I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark: A Non-Fiction Picture Book Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth BaddeleyRuth Bader Ginsburg was disagreeing and asking tough questions long before she became a justice of the Supreme Court. From an early age she challenged inequality, disagreed with unfair treatment, and stood up for what was right.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (2016) by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, introduces readers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a child and follows her into adulthood and her time as a Supreme Court Justice.

Levy balances the picture book format with thoughtful text that provides just enough information without bogging down each page with large chunks of text. Baddely’s bold and colorful illustrations make this book arresting from page one with her combination of hyper-realistic figures and more whimsical hand lettering for some of Ginsburg’s bold statements throughout the book.

I Dissent includes many fun facts about Ginsburg (her husband did the cooking in the family, Ginsburg has a special collar she wears for dissenting opinions in court) which will surprise and delight readers who are learning about this remarkable woman for the first time. Because Levy covers aspects of most of Ginsburg’s life, the book also includes a lot of information even for readers who might already know a bit about the Supreme Court justice. The book closes with back matter that includes more information about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, notes on Supreme Court cases, a selected bibliography, and citations for the sources of quotes used in the book.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark is a must read for any young people  interested in the US court system (or even older people–I learned a lot, not to mention tearing up at the end because I loved it so much), fans of the Notorious RBG, and, of course, feminists everywhere. Highly recommended!

Possible Pairings: Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Albert and Tony Cliff; Fly High!: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden, Mary Kay Kroeger, Teresa Flavin; Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling;  Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales, Sophie Houser; Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman; Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs; The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Murder of the Century by Sarah Miller; Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes; Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen; Boss Babes: A Coloring and Activity Book for Grownups by Michelle Volansky

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The Diabolic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Being a good Diabolic meant being a hideous person.”

The Diabolic by S. J. KincaidDiabolics have only one purpose: protect the person they have been bonded to at all costs.

Nemesis barely remembers the time before she was bonded to Sidonia. Anything that came before is irrelevant. Now Nemesis will do whatever is necessary to ensure that Sidonia survives and flourishes. As long as Sidonia is safe and secure everything else, including Nemesis’s own well-being, becomes irrelevant.

When news of her senator father’s heresy reaches the seat of the Empire, Sidonia is summoned to the Imperial Court as a hostage. There is no way for Nemesis to strike against the Emperor. No way for her to shelter Sidonia when she is summoned. This time the only way Nemesis can protect Sidonia is to become her.

At the Imperial Court, Nemesis has to hide her superior strength, cunning intellect, and her ruthless lack of humanity. Greedy senators, calculating heirs, and the Emperor’s mad nephew Tyrus are all keen to use Nemesis for their own ends. But she has little interest in the politics at Court or the rebellion that is beginning to foment.

Nemesis knows that she is not human. She knows the matters of the Imperial Court are not her concern. But she also soon realizes that saving Sidonia may involve saving not just herself but the entire Empire in The Diabolic (2016) by S. J. Kincaid.

The Diabolic was written as a standalone sci-fi novel. After its release Kincaid signed a book deal for two additional novels making The Diabolic the start of a trilogy.

Kincaid has built a unique world layered with complex alliances and difficult questions about what it means to be human which play out against a galactic power struggle. Nemesis’s performative identity as Sidonia contrasts well against the Emperor’s son, Tyrus, a Hamlet-like figure who may or may not be putting on an act of his own in a bid for the throne. Nemesis’s character growth as she learns to choose herself beyond any loyalty she feels to Sidonia or others is fascinating and thoughtfully done.

The Diabolic is a sprawling space opera that brings Nemesis and other characters across the galaxy in a story filled with double crosses, twists, and intrigue so thick you could cut it with a knife. Nemesis narrates the novel with a tone that is as pragmatic as it is chilling–unsurprising for a character who has been told constantly throughout her life that she will never be human. Whether Nemesis will prove her detractors correct or exceed her supposed Diabolic limitations remains to be seen.

The combination of ambiguous morality, lavish settings, and a cast of provocative characters make The Diabolic an utterly satisfying sci-fi adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, Proxy by Alex London, Legend by Marie Lu, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Birthmarked by Caragh M.O’Brien, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Every Hidden Thing: A Review

Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth OppelThe Badlands are rich fossil country. At a time when history is being rewritten and archaeology is largely unregulated, it’s easy for anyone to get into fossil hunting and make their name.

