Book Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

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In Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson entertains readers with stories about her strange, wonderful, and weird life.  Tackling issues such as depression and anxiety as well as a bizarre number of anecdotes about encounters with wild possums, Lawson’s memoir is full of stories that will make readers laugh uproariously and commit to being as furiously happy as Lawson is herself.

Like most collections of essays, some of the pieces in Lawson’s follow-up to Let’s Pretend this Never Happened are stronger than others, and some are much, much funnier than others, but all of them maintain Lawson’s unique voice and particular brand of humor. In this collection of essays, Lawson devotes much of her attention on living with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, as well as spending some time talking about some of her other ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Lawson’s voice is authentic and unique, but it won’t work for all readers, as some might find her crude or even a bit grating at times.  But there’s a brilliance to many of her offbeat observations about the world, even as they spiral out into the truly weird.  Her personality is juxtaposed by her much more grounded husband’s logic, and the conversations Lawson includes between the two of them are some of the book’s best moments.

The strongest moments are when Lawson digs deep into the symptoms of her depression and anxiety and explains how they impact her day-to-day life. There are moments of deep insight and clarity as she goes into detail about how her symptoms manifest (this is especially true of scenes in her therapist’s office, which some readers might find deeply uncomfortable).

There’s a lot here that’s genuinely funny, and Lawson is a good writer, but there are moments where the content feels a bit thin, and reading all of this at once only serves to underscore that weakness.  Much of this works better in smaller doses (much like on Lawson’s blog), but that shouldn’t deter her diehard fans.  On the whole, this is a funny, frank, and sometimes moving look at mental illness.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Terrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Macmillon: 2015. Library (audio) copy for review.

Reading Goals for 2017

Last year, I read over a hundred books, but it was a slog. I stopped blogging, changed jobs, and found myself in a public library gig where reading diversely and outside of my comfort zone is essential to performing my job as best as I can.  This year, I hope to read more diversely than ever before, selecting titles from a ton of genres, including ones that generally don’t even interest me. I want to read books for all ages, including board books, early readers, middle grade titles, teen, and adult offerings.

I’d like to start blogging again, and reviewing what I read, because it makes me a better reader and it also helps me help patrons find what they’re looking for.  So here’s to 2017, and to reading widely and bravely.

 

Best Books of 2016

My reading, much like my blogging, took a hit this year.  But I still read a lot (way more than the average American, anyway), especially after I started working in a public library in August.  So here are my best books of 2016, totally unscientifically chosen.

Best Picture Books

25785760Ida, Always by Caron Levis: I actually cried at the reference desk when I read this one, which was pretty embarrassing. The book is beautifully illustrated and written, and explores the lives and friendship of two polar bears at a city zoo. It’s gorgeously done, and it’s so incredibly moving.  This was my favorite picture book of the year.

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen: The third and final book in Klassen’s darkly funny Hat 28473874trilogy, this one finds a pair of turtles obsessing over a hat they find.  Klassen’s artwork is stark and striking, and the sparse prose makes for an easy, funny read-aloud for kids and grownups alike.  All three books in the series are worth reading and can be done in any order, but it’s worth it to check them all out.

28101612They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel: A great lesson in the concept of perspective, this inventive, simple tale of many creatures who saw a cat and how differently that same cat looked through all their eyes. It’s smart, clever, and a great teaching tool to explain differences to kids. I loved it.

Best Middle Grade Fiction22098550

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker:  I ugly cried through this one, but don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. It’s a powerful story about the love between a boy and his fox and their separate journeys when they’re forced apart during a time of war. It’s beautifully written, told in alternating chapters by the boy and the fox, and Pennypacker’s sensitivity to each character’s journey is beautifully done. It’s a great book, and worthy of the heaps of praise it has received.

Best YA Fiction

17998474After the Woods by Kim Savage: A girl goes for a run in the woods with her best friend and ends up kidnapped by a man only to escape from him 24 hours later. She barely survives her flight through the woods, but that’s just the beginning of her struggle as she works hard to reconcile the traumatic experience with the largely unchanged world she returns to.  Savage’s book is smart, whip-fast, and compelling stuff with more than enough mystery to keep readers hooked. She’s an author to watch, and this one gripped me from start to finish.

