What’s Ashley Reading?: How Y’all Doing?

How Y’all Doing? by Leslie Jordan

First line: “Well, shit. How y’all doing?”

Summary: Leslie Jordan has spent years acting in shows like Will and Grace, The Help and now is on Call Me Kat. Even with his long list of acting credits he never dreamed of the fame he would get from joining Instagram. During the start of the pandemic he was “hunkered down” with his family in the South. In order to keep himself entertained he made little videos that he shared with all his new friends on Instagram. He became an overnight success! In this collection of stories from his life we get a look into his life before and during the pandemic.

My Thoughts: I love Leslie Jordan. He first caught my attention as Beverly Leslie on Will and Grace. Every episode he appeared in, he stole the show. His lines and persona were perfect for such a fun and quirky show. When I saw he was on Instagram at the start of the pandemic I immediately started following him. He made me laugh a lot, which was much needed during the spring of 2020. I have re-watched many of his shenanigans and stories several times because they are so lighthearted.

Reading this book was just like when I read a David Sedaris book. I can hear the author telling their story in their voice while I read. I laughed and learned a lot about this man who has done a lot in the years of his career. I would highly recommend this for its uplifting and charming stories about a small gay man who lives his life with a smile on his face.

FYI: Short little book with lots of heart.

Monica’s Musings: In Five Years

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

“The future is the one thing you can count on not abandoning you, kid, he’d said. The future always finds you. Stand still, and it will find you. The way the land just has to run to the sea.”

― Rebecca Serle, In Five Years

This book caught my attention when I read the summary on the inside cover. Dannie is living a life that she has tediously planned. Every minute is meticulously mapped out in her mind, leaving no room for error. However, when she wakes up from a nap and is five years in the future, she is shocked by what she sees. She is in a different apartment, with a different man, and has a different ring on her finger. When she is snapped back to her current life an hour later, she tries even harder to control things to prevent that moment from happening.

Before her journey to the future, Dannie and her boyfriend of two years, David, live together and they both are working hard to achieve their career goals. When he proposes, of course, she says yes. Everything so far is going according to their five-year plan. However, after her vision of the future on the night she says yes to David, her plan starts to crumble.

While this book focuses on Dannie’s five-year journey, there is another story line also taking place. Her childhood best friend, Bella, is the total opposite of her. Bella is a free spirit who lets the world decide her fate. They balance each other out, and they both rely on their friendship as the one thing that stays consistent in life. The author is able to capture the love between two friends, and it seems that their support for each other is the true love story in this book.

I enjoyed In Five Years, because of the fast pace at which the story evolves. It was a quick and easy read. However, I was expecting more of a grand finale to the book. About halfway through, my predictions on the ending were accurate. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a short, entertaining read.

It was focused on love, and friendship, and learning to let go of the things that cannot be controlled. When the book was over, I was left with the mindset of, “what will be, will be”, and there is no reason to spend life trying to alter the future. I would rate this story a 4.5 out of 5.

Mom and Me Reviews: If You Come to Earth

Quinn writes a letter to anyone who might visit Earth, and tells them about all the things they might see if they were to visit. Quinn tells them what earth looks like, who lives here, and how life is different for each of them.

First Line: “Dear Visitor from Outer Space, If you come to Earth, here’s what you need to know.”

Summary: Quinn writes a letter to anyone who might visit Earth, and tells them about all the things they might see if they were to visit. Quinn tells them what earth looks like, who lives here, and how life is different for each of them.

Ratings:

                Maggie:

Four Stars Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

                Conor: one point toward the planet earth

                Mama Lala:

Four Stars Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Their Thoughts: My children did not have much to say about this book. They read it with me, dutifully, but didn’t think much of it. Maggie “liked” it, that’s about as much as I could get out of them.

My Thoughts: The illustrations in this book are beautiful, which makes sense since Sophie Blackall is a two-time Caldecott Medalist. I also appreciate the lettering of this book. (For those unaware, lettering is the style and placement of the words and letters in a book, though not the content of the words themselves.) The idea behind the book is quite lovely, as well. A beautiful book, top to bottom. I suppose the book may be a bit too cerebral for the audience it is directed at, which is why it lost a star for me. A great idea can only go so far, if it doesn’t connect to its audience. I recommend it more toward older readers, or teachers prepared to discuss the content with their class.

Happy Reading our friends,

Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor

What’s Ashley Reading?: Every Vow You Break

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

First line: She first spotted him at Bobbie’s Coffee Shop on Twenty-Second Street.