Samuel Bolt’s father has no degree and no position, but he has countless fossil discoveries and publications of his findings. While Professor Bolt is reckless and heedless of consequences, he is a well-known and popular personality among the fossil collection community. Samuel learned his love of fossil hunting from his father but he is eager for a time when he can strike out on his own and make his own name in the field.

Rachel Cartland’s father is a respected Ivy League professor and the head of a university archaeology department. He tolerates Rachel as an able assistant but he is slow to accept her ambitions for a university education and her own work as an archaeologist.

Cartland and Bolt are bitter rivals but when they meet, Samuel quickly finds himself drawn to Rachel in a way he hasn’t felt for other girls before. Rachel, meanwhile, is immediately thrilled by the way Samuel sees her both as an attractive young woman and as an equal.

Both the Bolts and the Cartlands arrive at the Badlands in search of an elusive rex–a king dinosaur that promises to be the largest fossil ever discovered. As rivalries flare and romance blossoms, both Rachel and Samuel will have to decide how much they are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of this once-in-a-lifetime discovery in Every Hidden Thing (2016) by Kenneth Oppel.

Every Hidden Thing is a fascinating standalone historical fiction novel.

While the time period is never stated explicitly, Oppel does an admirable job of setting the scene of the early 1900s when fossil hunting and archaeology gained momentum (and respectability) in the US.

Inspired a real rivalry (which Oppel explains in his author’s note), Every Hidden Thing has been pitched as Romeo & Juliet meets Indiana Jones. While not as tragic as the former or as high action as the latter, this description is surprisingly accurate and will appeal to fans of both stories.

Written in alternating first person narration, this novel carefully builds both Samuel and Rachel’s characters. By overlapping the narration at key moments, the motivations behind some of Rachel’s calculating choices and Samuel’s heedless actions are also carefully detailed.

Every Hidden Thing is a well-researched piece of historical fiction. Rachel and Samuel are immediately sympathetic but also remain convincingly grounded in their time as both characters grapple with limitations (Rachel’s gender and for Samuel his lower class status) and the rigors of an archaeological dig. Recommended for fans of historical fiction, star-crossed lovers, and readers interested in dinosaurs and fossil hunting.

Possible Pairings: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, Indiana Jones (movie)

It Came in the Mail: A Picture Book Review

It Came in the Mail by Ben ClantonLiam loves getting mail. The only problem is no one seems to want to send anything to Liam. In a fit of genius, Liam write a letter to his mailbox asking for some fun mail. The mailbox goes above and beyond with a dragon. After getting this wonderful piece of mail, Liam writes more and more letters to get more and more amazing things from the mailbox.

After getting so many amazing things in the mail (often with hilarious results) Ben realizes that an even better option is to share his wonderful mail with friends and other kids eager to get something exciting in the mail in It Came in the Mail (2016) by Ben Clanton.

This latest picture book from writer and illustrator Clanton is a real treat. With a sensibility reminiscent of Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell and zany charm similar to Special Delivery by  Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, this picture book is sure to delight readers of all ages. (In fact, my first reaction to this book was “Really fun. It’s like Dear Zoo but on acid.“)

Clanton’s artwork is deceptively simple in his full-color illustrations that bring Liam and his mailbox to life. The detailed illustrations have a lot of pieces to take in that will reward attentive readers over the course of multiple readings. The illustrations are large and bold enough to be read as easily to an audience as one-on-one.

Raucous humor and heart make this a guaranteed winner for any story time. Highly recommended.

The Museum of Heartbreak: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg LederPenelope Marx has never been kissed. She loves her family and her friends. She dreams of dinosaurs fleeing New York City. She longs for the day she will fall in love. She has no idea how many forms heartbreak can take for one girl.

Penelope’s best friend Audrey is more interested in hanging out with Cherisse–a girl whose sole purpose in life seems to be making Penelope miserable. Keats, the beautiful new boy in school, is absolutely perfect and painfully unattainable–at least at first. Then there’s Eph, Penelope’s other best friend, a boy who is either frustratingly endearing or endearingly frustrating. Pen is never quite sure.

In a year filled with changes and heartbreaks both small and large, Penelope will have to figure out how to move forward–especially when she knows exactly how fragile a heart can be in The Museum of Heartbreak (2016) by Meg Leder.

The Museum of Heartbreak is a charming debut with a sincere and authentic heroine at its core. Nothing goes quite as expected for Penelope during her junior year of high school, forcing her to admit that sometimes change can be not only healthy but necessary.