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: Taking place over the course of one day, Nicola Yoon’s sophomore novel offers teens much more of what made her first novel so successful: swoony romance, realistic characters, and just a touch of the magical. Yoon’s writing is also stronger and tighter here, and she plays around with narration styles and blends multiple perspectives to provide a rich, nuanced, fully realized story that is full of hope and love.  It’s a moving book, and it’s one that will satisfy even the most reluctant reader of romantic books.

 

Best Adult Fiction25251757

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott: Abbott is the queen of writing characters that get under your skin and plots that won’t leave you alone. I couldn’t put this one down, and although the mystery is certainly part of the novel’s appeal, it’s her attention to her characters and her nuance in writing real people in compelling ways that makes her such a standout author.  This is an explosive novel that readers won’t be able to stop thinking about. I’m still thinking about the characters months later.

27189194One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I discovered Taylor Reid Jenkins this year and tore through all her books. Her latest offering is one of her strongest, sweetest, and ultimately hopeful novels yet. A woman whose first love (and husband) disappears in a helicopter accident has moved on with her life nearly a decade later. Then her husband reappears, and suddenly her new life–which has a new fiance–is completely overturned. Instead of hitting cliches, Reid allows her characters to be deeply flawed, incredibly realistic and sympathetic humans. There are no easy answers here, but Reid finds a conclusion that is not only satisfying but very realistic.

Best Adult Non-Fiction29340182

Shrill by Lindy West: Like most books of non-fiction, not every essay in this collection by humorist and feminist West is a knockout, but the book as a whole is strong, smart, and funny, and makes West completely relatable. She’s a gifted writer and this is a great collection of stories about feminism, being a woman in the world, and being a person.

What 2016 reads made your cut?

 

Storytime Recap: Fall/Autumn

Last week’s storytime focused on fall and autumn. We sang songs, read books, and did a bunch of action rhymes about fall.  Here’s how it went:

Books:
mouse-first-fallMouse’s First Fall by Lauren Thompson:
This one was a hit with its bright colored pages and simple text. I had the kids help me find Mina when she hid in a pile of leaves. They loved it.

Who Loves the Fall? by Bob Raczka: They also liked this who loves the fall.jpgone with very simple, rhyming text. The pictures are bright, and the kids liked pointing out what was on every page.

Action Rhymes:

The Wind is Blowing All Around: I had the kids do this one twice so they could get the hang of the hand motions. (Source)

Scamper Little Squirrel: This was my favorite one to do because the kids got so into it. We repeated it so they could really get into it. (Source)

Songs:
The Leaves Are Falling Down Today (The Ants Go Marching): This one was fun to have the kids stomp around to in a circle. They did great.

I’m a Nut (Clack Clack): This one was a total hit because the kids loved to make the clacking noise at the end. (Source)

Brown Squirrel, Brown Squirrel: For this one, I asked the kids what colors they saw in fall. They did red and then someone yelled green, so we did the song twice with each color. It was very fun and I would definitely use this one again. (Source)

How did it go?

Very well! They were super well behaved for this storytime, sitting quietly for the stories and participating a lot when it was time to do so. It was a total success of a storytime, and I had about 35 kids and caregivers, so we had a full house.

 

Storytime Recap: Apples

Last week’s storytime focused on apples. We sang songs, read books, and did an activity that involved picking and sorting colored paper apples.  Here’s how it went:

Books:
duckingDucking for Apples by Lynne Berry: A cute story about a bunch of ducklings who ride bikes and pick apples. It ended up being too long for my wiggly kids, so we ditched it halfway through, which is new territory for me.  It might work better with a smaller group, because it’s actually a very cute story.orange-pear-apple-bear

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett: This silly book features the same four words over and over again in different combinations with pictures to match. It’s cute, pretty, and fun to do with kiddos, who want to point out what is happening on every page. This one was a hit.

applespumpkinsApples and Pumpkins by Anne F. Rockwell: This one is about a little girl who goes with her family to pick apples and pumpkins at a local farm. It’s got bright illustrations and minimal text, and it ends with trick-or-treating, which makes it a good choice for Halloween, too.

