Tag Archives: young adult

My Summer in Books – 2018 Edition

by Kristi R. Johnson

It was a hot one for those of us in south Texas this summer. So what better reason, other than the brutal summer heat, to stay inside under the air conditioning reading books? I gladly stayed inside and whittled down my ever-present ‘to read’ pile, but only to end up adding many more for the fall. It is every book nerd’s curse (and blessing).

First up is From Twinkle, With Love, Sandhya Menon’s follow-up to last year’s When Dimple Met Rishi. This time, readers follow Twinkle Mehra as she attempts to elevate her status in the minefield that is high school. One way for her to do so would be to present an awesome movie at the upcoming Midsummer Night Arts Festival. Another is to finally gain the attention of one of the most popular boys in school. Ultimately, this is a story about the insecurities that come with being a teenager, and how sometimes people are not as they present themselves.

David Arnold follows up Mosquitoland and Kids of Appetite with The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik. An avid David Bowie fan (he refers to himself as a “believer”), Noah has many obsessions, or what he prefers to call his “strange fascinations.” Then one night, everything seems to change, except these fascinations. His once DC obsessed best friend now suddenly prefers everything Marvel. The family dog is no longer slow and dying, but energetic and lively. And Noah’s mother now has a strange scar on her face that was not there before. If you can ignore the sense that a twist ending is inevitable, then you’ll have a good time with this one.

If you are looking for a story that is pure fun and a bit of a wild ride, I highly recommend My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. It is Winnie’s senior year, and she is ready to use her manic energy to chair the annual film festival, and hopefully solidify her entry into NYU’s highly competitive film program. She may be looking forward to NYU, but she is also looking for the love of her life that will give her a happily ever after. Completely obsessed with all things Bollywood, Winnie lives her life as if it is a dramatic film and a dance number could break out any moment (and at one point during the book, it does).

The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison is the third installment of what has easily become my favorite horror/thriller series going today. Each book of The Collector Series has dealt with a serial killer, and this time, the murderer has a habit of killing abusive parents, and leaving their scared and confused children on the front porch of Detective Mercedes Ramirez. What follows is a race against time as more people die the longer it takes Mercedes and her team to figure out what is going on.

Chris Soules’ The Oracle Year is one of those books that seemed to be in every Facebook and Goodreads ad. It also does not hurt that it was chosen as a pick for the Book of the Month Club. Armed with 108 predictions about the world, struggling musician Will Dando decides to create a website and strategically publish some, while selling others to major bidders. Naturally, this makes him a target for some people, and a prophet for many others. I have mixed feelings about this one, but ultimately I think sci fi lovers can find some enjoyment in the story.

I am always so happy to pick up another collection of drawings from Sarah Andersen. Her third collection, titled Herding Cats, is just as witty and insightful as her first two, Adulthood is a Myth and Big Mushy Happy Lump. Once again, Andersen’s explores the struggles of the modern woman, the sorrows of a procrastinating artist, and the inner workings of an introvert. A good time will be had by anyone who reads this.

There was a great deal of buzz behind Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” and rightfully so. Inside this short but powerful book is a collection of conversations between Hurston and Cudjo Lewis, who in 1927 could tell Hurston the story of the last slave ship to make the transatlantic journey to America. At 86, Lewis still had a remarkable memory that could recall harrowing stories about being captured and sold by his own people in Africa, the journey across the Atlantic, and being a slave in a strange land. Using Lewis’ own words and vernacular, Hurston lets him tell his own story. Slave narratives can be difficult, but mercifully, that is not the case with Barracoon.

Most people know of the name Lisa Genova from the award-winning movie Still Alice, which was adapted from her book of the same name. I decided to pick up Every Note Played, which follows the story of an accomplished musician who has been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a classical pianist, Richard has always depended on his hands, until the muscles no longer work. Slowly, every muscle in his body begins to fail him, and the only person who can take care of him in his final months is his ex-wife, Karina. Yeah, there is crying involved when reading this one.

