Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Romance Project: Update

This year, one of my reading resolutions is to read more romance novels. It's a genre that I am not very familiar with and it's a super popular one with my library patrons. I'm calling it The Romance Project and I made a list in my bullet journal of titles to seek out this year. I'm constantly adding to the list, so I would love to know your favorite romance titles and authors, particularly authors of color and queer romance.

I'm going to check in here regularly so I can keep myself accountable. Here's what I've read so far this year:

 The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (Berkeley Books, 2018). When Nik's boyfriend of a few months proposes to her on the jumbo screen at a baseball game, she turns him down (OF COURSE) and is thrust into the spotlight. Carlos comes to her rescue, helping her escape the stadium before camera crews can track her down, and they start hanging out. Neither is looking for anything serious, but as they start to get to know each other they discover they actually have a lot in common... I really liked this one! It's a fun story and I really liked both the leads. I liked that Nik is a strong independent woman who can take care of herself.

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn (Avon Books, 2000). Daphne's the girl everyone likes but no one loves, much to the chagrin of her mother who is trying to get her eldest daughter married off. Simon is the mysterious duke who's just appeared back in town and caught the eye of every eligible woman AND their mothers. When Daphne and Simon meet by chance at a party, they decide to start a fake courtship to get Daphne's suitors more interested and to get the mothers off Simon's back.

Julia Quinn is an author recommended to me by multiple readers and I can see why she has fans - there's a lot of humor in this book and very likeable characters. I found some major elements of this book pretty problematic and it wasn't for me. I am going to try some different historical titles and I'd like to try a more recently published Quinn (let me know if you have a recommendation!) and see if I like that better.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (Berkeley, May 2019). When Khai Diep's mother brings Vietnamese Esme Tran to live with him for the summer, she's hoping for a match that will end in marriage. Khai's just hoping Esme will leave his stuff alone and Esme is hoping for a better life for her and her young daughter. Told with heart and humor, this steamy romance novel features a neurodiverse lead and an immigrant lead based on the author's mother's experiences. I really enjoyed the humor here and the diverse characters. I think readers who liked The Kiss Quotient (me among them!) will enjoy this title, as well. Coming in May! (Reviewed from digital galley provided by publisher.)

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev (Kensington, 2014). Married at four years old, Mili Rathod has dedicated her life to being the perfect wife, despite the fact that her husband, an officer in the Indian Air Force, has never come to fetch her. Samir Rathod has tracked Mili down at her Michigan college to secure a divorce for his brother - their child marriage was supposed to have been annulled but his grandfather never followed through. But when Mili is in an accident and Samir comes to her rescue, the two start to become friends and then maybe more, even as they're both carrying secrets that will devastate the other. I really enjoyed this one, too. I liked the cultural details included and the slow development of Mili and Samir's friendship and eventual romance. I listened to this one on audio, narrated by Priya Ayyar, and it was just what I needed to get motivated to work out on these cold February days.

So that is the state of my Romance Project so far. I'll check in again soon! What titles and authors would you recommend I add to my list?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Perfect Predator

You all. This was a book that I COULDN'T PUT DOWN and that does not happen to me very much. I am a very distracted reader and I'm usually reading many books at the same time. I heard about this true medical thriller at the ALA Midwinter conference at one of the Book Buzz panels and they mentioned that it had been so popular that all their galleys were gone. I can definitely see why.

Steffanie Strathdee and her husband Tom Patterson were traveling in Egypt when Tom first got violently sick. After dealing with a poorly equipped hospital in Egypt and being medevacked to Germany, they figured out that he had contracted an infection from a superbug - a virulent drug-resistant bacteria. Tom kept getting worse and worse and doctors started to Steffanie her that there was nothing more that could be done. So epidemiologist Steffanie took matters into her own hands, researching phage therapy - treatment involving virus phages that attack bacteria. The treatment was not FDA approved and there was no guarantee that it would work, but they were desperate and ready to try anything... if they could get approval in time.

Not only is this a page-turning thriller that reads like the best episode of ER ever, it's written in a very relateable style and with lots of humorous moments. I enjoyed the writing as much as the subject matter. Strathdee has a talent for explaining a lot of complicated medical stuff in ways that make it easy to understand and engage with. I learned a ton and super enjoyed the reading experience.

It's definitely disturbing in parts and this book won't be for everybody - it's graphic in its descriptions of Tom's illness, hypochondriacs and the squeamish should stay away. Plus, the threat of drug-resistant bacteria is a very real threat that humans have created and ignored for so long that it's pretty scary.

Readalikes: Hand this one to readers who enjoyed the true medical drama Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Calahan. This is a similarly fast-paced medical mystery story dealing with unusual illness. 

Of course one of the heavy hitters in the medical thriller genre is The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston. Readers who enjoy the fast pace and gory details of The Hot Zone will also like The Perfect Predator. 

And Steffanie Strathdee's talent in educating about medical topics like vaccines and microbiology in an engaging way reminded me a lot of another favorite science book, The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. Although it's a different type of medical topic, I think readers who are interested in engaging science writing will enjoy both books. 

