It’s been ages since my last Quick Lit post! Well, actually it’s only been three months, but in that time I’ve been racking up the book reviews (current review count Sitting on my computer is just under fifty), and if I don’t share them here now, I don’t know if I ever will. So, over the next few weeks, I will be rolling out quickie reviews of the books I’ve read in the past few months (i.e., the time since the twins were born).
My plan is to organize these posts by category or genre, and first up we have books all about books. Enjoy!
Suggested Reading, by Dave Connis: Clara Evans is a teenage bookworm whose life and perspectives have been formed by books. So Clara is appalled when she discovers that her school’s principal has placed several iconic books on a list of “prohibited media”, forcing the school’s librarian to pull these titles from the library shelves. Driven by her conviction that students should have access to ALL books, Clara opens an underground library that she runs from her locker. As she deals out contraband books to her fellow students, Clara develops some unexpected friendships and discovers that books are even more powerful than she’d believed—and that power might not always lead to positive outcomes.
This is a smart YA novel with a compelling premise and poignant commentaries on the power of the written word. Clara is an inspirational protagonist who follows her heart but remains open to correction and new revelations. I appreciated the pro-literacy messages and the nuanced look at the topic of censorship. However, the immature tone of the novel—which is not at all in alignment with the book’s more complex themes—was not to my taste. While I’m sure the teenage angst and adolescent relationship drama will appeal to the target audience, I found it forced and felt that it detracted from the more substantial storylines.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
Jo Kuan is a seventeen-year-old Chinese American living in 1890s Atlanta. In her work as a lady’s maid to the daughter of a wealthy socialite, Jo’s gender and race make her the recipient of mistreatment and dismissal. But in her undercover work as the author of an advice column for Southern Women, Jo (under the pseudonym of “Miss Sweetie”) is making waves in her community as she addresses the oppression of females and minorities and questions long-held cultural and social norms. While Jo is doing all that she can to keep her identity a secret, she faces many personal and professional crises as she begins to examine her past and uncover truths about her identity.
I haven’t read much about this time period, and had never considered what life in this time and place must have been like for minorities other than African Americans, so I was intrigued by this combination of setting and cultures. Jo is a remarkable protagonist: strong, courageous, intelligent, with a kind heart, deeply held convictions, and a desire to promote much-needed change within her community. I admired her ambition and maturity, as well as the stubbornness and temper that make the fictional character both believable and relatable.
The Downstairs Girl explores themes that feel as relevant today as they were more than a hundred years ago: issues of racial reconciliation, class discrepancy, gender inequality, and a willingness to overturn standing traditions. I love the messages this book sends about the power of the written word and the ability of one individual to promote change. The fact that this is historical fiction and filled with delightful characters preserves the novel’s readability and keeps it from feeling too issues-driven. Though shelved as YA, this well-written novel will be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
First Impressions, by Charlie Lovett: Sophie Collingwood has loved books since her uncle introduced her to his collection of antique tomes when she was a girl. Now Sophie is working in an antiquarian London bookshop where she stumbles upon a literary challenge when two different customers come in requesting copies of the same obscure book. Her search for the title leads Sophie to a discovery that casts doubt on the authorship of Pride and Prejudice. Sophie’s story is interspersed with that of a young Jane Austin, whose friendship with an elderly cleric helps her mature as both an author and a human being.
With this intriguing premise that unites two of my favorite things—Jane Austin and mystery—this book should have been a slam dunk, but while the setup is fantastic, the execution is lacking. I found the characters flat and unbelievable, the dialogue stilted, and the plot surprisingly slow. While I enjoyed the fun literary references, they weren’t enough to carry the novel. I also could have done without the romance, which distracted from the primary storylines. I would have liked more from the Jane Austin story thread.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany, by Jane Mount: In this brilliantly illustrated tribute to all things literary, Jane Mount brings creativity, whimsy, and plenty of trivia to an examination of books, writers, readers, and bookish haunts. Sections dedicated to various genres—from history to cooking to coming of age stories and beyond—feature illustrated book stacks and summaries or trivia related to highlighted books and their authors. Between these genre-based chapters are sections showcasing beloved bookstores and libraries; recommendations from noteworthy readers; illustrations of authors’ writing spaces; lists of books made into shows and movies; book-themed quizzes; and even an illustrated guide to the physical parts of a book. Pictures and words work together to teach readers about literary devices, cover design, and the lives of beloved authors.
I loved this so much! I appreciated the carefully curated book lists that feature a combination of well-known and more obscure titles, and I liked reading about select titles and authors without being inundated by annotations on every book—sometimes just a picture was enough. While I found the featured bookstore sections less interesting than discussion of books themselves, and would have liked more quizzes and book recommendations from featured readers, the inclusion of these various sections makes for a diverse and visually appealing anthology.
I wouldn’t recommend reading this as an eBook or in a single cover-to-cover read (as I did). Instead, buy a physical copy and take it a section at a time. This would make a fantastic gift for your favorite reader.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars.
Book Love, by Debbie Tung: I made my first foray into graphic novels last year and was surprised by how much I enjoyed them. When I discovered this graphic novel revolving around the bookish life, I couldn’t wait to read it! With its observations on reading habits and book obsession, this brief tome will speak to the heart of every bookworm.
I didn’t find the book particularly funny, and the graphics weren’t to my taste, but I did resonate with the anecdotes about getting lost in a book, connecting with strangers through reading, and the various challenges faced by bookworms (not enough money or time for all the books we want to read, missing a train stop because we were distracted by the book in our hands, wishing we were home reading instead of at a party, etc.). I also really enjoyed the “commentary” type sections, including illustrated lists of favorite books and a brief guide on how to read more books.
This would make a fun gift for your favorite bookworm! Pair with Anne Bogel’s I’d Rather Be Reading for a nice little book flight.
My Rating: 3 Stars.