In 2016, Michelle McNamara, a crime blogger and wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, tragically passed away in her sleep. Two years later, her book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, is published. Also in 2018, the killer she had been searching for would finally be caught. McNamara details the many crimes committed by the Golden State Killer, including a few that many attribute to him though conclusive evidence has not been found. Any lover of true crime will appreciate this book.

For me, Star of the North by D.B. John was the book of the summer. I typically stay away from thrillers, specifically political ones, but somehow I ended up reading a book that deals with North Korea and the tense political climate surrounding it. And what’s even crazier, is that I loved it! Jenna Williams has spent her academic career studying North Korea, and several years ago, her twin sister disappeared off of a beach in South Korea. Jenna has never believed that her sister drowned, and knows she is still alive somewhere. Her story will intersect with that of Colonel Cho, a man who has just been promoted as part of Kim Jung-Il’s inner circle, and Mrs. Moon, a brave older woman who has decided to take her chances on the North Korean black market.

As a lifelong lover of The Simpsons (and I can truly say lifelong and mean it…the show is about to start its 30th season), it was a dream come true to read Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime of Writing for The Simpsons by Mike Reiss, a man who has four Emmy’s over his career on the show. The book is just as hilarious as any Simpsons lover could hope. It naturally follows the creation and evolution of the show, as well as Reiss’ work on other projects, and of course, a few anecdotes about just a handful of the many guest stars that have been on the show.

And finally, there is Legendary by Stephanie Garber, the second book in her well-loved Caraval series. While I was not crazy about the first book, and honestly, I am not all that gaga over this one either, I did like it a lot better and enjoy it more. It could be the shift in focus from Scarlett to her little sister Tella, who is much braver, though just as naive. The twists and turns can be exhausting, as well as the constant smoldering looks and casual touches and rapid heart-beats and on and on and on. But I will say this, Garber goes for it and does not hold back, which is what ultimately makes this a fun ride.

This may not be every book I read this summer, but they are the ones I look back on most fondly, and each one had something that made it stand out from the sheer amount published that book nerds had to choose from for that always enjoyable summer beach read. What were some of your summer favorites? And perhaps more importantly, which books do you plan to pick up this fall?


Word Nerd Wednesdays

by Kristi R. Johnson

Happy end of the fall semester word nerds! You made it to the final week of what many consider to be the hardest semester for college students. Although, let’s face it, at times spring semester is no picnic either.

I hope everyone is able to enjoy a restful break. And if you’re looking for some books to help fill your time, and you have an inclination towards fantasy and/or YA, may I recommend the first two books in Traci Chee’s Sea of Ink and Gold series. Both The Reader and The Speaker explore a world where reading is a skill only a few have, and books and stories hold tremendous power. In other words, it is a place where word nerds run things and their power is sought for both good and evil. Fascinating stuff.

Happy Holidays!

Word Nerd Wednesdays

by Kristi R. Johnson

Tonight is StudyCon for students at the San Antonio campus of Our Lady of the Lake University. With finals coming up and the end of the Fall semester within reach, the Academic Center for Excellence will have food, games, course workshops, and therapy dogs (yes, dogs…as in four-legged animals with fur) set-up in the library to help students unwind and stay sane during this difficult time. And of course, there will still be a space for studying and tutors/consultants available…it is the library after all.

I am here to announce the first-ever StudyCon book raffle and giveaway. Five popular books published in 2017 will be raffled off to students at the event. Just be sure to show up and submit your name for whichever titles you would like. Most likely there will be a limit as to how many titles one person can win, but you must stop by at some point and submit your name to even be considered.

This year, the five books will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA), When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (YA), Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds (YA), You Are Here by Jenny Lawson (nonfiction), and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (memoir). Technically that last one was published in late 2016, but it is so good I figured I would include it anyway.

And before you ask, yes, I handpicked these myself. I have read and featured four of them on my book blog (with Miles Morales being the exception) for good reason; any one of them would make a great end-of-year present.