Summary: Just days before her wedding to millionaire, Bruce Lamb, the one night stand from her bachelorette weekend shows up trying to convince her to not go through with the wedding. She tries to ignore his attempts but then he appears at her wedding too. But she thinks that his stalking is over until he appears at the secluded island on her honeymoon. Does she tell Bruce or try to solve the situation on her own?

My Thoughts: When I looked at the rating for this book I was kind of surprised that it was so low. I found the book to be rather enjoyable with lots of dark and twisted moments. I found it to be more like an eighties horror movie than psychological thriller. And part of that can be found that several reveals were rather predictable. But I had a lot of fun reading it nonetheless.

Even though the island is supposed to be secluded and good for getting away from technology it also seems rather scary. You are secluded. On an island. With little communication. What if something bad happens? Well this book answers that question. And it was thrilling and scary.

FYI: Language, death, infidelity.

Anni’s Book Pick: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , by Mark Twain, is about a young boy, Huck, in search of freedom and adventure. The shores of the Mississippi River provide the backdrop for the entire book. Huck is kidnapped by Pap, his drunken father. Pap kidnaps Huck because he wants Huck’s $6000. Huck was awarded $6000 from the treasure he and Tom Sawyer found in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Huck finally escapes from the deserted house in the woods and finds a canoe to shove off down the river. Instead of going back to the widow’s house, he decides to run away. He is sick of all of the confinement and civilization that the widow enforces upon him. He comes across Jim, Miss Watson’s slave, and together, they spend nights and days journeying down the river, both in search of freedom.(www.bookrags.com)

This book is a classic that I think everyone should read. Some people say that you need to read Tom Sawyer before you read Huck Finn. I read Huck Finn first and had no problem understanding it. I like this book because it teaches the values of friendship, as Huck learns these values so do we. When reading this book I laughed, cried, and got mad several times all while going on an adventure with Huck and his friend.

Note: This book has language.

Mom and Me Reviews: I Am Every Good Thing

First Line: “I am/ a nonstop ball of energy.”

Summary: This book puts on display a set of inspiring poetry about a group of young black boys. It speaks of their virtues, and insinuates their innocence, kindness, and goodness. Each page reads like its own poem, but they flow together to form a larger piece.

Ratings:

                Maggie: 5 stars (2 – 4 stars after it made her emotional)

                Conor: 5 stars for page 23; 0 cares of all other pages

                Mama Lala: 5 stars

Their Thoughts: Maggie says, “Its like when you go home after a bad day, and you just sit on your bed… and your mom brings a blanket and just holds you. It feels good. Like that.”

Conor: My assumption of what he would say, “the picture on page 24 is pretty! I want to touch it!”

My Thoughts: This book was beautiful and inspirational. It can be (and should be) read both with and without the context of race. These statements and lyrics should be felt by all young people. That said, this book provided an excellent opportunity to discuss race and the issues surrounding race at this time.

I should note, Maggie said this was a 5 star book before I had this conversation with her. After I provided the context of the dedication page, she became emotional. I told her about Trayvon Matin, who was still a child when he’d been attacked. I told her he was about the same age as one of her cousins. This made the tears flow (which made her star count drop).

I explained to her that these conversations are sad and uncomfortable, but important to have.

Happy Reading our friends,

Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

First line: A girl is running for her life.

Summary: It’s 1714 in a small village in France. A young woman of twenty-three is being forced to marry but she does not want to be tied down. She wants to live and see the world. So she makes a bargain with one of the old gods. She promises her soul for the chance to live forever. But there is always a catch. No one will remember who she is.

For centuries she lives her life by stealing, lying and relying on “strangers.” Love has come and gone for Addie but nothing ever lasts when everyone she meets forgets her as soon as she is out of sight. Until one day she meets a young man who remembers her.

My Thoughts: At the beginning I was enthralled by the story and the idea of this book. How can a person live when no one knows who you are? While I was reading I kept thinking that things wouldn’t be hard to live like this until I remember that from one minute to the next every person becomes a stranger again. You could not have an apartment, a job, friends, or anything really. Sounds terribly lonely.

I liked being able to see Addie change and make her way through the turbulent 300 years from the beginning of her curse and meeting Henry. She learns very quickly how to get by on her wits and luck. But as I continued through the story I felt it getting a little repetitive. The author did throw in some twists to the story which helped liven up some of the slower parts.

But the ending was the best part of all. It was imaginative and perfect for this story. I won’t spoil it but I will say that I cannot think of a better way to end the story.

