Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Every night Tova works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, cleaning floors and picking up trash. She doesn’t really need the income, but she likes to keep busy. Her son Erik died 30 years ago under mysterious circumstances when he was just 18 and her husband Will died a few years ago from cancer. It is here, at the Aquarium, that she finds quiet and solace and some purpose, a balm to her loneliness in Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

Marcellus is a Giant Pacific octopus that has spent most of his life in the Sowell Bay Aquarium. He is very smart, very observant and very clever. Now close to end of his life (octopus live for only 4 or 5 years), Marcellus amuses himself by escaping his tank to make brief visits to other areas of the complex (and help himself to tasty critters in the other tanks)

One night Tova is startled to find the octopus in the staff room, tangled up in electrical cords. Carefully she frees him from the wires and helps him return to his tank. The escape remains their little secret and a friendship is born. Of course, Marcellus can’t talk to her, but he responds to her presence and emerges from his usual hiding place when she stops to talk to him. He knows that she is sad and lonely and he wishes he could help her.

One day Cameron walks into their lives. Adrift and a bit lost, an aimless young man trying to get his life on track. His father died before he was born and his mother abandoned him when he was nine, so his only family is an elderly aunt. He takes a job at the aquarium and Tova eventually takes him under her wing. Marcellus realizes immediately that there is a connection between these two. He just somehow needs to let them know too.

This is an utterly charming book. It is also a heartfelt examination of grief, connection, the importance of family and an acceptance of the march of time and preparing for your own end. This is sobering, of course, but it is the way of all living creatures, and the practical and loving ways the characters take care of themselves and of those that will live on is hopeful and uplifting. Marcellus’ thoughts (which appear in separate chapters) are shrewd and his opinions about the humans are funny and insightful. You will learn a lot about octopus’ and you will fall in love with Marcellus.

Highly recommended.

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley

“You never have to forget him, you just have to release the pieces that hurt. Love is the part of him you get to keep.”
― Kate Bromley, Talk Bookish to Me

Talk Bookish to Me is Kate Bromley’s debut romance novel that is hilarious, yet also sexy. It’s also a book within a book: one of the main characters is an author and excerpts of the current book she is writing are sprinkled throughout. This emotional second-chance love story has a premise that, while I have read something similar before, I felt was unique in its presentation.

Kara Sullivan is a romance author stuck in a rut. Her current book deadline is fast approaching, but she hasn’t written a single word. To add to her stress, Kara’s best friend is getting married in a week and Kara is in the wedding! While at the pre-wedding party, Kara is shocked and infuriated to see her first love, Ryan Thompson, walking in. It turns out Ryan is a childhood friend of the groom and is also one of the groomsmen. His abrupt arrival is the jolt that Kara’s creative writing processs needs. As soon as the two break apart for the night, Kara begins working on her steamy historical romance and is surprised to see that she has actually written workable material.

Kara admits to herself that being around Ryan may be the only way that she will actually finish her book on time (and pay her bills)! Ryan is her unexpected muse and Kara decides to throw herself directly in his path. Even though she needs Ryan to finish her book, Kara isn’t sure if she can stand to be in his presence, given their troubled, murky past. The two push each others’ buttons, but their rekindled romance may be the saving grace she needs in all aspects of her life.

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder

Coping with grief is hard and never-ending. As a librarian, I am constantly on the lookout for books that discuss the topic of grief in a new way. Enter author and illustrator Tyler Feder. She has written Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir, what Feder describes as ‘sad but also silly and weird, just like loss’. Feder’s illustrations are soft, gentle, and simple which serve as the perfect accompaniment to her heartbreaking subject matter. This book is part cancer memoir telling the story of Feder’s mom’s death and part reflection on her motherless life. Feder gives readers a glimpse into a devastating time into her life, while also being humorous. She makes note several times throughout that this memoir is for the people who are struggling with loss who just want someone to understand and get what they are going through.

Tyler Feder loves her mom Rhonda. That has never been in doubt.  As the oldest daughter, Tyler made Rhonda a mom and shared a special bond with her. No one loved more in Tyler’s life than her mom, all be it a bit blunt but full of joy. It’s hard to distill such a large personality to a single memoir, but Tyler pays devoted homage to her by weaving poignant yet piercing details throughout.

When Tyler was 19 years old, her mom died of cancer. This memoir covers everything from her first oncology appointment to the different stages of cancer to the funeral. Feder then goes a step further to show her family sitting shiva and how they adjust to the new afterward without their mother and wife in the ten years after. The art in this book is gorgeous and seeing Tyler show her love and heartbreak through her work tore at my heart as I read this book. This graphic memoir also felt like a self-help book as reading Tyler’s journey somewhat mirrored my own travels through grief. You see Feder’s grief fresh after her mother’s death as well as how she is working through it ten years later. Highly recommend this graphic memoir to anyone who is looking for a new read.

This book is also available in the following format:

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Katherine Center’s newest novel What You Wish For is fast-paced, engaging, and whimsical. Even though it deals with heavy topics, Center manages to share the message that choosing joy in the midst of difficult and painful times will help you heal.

