Little People, Big Dreams

I happened upon a charming series of books for children called Little People, Big Dreams. (Not to be confused with the TV series Little People, Big World.) These are picture book biographies of notable figures from different parts of history. I loved reading them and learning more about the protagonists along with my children. The depictions of the heroines are captivating and, although they do not all have the same author and illustrator, they share an endearing similarity in style – large, round faces and colorful attire and settings.

I first read Frida Kahlo to my kindergartener. He came up with so many follow-up questions, I soon realized I didn’t know as much about this famous artist as I would like. I mentioned this to a friend and she insisted I should see the 2002 film Frida starring Salma Hayek as the title character and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera. I did (alone), and enjoyed the sensual interpretation of the artist’s life.

Then an idea occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to read a bedtime story for the kids and after they are fast asleep, read or watch something more adult on the topic? You know how a wine will sometimes be suggested that pairs well with your food? Couldn’t we do that with the books we read, as well? With that thought in mind, here are some recommendations you might want to try.

In Maya Angelou, author Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrator Leire Salaberria present to children the difficult topics of racism, domestic and sexual abuse, and mental health sensitively. Don’t let the fact that this book covers a difficult childhood deter you from reading aloud to your little ones what is a very inspiring story. Angelou’s story is, ultimately, one of hope. Most of us are aware of Angelou’s prolific career as a writer and civil rights activist, but how many knew her as a cook, streetcar conductor, dancer, singer, and world traveler? Share this inimitable woman’s story with the children in your life. Then on your own, read her classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings if you haven’t already done so (or even if you have, it may be time for a re-read). Also, listen to Angelou read her poetry in the book on CD entitled Black Pearls: The Poetry of Maya Angelou. I’d recommend the kids not be within listening range of this one, as there are vulgarities in it.

 

I will be the first to admit I am not a couture kind of gal (my style would more aptly be described as thrift store eclectic). Still, I enjoyed learning about Coco Chanel in the book written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Ana Albero. Tired of seeing her contemporaries unable to breathe in their tight corsets, she designed clothing that was looser and easier to wear while dancing. She also designed hats and, of course, let’s not forget about the perfume. For more on the life of the woman once known as Gabrielle Chanel, you may wish to check out the 139-minute DVD Coco Chanel, a 2008 made-for-TV movie starring Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel and Shirley MacLaine as old Chanel. You may also enjoy the coffee table style book Chanel: Collections and Creations by Daniele Bott. With 159 illustrations, it goes into delightful detail on Coco’s unique styles. My favorite was the chapter on the Camellia flower, which is pictured on the cover. Other chapters detail ‘The Suit’, ‘Jewelry’, ‘Fragrance & Beauty’, and ‘The Black Dress.’

All the suggested children’s books are from the Little People, Big Dreams series.There are more books in this series and you can find all the ones the library owns by doing a series search for Little People Big Dreams. If you have favorite books or movies that you think go together like Chardonnay and Gruyere, please let us know.

 

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Looking for a new book in OverDrive, I offhandedly asked another librarian if she had heard of The Queen of the Tearling. She said she had heard of it, that it had won some awards or been on some lists and that it was supposed to be a good read. Taking that as a good enough endorsement for me to read it, I checked it out and started listening to it after work. Holy smokes! I LOVE THIS BOOK! It’s the first book in a series and I honestly can’t wait to read the rest of the books. I am hardly ever motivated enough to finish the next books in a series unless I am blown away by the first. Johansen blew my mind with the first book, so my hopes are up for the next two.

The Queen of the Tearling is a fantasy novel packed full of adventure, journeys, and self-discovery, while also telling the story of a young girl’s coming of age. Kelsea Raleigh Glynn is a young exiled princess, who, on her nineteenth birthday, is summoned back to the castle where she was born to take her rightful place on the throne. Her mother died when she was young, but before she died, she sent baby Kelsea into exile to be raised and hopefully kept out of harm’s way. Every Raleigh Queen is murdered by assassins and therefore her mother wanted to keep her safe. Rumors swirled around the young princess with some thinking her dead while others believed her to be alive and as frivolous and vain as her mother. Mysteries abound and young Kelsea must work tirelessly to secure the trust of her people.

Kelsea looks nothing like her mother and also acts nothing like her. She knows the throne is her rightful place, whether she wants it to be or not. Trained and schooled in exile, Kelsea was only privy to the information her two guardians would give her, leaving her with wide gaps in her knowledge of Tearling history and her own mother’s life. Once Kelsea finds her way to the castle and proves she is the rightful queen, her troubles begin. Her uncle has been acting as regent since her mother’s death. He wants the kingdom for himself, despite the fact that he is rather unpopular amongst both the commoners and the nobility. He has also made a rather complicated alliance with the sorcerous Red Queen in neighboring Mortmesne, something that doesn’t sit well with Kelsea and a wide variety of the Tearling people.

