The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

avalavender__spanAva Lavender is born with a set of wings. This peculiar feature leads her to ponder her family roots. The is the premise of the magical and tragic story of Ava’s heritage. I loved the rich language and the odd events which marked each person’s life in the Lavender family. I am a lover of Seattle history and stories set in our rain soaked city. The story follows generations of Ava’s ancestors, and what lead them to carve out a living in early Seattle. Love lost and found is the thread that follows all of Ava’s ancestors through their lives. This book makes you feel the rich beauty of green mossy landscapes, seasons of bright daffodils, and the relentless Northwest grey sky. Ava’s story is sad, redemptive, and lovely. Its core message reflects upon what we do for love, the cage of heartache, and learning to fly free again. I loved this story, the magical realism is perfection, and the story is whimsically beautiful.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brokenbrough

love and death

The Game of Love and Death melds history, philosophy, and love seamlessly. In the forefront are the two main characters, Henry and Flora. They have both known the dulling pain of death in their young lives. Henry copes through hard work, following the rules, and playing beautiful music. Flora copes as she sings her heart out in the jazz clubs. When she is not singing she flies away over Seattle with dreams of following the path of Amelia Earhart. Their lives intersect as children and again as teenagers. In the background, Love and Death are brought to life as people, as opponents in the ultimate game, to shape the destiny of Flora and Henry.

The story envelopes the reader, historical events are paired with the fictional story of Henry and Flora in 1930’s Seattle. The jazz scene is huge, segregation is a harsh reality, and aviation is in its inception.  Life is simple, yet incredibly complicated.  The author captures the 1930’s without flaw, from the clothing, to the jazz clubs; the essence of the era is felt in every turn of the page.

I loved the story, but moreover the deeper questions it asks.  It delves into race relations, social status, the definition of family, and defying one’s chosen path.  It is a beautiful love story, endearing, tender, and dazzling.  Read it with your high school class to exemplify the injustice of segregation, the excitement of early aviation, and the uniqueness of the Seattle jazz scene.  Read it if you love Seattle history, read it if you need a love story to make your heart sing.

You will hear the music, fly with Flora, play bass with Henry, and long to know how it all ends.  I consider it a must read of 2015.

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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin

If you liked A Fault in their Stars, this is your next book

all-the-bright-placesViolet and Theodore meet in the bell tower of their high school, but begin to actually know each other when they are paired on a school project about the history of Indiana. Violet is popular, Theodore is on the outskirts of every crowd, but they meet in the middle of their own pain, join hands, and step back off the ledge. All the Bright Places is a coming of age, teen angst, wrestling with emotional junk book, done well. I loved The Fault in our Stars because the characters were endearing, the dialogue was sharp and rich with quick banter. This book has the same elements, with characters a reader can care about, relate to, and root for. Indiana’s suburbs and small towns are the backdrop to Violet and Theodore’s friendship, which adds a small town rural feel to the novel. It makes you want to make a mix tape and drive with someone you love. I need to warn you this is a sad book, I was not prepared for the ending, I am glad I had the journey, but I was hoping for a happy ending. Life does not always grant us the happy ending, and this book does not either, but it is a notable young adult read. If you liked A Fault in their Stars or have not read it because of all the hype, this is the Indy version.

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All the Bright Places

A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen

a Blind spot for boysA Blind Spot for Boys is young adult as its best.  It has romance, adventure, mud slides, heartache, but it is so much more than a fluffy love story.  The main character Shana, hell bent on protecting her hurting heart, has sworn of boys. Sometimes life serves you exactly what you do not want, so of course Shana meets a boy.  Taking photographs one morning at the gum wall in Pikes Place Market leads her straight into the path of a mysterious and witty boy.  He is precisely what she is working so hard to avoid.   Meanwhile, her family is struck with an unexpected turn of events which leads her to a hike in Machu Pichu with her parents and a tour group of hikers. Shana and her family have to take of the blinders and wrestle with life in the midst of beautiful ruins.

The characters in this novel are rich and multi-dimensional.  I appreciated the layers of complexity with family struggles, learning about life through crisis, and personal triumph.  Well written young adult novels are packed with hidden gems of depth and wisdom.  This book is definitely a jewel, Justina Chen writes smart and relatable young women.  She never dumbs them down or over-sexualizes them.  You can feel confident letting your daughter read this book, and you will enjoy the journey even if you are far beyond adolescence.  I declare it a good solid read.

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A Blind Spot for Boys

Justina Chen is a local Seattle author with other great books worth your time.  Her other works include:

Girl Overboard

Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) (A Justina Chen Novel)

Return to Me

North of Beautiful (A Justina Chen Novel)

Why Everyone Should Read Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell deserves her very own post.  She rocks, her blog is cool, and I love that she writes all her stories taking place in or around Omaha.  I have secretly always wanted to go there since the counting crows sang about it.  If you have ever talked on a landline, made a mix tape for someone you love, or wondered if anyone would love you for who you really are, you will love Rainbow Rowell.  Honestly if you have any ounce of heart you will find one of her books moving, touching, and worth every minute.  If you don’t, I am sorry you are not my people.