My Summer in Books – 2017 Edition

by Kristi R. Johnson

Once again I find myself in the beginning of September, which means my favorite time of year has come to an end. Despite living in south Texas, I love summer and pretty much everything about it. Even the heat brings a kind of comfort to me. And as per usual, I spent time working, some traveling, and of course, reading. Below are some of the books I was able to discover.

American War by Omar El Akkad tells the story of Sarat and her part in the second American Civil War. The North and South are fighting once again, but this time it isn’t about slavery, but the use of fossil fuel. If that weren’t enough, different groups within the South are fighting among themselves. Sarat decides she doesn’t want to simply be a bystander, or worse, a victim. But her desire to take a more active part in the war may lead to her being used as a weapon by someone with their own interests.

My one regret from the 5th Annual San Antonio Book Festival is that I missed the panel discussion that included Kelly Jensen, a contributor and the editor of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World. With 44 different voices all in one book, all discussing various aspects of feminism, there is bound to be something for everyone to learn from or relate to. My personal favorite were contributions from actress Amandla Stenberg, and young adult author Courtney Summers.

Earlier in the year I read the first collection by Sarah Andersen, Adulthood is a Myth. This summer, I was able to read the follow-up, Big Mushy Happy Lump, which is just as hilarious. It includes a comic that perfectly describes many readers who will insist on being frugal when buying clothes, or necessities like groceries, but seem to lose their minds once they enter a bookstore. It may have hit a bit close to home…

I love that I am able to count on author Sarah Dessen for at least one new book every two years. This time it was Once and for All, which is the story of Louna, the daughter of a jaded wedding planner, and serial-dater Ambrose. While I adore Dessen, and YA is one of my favorite genres, this particular book just didn’t quite do it for me. It was pleasant enough, and sweet enough, but perhaps it was all just a bit too nice. But Dessen did mention that her previous book was a bit on the dark side, so this time around she wanted to lighten things up.

My decision to tackle Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1, in all of its nearly 900-page glory, came from its premise. It is essentially the life of Stanley Ferguson told in four different ways, with each Ferguson’s life taking a different direction. Some things remain the same, mostly the people he encounters, but the level of involvement varies, along with the paths he will take; even his time of death will change. Each chapter switches to a different Ferguson, until the full life story is told for all but one. It is a long book, and it is often tedious, but it is also worth it.

If I could make an award for Best Hard to Read Book of the Summer, I would give it to The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. It is an absolutely fascinating story about the women who painted clock faces using radium, which at the time was advertised as a “wonder” material. Because of the technique the women were trained to use, which involved them putting the brushes they used in their mouths in order to achieve the perfect point, all of them ended up with – surprise surprise – radium poisoning. And despite the mounting evidence that radium is harmful, the dial-painting companies refused to acknowledge the danger involved in the profession. Meanwhile, their workforce was literally falling apart, with many women losing their lives.

Jenny Lawson’s You Are Here: An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds is one of those books that I will return to over and over again, mostly because it is part self-help, part essays, and part adult coloring book. On the pages not made for coloring, Lawson includes stories about her own struggle which depression, which is how most of the coloring pages came to be in the first place. Drawing them helped her when she felt she could not do anything else, so now her hope is they will serve to bring comfort to her readers.

Last year, Paula Hawkins’ Girl on the Train delighted, and also disturbed, many readers. This year she published Into the Water, and while it is indeed suspenseful, it does not quite live up to her debut. The mystery is there, as a town investigates what appears to be the suicide of a local woman who was not that well-liked, and the characters are all suspicious and sketchy enough to keep you guessing. And perhaps it is the fact that every character is hiding something, or is dislikable for one reason or another, that sort of cast a shadow over the whole book.

There was only one historical novel I was able to get to this summer, and it was The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. As a member of the Akha tribe, and the only girl in her family, there are certain expectations Li-yan is expected to live up to. But as her life progresses, it becomes clear she will be taking a different path than the one previously laid out for her. But something that is always in her life is tea, and the art of making it. This was my first Lise See novel and I am excited to read future historical fiction from her.