 

Action Rhymes:

“Way Up High in the Apple Tree”: We did this one twice so that the kids could get the hang of it.

“Apple Roll”: We also did this one twice. It was fun to have the kids help with the countdown.

“Applesauce” chant: This is a longer one that had mixed results. There’s lots of reptition, but it also takes forever to get through all the verses. I might want to revisit this one and see if there’s a way to make it smoother.

Activity: 

Apple Sorting: Before storytime started, I went into the meeting room and taped different colored apples made out of paper to the walls at toddler-height. When it was time for them to “pick” the apples, I set up three baskets and told them to come and put the right colored apple into the corresponding basket. It was chaotic but fun!

How did it go?

It went okay-ish. The kids were antsy and I had to give up on a book halfway through. They liked the action rhymes and the apple sorting, but I didn’t love the books I selected as much as I was hoping to. I continue to grow in confidence about storytime, so I’m hoping that it will get better as I have a larger arsenal of themes, books, and songs.

 

Book Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

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Cece is about to start a new school, one where all the other kids aren’t deaf like she is. She’s got her Phonic Ear to help her hear her teacher during class, but she’s sure everyone is staring at the wires that come with it. When she discovers that the Phonic Ear allows her to hear her teacher no matter where she is in the school building, she realizes she’s been granted a rare, special power. She hopes this will be the thing that will help her make a real, true friend.

Cece Bell’s graphic novel is part fiction, part memoir, and it’s full of humor and heart with tons of kid appeal. Bell’s book features brightly colored illustrations, smart text, and a fast-paced plot that will keep readers turn the pages as they travel along with Cece as she navigates the hearing world.

There’s lots of issues explored within the pages of this novel, including finding friendship, being lonely, feeling different, and navigating the painful process of growing up.  Tons of kids will relate to the insecurities Cece faces, and she provides smart insight into the issues without ever crossing over into didacticism.

The graphic aspect of the novel allows her to play around with how she experiences the world as a deaf person, and how she might mishear those around her.  The result is a successful visual exploration of Cece’s deafness, and one that hearing kids will be able to grasp more fully.

Recommended. It’s an award winner and runner-up for a reason.

El Deafo by Cece Bell. Amulet/Abrams: 2014. Library copy.

 

Book Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

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Lily and Ryle are young and beautiful and totally driven by their respective careers. Lily has fulfilled a childhood dream of opening her own florist shop, and Ryle is on the fast-track to becoming a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Ryle doesn’t date; he’s not a relationship guy, and he makes that clear to Lily from the first time they meet.  But then he changes his tune, and the two begin a whirlwind romance that has Lily reeling.  When her first love–Atlas–resurfaces from her past, she starts to question everything about her seemingly perfect life and realizes that her relationship with Ryle might be more fragile than she realized.

Woof.

It’s hard to be critical of something that is clearly not only a labor of love for an author but also a deeply personal book–the author’s note at the end helps expand on this–but the fact of the matter is, there are more problems here than good things, which made for a frustrating and uneven reading experience.  Fans of Hoover’s other works might devour this one and forgive its faults, but as a first-time reader of Hoover, there were too many things I couldn’t get past.

One of the book’s major weaknesses are its characters, who feel underdeveloped and often don’t speak like actual human beings.  More than once, I stumbled over something a character said because it just didn’t feel authentic in any way.  But what’s also surprising is that for a book that is largely character-driven, there’s very little investment in creating characters with fully-realized personalities. It’s not just the secondary characters, either: it’s the main stars. Lily isn’t developed. Ryle never comes off as anything other than an arrogant garbage monster, and that’s before his darker secrets are even revealed.

There’s also a lot going on in the novel, and it often feels like a bit too much. It tries to tackle a variety of serious, complex issues, and while some of the ruminations on the cycle of abuse are fairly well done, much of it feels half-baked. Maybe more editing would have helped; it’s certainly long enough.

And yet? I couldn’t stop reading, even though I knew where much of the narrative was headed. I felt compelled to finish it, even as it filled me with frustration. It’s not the character’s actions that felt frustrating: it’s the fact that in a stronger writer’s hands, this could have been something truly great.

Best for fans of Hoover’s other works, but this is not nearly as good as it could have been.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. Atria: 2016. Library copy.