This apocalyptic universe has a lot going on. Kelsea, having grown up in isolation, finds herself smack dab in all the problems. She is identified as the true queen by the fact that she is marked and is wearing the Tearling sapphire around her neck, a necklace that she has been wearing since birth. The longer she wears this jewel, the more she realizes that it is more than just your traditional necklace. It has magical powers and Kelsea isn’t quite sure how it exactly works… In addition to being protected by her sapphire, Kelsea is accompanied by the Queen’s Guard, a group of knights who have sworn an oath to protect the queen. They are a dedicated selection of men who sometimes are the only thing standing between Kelsea and her enemies. This book is a treasure trove of fantasy, dark magic, journeys, adventure, and self-love. Kelsea loves books and learning, a fact that I related to well. This book was incredibly put together and kept my interest the whole time. This heroine is no damsel in distress. Kelsea may need help at times, but she will ask for it and will strive to make herself better. She may be idealistic, but given her age and sheltered life, that is to be expected. I’m hoping that the next books explain the backstory further, but other than that, The Queen of the Tearling  sets up an intriguing world that will hold your interest all the way through.


The Queen of the Tearling is also available in the following formats:


This book is the first in the trilogy. The second book is The Invasion of the Tearling and The Fate of the Tearling. (Stay tuned for reviews of those once I finish them!)

 

Memory Man by David Baldacci

Memory Man by David Baldacci is the very first Baldacci book that I have ever read. His books have never caught my eye before, ie. the covers just don’t appeal to me, but I decided to give one a try. Looking through OverDrive, I found Memory Man. The premise was intriguing and seemed to be marginally similar to author Robert Galbraith’s Detective Cormoran Strike series.

Memory Man grabbed my attention with this tagline from the publisher: “A man with perfect memory…must solve his own family’s murder”. Interesting premise, right? I thought so. The idea that someone with a perfect memory would have difficulties figuring out who murdered his family had me instantly thinking about how frustrating that must be. I knew I had to read it. (And bonus: It’s the first book in a series!)

Amos Decker is a big man, not just personality wise, but size wise as well. In college, Decker played football. He was so good that he was able to go pro. Decker was the only person from his hometown of Burlington to ever go pro, a fact that everyone in town was proud of and something that Decker cherished. His life was changed because of football though. Decker’s very first pro football game, his very first play on the field, he was the victim of a violent helmet-to-helmet collision that destroyed his chances of ever playing ball again. It also left him with an extremely rare side effect: Decker never forgets anything. His mind seems to record everything.

Flash forward twenty years and Decker’s life is about to change again. Now he’s a police detective married with a young daughter. Returning from work late one night, he discovers the murdered bodies of his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law in his house. Decker is broken, his life is destroyed, and he quickly spirals out of control. He quits the police force, ends up losing his home, and finds himself living on the street. He ends up doing odd jobs as a private investigator, just enough work to provide him with a place to live in a somewhat seedy motel.

Over a year after his family’s murders, a man walks into the police station and confesses to the murders.  At the same time, Burlington is rocked by a catastrophic event that has the ability to cripple the town. Decker’s old partner comes to him seeking his help. He soon finds himself investigating his family’s murders and helping with the other police investigation. In order to get to the truth though, Decker must rely on his perfect memory, something that he has tried to manage and get control of over the years.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced, dealt with sticky subjects, and had me wondering who the bad guys were the whole time. I sometimes find thriller plots to be convoluted and even predictable, but Memory Man was a blessing. It is a thoroughly engaging, mysterious, suspenseful thriller that had me on edge until the very end.


This book is also available in the following formats:

You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes is a tale of unrelenting passion, love, and desire told through the eyes of a smitten young man. Joe Goldberg works in an East Village bookstore. His life is changed (such a cliché, I know, but just wait) the day Guinevere Beck, a young aspiring writer, walks into his bookstore. He instantly wants to be with her. Everything about her appeals to him: the way she walks, the section she visits in the store, the fact that she doesn’t check out ‘normal’ books… She’s super sexy, tough, smarter than any other woman he knows, and is drop-dead gorgeous. He has to have her.

Striking up a conversation with Beck gives Joe just enough information to see that he is perfect for her. She just doesn’t realize it yet. Joe has to find a way to convince her and to, most importantly, learn more about her so he can become her perfect boyfriend. In his quest to learn more, Joe realizes that there is more to Beck than he initially thought, that she isn’t quite as perfect as she seems to be.

