Secret Societies

Secret societies- I am sure we have all heard rumors about secret organizations doing secret things behind closed doors that they are sworn to secrecy about. While I cannot confirm the existence of any real secret societies, I do enjoy reading about fictional secret societies. From sororities with a deeper purpose than sisterhood and philanthropy, to spies hiding in plain sight, to an afterschool club that is way more than it seems, these secret societies save the world quietly and without the praise we give The Avengers. 

Gallagher Girls

Gallagher Girls Series by Ally Carter

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (bookshop.org)

There is so much more than meets the eye at the illustrious Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. This exclusive, all-girls boarding school trains spies. Yes, each individual is technically a genius, however their strength and success depend on their bonds of sisterhood.

The Specialists

The Specialists Series by Shannon Greenland

The Specialists Anthology (bookshop.org)

A rag-tag group of teenage prodigies come together to go undercover. Each agent is chosen for their unique talent in their respective areas of expertise. There are plenty of bumps along the road as the young agents learn to trust each other and work together.

Sitters

The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

The Babysitters Coven (bookshop.org)

Saving the world from a different kind of evil than the two previous societies are Sitters- a secret society of witches tasked with protecting not only the kids they care for but also the world. Esme Pearl is thrust into this world with little preparation but fulfills her destiny with her signature flair and wit.

The Sisters of Kappa Rho Nu

The Ravens by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige

The Ravens (bookshop.org)

The Sisters of Kappa Rho Nu may look like your typical sorority girls but they are really an incredibly powerful coven of witches. A force deeper than their vows of Sisterhood bind them together: their magic. Only together can they stand against whatever tries to take them down.

The Curie Society

The Curie Society by Janet Harvey

The Curie Society (bookshop.org)

Founded by Marie Curie- yes, THAT Marie Curie- The Curie Society serves as a secret organization dedicated to empowering women in STEM. This elite organization also protects the world from nefarious, rogue scientists.

This first installment in the adventures of the Curie Society was such a fun introduction to this clandestine world. I enjoyed meeting the characters and am excited to go on more adventures with them.

Which of these secret societies do you want to join to save the world? Personally I have been waiting on my letter from the Gallagher Academy since the fifth grade (fun fact, it came last summer! That is a story for another time though). If you could create your own secret society, what would it be for? Let me know in the comments what you have been reading recently! Happy Reading!

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Book Review – A Grand, But Concise, History Of Physics

Recently I have read the brand-new Michio Kaku book, The God Equation. For those unfamiliar with Kaku, he tends to write books about the cutting edge of technology and science, his specialty being physics. This time, he goes back to the start of the modern scientific quest to discover answers to the biggest questions of the universe – where we have come from, and what the ultimate fate of the universe will be – and gives a historical account of this quest up until the present day. There are high level physics concepts mentioned throughout, but beautifully explained – no need to remember your high school or college math for this book (thank goodness). He also explains well the conflicts between various schools of thought over the course of time and their ultimate resolution, which I found interesting in itself. The conclusion? We’re still looking for an ultimate theory of everything – but we may be closer than we have ever been to finding it. I found this book engaging and it was not long or wordy at all, so it was also a quick read. Highly recommended to anybody who likes to think about the bigger picture.

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Recent Reads!

I have so far finished 27 books this year. Life got in the way during February so my reading slowed down a bit. I am happy to say I am back to my regular pace. I stepped out of my comfort zone and enjoyed what I read! Below are some of the stand out reads.

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

Amazon.com: The Cousins (9780525708001): McManus, Karen M.: Books
The Cousins (bookshop.org)

My first read of the year did not disappoint. This book was my exact reading taste- a YA thriller! We follow three cousins summoned to their grandmother’s island resort for the summer. This was the perfect way to start my reading year! The twists and turns were amazing and the story was so gripping. I am not sure if there will be a sequel but if there is I will absolutely pick it up!

The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Amazon.com: The House in the Cerulean Sea (9781250217288): Klune, TJ: Books
The House in the Cerulean Sea (bookshop.org)

I had heard nothing but rave reviews about this book so I tried to manage my expectations. There was no need; I laughed out loud, I cried, and I spoke to these characters (yes, I frequently aloud to book characters). I loved all of the characters so much, part of my tears were the fact that our time together was ending. I am not a big romance fan but the romance in this story was perfect. The ending wrapped up everything so well but I want to go on more adventures with this cast of characters.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Amazon.com: A Deadly Education: A Novel (The Scholomance Book 1) eBook:  Novik, Naomi: Kindle Store
A Deadly Education (bookshop.org)

This was my first adult fantasy after mainly reading Middle Grade fantasy. Because this was my first adult fantasy it was definitely a shift. I was intrigued throughout but the last sentence had me sitting up, screaming, and demanding the sequel. Needless to say my mother did not cough it up. I actually Buddy Read this with a friend! I cannot wait for the sequel.