And for my one science fiction novel, I managed to pick up Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. Rachel and Wick scrape out an existence in Balcony Cliffs. During one particular scavenging trip, Rachel finds Borne, a mysterious being that consumes and learns quickly. While Wick doesn’t trust him, Rachel becomes extremely protective of Borne, refusing to acknowledge how dangerous he may be. With Earth’s cities destroyed, and everyone under constant threat of being killed by one of two beings attempting to control the area, Rachel hopes Wick is wrong about Borne, and ignores her own growing uncertainty.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandyha Menon is a YA novel that tells the story of driven and ambitious Dimple Shah, a Stanford-bound girl with a love for computer coding, and Rishi Patel, a young man who would love nothing more than to marry the girl his parents pick out for him, and honor them by becoming a respectable corporate business professional and raising a family. When it comes to their future goals, Dimple and Rishi could not be more different, but their parents arranged for them to meet and hopefully fall in love, much to Dimple’s annoyance. Lovers of YA and diverse voices will thoroughly enjoy this story of two people who, on paper, would never be able to make it work.

And there they are. Eleven of the books that helped fill my free time this summer. I am excited to see which ones end up nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award, and of course, what I am able to find to fill my time in the fall.


My Summer in Books

by Kristi R. Johnson

Now that school has started I must face the fact that my favorite time of year is coming to an end. I adore summer and almost everything about it. While I am not all that into 100+ degree weather for multiple days in a row, I will certainly take them over any day where the temperature drops below 40. And with most students being off from school, summer usually means time for some sort of trip or adventure. Even many of us working stiffs take advantage of the slower days and lighter work load to take it easy and maybe take a trip of our own.

For me, summer can also mean new books by some of my favorite authors, and a few new ones that I hope become favorites by the time the weather gets a little bit cooler. Below is a list of just a few of the books I have been able to read since May. I realize now that school has started that few of you will have the time to read anything for fun, but maybe you will be inclined to add a few to your to-read list for those precious but rare moments of down time.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I picked this book up for two reasons: 1. It won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. And 2. the follow-up was already on my list to read. It follows the story of Ursula Todd as she is basically forced to relive her own life over and over again during a time when two world wars threatened to destroy Europe. Subtle changes here and there alter the course of her life slightly, making this book almost like an odd choose-your-own-adventure story.

Atkinson2A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

This book isn’t so much a sequel to the previous entry, but more of a companion piece. The focus has now switched from Ursula to her younger brother Teddy as he tries to navigate life after serving in World War II. But the focus doesn’t stay only on Teddy, but also jumps occasionally to his daughter Viola, who loathes his very being. Atkinson once again plays with time in this book as the events of Teddy’s life are told out-of-order, causing a slow reveal of some of the more dramatic points.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is another book I picked up because the author released a new one. Narrator Kathy tells of her time at Hailsham, a sort-of boarding school where she spends her time just being a girl and dealing with the social situations that come from attending school as well as living with your fellow students. It is slowly revealed what kind of school Hailsham really is, what kind of people end up there, and what plans society has for them after they leave.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroIshiguro2

And now we have come upon the first disappointment of the summer. Beatrice and Axl are an elderly couple who decide to leave their home and find their estranged son. They end up embarking on a journey filled with warriors, orphans, knights, and even a dragon. They also hope that completing the journey will bring back their lost memories. But they may need these memories to complete it in the first place. I just found this story to be incredibly boring in parts, and by the end, I just was not sure what exactly happened and why it was important.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

This is a young adult novel that follows a young Chinese-American girl named Samantha, and a run-away slave named Annamae, as they attempt the Oregon trail together dressed up as boys. Early in the journey they meet up with three young men who are also making the journey, and are able to find some protection and safety with their new companions, as well learn important skills such as riding a horse.

