Book Review: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

“My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face. So far, the only part of that we’ve achieved is the hamburger part, but I was still holding out hope. And the hamburgers here are pretty good.”–From “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang, published by Arthur A. Levine Books.

To say America has been a disappointment to Mia Tang would be an understatement. After all, that first hamburger she had cost all the money in her mother’s purse…and they had to split it three ways. A few years and many Goodwill trips later, an optimistic Mia still holds out hope for a brighter future, even as the family moves to California to work (and live) at a motel. 

The motel work doesn’t start off as easy as expected. The pay is minimal, but Mia’s family takes it because it’s the best chance they have. Her parents start off cleaning rooms, while Mia watches the front desk whenever she can. She hopes that, with her front desk work, she might get some monetary tips so she can really help out her parents. While at the front desk, Mia meets all sorts of guests, including the weeklies. Most of all, she learns how to stand up for herself and advocate for immigrants both at the motel and in the larger community. 

I absolutely adored this story. When I first picked it up, I didn’t know what to expect except that it was about an immigrant family in the 1990s. I didn’t know I would fall in love with the characters, especially Mia’s best friend Lupe, who is brilliant at drawing trees and educates Mia on the “two rollercoasters” in America. According to Lupe, there are two rollercoasters in America. One is the rich rollercoaster. Rich people ride it for their whole lives and it never breaks down. The other is the poor roller coaster. This is the one that Mia and Lupe are on. The poor rollercoaster is old and it breaks down quite a bit. Some people also ride it their entire lives. It takes a lot for one person to even step foot onto the rich rollercoaster from the poor one. This analogy is so simple, but so powerful. I liked that it permeated throughout the book, but none of the main characters ever really let it define them. Instead, each character begins to embrace who they are and challenge their own situations. In Front Desk, Kelly Yang has created a relatable masterpiece with characters who will stay with the reader for a long time. 

5/5 stars. 

 

Get “Front Desk” here: https://www.amazon.com/Front-Desk-Kelly-Yang/dp/1338157795

 

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Book Review: “Lu (Track Series #4)” by Jason Reynolds

Book Review: “Lu (Track Series Book 4)” by Jason Reynolds

“Sometimes, you gotta jump anyway.” So goes the quote on the cover of “Lu,” the fourth and final book in Jason Reynolds’ Track series. Lucas “Lu” Richardson figures he was always destined to be different—and that’s fine by him. After all, how many super fly albino middle school track stars do you know? 

Ever since joining the Defenders track team, Lu has gained immeasurable confidence in himself. He’s learned to accept who he is—a kid who always has to wear sunscreen and contacts due to his skin condition—and he’s been a (mostly) positive influence on his teammates. You can forget about that time he hated on one of them for beating him at the 100 meter. That’s history. Plus, Coach has him working on hurdles now anyway. Those are way harder than the 100 meter. Even his friend Patty would say that and she does relays! As if hurdles weren’t enough, Lu’s got bullies, family dynamics and a date with the past sitting in his lane. He’ll need all the help he can get to “jump over” each one. Will Lu end the race on a high note or will his face hit that pavement at the big championship? This one’s for all the marbles. “Ready, set, go, ‘Lucky-Lu!’” 

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this series. Let me say that first before I say anything else. Each “lap” has left an everlasting imprint on my heart. As writers, we aspire to create characters that are relatable, whether they be students at a prestigious magic school or kids just living in the oft-ignored realms of urban America. Jason Reynolds isn’t afraid to show us the real struggles people, especially people of color, endure in this country. His thoughtful prose and realistic language, coupled with an exciting, engaging storyline make the “Track” series stand out amongst a crowded middle school lineup. 

A full set of gold stars for Jason Reynolds’ “Lu.” It’s definitely a race well run! 

 

 

It’s That Time of Year Again!: 5 Holiday Films to Warm Your Heart

I figured it might be time to A: update my blog and B: talk about that wonderful tradition I like to call Christmas/Holiday movies. When I was younger, my mom would put in a VHS and we’d watch while wrapping presents or stringing cranberries and popcorn (yes, people still do that and I have pictures). I would come downstairs for a drink of water and catch my mom working on her wrapping into the wee hours of the morning while Sandra Bullock tried to fit a Christmas tree into her apartment. Even after my mom passed away in 2014, my family still continues our Christmas movie tradition. These are only a handful of the films I love to watch (in no particular order). Feel free to comment your favorites as well!