Samantha Casey is a school librarian. She has been in Galveston, Texas for only a couple of years, but in this short time she has managed to carve out a life that makes her happy. Sam loves her job, the kids that come to visit her in the library, and her school family. Her new school fits the new Sam: colorful, fun, engaging, and full of personality. After disaster strikes the school, Sam finds herself floundering. The new school year has been thrown into chaos, but with the hiring of Duncan Carpenter, Sam is hopeful that the school will begin to heal.

Sam knows Duncan. Well, she knew the old Duncan. The new Duncan is rigid. He lives by rules and regulations. He believes that he needs to upgrade the school because the way it is now is only asking for bad things to happen. The old Duncan did not care about rules. He was the cool teacher, the one who juggled, wore funny clothes, and advocated for anything and everything fun. Sam had the biggest crush on lovable old Duncan, but the old Sam was too timid. She has changed so much in just a couple years and is hopeful that she can turn Duncan back into the fun-loving man she remembered from before.

Sam and Duncan couldn’t be more different now. Duncan only wants to protect the school even if that means that he has to destroy it. Desperate to save the school, Sam and some other teachers work to remind Duncan of the joy he used to feel. While helping Duncan remember who he used to be, Sam finds herself wanting to know him again.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Have you ever read a book that made you both laugh and cry? The Guncle by Steven Rowley was the lightest, yet the most heartrending, book that I have read this year. Rowley’s storytelling had me yearning for happiness and serenity for all the characters, while tearing up at the difficulties they were going through.

Patrick is famous. Well he used to be anyway. A once-famous gay sitcom star with a desire to hide away from the world, Patrick moved away from the hustle of the world to Palm Springs where he can relax in his pool away from all the people who insist on bothering him. When an unexpected family tragedy has him flying back to Connecticut on short notice, Patrick finds his peace shattered.

Patrick isn’t a bad uncle. He’s always loved his niece, Maisie, and his nephew, Grant. He loves them in short doses: weeklong visits when they come to see him or when he goes back for the holidays. The important part is he gets to go home after he’s done. After all, he’s GUP, Gay Uncle Patrick. The idea of relating to children and caring for them overwhelms him.

Back home in Connecticut after Masie and Grant have lost their mother and after Patrick’s brother(the children’s father) has a crisis of his own, Patrick is at a loss. Greg wants him to become the children’s primary guardian and take them back to California with him. For 90 days, Patrick will be the sole caretaker for Maisie and Grant, a nine- and a six-year-old respectively. He is overwhelmed and has no idea what to expect. Realizing that Maisie and Grant need the escape as much as he does, Patrick brings them back to California with him.

Armed with a set of Guncle Rules, Patrick quickly realizes he has no idea what he’s doing. The kids are overwhelming, loud, and dealing with tough emotions while being around Patrick who they don’t know very well. Helping them deal with their emotions forces Patrick to deal with his own: he’s barely holding it together years after his love died, his career has stalled, and his lifestyle is not exactly suited to children. Patrick finds himself responsible for two young children and that responsibility cannot be waved off by joking or spoiling the kids with treats. He must find a balance between his old life and his new. What he discovers surprises them all.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo has written a new young adult novel detailing the stories of two sisters grieving the loss of their father. Clap When You Land  weaves together their two separate stories into a tight tale of sorrow, loss, and finding a bright spot amidst immense grief.

Camino Rios only sees her father in the summer. Every June, he flies to visit her and her aunt in the Dominican Republic. Papi lights up her tiny community and his presence is everywhere she looks. Even when he’s not there, he protects her. This time when Camino goes to the airport to pick him up, she arrives to see groups of people crying and watching the news. Not her papi…

Yahaira Rios lives in New York City with her father and mother. Papi is her hero. He taught her to play chess and nurtured her talents. He has left every summer to go to the Dominican Republic on business for as long as she can remember. It’s almost the end of the school year and papi has just taken off. Yahaira is called to the principal’s office and notices teachers clustered in corners, crying, and stealing glances at her. A disheveled mami is in the office with devastating news. Her father has died in a plane crash. Her hero is gone.

Grieving their father’s death, Yahaira and Camino struggle to find a new way through life. Without money, Camino doesn’t know how she will keep going to high school and college seems to be now firmly out of the picture. Without her father, Yahaira and her mother are unmoored. Her mami and other relatives spend hours whispering and stop talking as soon as she walks in the room.

Separated by distance, both girls have to figure out a new reality without their father. He’s gone and nothing they do can bring him back. The deeper their grief, the more they struggle to find a new purpose. Just when it feels like they have reached their breaking point, they each learn the other exists. Papi had many secrets.

This book is available in the following formats:

Just Like That by Cole McCade

The weather won’t stop getting colder anytime soon, but a steamy book might warm you right up! My latest suggestion: Just Like That by Cole McCade. This sweet story about second chances at happily-ever-after centers on Summer Hemlock, who comes back to his hometown to work at his old school, and Fox Iseya, Summer’s former teacher and current crush, who’s been grieving his late wife for so long he can’t imagine himself otherwise. Summer, crippled by anxiety, quickly changes all that by proposing an unusual deal: every time he can do something brave, he earns a kiss from Fox. Fox finds himself unexpectedly flustered and intrigued by the offer, and the resulting relationship might just heal them both.

