Monday, October 24, 2016

October 2016 Staff Book Recommendations

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen
By Jazz Jennings 

Who do you think of when you hear the word “transgender?” A drag queen? A radical liberal? Someone who's just confused? Who hates themselves? If there's anyone who defies the trans stereotype, it's Jazz Jennings. 

16-year-old Jaron "Jazz" Jennings knew she was a girl ever since she could remember. She transitioned from male to female at the tender age of five, and if you think gender reassignment surgery for children is a controversial decision now, there were perhaps twice as many objections to this issue a decade ago. But her parents never had any doubts, and it's largely the infinite support from her family that has led to her positive outlook on life. Soon after the transition, an interview with Barbara Walters sparked her role as one of the most visible and prolific representatives and advocates for the transgender community. 

From then on, her life has been in the public eye: from interviews to her YouTube channel, and most recently the TLC documentary series I Am Jazz. Jennings gives a refreshingly optimistic perspective, acknowledging how fortunate she's been to have experienced so many unique opportunities instead of dwelling on the adversities she has faced. She discusses at length her public life with a sense of awe, as if even after a decade of fame she's still--excuse me--jazzed about her life in the spotlight. I would have liked to learn more about her brief bout with depression, the haters she's crossed and the criticism her parents have received, but I can't complain too much because the book lifted my spirits. Before she was introduced to Obama, she'd been forewarned that time would not allow for much more than a handshake and a photo, but Obama deliberately "broke the 'no talking' rule." This is the effect the effervescent Jennings has on everyone she meets: you can't help but like her. 

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen is a great read for grades 6-12, and a great addition to LGBTQ literature. The end of the book includes an interview with the Jennings family as well as many additional resources (related reads, websites, and depression outreach services).


Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders 
By Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, and Dylan Thuras 

Do you ever want to explore far-off lands and places, and wander off the beaten path without leaving home? Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton and Dylan Thuras offers a look at some of the more obscure places and objects throughout the world. Adapted from the popular website of the same name, Atlas Obscura chronicles over 600 of the world’s most obscure and intriguing tourist destinations, items and sites of interest. 

From the ancient, to the modern, Atlas Obscura lists and describes such places, objects and events as the Museum of Counterfeit Goods in Thailand, the World Elephant Polo Championships in Nepal, an ancient flooded city in China, and a lightbulb that hasn’t burnt out since it was installed 115 years ago in California. Along the way, Atlas Obscura also details other lists such as a selection of bizarre street-food eggs, and a catalogue of giant sculptures across Australia. 

The book itself is laid out well, with entries separated by country, and the entries also tend to feature good photographs or illustrations of the subjects. One issue that I had with the book was that many of the entries were interesting enough to warrant more information than the brief paragraphs included in the book. As I was reading, I found myself often pulling out my phone to look for additional information on many of the places listed. It would have been nice if more of the entries could have gotten at least a multiple page description. As a starting point for research, or to spark travel ideas, however Atlas Obscura is great. I also appreciated that the entries in question are actually obscure. I was familiar with some of the places and objects the book described, but most were new information for me. I would recommend this one for anyone interested in travel, history, or the obscure.


A Promise of Fire
By  Amanda Bouchet 

A Promise of Fire is a fast-paced adventure containing elements of fantasy, romance, and suspense. One of the main reasons I decided to read this book was because of the marketing ploy on the inside cover that read: “If you like…cool world building, a kick-ass heroine, pulse-pounding adventure, snappy banter, and an uber-alpha warlord hero: you’ll love the Kingmaker Chronicles.” I wish all books had this unique feature! 

For the most part, this book delivers what it promises: “kick ass-heroine” Cat (Catalia Fisa) is pretty cool. She is the perfect companion to walk with through a back alley in a seedy town; she packs knives which she can throw with incredible precision, she can become invisible within seconds, and she can steal magic from others, such as Dragon’s Breath, which will obliterate anyone in her path. She can also communicate with Gods such as Poseidon, and Hades’ slobbery sidekick, Cerberus. 

In addition to Cat, we get to meet Griffin (also called Beta Sinta), the “uber-alpha warlord hero,” who is massive, commanding, and could cut someone with one look. In spite of his size and power, however, Griffin is very understanding and patient towards Cat even though most of the bruises and attacks he receives in the story are by her hand. These two strongly developed characters make this book a real find, but I also greatly enjoyed the scenes with the plethora of fleshed-out secondary characters, like Griffin’s rough and tough yet goofy fellow soldiers Flynn, Kato, and Carver. 

Even though this book is extremely well written and engaging, there are a few things that somewhat diminished my enjoyment of the story, namely, the love scenes. While scorching and very detailed, they are full of anguish and are exhausting to read. Throughout the story, Cat reveals snippets (mostly in the form of nightmares that plague her) of having a very tough childhood. While it is understandable why she carries so much angst and distrust towards others, at the same time, it is frustrating to witness her apathetic, and at many times, violent behavior towards those who are on her side.  Another drawback was that I was so far on the edge of my seat waiting to see if I was right about a big plot twist...and it was never revealed! 

The good news is there is a sequel in the making (Breath of Fire is due out next January) so hopefully The Kingmaker Chronicles will just keep getting better.


The Passenger
By Lisa Lutz

If you ever find yourself considering life on the lam, read The Passenger by Lisa Lutz. From this book you will be able to create an impressive checklist of necessary supplies (hair color in every shade) and things to worry about when you make your great escape!

The thriller opens with the line “When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs…” and doesn’t slow down much from there. Tanya Dubois, from whose point-of-view the action unfolds, pours herself a bourbon and ponders:  Should she call the cops to report her husband’s accident?  This would surely cause them to look closely at her and there are good reasons for her reluctance on that score. Unraveling those reasons will take the reader through eight chapters, each named after Tanya’s latest identity, on a road trip that gives new meaning to the term “reckless abandon.” 

In Tanya, Lutz has created a pragmatic, resilient, preternaturally independent protagonist reminiscent of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, and also crafts a few memorable characters, most notably, Blue the world-weary bartender from Austin, TX. Together Tanya and Blue embark on a Thelma and Louise-esque adventure that leaves the reader unsure of Blue’s true motives, despite Tanya’s impressive ability to size people up in an instant. Ultimately, it’s a combination of her intuition, quick thinking and keen observation of human behavior that ensure Tanya’s survival in every situation.

Readers will relish the vicarious thrill of Tanya’s devil-may-care life on the edge, while rooting for her happy-ending redemption at the same time. Lutz’ dry humor and storytelling acumen can also be enjoyed in her Spellman series.


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