Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Call # FIC SEP

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres; I love it because I love learning about other time periods and I also love immersing myself in a really atmospheric setting.  I think Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys will go on my list of all-time favorite historical fiction books.  The book takes place in New Orleans in 1950 and its heroine is Josie Moraine, whose mother Louise is a prostitute at Willie Woodley’s brothel in the French Quarter.  Josie and her mother Louise live above a bookstore run by a local author and Josie works as a housekeeper at the brothel and as a clerk at the bookstore.  The book starts on New Years Eve; Josie graduated from high school the previous June and desperately wants to earn enough money to pay for a college education. She has basically raised herself; Louise is neglectful and only pays attention to Josie when she wants something from her.  When Louise runs off to California with her criminal boyfriend Cincinnati Josie is relieved.  Even though her mother is lacking Josie is surrounded by many caring, supportive people.  She has basically been raised by Willie and Willie’s driver Cokie.  She is also close to the bookstore’s owner, Charlie, and his son Patrick.  Everyone has been telling Josie for years that she has what it takes to succeed in college and on New Year’s Eve two customers persuade her even more to follow her dreams.  One is Charlotte, who is a student at Smith and tells Josie that she would be perfect for the campus.  The other is a gentleman from Memphis, Tennessee who assumes that Josie is already in college; they have a great discussion about literature.  After these two conversations Josie can picture herself at a New England university, taking challenging classes and going to cultural events, and surrounding herself with people with similar interests.  The next morning, though, Josie plummets back down to the reality of her life in the Quarter.  She finds out that the gentleman from Memphis died the night before and that her mother was with him.  As Josie becomes embroiled in this mystery she begins to wonder whether she can ever get out of New Orleans.

 

This book is wonderful on so many levels.  The New Orleans atmosphere is palpable; I felt like I was right there in the French Quarter with Josie.  More importantly, though, the characters are wonderful.  I loved Josie and her support system, including Jesse, the local “bad boy” who turns out to be so much more.  In fact, many of the “upstanding citizens” in the novel turn out to be dishonorable and some of the so-called corrupt people are kind and honest.  I love how Sepetys turns stereotypes on their heads.  I enjoyed this book so much that after I finished I immediately went to YouTube to find an interview with the author.  I’m including the one I found below; it was so fun and inspiring to hear about what led Sepetys to write this novel.  It made the experience of this book even more special to me.

 

 

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Golden by Jessi Kirby

Call # FIC KIR

I am so tired of winter that I decided for the month of March I will only read books with covers that remind me of spring or summer.  I started with Golden by Jessi Kirby, which worked out perfectly because this is an amazing novel about new beginnings.  It is about Parker Frost, who is about to graduate from high school as the class valedictorian and is heading to Stanford University as a pre-med student.  She has worked extremely hard to be in this position, but now that she’s here she’s beginning to realize that she’s following her mother’s dream for her and not her own.  Parker’s best friend Kat tells her that she has to do something fun and unexpected before school is over.  She ponders this one morning as she works on a project for her English teacher. Every year Mr. Kinney has his seniors write journals that he seals up on the last day of school and then sends to them ten years later.  As Parker prepares the envelopes to be mailed she notices that one of the names is Julianna Farnetti, which shocks her because Julianna and her boyfriend went missing and were presumed dead right after they graduated.  The story of their disappearance has become a town legend and the scholarship that Parker is in the running is named for them.  Parker is drawn to Julianna’s journal because she wants to find out what the girl behind all if the stories was actually like.  As she begins to read the journal Parker finds that she can relate to Julianna, who had similar feelings as her own graduation neared.  At the same time Parker stumbles on a mystery which leads her to the unexpected journey that Kat wanted her to experience.  Helped along by Kat and Trevor, the guy she has liked forever, Parker steps out of her shell and takes a chance on something new.

I can’t tell you how much I loved this book.  Jessi Kirby takes characters that could be one-dimensional, like a boy-crazy best friend, and shows many facets of their personalities.  She also has a beautiful style of writing and she incorporates two really wonderful elements into the book; Julianna’s journal entries create a story-within-a-story and Kirby starts every chapter with a line from a Robert Frost poem.  This is a novel that I won’t be able to stop raving about.  Since Golden is all about inspirations and fresh starts, it is the perfect spring book.