DessenSaint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Young adult author Sarah Dessen seems to publish a new book once every two years, so I had been waiting for this one and was excited to see what kind of storyline she came up with this time. Thankfully, I was not at all disappointed while reading about Sydney as she attempts to manage her guilt over a horrible crime her older had committed, and her feeling that she is invisible to the rest of her family. Sydney’s mother doesn’t want to acknowledge the awful thing her son has done, and continues to organize the family activities around him, even though he isn’t even there. Meanwhile Sydney has her own struggles and desires that her family doesn’t even seem to notice.

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

This is the only horror selection that I managed to get to all summer. Struggling writer Lucas Graham gets the opportunity of a lifetime when convicted serial killer and cult leader Jeffrey Holcomb contacts him and offers him his exclusive story. Because of his desperation for a good story, Lucas moves himself and his daughter Caroline to a house in Pier Pointe, Washington. In fact, it is the same house where Holcomb committed his terrible crimes. So of course, terrifying things start to happen, and both Lucas and Caroline are in danger.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

I am always eager to read the latest book by Toni Morrison, even though they are often hard to read in parts because of their brutal honesty. This one follows Lula Ann Bridewell, or “Bride” as she now likes to be called, as she attempts to make up for a mistake she made when she was just a little girl. Because of the incredible darkness of her skin at birth, Bride’s mother kept her at more than arms length, justifying her rejection of her own daughter as something that had to be done for her own good. It appears to have worked as Bride grows up to be confident, strong, and beautiful, but only on the outside.

I Am Radar by Reif LarsenLarsen

This is by far the longest book I tackled, clocking in at over 600 pages. Radar Radmanovic is born black…as in he is born with incredibly dark skin, like night. His incredibly white mother and Serbian father are understandably baffled, and his mother becomes obsessed with finding a “cure,” despite the fact that Radar is otherwise a normal and healthy boy. His mother’s search for a cure will lead Radar on a journey that turns out to be only a piece of a much larger story than spans countries, families, and generations. I enjoyed this science fiction book a great deal, but I do not pretend to have understood it.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

I am not going to mince words here: this book is about rape. Romy Grey was sexually assaulted by the sheriff’s son, and no one believes her. Now a social pariah, Romy is just hoping to ride out the remainder of her senior year. But her classmates make being invisible impossible as she is often verbally insulted and pranks are pulled on her. While she may recover from being tripped during gym class, the guy who tripped her receives high fives from fellow classmates and the others plot what they will do next. It is only when another girl may be in danger that Romy begins to understand that invisibility is not the way forward.

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell

Vida and Hazel do not like each other. Vida, who is poor and black, takes a job as a maid in Hazel’s house, who is rich and white. Vida only takes the job because it brings her closer to completing her own plan of revenge. But neither woman realizes that even with their mutual loathing, they will end up joining forces to try to bring the vote to the black population of Delphi, Mississippi. Both women have their own reasons for joining the fight, but they know they certainly have more of a chance if they work together.

Lee2Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

This was possibly the most anticipated novel of the summer. At first, it seemed like this book was being advertised as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Now there has been some clarification as this novel is said to be more like the “parent” or first draft to the great classic. It follows Scout, who now goes by Jean-Louise, as she returns home for a visit, meeting up with many of the characters you and I would remember. While I am glad I read it, it is not as good as its predecessor (and thankfully, I wasn’t expecting it to be), as it kind of reads like a first draft, and I will happily keep the two stories separated in my mind.

The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

This is the 4th installment in The Long Earth series, and the story continues to follow Joshua, Sally, and Lobsang as they continue to explore and discover what happens when human beings access an infinite number of worlds simply by “stepping” east or west. With each book in the series, some game-changing discovery is made that changes life as we know it, and this time, it isn’t so much about humans branching out as it is about other stuff coming in.

Armada by Ernest Cline

And this is the other disappointment of Summer 2015. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is probably one of my favorite books of all time. In Armada, Zack Lightman finds out that his years of defeating aliens in video games has prepared him to fight the real thing. The beginning is slow-going, the middle is actually quite good, but the ending is a total letdown.