Sunday, December 31, 2017

Wrapping Up the Book Year! Part 1: Fiction

The gift-y part of the holiday season may be over...but there are still 2 big gifts under the tree - to you -  from me! It's my year end book round-up, and I have some terrific books to share. I wrote up my fave fictions and non-fictions separately, cause I like to have lots of gifts to give. Something about all the wrapping paper and anticipation. 

I did some pretty solid reading this year - I'm at 105 books.  Next year, I promise I will publish the whole list, but I wasn't technologically astute this year and thus, giving you my favorites will have to do. I am pleased, though, that I managed to read 63 books by women - last year, the vast majority of the books I read were written by men, and although I thought about making women writers a priority for the year, I didn't consciously choose women over men - I just read what looked the most interesting. And voila! Women appeared all over my book list. 

I can't pick just one favorite book, you understand. That's an impossible mission and no mistake. So here are my top 5 fiction books of the year:

I'll be honest: I picked this book as my favorite long before the end of the year. I read it way back in March, and before I'd even finished it, I just couldn't imagine another book coming along to knock it from its new perch. It's amusing, provocative, thoughtful, and adorably quirky. It offers optimism in the face of grief and cheer right alongside dismay and disillusionment. It has a GenX soul - jaded but always hopeful, even so. As far as the plot goes, Mastai's screenwriting background makes itself known: there's an insistent but subtle (well, sometimes totally not at all subtle) flair for the dramatic and the pulse of a movie thrums along under the muscle and bone of the story, which is a wildly original one: a young guy living in a world that has figured out all of the world's energy problems with the invention of a single device winds up in an alternate timeline where the device - and a lot of other things - didn't wind up being what it was in his original experience. Time travel, love affairs, families made and remade, and plenty of shenanigans add up to the best book I read this year.  It figures that Mastai is a Canadian, since I've had Canada envy all year. 

Katherine Arden may not be a household name yet, but if your house is full of interesting and vivid stories told in such a way that your bones hurt when you stand up to get a drink because you've been sitting for several hours without moving anything but your fingertips and your brain, she should be.  Arden does what she really should not: she tells us the story before she tells us the story. That is, she gives us a Russian folktale around the fire...and then brings that story to life in the novel that unfolds and follows. And it works! Her vision of the tale brought to life is eerie, magical, and deeply chilling. It's the perfect read for a winter's night...and the sequel has just arrived, so you can read Arden around the family fire for a number of nights to come. 

Peter Heller's Celine reassured me that he is around for the long haul. I read The Dog Stars several years ago and loved it, but couldn't get into his next book at all, which threw me into a small but very real tide pool of literary despair. Was he a one-hit wonder? Simply put: no. Celine explores the boundaries of familial love, the long arm of the law, and the ways in which even those closest to us remain unknown. The protagonist, for whom the book is named,  smacked down my doubt and won my heart with her brave yet refined behavior, her crystal-clear intellect, and her ability to stay cool no matter what the situation. This book made me giddy and relaxed at once; I hope Celine returns in a future novel, because she deserves it. We all deserve it! 

This one has been trumpeted for months - but it's worth the hype. Egan expertly weaves a sophisticated coming-of-age during World War II tale that isn't only about the war. Her characters could walk right off the page. My only quibble is with the ending, but her commitment to a plausible reality makes her choice necessary.  One of the most absorbing blockbusters of the year, surely. 
I've been a huge fan of contemporary dystopian fiction for years,  but I slowed my pace this year due to the dystopia of reality. I couldn't resist Carrasco, however. His ability to create a parched, alien - and yet familiar - environment impressed me; I also appreciated the role of religion in this vision of an unbearable future. An extremely powerful debut from Spain. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

An Avalanche in Summertime?

Unusual, even here in Colorado, but it's definitely happening. I have so many books piled up to talk about with you, and plenty more waiting at my fingertips, aching to be read. 

Of course, I'm reading a couple of books right now, including Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire. Apparently, her Every Heart A Doorway won a pile of awards last year but I just stumbled across this little gem at the library. So glad I did, because she's the real deal - a fantasy writer who's here to stay. If you need irrefutable proof that McGuire isn't going to waste your time, look no further than this:

There are worlds built on rainbows and words built on rain. There are worlds of pure mathematics, where every number chimes like crystal as it rolls into reality. There are worlds of light and worlds of darkness, worlds of rhyme and worlds of reason, and worlds where the only thing that matters is the goodness in a hero's heart. The Moors are none of those things. The Moors exist in eternal twilight, in the pause between the lightning strike and the resurrection.