 

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All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry

Call # FIC BER

I read a lot of books that I love, but every once in a while I find one that I think is so amazing that I want to recommend it to everyone I know. Julie Berry’s All the Truth That’s In Me is that book for me right now. I think it is absolutely incredible in every way. It is gorgeously written and has a resilant heroine who grows stronger as the story goes on. There is also a mystery to unravel and complex characters to follow. On top of all that Berry poses a lot of questions to ponder that really made me think.
The novel is about Judith, who has recently come back to her town after having disappeared two years earlier. The story seems to take place in the 1800s and Roswell Station is a place where people live simply and everyone knows everyone. The night Judith disappeared her friend Lottie did as well and the townspeople are stunned and full of questions when Judith returns alone. However, Judith can’t provide any answers; she has been rendered mute since half of her tongue was cut out. Judith is immediately shunned upon her return; she is treated as ignorant and freakish and her mother blames her for her father’s death. The only friendly face in Roswell Station is Judith’s childhood friend Lucas. Before she vanished Judith thought that their friendship might blossom into something more; now Lucas is engaged to someone else. Judith thinks that her lot in life is to simply to exist and go unnoticed from day to day, but when her village is threatened she decides she has to do whatever she can to protect it. This may mean going back to the life she escaped from. The chain of events that follows opens Judith up to things she didn’t dream were posiible for her: an education, friendship and maybe even love.
I don’t want to write too much more about this book because there are so many surprises in it and I don’t want to give anything away. All I can say is that it’s one of the best books I have ever read and I can’t wait for Julie Berry’s next novel.

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Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Call # FIC HAD

I just read the most amazing book ever last night and I can’t wait to write about it.  Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Full Ride is just a completely amazing book and I don’t even know what aspect of the book to write about first.  I think I’ll start with the concept.  Haddix took a news headline, Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and subsequent fraud conviction, and reimagined it as a fictional story.  In this novel Becca Jones is fourteen years old and looking forward to starting high school with her popular crowd of friends when her father is suddenly arrested and put on trial for embezzlement.  When Becca’s father is found guilty and sent to prison Becca is completely without friends and she and her mother are without money.  In the midst of Becca’s embarrassment and shame her mother has the idea that they should move to tiny Deskins, Ohio; her mother can work as a nurse and she and Becca can reinvent themselves where no one has any idea who they are.  On Becca’s first day in her new school she realizes that she must keep a low profile so her classmates never find out her real identity.  She decides that the she can’t be popular like she was at her old school; the best thing to do is to fill her schedule with honors and advanced placement classes.  That way she’ll be too busy with schoolwork to socialize, therefore limiting the the chances that she will slip up and say something that she shouldn’t.

Becca’s plan works beautifully except for the fact that she’s lonely; she only sees her friends at school because inviting them to her house could lead to too many questions.  Becca’s plan works so well, in fact, that by the time she’s a senior she’s ranked fourth in her class and excited about applying to colleges.  Becca’s mother quashes her excitement, though, by telling her that she can’t apply for financial aid without revealing who she really is.  Becca wonders why it matters anymore if anyone knows her identity, but she doesn’t press her mother.  Instead she starts to focus on a great scholarship opportunity that could mean that her four years of college could be totally paid for, which would be the perfect solution.

The scholarship seems too good to be true and in a way that turns out to be the case because it leads Becca on an odyssey that takes her down some very unexpected paths.  The wonderful thing about this book is that it leads the reader down some very unexpected paths as well.  I loved Becca and I was rooting for her throughout the entire book.  I felt her loneliness and wished that she could open up to her friends; I felt her disappointment and anger that she could not pursue her dreams after having sacrificed and lost so much.  Because of that the road trip that Becca embarks on toward the end of the novel is much sweeter.  I highly recommend Full Ride; it’s a good, fast-paced read that left me with a lot to think about.

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Just One Day by Gail Forman

Call # FIC FOR

There is nothing better than the right book coming along at the right time.  Just when I was contemplating my New Year’s resolutions I read a book with some of the things I had been thinking about.  I had wanted to read Gayle Forman’s Just One Day since Jacqui told me that it was wonderful.  I was not the least bit disappointed after reading the book; I was amazed and inspired and I absolutely cannot wait to read the sequel.

Just One Day opens in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the latest stop on the Teen Tour! (complete with exclamation point) of Europe that Allyson and her best friend Melanie are on.  While the group is standing in line for a production of Hamlet Allyson and Melanie are handed a flyer for a performance of Twelfth Night by a travelling troupe and decide to sneak off to that instead.  Melanie is thrilled that Allyson is finally ready to shake things up after playing it safe for the entire trip.  She can’t believe it the next morning, though, when Allyson agrees to go to Paris for the day with Willem, one of the young members of the acting troupe.  Allyson can’t quite believe it, either, and she’s so shocked at this new side of her personality that she calls herself Lulu.  Allyson as Lulu has an exciting, eventful day and night in Paris.  The next morning, though, when Willem has disappeared Allyson abandons her Lulu persona and becomes her timid, uncertain self again.  Allyson is safely reunited with her tour group, but she is forever changed by her one day in Paris and she can’t help wondering what happened to Willem.  She starts college in a daze, dutifully attending her pre-med classes and avoiding her enthusiastic roommates, who try valiantly to get Allyson involved in student life.