1. “Miracle on 34th Street” (1994). This movie had the unenviable task of living up to a then fifty-year-old predecessor that starred the late Natalie Wood. Though the original is beautiful in its own right, this take on Valentine Davis’s popular tale never fails to get me in the holiday spirit. Richard Attenborough (“Jurassic Park”) stars as Kris Kringle, a man who believes himself to be Santa Claus and is eventually hired by Cole’s Department Store executive Dori Walker (Elizabeth Perkins) to be their official Santa Claus. Much to the chagrin of a competitor, Mr. Kringle’s popularity makes Cole’s the hottest store in New York City. They begin thinking of ways to take him down. When the unthinkable happens, Mrs. Walker and her daughter, Susan (played by the delightful Mara Wilson), must decide if they truly believe in Santa Claus. The movie also stars Dylan McDermott and Robert Prosky. PG

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2. “The Holiday” (2005). About a decade before Airbnb had us renting our houses out to strangers, Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz did it in a movie. Winslet plays Iris, an editor at a popular newspaper in England suffering from a horrible case of unrequited love. Diaz is Amanda, a movie trailer producer whose fallen out of love with her cheating significant other. Desperate for a change in scenery, the two swap places on an online site, Amanda going to Iris’s home and Iris going to Amanda’s house in L.A. Neither are looking for love. But of course, as in so many romantic comedies, it finds them (in the form of Jude Law and Jack Black). The Holiday is always a fun spin on the typical rom-com, as it includes quite a few flawed characters and even takes us on a small journey through film history (I see you there, Blockbuster Video scene). PG-13

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3. “Elf” (2003). It took me a while to really like and appreciate this film. When I first saw it, I thought I’d seen enough of Will Ferrell to last me a lifetime (hello, “Old School”). But this family film about a human adopted by one of Santa’s elves is possibly the sweetest (and funniest) Christmas movie in recent memory. When Buddy the Elf (played by Will Ferrell) finds out he’s a human and his dad lives in New York City, he’s beyond excited to go visit him…until he figures out dad (James Caan) is on the naughty list. Not only that, but New York is just not all it’s cracked up to be—some people don’t even believe in Santa! Buddy wants to make everything right again, but he’ll need a lot more than toys and candy. This movie always reminds me of the power of friendship during the holidays and how everyone needs a good friend. PG

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4. “Dr. Suess’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” a.k.a. “The Grinch” (2000). Though I like the 1966 Grinch, this eighteen-year-old Jim Carrey movie has a lot to offer if you’re looking for a different take on the classic. The Grinch (Carrey) hates Christmas and everything about it. The Whos, well, if you know the story, you know they feel differently. And thus, The Grinch lives on Mount Crumpet and the Whos don’t. They all like it that way, right? Well, what if there was more? In this rendition, Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen in her breakout role) is fed up with Christmas. Is it really all about the gifts and the bows? And what about Mister Grinch? Why does he live on Mount Crumpet, so sad and lonely? Cindy launches a plan to investigate, hoping to change people’s minds about the scary-yet-funny Grinch she’s heard of…and maybe make herself believe in the good of Christmas again. Another hilarious movie about friendship and the power of kindness, Ron Howard’s version of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” is a staple in my holiday collection. It definitely helped me get through some difficult Christmases. PG-13

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5. “While You Were Sleeping” (1993). No Christmas movie list in our household would be complete without at least two rom-coms. I guess that’s why I’m ending this one out with one of my mom’s favorite films, While You Were Sleeping. As I indicated above, she watched the Sandra Bullock-led film every single year at this time. In the movie, Bullock plays Lucy, a train station ticket clerk who is forced to work on Christmas because “she’s the one with no family.” Every day, Lucy looks at the families going to and fro on the train tracks and wonders what it’s like. She sees one particular man and imagines what his life must be like, how glamourous it is to be him, how strong he looks. But it’s Lucy who finds her strength when a twist of fate puts them both face-to-face with his family. A feel-good classic story of love and belonging, While You Were Sleeping always puts this sometimes-Grinchy lady into a festive mood. PG-13

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Well, there you have it–five of my favorite Christmas movies. What are your favorite holiday films? Let me know in the comments.