I just want to plaster that bit of beauty onto my clavicle, or sleep with it under my pillow - whatever it takes to make it seep into my bones, you know? 

My own aspirations have turned to writing full time as of late. I've wanted to be a writer since I learned to read, and although various events and adventures led me to plaster over that dream well, words keep sneaking through, leaking out and out, wearing thin the little walls that I erected. So, writing. I've circled back around to the dreams and wishes of little girl me. She's the one with wisdom, the one who always knew best. Kids usually are, I guess. Especially when they devour books like Seanan McGuire's! 

On that note, I'll be back in a twinkling to discuss some of the kid lit I've read and loved so far this year. Happy reading! 

Friday, May 26, 2017

A New Approach

I've been thinking it over and I really wish I'd become a librarian. Or had my own bookstore. So I decided to solve my problem by building a Little Free Library. I literally would LOVE the chance to curate my own little library and stick little comments about each book on a bookmark placed inside...I would grease the little hinges and get up in the night when there was a storm, just like a farmer, and trudge out to check on my brave little library outbuilding and all the books nestled there, making sure there weren't any leaks or doors flapping open and that the books were snuggled in, cover to cover and cozy...and then I would bravely hike the six or seven steps back to my house and go inside...after stopping to take a last little look out into the swirling darkness, fogging up the glass of the front door as I struggled to see the outlines of the perfectly pitched little roof. And I would decorate it on holidays with itty bitty wreaths or banners cleverly made from newspaper clippings or old books that had fallen apart and needed upcycling...

The only obstacles to making my dream a reality are two-fold: I don't appreciate the building arts, and I'm not all that good at following directions to put together furniture and whatnot (well, now that I think of it, following any directions is not my strong suit...but I digress). But! I figured I would do an end run around these problems and ask for this priceless and most important gift (a gift not only for me, but for my neighborhood community!) for Mother's Day. So, I shared my dream with my handsome and amazing husband, Nick, who indulges my whims and requests on a regular basis and is my knight in shining armor, my best friend and confidante, who regularly inspires me with his generosity of spirit and ability to manage even the most dire of situations with a heart-stopping smile... And can you believe it?! That rat bastard* said NO!

Why did he cruelly dash my hopes, tear my dearest wish into bits of filthy confetti, and attempt to quash my heart's desire? Well! I'll tell you why: RULES! Yes, that's right. Over the many years we've spent together, I've come to understand that genuinely good and ethical people (such as my husband) have a big problem: they respect rules and regulations. I find this puzzling, because somewhat morally ambiguous people (such as myself) see rules as generally helpful and necessary, but also have no problem ignoring, circumventing, and/or undermining rules that they understand are unfair and/or stupid. 

So, our HOA says we can't add any structures to our front lawn. And sure, I understand the intention behind the rule: no one wants some rogue element building a duck blind or putting out a huge salt lick in hopes that a deer will wander up or erecting an eight foot tall martini glass that doubles as a birdbath. But a Little Free Library? It is none of those things! Actually, homes from now on all should incorporate Little Free Libraries into their landscaping, because they are: 

  1. Beautiful and loveable, as explained above
  2. Necessary in order to keep our shelves, desks, and tables from collapsing under the weight of no longer needed books
  3. Enriching for the community, young and old, especially since elementary and middle schoolers walk past our home on the reg
  4. Beneficial for the stewards of the libraries (that is, me), because they (I) might make new friends who love books as much as they (I) do!

These are airtight arguments and should not be questioned. But alas, despite my well-crafted commentary and even a bit of eyelash fluttering proved insufficiently persuasive to bring him around to the Dark Side, and thus, when Mother's Day rolled around, I did not receive the library of my dreams. Instead, I received a very nifty dummy-proof herb garden (complete with little pre-seeded pods, an adjustable grow light with timer, and an automatic watering system!), because in addition to not being able to follow directions, I also am not able to keep plants alive unless they're succulents. And yes, yes, fine! The garden has been a continuous source of entertainment and interest for all of us. All six pods have sprouted and the resulting little plantlets appropriately named by whomever discovered the first bit of greenery (Michael Jackson the Thai Basil; Herb the Genovese Basil; Precious Thyme; Dill Pickles; Penny the Mint; and Parsley, Sage). Furthermore, a tiny jumping spider even showed up this morning to protect the plants from insidious bugs (and children's fingers, since they are afraid of spiders)! It's an altogether delightful and educational gift that I didn't even know I wanted. 