Allyson’s life continues on like this until her advisor encourages her to take a Shakespeare class.  At first Allyson refuses because she doesn’t want to be reminded of Willem, but when she gives the class a try she realizes how much she truly enjoys Shakespeare’s writing and she makes a true friend in Dee, who helps her come out of her shell.  Allyson is finally able to be honest with herself and her parents about what she really wants; a career in medicine is what Allyson’s mother has always wanted for her and now Allyson is ready to pursue her own dreams.  She decides that she wants to go back to Europe to find Willem, but it becomes clear that Allyson is really going to find herself.

I liked the romance in Just One Day, but the best part was seeing Allyson’s transformation into the person she truly wants to be.  I love the fact that this change begins in January and that I read the book on New Year’s Day.  Allyson learns so many important lessons, most notably to genuinely appreciate all the amazing people in her life and to have the courage to take advantage of opportunities and pursue her dreams.   I think these are wonderful resolutions and I am grateful to Gayle Forman for giving me these inspirations.  She’s an amazing writer and I can’t wait to read her sequel, Just One Year.

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Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne

Call # FIC DIO

My non-reading New Year’s resolution is to learn new skills, especially ones that will help everyone with projects they’re working on.  The first thing that I wanted to learn was IMovie.  I always include links to book trailers in my reviews, so I thought why not make my own? Erin Dionne’s Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking was the perfect book to make my first trailer for.  The book has a terrific setting, the city of Boston, and the author puts her own spin on a real-life mystery that took place there.  On March 18, 1990 thirteen pieces of art were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, including works by Rembrandt and Degas.  Dionne uses this event as the basis for the mystery in her novel.  Although no one in her family will admit it Moxie’s pretty sure her grandfather, Grumps, used to work for the mob.  When she meets a strange woman who wants Moxie to tell Grumps that someone named Sully Cupcakes is looking for him she knows she’s right.  Sully wants to know where Grumps hid his stuff, but Grumps has Alzheimer’s, so Moxie can’t get a straight answer from him.  With the help of her best friend Ollie and a scrapbook of old photos Moxie starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  I liked this book a lot; I love that the author takes a real mystery and uses her imagination to “solve” it.  I also really liked Moxie; she’s fresh and energetic and I hope this is the beginning of a series.

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My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker by Andrew Jenks

Call # B JEN

I have always been a huge film buff (and TV, too, for that matter).  I read Entertainment Weekly from cover to cover and I love to read behind the scenes accounts of movies.  Lately I’ve become more interested in documentaries; last year I watched Waiting For Superman, which follows several elementary school students as they await a lottery to see if they will be admitted to a charter school they really want to attend.  I loved that movie and I was struck by how much I came to care about the kids as I watched the film.  At the end I cheered for the kids who made it into the school and felt terrible for the ones who didn’t.  After that I decided to make it a point to watch more documentaries, which led to me to Andrew Jenks’ book My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker.

Andrew Jenks was an unhappy college freshman when he went to visit his grandfather at a nursing home.  He was struck by how different this once vibrant and brilliant physicist seemed and he remembered that in high school he had done a short film about a local nursing home.  Visiting with his grandfather gave Jenks the idea to elaborate on his previous film: he himself would actually move in to a nursing home.  When I read about this movie I couldn’t get over how much I liked the concept of seeing senior citizens through the eyes of a nineteen-year-old.  The movie, Room 335, was shown at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and was bought by HBO.

When I saw that the guy that had made that movie had written a book I knew that I had to order it for the library.  I’m really glad I did. Jenks starts the book by describing the time his family spent in Belgium when he was nine years old.  He was bored and lonely, so he started to make movies with his parents’ video camera.  That led to a lifelong passion for and interest in film.  When he was in high school he and his friends had their own public access “news program” and he also founded a film festival.  After Room 335 Jenks went to Japan make a movie about baseball manager Bobby Valentine.  All of these experiences with telling people’s stories led Jenks to create a television series for MTV where he explores the worlds of a variety of young people, including a teenager with autism and a young woman who is homeless.  Jenks writes about how much he enjoys meeting and getting to know his subjects and explains that he keeps in touch with them long after the episodes have finished filming.

My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker is a visually appealing book.  Jenks uses a lot of photos and different fonts to tell his story; it was almost as if I was reading a movie.  My favorite thing about the book, though, was how inspirational Andrew Jenks is.  He fuses his love for filmmaking with his love of people.  It’s amazing to see how he has created the perfect job for himself and he really encourages all of us to follow our dreams.

 

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