Although she and her friends are privileged children of wealthy parents (Penelope’s family lives in a brownstone near her father’s job at the Museum of Natural History–a status mirrored by Audrey, Eph, and most of the students at their private school), Pen’s New York is still a glaringly authentic one from grimy thrift shop experiences to being yelled at on the subway platform.

Despite these moments of reality, The Museum of Heartbreak still maintains a strong sense of wonder and appreciation for the unique opportunities and experiences to be found in New York City.

Penelope is an introspective and authentic heroine who will appeal to fans of Jenny Han’s Lara Jean series. Like Lara Jean, Penelope wants to grow up and fall in love, but she also likes hanging out at home with her friends and chatting with her parents. While straddling the awkward space between childhood and adulthood–a transition that leaves her feeling unsettled and ill-prepared for whatever is supposed to come next–Penelope tries to make sense of her changing perceptions of her parents and closest her friends.

The Museum of Heartbreak is a story of first loves and second chances filled with characters who sometimes stumble even as they learn to try again. The Museum of Heartbreak is a story about stepping away from what’s comfortable and finding something even better. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

The Unexpected Everything: A Review

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan MatsonAndie and her father haven’t been close since the death of her mother five years ago. Spending a summer in the same house as her father while he is not working is unthinkable.

Unfortunately, when Andie’s internship opportunity disappears thanks to her father’s political scandal, a summer with her father is also a harsh reality.

Andie has her best friends Bri, Toby, and Palmer (and even Palmer’s long-time boyfriend) to keep her company during the summer. Which is great. But finding a way to her internship would be better.

Instead, through a series of mishaps and surprises, Andie becomes a reluctant dogwalker and starts scoping out a cute boy named Clark as her potential summer romance.

But with her first unplanned summer in a long time, Andie soon learns that you can’t plan for the best things in life in The Unexpected Everything (2016) by Morgan Matson.

The Unexpected Everything is Matson’s standalone follow-up to Since You’ve Been Gone. (Set in the same Connecticut town, readers of Matson’s earlier novel will also recognize a few character cameos.)

Matson once again evokes the lazy and timeless feel of a summer adventure in her latest novel. Andie is a driven heroine with a singular focus on her future. Raised in her father’s world of politics, it’s hard for Andie to connect or foster genuine interactions–something that she has learned first-hand is quite simple to fake with the right cues. Over the course of this meandering novel, Matson explores Andie’s character and her growth as she begins to understand that there is more to life than having a master plan.

Andie is a very different character in a lot of ways. She’s savvy and jaded. She’s unapologetic about chasing superficial romances that seem easy and safe. Andie spends a lot of The Unexpected Everything keeping people (and readers) at a remove while she tries to protect herself from loss or heartbreak. While it’s understandable when the loss of her mother is a physical presence for much of the story, it also makes it difficult to connect with Andie. It makes it even harder to be invested in her story as the book nears five hundred pages.

A thin plot makes the novel feel even longer as do heavily broadcasted plot twists. Fans of Matson will be happy to return to her familiar and evocative writing. A sweet romance and solid female friendships make The Unexpected Everything a lengthy but mostly enjoyable read filled with summer fun and thoughtful characters.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, The Best Night of Your Pathetic Life by Tara Altebrando, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

The Night Gardener: A Picture Book Review

The Night Gardener by The Fan BrothersWilliam doesn’t know what to think when the tree outside his window is transformed into an owl topiary overnight. Soon after more wonderful topiaries begin appearing in the neighborhood.

Eager to find out the secrets behind these wondrous creations, William sneaks out after dark to discover the night gardener at work. Soon, William begins working with the night gardener to create more beautiful trees and help change his town forever in The Night Gardener (2016) by The Fan Brothers (Eric and Terry Fan).

The Night Gardener makes full use of its large size with big full-page spreads of artwork throughout the book. Soft, washed out colors in the beginning of the book contrast sharply with the vivid greens used for each new topiary. The Fan Brothers even differentiate between day and night with a subtle blue hue overlaying each evening illustration.

The weight of color used throughout The Night Gardener also highlights the effect of each topiary on the town as more and more heavy color is used in each spread until, at the end of the story, the illustrations are full-color.

This is a charming picture book in the tradition of Grandpa Green by Lane Smith and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. The arc of the story is reminiscent of Daniel Pinkwater’s classic The Big Orange Splot, another book that slowly brings color and individuality to a decidedly beige town.

The Night Gardener is a gorgeous debut. The Fans combine luxuriant, detailed illustrations with a whimsical story to create a picture book that is sure to be a hit with readers of all ages. A likely suspect for many best picture books lists later in the year.