But I still want a Little Free Library

I've considered the "ask forgiveness, not permission" route and the "maybe Nick won't even notice it if I camouflage it with leaves" approach; I've even entertained the notion of installing it right in the border with our neighbor and then blaming said neighbor...but in my finer moments, I recognize that Nick IS a simply wonderful human and shockingly low maintenance (whereas me? not so much with the low maintenance), so I probably should let this one go and use it in the future as an example of my selflessness and boundless love for him. 

So. In the spirit of letting things go, I've decided to make this space right here my virtual Free Little Library! Yes, my bookish friends, you are the lucky beneficiaries of my dashed dreams. I don't have the time to properly and consistently create the long posts I had been writing, so instead I'll write up a short note on books I've read that would have gone into my library, and design my own little bookmarks and everything, just like I had planned! And really, I'll be able to share an even larger number of books with a broader population, since I tend to read a lot of e-books, especially when reading for fun. AND! If I DO comment on an actual book that I have and no longer need, I will give that book away to anyone local who wants it, complete with bookmark and my recommendation note! I would promise to send the books to whomever claims it first, but honestly, I'm not great at getting to the post office in a timely manner and I don't want to pay postage. But I suppose that if you want to pay postage, we could work it out. I dunno. I'll think on it. Any thoughts about this? Chime in! 

I can't wait to get started and breathe some life back into this little blog! I've been missing sharing books and all things bookish with you. Look for an update with the next few days. 

In the meantime, I hope you have a relaxing long weekend ahead that prepares you for a summer chock full of books - books that make you laugh and cry, books that leave you pleasantly satiated and books that leave you starving for more, books that challenge, confuse, reward, and enlighten you, books that help you make the messy, amazing, treacherous, precious experience of living a little more meaningful. Books and books and books. 

And now you may pretend that you - or I! - are falling into an enormous nest of books and curling up for a little rest. Happy book dreams to us all! 

*Nick is NOT, of course, a rat bastard and I love him with all my heart and soul. I may have gotten a tiny bit carried away.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lit Quick Picks .5: International Women's Day Edition

Image result for strong women may we raise them

I didn't think to write this post until late in the day yesterday, which was of course actually International Women's Day, and then I worried that I was too late to do it. But then I thought, eh - it's probably yesterday somewhere, right? And then I thought - heck! It's suddenly about 85 years ago here in America, and that settled it: I had all the time I needed. 

First of all, I love that International Women's Day received so much attention this year. It offered me the opportunity to think about the girls and women of my literary life whom I hold most dear. Here are a few. Do you have a few, too? Who? Tell me!

Helen Keller.  I must have bought my first book about Helen Keller through the Scholastic Book Club in first or second grade, and I had to have read it at least 40 or 50 times. I can still see the cover of that poor book in my mind's eye, its creased and somewhat mutilated cover, with a blue sky and rolling green hills, and an illustration of Helen herself (after Annie Sullivan awakened her, of course - all sweet looking and pigtailed, holding Dolly). Her story moved me so deeply, and inspired me so much as a child. Blind and deaf - and a college graduate, a motivational speaker, an independent and principled young woman. Beautiful, well-mannered, and with a gentle sense of humor. I used to wrap a scarf over my eyes and ears and walk through the house, trying to absorb it with just my fingertips, ever more impressed with Helen's poise and perseverance. And the best part about Helen was that the more I learned about her, the more amazed I became at her strength and courage. She was an outspoken political activist, a socialist and advocate of women's rights, who showed me that ambition was alright for girls and women. She lived what she believed and did it all without losing faith in herself, in her support network, in humanity. Whenever I'm having a tough day, Helen invariably surfaces in my mind and gently but firmly urges me onward. Such an extraordinary woman. I wish I could have met her. My first personal hero, and she's never left my heart.   

