fine…Because someone still loved him.”

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from First Second Books, in exchange for my honest review. 

Black Dahlia, Red Rose

Black Dahlia Red Rose

Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell

To be published: Oct 10, 2017

The Black Dahlia murder case remains a brutal unsolved mystery murder case. Committed by someone familiar with surgical techniques, the murder of twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short, the so-called Black Dahlia because of the lingerie she wore and her jet-black hair. The investigation has never been solved, but I believe Piu Eatwell has finally done that. Using previously unreleased FBI and LAPD files, in addition to the first-hand accounts of people like news reporter Aggie Underwood and Dr. DeRiver, psychologist of the LAPD during the time of the murder, the author makes a compelling argument about the identity of the killer. She also explains who else might’ve been behind the scenes of the murder, as well as the corruption and cover-up perpetrated by the LAPD and their associates. Highly recommended, 5 stars. 

I personally loved the way the author set the story for Los Angeles in 1940s post-war America. Narrative nonfiction doesn’t always work, but I really liked the way she blended fact and story to get a let’s-face-it not pleasant topic across. Elizabeth Short was brutally murdered, according to the author’s website, by being “bludgeoned to death, her mouth slit wide on each side. Severe post-mortem lacerations had been made to the body. Most shocking, the corpse had been hacked in two.”

The influences of Hollywood are all over Los Angeles (as they have been since the movie industry has been in existence), but there is also the influence of of gangsters and their cronies, like Mark Hansen, who peddled sex and drugs, and encouraged women to sell themselves body and soul to get into pictures and become famous. I had heard stories about the corruption of the LAPD but to read about it and the depth to which it went, was fascinating, and really makes me want to read a book about that all on its own. The lengths to which they went to in order to cover up the dealings of certain members of the force, basically sabotaged the entire Black Dahlia murder investigation. After reading this book, I can very much imagine a scene as described by the author, between the man who ordered Elizabeth Short’s murder and the man who actually committed it, just like Henry II telling his knights to “get rid of this troublesome priest” when they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a Becket. I found it very fascinating that the author, at the end of the book, discovered Leslie Dillon’s daughter was named Elizabeth, adding that just extra bit of creepiness to an already creepy story. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from W.W. Norton & Company in exchange for my honest review.