I am so impressed with her because she writes powerful characters in every book, but they are all different, wonderful, and unique.  There are books that I have loved and then waited impatiently for their next novel, but when it finally came it was a dud, forced, or contrived or uninspired.  Now, to give grace to those authors, some writers have only one great book in them, and that is fine.  Some authors write inspired by an event in their lives and when they try to write outside of that realm, it just doesn’t work.   This is precisely why I find her so impressive.  Each novel has her stamp, is written from her heart and has a large piece of her, but each character is new, fresh, and like finding a kindred friend.

Here is a link to her blog:

Here are my thoughts on all her books.  I binge read for a couple weekends, it was time well spent.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell 

Eleanor and ParkI breathed an audible sigh of contentment upon finishing Eleanor and Park.  Rainbow Rowell can write a teenage love story like no other.  The backdrop of the 80’s is captured with perfect clarity through every character.   My nostalgia for the 80’s runs deep, and this book made me swoon.  Eleanor is new to school and has to navigate high school being chubby, odd, poor, and with the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Park is different, intuitive, and battling through his own adolescence through music and comic books.  Eleanor ends up sitting in his seat on the school bus, the first of her many social landmines she has to tip toe through at her new school.  Eleanor and Park come from very different worlds, but find each other at the best moment in time.  Their bridge of friendship begins over mix tapes and comic books. Eleanor’s struggles are serious and hard to read at times, but Rowell never moves to gritty or disturbing, just gut wrenchingly honest.  If you ever got teased in gym class, dodged a bully in the halls, or just didn’t fit in, you will relate to these very well written characters.  The love story is sweet, written with the sharpest most engaging dialogue I have read in quite a while.  Few can capture the essence of someone through their words as clearly as Rainbow Rowell can.  This is a teenage love story for all ages.  If you are into that thing.

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Eleanor & Park

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 

fangirlFangirl was a slower starter, but did not disappoint.  I had never read fan fiction, and did not really know what it was.  After some internet education I can appreciate its place in the reading world.  The characters in Fangirl are once again fantastic, and written only as Rowell can.  The story begins with twins Cath and Wren leaving their single parent father behind and going to college.  They are both intense followers of a series of fiction books for children/pre-teens full of magic and spells.  (Think Harry Potter parallel)  They write fan ficiton online continuing the stories, which is interlaced into the novel.  This book brought up so many reminiscent feelings of college, exciting new beginnings, but holding onto old comforts.  I felt a kinship with Cath and her heartfelt loyalty to her family, her online fan fiction followers, and to her true self.  Cath is not willing to change for anyone, but at some point that begins to hinder her. She has to choose where to bend and open up for the sake of her heart.  I loved the setting of a part rural, part city college campus in Omaha.  The two men in Cath’s life, Nick and Levi open her up to new experiences, some turn painful, but some are the sweetest bits of nectar you get to taste in life.  By the end, I was attached to the characters and was sad to read the last page.  If I ever chose to write fan-fiction, I think I might start with Fangirl.

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell 

Landline-Rainbow-RowellThe protagonist of this story has the best name of anyone you will ever encounter, Georgie McCool.  Her marriage is shaky, her career is hopefully finally taking off, and then comes Christmas.  Georgie has to work and chooses not to go visit extended family with her husband and daughters.  She is left disconnected, alone, with only a landline to feebly attempt to contact her husband. I loved the way this book sort of traveled through time and space while Georgie tries to understand where her relationship has been and where it is going.  She relives their life together in her mind, analyzing, reliving, and knowing truly how much she has to lose.  Rainbow Rowell is a master at snappy dialogue, inner turmoil, and books that make you feel deeply with the characters.  You will miss the way the book made you feel when the last page comes to an end.

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Attachments by Rainbow Rowell 

This was one of the first reviews I wrote, so I didn’t change it at all even thought it is redundant.  It is sentimental to me.  

attachmentsIf you have not yet discovered the delightful Rainbow Rowell, you are in for a treat.  This is a  novel told primarily through company emails.  Rowell is a master at quick, smart dialogue.  The lives of a night internet security worker, and daytime employees connect through secret email reading without meeting face to face.  Lincoln, the main character is hired at night to ensure the employees are following standard procedures. He reads through emails and checks on employees computer activity.  Situations get  awkward when Lincoln starts to fall for a woman through her email prose.   The voices in the novel are witty, crass, and unbelievably awesome.  You will adore the banter between the characters and the odd love story that unfolds.  I wish there were more books like hers.  Wonderful, wonderful read.

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Attachments: A Novel