Madeleine L'Engle. "It was a dark and stormy night." So begins the phenomenal adventure A Wrinkle in Time. L'Engle takes the most mundane of opening lines and leads her readers by the hand into a world of terrible and astonishing adventures. She never fails to crack her characters wide open, relentlessly exposing their most humbling faults and imperfections - and then building on those very vulnerabilities to give us girls and women (and stars and monsters) who are strong and brave and talented not in spite of those flaws, but because of them. No one had ever dared me to look at my faults like that before Meg Murray came along (followed close behind in my literary life by Vicki Austen, the teen girl at the center of L'Engle's beautiful "Meet the Austens" series, which featured the most functional and finely-made family I'd ever encountered, and they made my heart beat a little differently forever after); no one had asked me to really look at my faults at all, really.  Don't we all want to present our best selves? And don't we often offer our children our own rose-colored views of them and their accomplishments in order to encourage them? Of course we do. But L'Engle challenged me to try something new, and I find myself thinking of her work more often as my children grow and step more completely into themselves, learning of their own blind spots and beauties and rough bits and all the good stuff that we often don't learn to embrace until we're far along the timelines of our own lives, if we're lucky enough to ever learn to embrace it at all. 

Annie Dillard. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek spilled itself at my feet the first time when I was a second year college student. It was a revelation. I had no idea people could write like that: bold and thoughtful and quizzical and true.  It was my introduction to the literary essay, and I fell in love with that format and never really looked back, now that I think on it a little.  Dillard's work sets the well-known Proustian adage* on fire: she doesn't just offer us the opportunity to look at the world through her new eyes - she beguiles you to do the same. A snail, a lake, a bloody catprint on the windowpane: Dillard gives us flights of fancy one moment and measured scientific consideration the next, then skips off through the looking-glass of her Although Pilgrim remains my favorite, I have a soft spot for An American Childhood, which made me laugh out loud and left indelible pseudo-memories in my brain. Dillard's mom refused to change her address even though they moved several times...and the post office just rolled with it! She used to trap the baby's drawstring under her foot so that the baby just kept crawling and crawling and crawling to nowhere! Dillard herself had to take social dancing and etiquette lessons (and despite the damp palmed horrors of it all - or maybe because of that - I knew I had missed an excellent opportunity) and had secret spaces for writing and reading and drawing! Annie Dillard is just the best. I hope I never meet her because then I might have to admit that the memories I adopted from her aren't really mine. I think she'd understand. At least, I imagine she would.

Bonus! I simply must pay homage to the literary character who lives most deeply in my literary heart of hearts: 

 Harriet the Spy. Man. If there was one literary character I encountered in my childhood who I really, really, REALLY wanted to be, it was Harriet the Spy. But she shocked me to no end, so I knew I just couldn't be her. I guess she was my secret alter ego. I mean, Harriet wrote all sorts of things (and so did I), but she wrote about people she KNEW - and she wrote mean things! Petty things! Even about Sport and Janie, her very best friends, and even about Ol' Golly! (Insightful and astute things, too, of course, but that didn't shock me.) I could hardly believe my eyes. And she SPIED on people - not the run-of-the-mill creep to the top of the stairs and listen to your parents kind of spying, oh no - she spied on strangers. She crept around the outsides of their homes (and even hid in the dumbwaiter at the rich, stupid lady's house! The nerve that girl had!), peering in their doors and windows - even in through their skylights, for Heaven's sake. Harriet the Spy just sort of blew me away. I didn't know a girl could be so - so singular. So remarkably herself. Harriet. I love her still, of course. And I think I've learned to let my inner Harriet really shine, which makes 9 year old me remarkably proud. 

A list of women authors I've really enjoyed as of late (in no particular order, really):
1.Gail Carriger
2. Nnede Okorafor
3. Fatima Mernissi
4. Deborah Harkness
5. Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
6. Jesmyn Ward
7. Maria Semple
8. Liz Moore
9. Samantha Mabry
10. Liane Moriarty
(Match them with their pictures and then you can click through to see what they've written!)

Deborah Harkness wrote The All Souls Trilogy. History and magic? Yes, please.Liz Moore's The Unknown World knocked my socks off last yearI read Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch and then immediately ran off to buy another one of her books. Who Fears Death is now perched atop my TBR pile! Yippee!  Liane Moriarty is chick lit with some really fun twists. I can't wait to see Reese Witherspoon rock Big Little Lies on HBO. Samantha Mabry is just getting started.Fatima Mernissi was a feminist before you were alive. Dreams of Trespass is a great place to start your relationship with her work.Gail Carriger keeps turning out awesome stories...and it just makes me more impatient for the next one!Jesmyn Ward: you're not wrong to label her an outstanding American essayist, but really, she's a poet.Maria Semple makes me laugh, and she also makes me think. I like that.Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. If you haven't yet done it, hurry off and go read everything she's written. Seriously. Get outta here!