Book information:

The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug by Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson. Adult. Hachette Book Group, February 2019. 304 pages. Reviewed from ARC received from publisher.  

Friday, February 22, 2019

New Kid

Jordan Banks loves art, but his parents refuse to send him to the art school he wants to go to. Instead, they enroll him at the prestigious private school Riverdale Academy Day School where Jordan turns out to be one of the few kids of color in his grade. His parents keep telling him that this school will help him learn how to navigate the world at large, and he's smart and can excel in a rigorous academic environment. But at this school Jordan has to deal with things like students AND teachers mixing his name up with the names of other African American students, getting stared at whenever teachers mention students on financial aid, and the only books the school librarian recommending to him being gritty tales of African American kids dealing with gang life or prison. It's hard enough to be the new kid in school without having to deal with all the microaggressions he gets every day.

Jordan's parents say that if he still doesn't want to go there by ninth grade, they'll let him go to art school, but can he survive until then?

This book had so many moments that tell it like it is. It's probably the best middle grade book at dealing with microaggressions that I've seen. It does not stray away from how uncomfortable it makes Jordan, even when his white classmates and teachers don't realize what they're doing.

This is a book that kids of color will identify with and that white kids need to read and talk about. And it's written in a fun way. Full-color panels illustrate Jordan's day to day life in school split up by black and white spreads from Jordan's sketchbook as he reflects on stuff that's happening to him at school. Each chapter is named and illustrated for a spoof on the media (example: Chapter 3: The Hungry Games: Stop Mocking J). A blurb from Jeff Kinney on the front cover does not lead readers astray - this is a funny story talking about serious stuff. Jerry Craft really uses humor to delve into heavy topics in a way that makes them approachable.

This is a must-purchase for your library shelves, especially if you have readers of contemporary realistic graphic novels.

Readalikes: I feel like most contemporary realistic graphic novels get compared to the powerhouse Smile by Raina Telgemeier, but I think it really is an apt comparison here. They're both loosely plotted, taking place over the course of a year or years, and both feature protagonists that are navigating the tricky waters of middle school while feeling different from everyone around them.

The theme of being one of few kids of color at a prestigious private school and dealing with microaggression after microaggression makes this a great readalike for Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson.

And readers looking for more strong stories of middle school African American kids navigating things other than grit may enjoy Jason Reynolds's Track series.

Book Information:

New Kid by Jerry Craft. Grades 4-8. HarperCollins, February 2019. 250 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Hey, I'm an IndieBound affiliate, which means that if you purchase books through the links on this site, you're not only supporting your favorite independent bookstore, you're supporting me, too!

Friday, February 1, 2019

A Step Towards Inclusion, but the Journey's Not Complete

This year, for the first time, the recipients of the winners of youth literature awards from ALA's affiliate organizations were announced at the Youth Media Awards announcements. This includes the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA)'s Literary Award, the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Book Award, and the American Indian Library Association's American Indian Youth Literature Award (which is announced in even years, so there were no winners to announce this year).

Due to time constraints, only the winners of these awards were announced and that resulted in some justifiable indignation that the honor books were left out. I want to focus first on the books here, so here are the winners AND honorees of the APALA Literary Award and the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Then keep reading for more thoughts.

2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature:
Full press release here.

Young Adult Winner: Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Dial)
Young Adult Honor: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (Little, Brown)


Children's Winner: Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic)
Children's Honor: The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio (Wendy Lamb)


Picture Book Winner: Drawn Together by Minh L√™, illustrated by Dan Santat (Disney-Hyperion)
Picture Book Honor: Grandmother's Visit by Betty Quan, illustrated by Carmen Mok (Groundwood Books)

Sydney Taylor Book Award (Association of Jewish Libraries):
Full press release here.


Younger Readers Gold Medalist:
All of a Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Schwartz & Wade)

Younger Readers Silver Medalists:
A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (Charlesbridge)
Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall's Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPr√©  (Knopf)


Older Readers Gold Medalist:
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (Puffin)

Older Reader Silver Medalists:
All Three Stooges by Erica S. Perl (Knopf)
The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman (Dial)


Teen Gold Medalist:
What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper (Knopf)

Teen Silver Medalist:
You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon (Simon Pulse)

The American Indian Youth Literature Award is presented in even years, so there were no awards announced for 2019.

During the announcements, ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo did mention that there were honor books that could be found on the organizations' websites, but they were still difficult to track down. Twitter erupted with justified indignation that the honor books for these awards were not announced (only the winners proper). Jody Gray, director of the ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services, offered this response, which has not been as widely shared on social media. Go and read it, I'll wait.

I think it's important to note that this is the first year of adding these awards to the announcements and there are many moving pieces to the scheduling puzzle that are really difficult to navigate. I regret that anyone felt left out and excluded when I know the intent of this change was to be more inclusive. I think it's important that we continue to work towards a better solution. I myself would have loved to hear about the honor books at the announcements. Many of them I haven't read and I am so glad to be exposed to them now (my holds list at the library has grown so long!). I believe that ALA is listening and I also believe that we can do better and that ALA wants to work towards that.