Joe is obsessed with Beck and the more he gets to know her, the more he needs to be with her. Beck has her own life separate from Joe. He doesn’t want to push Beck too hard to get her to be in his life as much as he wants her to be. Joe must be clever and soon his cleverness pays off. Each becomes obsessed with the other, a situation that has the possibility to abruptly spiral out of control, to even turn deadly.

You has the haunting, thrilling, psychological messages of a good suspenseful romance. The sociopathic voyeurism and manipulation that runs rampant throughout this book had me honestly feeling a little bit paranoid. Seeing the lengths that Joe went through to learn about Beck and how sneaky Beck was made me question my social media use and whether I’m using it too much. I also questioned whether I was simply connected online too much and whether I needed to start unplugging from the internet more often. The differentiation between what we consider to be our private and our public lives, as well as the ease that those lives can be monitored by outside forces and even hacked, were all things that I thought about as I was reading this book.

This psychological thriller creeped me out. In a good way. I have read many, many thrillers from the victim’s perspective. Said books are always about their quest to find out who is stalking them or hurting them or who is leaving weird things for them. These books may also be from the point of view of family and friends who are looking for the missing person. I had never read a book from the other person’s point of view, from the point of view of the person who is completely and thoroughly obsessed. I loved and was simultaneously repulsed by this book.


This book is also available in the following format(and that’s the one I listened to it in):


The sequel to this book was released in 2016. It’s called Hidden Bodies and it continues into the exploration of Joe’s life. I’m hoping the sequel digs more into Joe’s past and gives us more of an idea of why Joe behaves the way that he does.


 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Two women. One rental house in London. One eccentric landlord.

One Folgate Street in London is an unusual home. It was built by an award winning architect, Edward Monkford. The home has an open floor plan and there are no doors. The staircase is built in to the wall and there is no railing to hold on to. The decor is austere. While the home has clean lines and is in beautiful in its own way, it is not cozy. There are no rugs, pillows or photographs. But it does have state of the art technology. And this house is a rental. In fact, it is affordable. However, in order to rent this house, a person has to fill out a very lengthy application including a personality test. Very few applicants are asked to come in for an interview. And if you do live at One Folgate Street, you have to follow a large list of strict rules.

Emma is the girl before. Recently, there was a break in at her apartment while she was home. Now she does not feel safe and she wants to find a new apartment. Unfortunately, she cannot afford a lot of places that are available and she does not like the places that she can afford. Emma’s realtor shows her One Folgate Street and cautions her about the strict guidelines for living in this home. Emma is determined to make it work. She likes the security system on the home. She feels safe at One Folgate Street.

Jane is the girl that lives at One Folgate Street now. She just lost a baby girl and she is looking for a change. Like Emma, Jane cannot afford a lot of the apartments that are available. Jane finds the house at One Folgate Street calming. Jane is also determined to live there and goes through the long application answering personal questions about herself. After Jane moves in, she finds a sleeping bag in the attic. Who lived in this house before? Why were they sleeping in the attic? Jane starts investigating the previous occupant, Emma. And she finds out that Edward Monkford had a wife and child. They both died. Is there something sinister about her charming landlord?

The Girl Before is a thrilling mystery full of surprises. I could not put it down. Look for this book to be made into a motion picture with Ron Howard directing.

 

 

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

Do you like reading screenplays? Poetry? What about novels that aren’t written in the traditional sense? I’ve read many novels-in-verse, but the author has to really bring their A-game if I’m to be impressed with a novel-in-verse. Books written in a different way than I am used to take me a little while to get invested in and as a result, I usually avoid them. My latest listen, however, was not done in a traditional format and I loved it.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger was a whim of a book to listen to. I was searching through OverDrive having just finished my previous book. With none of my holds available for check-out, I honestly picked The Divorce Papers because the title sounded interesting, the cover was intriguing, and I knew it would be ripe with family drama. Had I clicked through and read the blurb provided by the publisher, I probably would have skipped reading it. I’m glad I impulse checked this audiobook out.

The Divorce Papers is not told like your traditional novel. Instead it’s told through a series of office memos, news articles, emails, legal papers, and personal correspondence. While you may think that this storytelling style leaves readers with the task of filling in much of the plot, you would be sadly mistaken. Each section is so detailed that while there may be gaps in dates, there are no gaps in plot and detail. You also benefit from a very precise timeline since everything in the book is dated. I greatly enjoyed that.