Oooh! One last thing: Peek inside my Bookbag! 
Yup! A sneak peek of what's coming down my personal pipeline: books by women that are already up to literary bat or are warming up in my book batting cage. After writing up that favorites list, I see that I really need to add some Central/South America and Asia authors to my (already-teetering) TBR pile. Any suggestions? 

1. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
2. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
3. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
4. We Too Sing America by Deepa Iyer
5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
7. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
8. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
9. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
10. The Gardens of Consolation by Parissa Reza
11. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
12. What I Told My Daughter: Lessons from Leaders on Raising the Next Generation of of Empowered Women by Nina Tassler

...And now, I gotta jet. As you can see, I have a lot of reading to do! Thanks for stopping by! 

* "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

Friday, February 17, 2017

Hunk-a hunk-a burning...airplanes?

I have been, as those in the know call it, in a book funk. Unable to read, unable to focus, paralyzed by the reality of a decimated political culture and - let's be honest here - the machinations of  an unethical, uninteresting, possibly illiterate boor sitting in the place of the Presidency. I can't look away from the daily chaos and humiliation that the United States must now embrace with this guy at the rudder. I will admit that I've begun to just meditate on pictures of Justin Trudeau, of Obama windsurfing in the Virgin Islands, of Jack Kennedy standing around looking fine. Where did we go wrong, as a nation? Honestly, I have a number of thoughts about that but they haven't quite yet come together, so we will save that rich topic for another day. But the good news - the great news! - is that after my daily Trudeau meditation today (I love to see him boxing - a head of state with a tattoo?! He's so Gen X!), I decided to clean my kitchen and tidy up my home and then, with Facebook and Twitter removed from my phone (as they should be, really), I sat down to read.

I finally settled on Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson.  The premise of the story is this: the Twin Towers suddenly arrive in the South Dakota Badlands, 20 years after 9/11. And then it starts to get weird.

I'm not through it yet, but I'm mesmerized and excited. I might actually finish a book this weekend! Maybe this is the breakthrough I've been looking for!!

If you're not busy with a book right now, I dare you to dive in and read this one with me. Don't you need a break from reality, anyway?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bookbaggin' Its Best Books of 2016: The "they're probably all in paperback now" Edition

Why? Why has this taken me so long to do? I could explain that it was the holidays, or health issues, or indecision over what my favorite books were last year,...but the honest truth is that I just slacked off and then lost my motivation. And now...Now I just want to start talking about the new books I've read so far this year, but I don't want to leave any loose ends from yesteryear. So, enjoy my list of favorites from 2016 and know that I'm making good progress on my TBR list so far this year and will have a lot to share with you in the weeks and months to come!

Last year, by my calculations, I read 99.5 books for pleasure. It sort of kills me to admit that I didn't finish the very last book of the year to make my 100 books goal a reality, but honestly, I didn't like the book I picked and I just ran out of time. C'est la vie. You can't like every book, after all.

That said, I found MANY of my choices this year to be insightful, provocative, compelling, and deeply satisfying. I tend to read mostly new works and it's very reassuring to discover that so many people are publishing so many solid new works. Artistry and devotion are still very much alive in the 21st century, which can be forgotten amidst the cacophonous slog of daily news here and abroad, leaving human misery and disappointment in its wake, such a disheartening mass of information that one can barely wriggle out from underneath its weight. But books! They take us on journeys, they force us to abandon our twitter feeds and news alerts, they even help filter out the sounds of my children bickering with each other. Miraculous little suckers, aren't they?

I should note that I read many of the blockbuster books this year (The Nest, Underground Railroad, My Name is Elizabeth Barton, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, etc) and enjoyed most of them very much. The books that made my favorites list, though, are books that I didn't really see on a lot of other best of the year lists. Variety is the spice of life and all that. So. In no particular order, here are the books that made my dreary days more bearable and my beautiful days even better:

The Best in Fiction:
1. The Unseen World by Liz Moore
Moore creates an utterly believeable world that orbits around the relationship between a girl and her increasingly eccentric genius of a father. A beautiful, intelligent, moving investigation of the meaning of love, the vast interior world of memories, the breathtaking possibilities of technology, and what it means to make a family. Enchanting and provocative.

2. Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
This novel bases itself on the assumption that the civil war never happened and that slavery still exists in several Southern states early in the 21st century. It's a warped and utterly engrossing story, so well constructed that it's easily believed, and the longer you read, the more uncomfortable you become, because of course you can't help but recognize that perhaps this imagined existence is really not so far from our own true one. The implications of trauma, the reality of fractured identities, and the awful tension between self-preservation and ethical conduct are front and center here. A really successful novel that deserved much more attention than it actually received, in my opinion.

3. Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
I hadn't read anything by an Indonesian author when I picked up this book on a whim at the bookstore one day. It drew me in quickly and completely, and I could barely stand to put it down.  The author's ability to balance the book on a foundation that was outrageously funny, absolutely gritty, and even plain otherworldly in turns mesmerized and excited me. Felt a little like Marquez to me at first, but then it (or, more likely, I) found its stride and unfurled a mischevious tale of epic yet utterly readable porportions.
4. Fellside by MR Carey
Carey won me over with his recent bestseller The Girl with All the Gifts, a dystopian thriller featuring an unusually bright and blighted young girl (that is being made into a movie this year, I believe #ReadTheBookFirst) at the center of the action, so I jumped at the opportunity to devour another one of his tales, and this one, although quite different from the last, did not disappoint. It begins with a woman being sentenced to prison for a crime that she doesn't remember committing. As she settles into the eerie and claustrophobic world of the woman's high-security prison - the Fellside of the title - she attempts again and again to will herself to remember the moments leading up to and including her crime. But as she works to regain her memory, she also begins hearing voices, coming from the very walls of the prison itself. As she sinks deeper into the unknowns, strange things begin to happen at Fellside...This is a thrilling mystery that offers answers I never saw coming. My skin is prickling again just thinking about this book.

The Best in Non-Fiction:
1. The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander
Alexander relates the story of suddenly losing her beloved husband. How does a mother and her children recover from such a loss? Alexander shows us that with heart, with art, with honesty, you never recover, but you can gather yourself together and go on. This searing memoir will leave you in tears but it's worth every sniffle. A truly beautiful tribute to an extraordinary man and the family he left behind.

2. Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
Set in my hometown of Chicago, this story of a young woman growing up in an upper-middle class enclave of black America during the Civil Rights era offers an eloquent and insightful look into a black community that rarely gets book-length treatment.

3. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey
Suddenly bedridden by a mysterious illness and the complicated autoimmune disease that follows, Elizabeth Bailey goes from an active, full life to almost no life at all. She's too exhausted and ill even to read or watch tv, and thus spends her days lying in bed in the semi-darkness. A friend stops by with a potted plant that has a little snail living in it, though, and much to Bailey's surprise, she becomes enchanted by her new roommate, who helps her reframe her situation and find new hope. A truly sweet and enchanting little book.

4. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
I've never seen "Orange is the New Black," so I'm not even sure why I picked this book up. It may have been the cover, which features Guerrero holding a giant cone of cotton candy. In any case, it was a terrific find. Guerrero tells the story of her family: she was born in America to undocumented workers who had arrived (via visas, as the majority of undocumented workers do) from Colombia. Her childhood is one spent in the shadows, living within a vibrant community of Latinos (many documented, some not) but always afraid that INS will arrive and take her parents away. When the worst DOES happen, the teenage Guerrero suddenly finds herself having to patch together a life for herself mostly on her own (shockingly, neither INS nor the appropriate agencies within HHS follow up with her and guarantee her safety as an American citizen and a minor). Her ability to hide her trauma and life situation from her fellow classmates and friends is remarkable, as is her dedication to making her dream of college a reality. Guerrero's story should be required reading for anyone interested in learning more about the realities of families divided due to citizenship.

Favorite New Author Discovery: Gail Carriger
Gail Carriger writes funny, appealing stories of (young) women who just happen to be "intelligencers" (spies), supernaturals, or a combination of the two. Hobnobbing with the London elite, which in her steampunked Edwardian setting includes influential members of the werewolf and vampire classes, Carriger's characters get caught up in all kinds of complicated plots. When they're not saving the British from themselves, her antagonists are floating through the skies in airships, drinking lots of tea, and (despite their best efforts) falling in love. Sitting down with one of Carriger's books automatically makes me happy. I blew through the Finishing School series, The Custard Protocol series, and the The Parasol Protectorate books in just a few weeks - and then I set out to reread them. She's started publishing novellas to provide the backstories of some of her best characters, and every time one appears, I can't stop clapping. She also has a most pleasing public persona; I wish I could meet her for tea some time.