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Halloween Fun!

“The Scariest Book Ever” by Bob Shea

Today I am reviewing this picture book, written and illustrated by Mr. Bob Shea. The story invites the reader to interact with the main character, a ghost, who is afraid of, well, everything. I really liked this book because it was funny and also fun to read aloud to my dog, who isn’t always the best listener, but doesn’t mind hearing me read. I read it in the scariest voice I could come up with so as to get the full effect of every page. This book is designed to be read aloud and the pictures really make the story pop while inviting all readers to imagine what is coming next. I laughed at quite a few parts in this book, especially when I turned the page and there was clearly nothing to be afraid of. Children of all ages (and their parents) will adore this fun-to-read, sweetly designed Halloween book.

Five out of Five stars.

Book Review: “March: Book 1” by John Lewis

Been a while since I have been on here, but I think I realized I need to keep writing this blog. For some reason, getting my thoughts out here, even if it’s just to a few people, fills me with great joy. I’m glad to be writing this review for you today. Happy reading!

“March: Book 1” by John Lewis

“March” chronicles the story of Senator John Lewis both as he grows up and as he readies himself to watch Barack Obama become president on January 20, 2009.

The story flips between the present day (2009) and the past (1940s-60s) South. John shows us how he grew up on a chicken farm with dreams of becoming a preacher. One day, his uncle asks him to come on a road trip with him and go up north. John realizes some of the injustices his parents have tried to keep him from—and some of the freedoms he’s had to live without. When he is back in his hometown, he learns all he can despite having a limited access to schooling. John speaks about Rosa Parks and Brown v. Board of Education helped encourage his will to become a public servant. In college, John and his friends do more than just learn. With the help of other adults, they train to become civilly disobedient citizens. The training is grueling, but necessary. It prepares them for the real world ahead. Peaceful protest becomes John’s way of fighting for commong good and continues to be so to this day.

The juxtaposition of John’s past and present both showcases the road he has traveled and how far we need to go. I would recommend this book to anyone mature enough to understand the content. This book is what our world needs right now. Five stars.

https://www.amazon.com/March-Book-One-John-Lewis/dp/1603093001

 

Picture Book Review: “My Dog Laughs” by Rachel Isadora


https://www.pexels.com/search/dogs/

I picked up this story about dogs from my public library in August, but didn’t get around to actually reading it until today. I must confess that the main reason I actually even looked at the book was because of its cover painting. There is just so much to love about the cover, but that painting of the black and white dog laughing really illustrates the joy this book brings even before you open it up. Inside, pictures of various dogs line inner pages, all eager to meet the reader even before the story begins.

This is my dog ____. The story starts off with an introduction to some of the dogs we’ll see in the book. Child dog owners start by showing off their dogs, who are as different as the names they’ve given them. Some are small dogs and some aren’t, some are furry; some not. The owners are a diverse cast of characters as well. There are kids in wheelchairs, kids with different kinds of hair, small kids, big kids, etc. A lot of humans love dogs. The kids take turns showing readers what it’s like to live with their dog. One owner and her canine companion love reading. Another likes playing catch with his pup as a Frisbee flies across the page. Occasionally, the dogs get into trouble. They’re chewing up toilet paper or drinking out of the toilet. This causes much concern amongst the young owners, who work hard to remedy common situations with hilarious results. “My Dog Laughs” is a funny, touching and sure-to-be-loved addition to any dog owner’s collection.

4 out of 5 stars. I was expecting more of a story about one dog instead of multiple takes on what it’s like to own one. I think my dog would give it all paws and one tail up, though.

Have you read this book? Tell us about it in the comments!

Book image via Amazon.com

Five Reasons I’m Loving “Young Sheldon” right now

Full disclosure: I didn’t watch “Young Sheldon,” the new, awesome CBS comedy, until two weeks ago. When new shows come on during the baseball playoffs, I don’t always pay them the proper attention they need. Luckily, my library snagged a copy of the first season of this show this past August and I was first in line to get it on DVD.