FYI: Language, death, curses.

Courtney’s Book Chat: Planet Earth is Blue

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

First Line: Bridget was gone. And Nova was broken.

Summary: In this historical middle grade novel, Planet Earth is Blue follows twelve-year-old Nova, who is autistic and nonverbal, as she adjusts to a new foster family. Nova and her older sister Bridget both love astronomy, but when Bridget goes missing, Nova eagerly counts down the days until the space shuttle Challenger launches, which Bridget promised they would watch together.

My Thoughts:

This story is really heartwarming. I loved seeing Nova become friends with her special education peers and feel more at home with her foster family. Though Nova is nonverbal, Panteleakos richly conveys Nova’s inner world through her letters to Bridget and flashbacks depicting their relationship. Each letter followed a regular chapter, giving insight into Nova’s thoughts and actions, and the flashbacks intermingled throughout the book perfectly capturing the tone and Nova’s emotions. 

Nova and Bridget’s strong relationship made me eager to read what happened, as well as Nova just being a great character. She is deeply imaginative and passionate about space.

The narrative also always treats Nova with respect, and her autism is never framed as weird or a punchline. Panteleakos is autistic herself, and she crafts a sensitive, nuanced depiction. She makes it impossible not to care about Nova.

This book is written beautifully. Its prose is simple but well-crafted. References to space, David Bowie’s lyrics, and The Little Prince are interwoven throughout the book and add depth to the story. All of this builds to heartrending climax and ending. It broke my heart but also filled it with hope.

Planet Earth is Blue is a heartwarming story about finding strength and hope in the midst of tragedy, and Nova is the kind of character that will live in readers’ hearts long after the book is finished.

Mom and Me Reviews: Once Upon a Dragon’s Fire

This is the story of a dragon, and two children– Sylas and Freya. No one has ever seen the dragon, but there are many stories about him; stories to put fear into the minds of most. Freya and Sylas are not afraid, though. When the town says the dragon is at fault for their latest plight, the two children set off to make things right… and discover something new about the dragon.

First Line: “Once upon a magic kingdom, before fire ever existed, there lived a terrifying dragon near a village.”

Summary: This is the story of a dragon, and two children– Sylas and Freya. No one has ever seen the dragon, but there are many stories about him; stories to put fear into the minds of most. Freya and Sylas are not afraid, though. When the town says the dragon is at fault for their latest plight, the two children set off to make things right… and discover something new about the dragon.

Ratings:

                Maggie: 5 stars

                Conor: One big smile

                Mama Lala: 4 stars.

Their Thoughts: Conor was mostly uninterested in this story. He did, however, LOVE the giant fold out picture of the dragon!

Maggie enjoyed this story. She said she enjoyed the adventure, and the “moral of this story” ending. She believes the lesson to be learned here is not to judge a “dragon” by the words other people say about him. She says because of this lesson, it is a good story for all ages.

My Thoughts: The illustrations of this book are beautiful and vivid. I, also, enjoyed the giant fold out picture of the dragon. I also, as a parent, appreciate the teachings this book holds. Maggie was correct about the moral of the story, but there was one more: friendship can warm any heart.

Happy Reading our friends,

Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

First line: Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford.

Summary: Nora Seed has decided to die. Everything is falling apart around her. She is single, her cat died, she lost her job, her parents are dead and her brother won’t talk to her. What’s the point anymore? As she dies she finds that there is a library filled with possible other lives that would have existed had she made different choices. The librarian directs her to the books of these alternate lives where she can decide if she would rather live in those instead. Which one will she choose?

“Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. At the beginning it can be depressing as Nora keeps having her world fall apart around her. It almost seems like an It’s a Wonderful Life situation. But this is more inventive and adds another dimension to story. Rather than seeing the world without her, it looks at the world if she had made different choices.

I liked how different each life was because of one small choice. It’s the Butterfly Effect. One decision can change so much for you and every person you come into contact with. But we also see that what may appear to be perfect can still have its challenges. Nothing is perfect.

Everyone has things that they regret. I know I do. I wish I had spent a year abroad in college. But if I did that I would never have gotten my dog, Winston. I regret not staying at K-State in order to save money on college but if I hadn’t I would not have traveled around Europe with a group from Tabor College. There is always something that could be different but with every regret there is something good you would lose too.

Even though this sounds like a depressing book, it is really uplifting. It has a great message to anyone who is struggling with life choices and how to make the best of what we are given. Find joy in the small things.

FYI: Trigger warnings: suicide, drug overdose, language.