This book is the story of a messy divorce of two very high-profile members of a close-knit community. Sophie Diehl, a twenty-nine-year-old criminal law associate at a New England law firm has been dragged into doing her very first civil lawsuit. She was asked to do the intake interview for Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim, the daughter of her firm’s most important client. The only reason Sophie was asked to do the intake interview was because the partner who would have handled it was out of town. Having been promised by her boss that she would only have to do the intake interview and nothing more, Sophie went on with her regular criminal law work.

Nothing is ever quite that simple. Mia requests Sophie to be her lawyer, a request that the partners can’t turn down because she is the daughter of such an important client. Mia is a Mayflower descendant whose father runs a company and whose mother was an heiress. She was served with divorce papers at a popular local restaurant by her husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology. This will be Daniel’s second divorce, Mia’s first, and Sophie’s first one to handle as well. Despite that fact, Mia is insistent that Sophie be the one to handle her divorce. What follows is a tense battle between Mia and Daniel for custody of their 10-year-old daughter Jane, for control of their assets, for alimony/child support, and a myriad of other issues that pop up in a divorce. While Sophie is handling Mia’s divorce, other letters, emails, and office memos show how this divorce is affecting her specifically. Readers get a look into her relationships with her work colleagues, her family, her friends, and her lovers.

To be honest, my mind faded out through some sections when the narrator read the legal papers. If I want to read this book again, I will definitely pick up a physical copy. Because this book deals with a divorce, there are many sections talking about alimony and the division of assets, aka lots of numbers. Luckily each section of legal documents was usually followed by a personal letter or email that broke down the dense talking into something I actually understood. Don’t let the lawyer talk throw you off reading or listening to this book though. The storyline and interpersonal relationships more than make up for the lawyer speak. I greatly enjoyed this book, more than I expected.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center is a book about starting over. Helen Carpenter is thirty-two years old and has been divorced for a year. She is just fine with how her life is going, thank you very much, but if she actually thinks about it, she really needs to take a break to try and put herself together again. Her much younger brother, younger by ten years, mentions off-hand about a wilderness survival course. Thinking that this is exactly what she needs, Helen decides to sign up and give it a try. Right when she’s getting ready to leave, her brother’s best friend, Jake, tells her that he is also coming on the trip and just so happens to need a ride. Great. This life-changing journey has turned into a cross-country trip with her younger brother’s annoying best friend. Not what she wanted at all.

The wilderness survival course that Helen has signed up for is three weeks long and puts her and a group of people smack dab in the remotest part of a mountain range in Wyoming. Her fellow survivalists are nothing like what she was expecting. Instead of the hippie folks and rugged back-packers she was envisioning, Helen finds herself at orientation with a group of college students all significantly younger than her and who are basically doing this course as a way to get college credit. The person in charge doesn’t even look like he’s out of high school, for goodness sake! Helen is clearly out of her element. This point is further emphasized when the instructor lays out a series of very strict rules. Helen is in way over her head.

In order to begin this course with a clean slate, she tells Jake to pretend like he doesn’t even know her. She wants to begin anew. This sort of backfires on her when Helen realizes that Jake has become the popular guy and also that no one else in her group really likes her that much. Such begins Helen’s road to rediscovery, a wilderness survival course that is nothing like she thought it would be with people she wasn’t expecting. With sore, blistery feet, a medical emergency, a summer blizzard, and love blooming on rocky trails, Happiness for Beginners is a breath of fresh air as Helen works to remake herself into the new person she wants to become.


This book is also available as an Overdrive eAudiobook, which is how I listened to this book.

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer was a pleasant diversion from what I was expecting. I’ve read everything else Meyer has written (the Twilight series and The Host). I actually really enjoyed all her previous works and occasionally would re-read them when I needed a brain cleanse/a break from the heavy nonfiction I was reading. They fit my niche. I picked up The Chemist without really reading the blurb on the back and expected to have a supernatural and science fiction thriller on my hands. I was wrong. It was way more realistic fiction than I was expecting, but I was okay with it.

The Chemist is about an ex-agent who used to work for the U.S. government. She must do one last job in order to clear her name, but this job isn’t nearly as clear cut as she is led to believe. The agency she used to work with is so undercover and clandestine that it doesn’t have a name. People don’t know that the agency exists, but they have heard the rumors of the woman who works there. Being unable to discuss the nature of her work outside her lab, she formed a close relationship with her mentor Barnaby, another scientist. Her employers decided that changes must be made, that her area was a liability, and they killed Barnaby, the only person she ever trusted.

She finds herself on the run from her former employers who are still hunting her. People have been sent to kill her, but she’s managed to escape. After the last attempt on her life, she realizes that while she was working for the agency, she must have either overheard something she shouldn’t have or something she worked on has made her a liability. They have decided she must be eliminated.

