Most Anticipated 2018 TBRs!

2018 Most Anticipated TBRs!.png

If you’re like me, your TBR list is multiple pages long, your bookshelves are bursting at the seams, you have holds on several different things on hold through inter-library loan, and yet you still have the same argument with yourself every time you pass a bookstore, or the library, or need to buy something on Amazon: do you really need more books? YES. THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES.

So here are some books to add to your Amazon cart or GoodReads list that I’m particularly looking forward to this year.

cover_imageEscape from Aleppo, by N. H. Senzai (Release date: January 2)

Nadia’s 12th birthday marks the beginning of the Arab Spring with a horrific protest in Tunisia, and three years later, her family has decided they need to leave their home in Syria, which is now in the middle of a civil war, for a safer location. But amidst the bombing, she gets separated from her family and has to rely on her on ingenuity to get her to the safety of the Turkish border and find her family again. Students (and adults) need more stories like these to help make sense of all the very real horror happening in that part of the world.

cover_imageThe Altered History of Willow Sparks, by Tara O’Connor (release date: January 30)

I love a good standalone graphic novel, and this one sounds right up my alley. When the main character is described as having “uncool hair and unfortunate acne” and works parttime at the local library, I’m immediately like, I feel you. While working at said library, Willow Sparks uncovers a book with her name on it, and she discovers that writing in the book changes her future (like actually, not in a metaphoric sense). Exciting at first, until Willow realizes her rewrites can have dire consequences.

cover_imagePlaying Atari with Saddam Hussein, by Jennifer Roy (release date: February 6)

Based on the true story of Ali Fadhil, who was 11 in 1991 when the U.S. invaded Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. While most of our students have memory (or at least a frame of reference) for the ongoing “War on Terror” in Iraq, this earlier conflict is largely unknown to them. Heck, it’s largely unknown to me. I was three at the time. In this story readers will get a glimpse into the simultaneous mundane aspects and devastation of war through the eyes of a boy who lived it.

cover_imageThe Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang (release date: February 13)

While Prince Sebastian’s parents are busy finding him a future bride, Sebastian and his best friend, dressmaker Frances, know the truth: at night, Sebastian likes to put on dresses and take to the streets of Paris as Lady Crystallia. The SLJ review suggests this is a good step up for fans of Raina Telgemeier’s and Victoria Jamieson’s, and I have plenty of fans of both those ladies. Super excited for this one.



The Serpent’s Secret, by Sayantani Dasgupta (release date: February 27)

My students cannot seem to get enough of modern heroes battling ancient mythological beasts, and here we have a new diverse character coming to the table. 12 year old Kiranmala thinks she’s just a normal 6th grader living in New Jersey, until one morning her parents disappear and she suddenly encounters an ancient demon in her living room. It appears as if her family’s old Bengali stories might just in fact be true…

cover_imageThe Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani (release date: March 6)

I’ve been perhaps disproportionately interested in Indian literature since taking an Indian Lit class my sophomore year of college, but I just can’t get enough of them. I have nearly an entire shelf of adult Indian lit at home, but rarely is there middle grade or YA published that is set in this country. I was thrilled to see this one come up. Written as letters to her mother (who died when she was a baby), this middle grade novel tells the story of 12 year old Nisha during the tumultuous year of 1947, when India was divided into two countries based on religion. Nisha has to come to terms with what it means to be “home”, as her family embarks on a journey to what they hope will be a peaceful future.

cover_imageThe Creativity Project, edited by Colby Sharp (release date: March 13)

I follow Colby on Twitter, so when he first started talking about this one, I was immediately intrigued.  The basic premise is that Colby invited more than 40 authors/illustrators/creators to write story prompts, those prompts were swapped, and magical creativity ensued! This is the collection of all the projects developed from those prompts, including work from some of our favorite people: Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Peter Brown, R.J. Palacio, Laurel Snyder, gah, I could go on and on, because there are SO MANY great contributors to this!!!

34219841The Wild Robot Escapes, by Peter Brown (release date: March 13)

I looovvvved the The Wild Robot when I read it this summer, and am so excited for the second addition to Roz’s story. I anticipate more sweet drawings and more charming interactions from the characters in the sequel. This one picks up where the other left off, so if you haven’t read the first one, check that one out first!


Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes (release date: April 17)

We’ve gotten All American BoysThe Hate U Give, Dear Martin, and others from the YA community in response to the increase of police shootings of brown skinned people, and now Rhodes gives that response for the younger set in this middle grade novel about 12 year old Jerome, who is shot and killed when a police officer mistakes his toy gun for a real gun. Jerome’s ghost meets the ghost of Emmitt Till, another young victim of racial violence, who helps him process the fallout of what happened to him.

36301023My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton (release date: June 26)

I thoroughly enjoyed last year’s My Lady Jane, so was excited to see another installment in the “the Lady Janies.” This one is a fantastical reimagining of a fictional character rather than a historical one, focusing on Bronte’s titular character, Jane Eyre. Having read the original not too long ago during grad school, I can’t wait to dig into this one where Jane is not only a governess, but also a ghost hunter. Yes, please.

Okay, so I could probably go on for quite a while on this list, but we gotta draw the line somewhere. What about you? What are the books you’re most looking forward to in 2018? How about last year’s list? Any that came out in 2017 that you still are dying to get to? I have plenty of those as well. If authors could just stop writing for like 10 to 12 years so I could catch up, that would be great. (JUST KIDDING, NEVERMIND, PLEASE DON’T STOP.)


A beautiful surprise

51fb-u69shlBehind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo (2012)

Opening line: “Let it keep, the moment when Officer Fish Lips met Abdul in the police station.”

This one was tough. It took me like 6 months to read, because I could only take so much at a time. And I was just reading it. It’s unimaginable to be living it. But this incredibly researched piece of stunning non-fiction absolutely deserves it’s National Book Award (and the four other awards it won).

Author Katherine Boo married into Indian culture and became fascinated by the startling clash of affluence so close to extreme poverty that she saw in Mumbai, particularly in the Annawadi slum on the other side of the road from the Mumbai airport. For years, Katherine spent her days among the residents of this slum, chronicling their struggles and successes, their joys and pain, their complications and hopes. While obviously life in the Annawadi slum is horrendously difficult, what this book does so well is show us privileged white Americans that that’s not all it is. Katherine profiles several Annawadian families over these 250 pages, including a family with a productive garbage picking business, a young woman who hopes to become the first female college graduate from Annawadi, and her mother who plans on taking on the roll of the “slum-lord” of the community. It’s not about feeling sorry for these people. It’s about seeing their strength in spite of and because of their surroundings. It’s about noticing their humanity, recognizing pieces of them that are in all of us. It’s about realizing our complicity in creating a world where realities like these exist.

That’s not even to mention her writing, which is SO DAMN FANTASTIC, it’s breathtaking.

Everyone should read this book, but be wary of when. This is not a quick or enjoyable read, so if that’s what you’re looking for, look again. But oh-so-worthwhile.

2.5 star


A Rom-Com, of the intellectual and relatively depressing variety…

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

Opening line: “To start with, look at all the books.”

It’s hard to deny my attraction to a book that begins this way. A coworker of mine several years ago told me that as a former English major, I should definitely read The Marriage Plot. She was right — it’s got the fixings to a novel I should love: literary references out the wazoo, multiple character perspectives, a sense of epic storytelling (crossing time periods and oceans), and a complicated romance.

Madeleine Hanna is an English major working on her thesis about the “marriage plot” of literature’s great novelists, like Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontes. But while her intellectual mind is caught up in the romantic structure of the page, her real life romance is much more complicated, featuring two very different gentlemen. The first is Mitchell, who was “friend-zoned” freshmen year but still holds a torch for our heroine, while the second is Leonard, a mysterious biology student who intrigues and enchants Madeleine like no one has before. And while this might sound like the makings of a very common modern-day marriage plot, Eugenides does what he does best by complicating things with intense, intricately-crafted characters. Mitchell heads off to Europe and India after college with his roommate to figure out what the hell he’s doing with his life with or without Madeleine, while Madeleine and Leonard deal with Leonard’s apparent bipolar disorder, or as it was known in the 1980s when this tale is set, manic depression.

I liked this book. I wouldn’t stretch it to love, but, like I said before, what Jeffrey Eugenides does, he does well (see my review of his previous book Middlesex). I admire his character development, the vastness of his landscape, both in terms of time and place, and his way of piecing together stories in a way that adds depth and intrigue.

1.5 stars, edging to 2.

