Finna by Nino Cipri

Not to be melodramatic, but Finna by Nino Cipri is the book I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It reads in many ways like an American version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – one of my all-time favorite books. The deceptively thin volume is the story of Ava and Jules, a young couple that just broke up a week ago and now has to find a way to continue working together at a Scandinavian big box furniture store. As if the horrors and indignities of working retail AND a breakup  weren’t enough, they then discover a wormhole to a parallel universe has opened inside the store — and a customer has wandered through it. It falls to Ava and Jules, as the employees with the least seniority, to go through the wormhole and try to bring the customer home. While trying to survive a perilous multiverse, they must also walk the perilous path from breakup back to friendship.

I fell in love with this book almost instantly, and there’s many reasons why. For one thing, it’s a slim and unintimidating 137 pages, and the writing style and brief chapters make it a quick and addictive read. The humor is dry and wry, realistic about the cruelties and frustrations of both working retail and navigating relationships. Both characters are honest about their own good and bad qualities and while the hurt and defensiveness is real, they don’t flinch away from taking a long, hard look at what went wrong in themselves and in their relationship. Moreover, meaningful as the relationship between the characters is, the book doesn’t get bogged down in it, balancing out the heartfelt discussions with lots of frankly wacky adventures in parallel universes both beautiful and sinister. Finally, this book is one of a very rare type: a novel, with a genderqueer protagonist, that doesn’t focus exclusively on that individual’s gender. In fact, Jules’ gender identity and the social difficulties that come with it are treated as established and routine, mundane everyday details compared to the rest of the plot. As a genderqueer person myself, it is so refreshing to read novels where gender-diverse people exist, live their lives, and do things other than obsess about their gender identity.

If you love slice-of-life sci fi, Welcome to Night Vale, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or are craving some light-hearted LGBTQ representation, I 100% recommend you check out this book.

There’s Someone In Your House by Stephanie Perkins

This fall, I’ve made a real effort to read more scary or creepy books, just to get in the spirit of things. Honestly, I really liked most of them, but so far I think my favorite is There’s Someone In Your House by Stephanie Perkins. For an author whose previous work had been mostly light-hearted romances, this 2017 book was a bit of a departure. It tells the story of Hawaii-born Makani Young, who was transplanted to Osborne, Nebraska after a shocking incident in her junior year of high school. Now a senior, Makani is trying to focus on the future, especially a future involving Ollie, the mysterious loner with whom she shared a brief summer romance. Everything changes, however, when her classmates begin to die, brutally murdered in horribly personal ways. Makani, her two best friends, and her maybe-boyfriend must scramble to survive and expose the Osborne Slayer before it’s too late — and Makani finds herself forced to confront her darkest secrets along the way.

There’s a few reasons this book really stuck with me. First, the characters were thoughtfully diverse and believably well-rounded. For each character, the author gives you insight into their character, their talents and insecurities, and what kind of person they are, so you can’t help but empathize with them. This happens not only for the main characters, Makani and her friends, but for minor characters as well. In an extremely effective writing tactic for the genre, Perkins begins alternate chapters by focusing on a different one of Makani’s classmates, describing their thoughts and feelings as they go about their everyday routine, becoming increasingly uneasy as unusual things begin to happen around them until finally, the killer emerges, completing his terrifying work. I personally thought Perkins did an amazing job making the victims real and sympathetic to the reader in just enough pages to make their deaths devastating. At the same time, no character is simple. Reading it, I was left very aware of the complex inner life hiding in every individual, no matter how put-together or straightforward they appear. In the same way, no one is purely good or purely evil; Perkins explores the ways that circumstances, chance, stress, and other pressures bring out the darkness in different people.

Second, the writing style and strategy was simply fantastic. The structure and order of the chapters kept the suspense building, with bursts of action raising the stakes and advancing the story. What I really liked was the interludes where Makani and Ollie slowly got to know each other and developed their relationship. Since I’m not a huge romance reader, I appreciated that these interludes weren’t distracting from the overarching story, but provided both a respite from the terror and hope for a future beyond the Osborne Slayer. As romances go, this one was believable and sweet for me, with both parties mostly communicating well, confronting their demons, and making an effort to be there for each other in friendship and in romance.