Despite the frankly unlikely character names, I found this book sweet, endearing, funny, and yes, steamy, with lots of points in its favor, including a strongly ethical portrayal of relationships, grief, and self-confidence. Both characters are fully-developed people with personalities, hobbies, and foibles. Both characters are students of psychology, and they don’t shy away from discussing the underlying issues each is grappling with. There’s also good solid representation of consent and negotiating intimacy to both partners’ comfort level.  Maybe most importantly, though Summer is Fox’s former student, the book is clear that nothing personal happens or could happen between them unless they’re both fully mature, consenting adults – a vital point for me to enjoy the story. All of these elements combined to create a novel that, though definitely erotica, has love, respect, and the characters’ wellbeing at its heart.

If you need to believe in second chances, if you want to feel hope and bravery, and if you’re looking for a healing, escapist read for your wintry days, I recommend giving this new book a try – Just Like That.

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Young adult fiction is my escape. I have always found comfort in reading about young people as they work to discover who they are and who they have the capacity to be. Lately, I have been reading a lot of young adult fiction that discusses social justice themes and has characters working on finding their voices. It’s a relief to read about characters speaking out and affecting change.

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan has been referred to as a feminist anthem for young adults working to raise their voices. Watson is a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author who has written a timely and thought-provoking novel about a group of teenagers who want their high school and surrounding neighborhoods to change.

Jasmine and Chelsea, along with their two other friends,  attend a progressive New York City high school. The curriculum may be different than other local high schools, but Jasmine and Chelsea quickly realize that the school is not as progressive as it claims to be. All students must join an after school club, something these young women greatly enjoy. When they each experience issues in their respective clubs, they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. The two post their work online for all to see. Soon their essays, poems, and videos go viral as other people in the community resonate with the stories of racial, gender, and weight-based microaggressions the two share. The club receives so much positive support, but that doesn’t stop trolls from targeting the group.

When the negatives start to boil over into real life, the school administration gets involved and the principal shuts the club down. Devastated and angry with this turn of events, Jasmine and Chelsea take the club off-campus to their favorite bookstore where they plan ways to fight back. Refusing to be silenced, Jasmine, Chelsea, and their friends risk everything to raise their voices and be heard at their school who touts the platform of all voices being heard, even though that just isn’t true. The art this group of friends creates adds a level of realness to this novel about two young women who demand to be heard.

Book Club @ Night – August 12

Are you missing book clubs? We are! Lucky for all of us, the Davenport Public Library has book club options available! On Wednesday, August 12th at 6:30p, Book Club @ Night will be meeting virtually to discuss Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Information about how to join in and discuss this book is listed below. Copies of the book are available at the Eastern Avenue Library. Stop at the desk to pick up a copy to borrow and read for the book club.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is a young adult fiction book published in 2010. Jennifer Donnelly is a best selling author with fifteen published books. Want to know what Revolution  is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

An angry, grieving seventeen-year-old musician facing expulsion from her prestigious Brooklyn private school travels to Paris to complete a school assignment and uncovers a diary written during the French revolution by a young actress attempting to help a tortured, imprisoned little boy–Louis Charles, the lost king of France.

Book Club @ Night

August 12th – ‘Revolution’ by Jennifer Donnelly

Book Club @ Night
Wed, Aug 12, 2020 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/301873461 

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (872) 240-3212

Access Code: 301-873-461

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/301873461 

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

What do you do when your life collapses around you and the future you had planned on is gone? How do you move beyond the pain, who do you lean on for support and comfort? And what if there was an alternative – would you grab it, no matter the cost? These questions and more and explored in the compelling book The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver.

Lydia and Freddie have been a couple since they met when they were 14. Their lives, past and present, are intertwined and their future planned with bright promise. All of that comes to an abrupt  end when, on Lydia’s birthday, just a few months before they were to be married, Freddie dies in a car accident.

Torn apart by her grief and her pain and unable to sleep at night, Lydia starts taking sleeping pills prescribed by her doctor. Every time she uses one of the pills, she magically slips into an alternate universe where Freddie is still alive, their future is proceeding as planned and Lydia is blissfully happy again. Waking up returns her to the world where Freddie has died and her crippling grief so the pills quickly become a crutch, allowing her to visit a world that doesn’t exist.

Pretty soon it becomes evident that not everything is perfect in this alternate universe, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Lydia to sustain both narratives. But how can she choose between the love of her life and moving on without Freddie?

This is an intriguing look at the process of working through grief and how grieving doesn’t follow a straight path or can be predicted by a timeline. It’s also about learning to stand on your own, how to move on while still honoring what has been lost, about the love and support of family and friends and about how you are responsible for your own happiness.

This may sound like a real downer of a book, but it has lots of funny moments – it’s British so the humor is very dry and Lydia’s circle of friends aren’t afraid to both poke her and hold her up. While it’s about grief, it’s also about love and joy and living your best life on your own terms.

 

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