After one of her former employers approaches her and offers her a way to get the agency off her back, she must weigh the consequences of taking the job vs. staying on the run. If she takes it, she will be uprooting her entire existence, the only way she has been able to keep herself alive. If she takes it, she will be putting herself both back on her former employers’ radar and, more importantly, physically back within their reach. If she doesn’t take it, she’ll have to stay on the run, continually changing her name and not forming bonds with anyone. She’s safer on the run and alive, but she’s not really living a life when she has to continuously look over her shoulder. This job is her only chance to get her life back and to get her former employer to stop trying to kill her. She decides to take it.

The information she learns while she is performing this job makes her question things she thought she knew as truths. Her life is now in even more danger once she figures out this job’s reality. She is forced to once again fight for her life and now the lives of the other people involved in this job. Even though this job was supposed to be her ticket to freedom, it has instead made her life infinitely more complicated. She quickly finds herself having to rely on others, something she would never even consider if her options weren’t rapidly shrinking.

Meyer has crafted a story that is true to her writing style. Her heroine is strong and fierce, willing to fight for what she believes to be her due. This novel is a highly suspenseful thriller, one that leads readers through a wild goose chase of sorts as the main character works to figure out exactly who is after her, what she is willing to do, and what she is willing to sacrifice in order to save herself. I greatly enjoyed this novel and I think that listening to it added to my suspense level and enjoyment. Meyer also adds a layer of separation between readers and the main character by hardly ever referring to her by name, something that is necessary given the fact that since she worked for such a clandestine agency, her whole working life was a secret and now she must keep things even more under-wraps in order to stay alive. I highly recommend this book.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee

Books that deal with heartbreak seem to be my go-to listen lately. Maybe that’s just because I know the plot will be interesting and engaging, but nevertheless, I find myself gravitating towards heart-squeezing family dramas. The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee is full of devastating consequences, yet heartwarming relationships that make you yearn for each character’s eventual happiness.

The Expatriates is the inter-woven tale of three American women living in Hong Kong. Each woman is a part of the same very small expat community. Their reasons for coming to Hong Kong as well as their personal and professional lives may be different, but the situations that they find themselves in all become intertwined rather quickly, sometimes without them even realizing it. (I was constantly reminded of the idea that we are only separated from someone else by six degrees of separation throughout this book. And also by the fact that the smallest action can change our lives so drastically.)

Mercy is a young Korean American who finds herself in Hong King after her graduation from Columbia. She has moved to Hong Kong looking for a change from the normal and the promise of a more lucrative job. Marcy is haunted by a terrible accident that happened to her recently. Hilary is a housewife whose marriage is on the rocks. She gave up the bulk of her career to follow her husband, David, to Hong Kong, so he could further his career. Hilary finds herself thinking over and over about her inability to have a child and how if she was only able to conceive, her marriage problems would evaporate. Margaret is a married mother of three who is forced to deal with a shattering loss that has destroyed her life and her family. She is having to find a new normal, something she must survive even if she isn’t quiet sure how to do so.

Mercy, Hilary, and Margaret soon find their lives to be thoroughly enmeshed together in was neither of them expected. Each woman must deal with their own separate issues and struggles, but soon they fins that there are many common threads linking them together. Consequences run rampant through their lives, dictating their decisions, their lifestyles, and their relationships. This book was very moving and I found myself listening to it obsessively to try to figure out how their lives were going to unfold.


This book is also available in the following formats:

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler

For me, this was an ideal book-on-cd. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  by Karen Fowler was an optimum balance between fascinating exposition – about animal behavior, the ethics of scientific theory and experiments – in and out of the lab, and novelistic appeal. Rosemary, the narrator, is an interesting mix of reliable (she addresses the reader and seems to be candid) but also unreliable (memories are faulty especially when critical parts of the story take place in early childhood).

I love to be lectured to, not in the you’ve-done-something-wrong sense, but in the academic sense, where you are given information in a logical and well-thought-out way. I learned a lot about psychology, and  primate and human behavior, as well as memory.

Sometimes this was difficult to listen to – Fowler does an amazing job of showing us our ability to minimize the pain of confusion of animals. The human and animal characters in this story are not abstractions; they are unique and complicated beings, and their pain is our pain. The humans behave in ways that are understandable but not always very likeable.

It’s also a mystery. Early in the book, Rosemary says that she’s lost two siblings. Little by little, she reveals who went missing and why. Even the title is a bit of a mystery, and there’s an a-ha! moment when you realize it’s significance. There’s so much to think about, and to talk about; I’m dying to discuss!