One for All Season(ing)s

Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie (2002)

Another book in my Postcolonial Nationalism and Feminisms Lit class, Salt and Saffron could be described as a modern Pakistani Romeo and Juliet, but it is so much more than that. The story follows the dramatic saga of the Dard-e-dil family, an elite family of story-tellers with young, American-educated Aliya narrating her return to Pakistan. On the plane ride home, Aliya meets attractive Khaleel. When Aliya learns that Khaleel’s family is from the wrong side of town, however, she is immediately unnerved despite her attraction, and spends the rest of the novel trying to reconcile her prejudice.

We learn that Aliya’s aversion for a romantic relationship with a man of lower class stems from family opinion, and is particularly stinging due to her aunt Mariam Apa’s desertion  in order to marry the family cook. Aliya and Mariam, according to family lore, were a unique pair–one of the family’s cursed “not-quite-twins.” The Dard-e-dil family is plagued we these “not-quites,” including her grandfather and his two brothers, who were born just before midnight, at midnight, and just after midnight. One misunderstanding after another ends up tearing the adult triplets  apart, mirroring the historical Indian-Pakistani partition of 1947, permanently dividing the family. Several years later, Mariam and Aliya, though of a different generation chronologically, were “born” into the family on the same day, as the day of Aliya’s birth was when Mariam, the daughter of one of the triplets, first came to live with them.  Mariam Apa is draped in mystery. The family was unaware of her existence until that very day, as her father had left years earlier without a trace. Also, she has a habit of only speaking to order the family meals for the day, only speaking to the family cook.  Aliya, however,  manages to communicate with Mariam Apa without using words due to some “not-quite” connection, which sends her into a bit of an identity crisis upon Mariam Apa’s desertion. On returning to Pakistan, Aliya sets out on a quest to uncover the secrets entrenched in her family, collecting story after story, because until she does so, she will be unable to crack her prejudice against Khaleel’s background and find an inner peace.

Part history, part mystery, Salt and Saffron had me devouring its pages, so much so that I chose to sit and finish it in the library after work instead of wasting the seven minutes it would take me to walk home first. Though it gets a bit tedious at times, sifting through the history of her family, Shamsie keeps it rolling with Aliya’s sharp humor and exciting twists in the plot that the reader learns right along with the narrator.

2 Stars

Save the Best for First

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy (1997)

This novel came to my attention in my senior seminar course, “Third World Feminisms and Nationalism,” although it’s been on my book shelf for several years, now. I have a bad habit of buying handfuls of books before I have time to read the last stack, but I’m guessing many of you do, too, if you’re reading this blog. This book actually came from my sister, though. I had bought a copy with a Christmas gift card, after reading a chapter from it in my Indian Literature class a couple years ago, but she let me have her copy instead, which meant I got to pick out something new! Thanks Kate!

This is the story of Estha and Rahel, the two-egg twins of Ammu, and an event that changed their lives permanently and irreversibly.  Set in the village of Ayemenem, in the southwest region of Kerala, India, the story jumps between two times, a two-week period in 1969 when the twins’ half-white British cousin Sophie comes to visit, and then 23 years later when the twins have returned to their home. Though told in the third person, most of the story is seen from the eyes of Estha and Rahel, young children in the 60s, filling the text with their playful language and innocent thought processes, despite the seriousness of their surroundings.

At the heart of this novel are the complex issues of India’s caste system, the Love Laws, which “lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much”, and the outspoken voices of communism.  Roy builds a elaborate narrative using this foundation of history that kind of makes me want to read it again right away, so as to pick up on more that I was able to the first time around. What’s more, is that she uses her background of architecture to build her novel, deliberately designing its structure, placing glimpses of events to come throughout the text, seemingly given stuff away right from the beginning, and systematically switching between time periods each chapter. The reader learns right from the beginning, for example, that Sophie Mol dies at the end of those two weeks in 1969, a point that might be at the climax of most stories. Instead, the novel’s about what happens leading up to that point, and how the family is still feeling the effects of the tragedy two decades later.

Though the story is heartbreaking, Roy’s enchanting use of language (a reclaiming of English as no longer the colonizer’s language) and breathtaking descriptions kept me thinking about it while I was washing my hair or folding the laundry, anxious to get back. And what truly secured it as one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time was its ending. One of sweetness, one of hope.

3 Stars