I’m halfway through season one and I can already say it’s one of my favorite shows on TV right now. Based off of the hit series “The Big Bang Theory,” “Young Sheldon” tells the story of Sheldon Cooper, the extremely detail-oriented, socially awkward physicist as a nine-year-old boy growing up in Texas. Not having seen most of the parent series, I didn’t know much about Sheldon or his family besides the fact that he grew up in the 1980s. I also presumed that even then, not everyone understood him. This last bit was exactly why I was interested in the show in the first place. I’ve always loved a fish out of water story and I thought “Young Sheldon” would be no exception. I was right, but there was more. There always is.

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1. Follow the spin-off rule: A spin-off should always compliment the parent show, not try to BE it. The reason I’m not into “Fuller House” isn’t that it’s a spin-off. It’s that I feel it’s trying too hard to be a show that hasn’t been on for twenty plus years. A spin-off shouldn’t try to be exactly like its predecessor, but instead compliment it by charting its own course. “Young Sheldon” cuts out most of the “Big Bang” cast members because it is set in 1989. Aside from Jim Parsons, who periodically does voiceovers during the show, the cast is completely new, including MeeMaw (played in younger years by Annie Potts).

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2. The Plot. While the plot of “The Big Bang Theory” mainly revolves around a group of physicists and their friends, “Young Sheldon” is all about the Cooper family: Mom (Zoe Perry), Dad (Lance Barber), Georgie (Montana Jordan), twins Sheldon (Iain Armitage) and Missy (Raegan Revord) and MeeMaw (Annie Potts). The family dynamic of the show, along with its 1980s setting, is what really drew me in. It’s so different from the original one, which is one of the things it has going for it. I like the idea of exploring the various experiences Sheldon’s family members had with him as he grew into the person we love on “The Big Bang Theory.” Additionally, it is fun to see how much things have changed with regard to education, children’s TV shows (“DuckTales,” anyone?) and people’s general perceptions of being different.

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3. Different. I truly think this is a show that celebrates differences of the people in our lives. Each character is unique and, true to “Big Bang” form, they never apologize for it. Perhaps my favorite characters (other than Sheldon) are Georgie and Missy. Georgie has the um, unenviable task of going to school with super-smart Sheldon, even though he’s years older. Georgie is all about football and just skating by in school, whereas Sheldon wants to succeed (and correct others when they are wrong). Georgie perhaps knows he’s not going to be the best or the brightest, so he instead settles on getting into a little mischief. Sheldon on the other hand would rather stay away from any trouble and preferably, away from Georgie. Missy just wants to be nine years old and watch cartoons—and maybe party a little. She’s all about fun and she doesn’t want Sheldon to ruin things for her. To Sheldon, she’s a bit of an airhead, but he likes her all the same (see S1E10). The differences we all have aren’t necessarily positive or negative, sometimes they’re just part of being human.

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4. Sheldon has some great parents. They don’t pretend to know it all, but they’re sure as heck going to try. Mom Mary must not be crossed when it comes to religion. Sheldon is an atheist. Dad, George Sr., loves football and would love it if Sheldon did too, but that’s probably never happening. Sheldon is a very square peg that will not fit into their round hole of a family. Do they worry about it? Yes. Almost every episode is wired around something Sheldon must do differently. Their other children often complain about how much special treatment “Shelly” gets. This is the reality of having an exceptional (some have said Aspergian, though it’s not confirmed) child in the family. The other reality is, at least for Sheldon, there’s a loving family behind him all the way. They just don’t show it all the time.

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5. MeeMaw. Honestly, Annie Potts steals the show as MeeMaw. We can tell from the start that Sheldon loves her almost, if not more than, his mom. She sees who he really is, doesn’t try to fix him and generally loves hanging out with him. That’s not something Sheldon really sees a lot. He has one friend at school. He eats lunch in the library. But MeeMaw is someone he can always talk to. She’s someone who really makes him smile and lets him shine. In addition, most, if not all of her lines are hilarious. Sheldon and his siblings might not understand her all the time, but MeeMaw is truly a hoot. And they will understand one day. 😉

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Now that you’ve heard Five Reasons I’m Loving “Young Sheldon” right now, go ahead and see what all the fuss is about. Or, if you have watched the show, be sure to comment down below on how you feel. Thanks for reading!

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