In short, while this book rings true both in the slasher genre and the YA romance genre, it didn’t feel cookie-cutter or standard. For me, Perkins created a rich world in Osborne, where there was a lot more going on than just the Osborne Slayer. I fell in love with the characters, I got addicted to the action, and I was pleased with the ending. I definitely recommend this book to any newbie or veteran reader of thrillers and horror.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Books told from multiple viewpoints have a way of tearing at my soul. Seeing the same storyline through different characters lends additional compelling layers of emotion, backstory, and meaning that readers wouldn’t have through only one character. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal is a young adult novel told from two viewpoints over the course of one night.

Atlanta high school seniors Lena and Campbell, one black and one white, want to be normal teens. After a football rivalry escalates into a riot one Friday night, the two are forced to rely on each other to survive. From two very different backgrounds, the two girls are unexpectedly thrown together when chaos erupts at their school. During that night, Lena and Campbell must travel through the violent race riot that has enveloped Atlanta as they try to get home.

Lena knows what she wants out of life. With an awesome boyfriend, amazing style, and big plans for her future, Lena is determined to make a name for herself. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to survive. Being abandoned by her mother and starting her senior year at a new school in a new town with her dad is not how she imagined her life turning out. Campbell just wants to make it through the school year.

When the two head to the football game, they have plans for what they expect the night to be. When a rivalry with another school turns into a riot, Lena and Campbell are thrust together into a fight for survival. They aren’t friends. They barely know each other and don’t understand what the other is going through. Racing through town, their differences matter less as the city goes up in flames and people riot in the streets.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Online Reading Challenge -March

Hello Challenge Readers!

It’s a new month and that means it’s a new theme for the Online Reading Challenge! Will the excitement ever end?

This month our theme is Religion.  Religion can be controversial, but it can also be fascinating. Religion has shaped cultures, history, art and philosophy. Religion influences all of our lives, whether we’re a devoted practitioner or not. You might take this month to read a book that describes a religion you’re unfamiliar with, or a historical perspective of one you are familiar with. Or read something fun and cozy – the choice is yours! You don’t have to choose a book that is strictly about religion (although you can if you want) but look for something where religion informs the story.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

One of my all-time favorite books is The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I grew up in a small, rural Iowa town where 90% of the population was Protestant. Even Catholics were “exotic” to my childish mind and Jewish people simply unknown. The Chosen opened my eyes and my imagination, not just to different religions (both Orthodox Hasidic and Modern Orthodox Jews are part of the story), but to a different world – 1940s Brooklyn, intellectual curiosity and dedicated faith. Beautifully written, this now classic story of two boys and their fathers is a don’t miss. Its universal themes of family, faith, love and loyalty will resonate with everyone.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver follows the harrowing story of an over-enthusiastic Evangelical Baptist missionary and his quest to convert (“save” in his opinion) the native people of Belgian Congo in 1959. Told from the point-of-view of his wife and four daughters, this polarizing book will cause you to question many entrenched beliefs. The storyline is gripping, bittersweet and can’t-put-down.

I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Lovett’s The Lost Book of the Grail, about a couple’s search for a lost treasure. The book juxtaposes the timelines of what actually happened at the English abbey to what Arthur and Bethany are discovering in the present. For fans of The DaVinci Code (which would also qualify for this month’s reading challenge) but with much less torture and bloodshed.

There are several classics worth picking up now if you haven’t yet such as Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Prefer something light? Try the Mitford series by Jan Karon about a pastor in an idyllic country town. Other modern favorites include The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving or Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat.

Be sure to check out the book displays at each Davenport library building for lots more suggestions.

I’m planning to read A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell which is about a family of Jews escaping over the Alps to Italy in 1943. It promises to be a multi-faceted look at the Italian front during World War II.

Now it’s your turn – what will you be reading this March?

 

 

We Read Banned Books

Banned Books Week 2016 continues more  than 30 years of celebrating  – and protecting – the freedom to read. This freedom to choose what we read from the fullest array of possibilities is firmly rooted in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Even as we enjoy a seemingly limitless and expanding amount of information, there is always a danger in someone else selecting what is available and to whom. Would-be censors from all quarters and political persuasions threaten our right to choose for ourselves.

The year’s Banned Book Week is focusing on the diversity of authors and ideas that have prompted a disproportionate share of challenges. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom estimates that more than half of all banned books are by authors of color or ones that represent groups of viewpoints outside the mainstream. When we speak up to protect the right to read, we not only defend our individual right to free expression, we demonstrate tolerance and respect for opposing points of view. When we take action to preserve our freedoms, we become participants in the ongoing evolution of our democratic society.

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