Leave the World Behind- Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind: A Novel: Alam, Rumaan: 9780062667632: Amazon.com:  Books
Leave the World Behind (bookshop.org)

This speculative book left me shook. I was highly on edge throughout my read in the best way. Alam created the perfect atmospheric setting infused with so much tension, I couldn’t put the book down.

This book was a departure from what I typically read but the synopsis was too intriguing to not pick up. I am glad I took a chance on this book because it was a great experience.

Ambitious Girl- Meena Harris

Ambitious Girl: Harris, Meena, Valdez, Marissa: 9780316229692: Amazon.com:  Books
Ambitious Girl (bookshop.org)

I read this book to my two year old cousin. I felt it was good to add to this list because even though it is a children’s book it is filled with great reminders for women of all ages

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, 1): Alston, B.  B.: 9780062975164: Amazon.com: Books
Amari and the Night Brothers (bookshop.org)

I cannot praise this book enough! This was a book I needed when I was younger but reading it now is good too. Alston seamlessly weaves social commentary into the mythical world in an accessible and relatable way.

The story was fast-paced and fun. I was thoroughly entertained throughout the entire book. Even though I am an avid mystery/thriller consumer and trust no character, I was still surprised. This may be middle grade but I recommend it to anyone!

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts (1): Schwab, Victoria: 9781338111026: Amazon.com: Books
City of Ghosts, Volume 1 (bookshop.org)

Set in Edinburgh, this tongue-in-cheek paranormal fantasy was so much fun to read! Cassidy’s life is quite ironic- she can see ghosts but her ghost hunting parents cannot. Cassidy falls into a life or death quest while her parents are filming their ghost hunting show.

I really want to go to Edinburgh now. While I do not particularly believe in ghosts, a city filled with that much history sounds amazing. I really appreciated how atmospheric this book was. I felt very immersed in the world.

Who Killed Mr. Boddy? Based on the game Clue

Amazon.com: Who Killed Mr. Boddy? (Clue, Book 1) (9780590461108): Parker,  A. E.: Books

I used to read this series with my brother and we were obsessed! I was weary of revisiting this series but it did not disappoint. Ironically, I have never played the game this series was based on.

This book does a great job crafting mysteries that are thought-provoking but not so difficult that the target audience- or even adults- can’t figure out. The chapters are good lengths for being digestible and not overwhelming. The book of course reads fairly juvenile but that didn’t bother me as I was mainly reading it for nostalgia. Overall, I enjoyed the nostalgia of this book and will likely continue the series just for a fun and quick read.

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Amazon.com: When No One Is Watching: A Thriller (9780062982650): Cole,  Alyssa: Books
When No One Is Watching: A Thriller (bookshop.org)

I definitely really enjoyed this book. I had times when I was uncomfortable with how close to home this hit. It dredged up a lot of feelings I had during the summer of 2020 when the Black Lives Matter movement was really ramping up. Even though it was uncomfortable it was also really validating to know that I was not the only person feeling this way. I think this story was ~scary~ because a lot of things that happened in the book happen in real life. Things like microaggressions and fetishizing are real things BIPOC individuals face. I have heard complaints about the “twist”/big reveal. It really worked for me. I did not see it as so far fetched that it ruined the story. It was enough of a stretch that I was reminded it was fiction even though it felt so real.

Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code by Stacia Deutsch

The Friendship Code #1 (Girls Who Code): Deutsch, Stacia, Saujani, Reshma:  9780399542510: Amazon.com: Books
The Friendship Code #1 (bookshop.org)

I love this book so much! I wish I had had this book when I was younger. Not only are we learning the importance of hard skills- specifically coding- we are also learning the importance of interpersonal skills. The breakdown of coding language was so accessible! It did not take me out of the story at all- it actually enhanced my experience!

This book was also good from a story standpoint. The mystery was obvious to me because I read way too many thrillers and am leery of everyone and everything. However, if I were within the target age range, it would have been engaging without being too challenging.

I really connected with the main character, Lucy. She was a bit egocentric at the beginning- which to be fair was developmentally appropriate- but grew a lot over the course of the book. I really appreciated the integration of everyones’ interests- this emphasizes that a person can have many interests and these can coexist. This is a lesson that often takes time to learn.

I am in the middle of plenty of books so the next recent reads should be an interesting assortment of books. What have you been reading? If you have any recommendations, drop them below! Happy Reading!

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Female Literary Role Models

As this month comes to a close I have been thinking about the women I have read about that have had an impact on me. When I started working on this post the list was way too long and it took a while to narrow it down but here is a list of some of the fictional women I have read about and admire.

Evie O’Neill from The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners (bookshop.org)

High-spirited and headstrong Evie O’Neill is banished to New York City from a small town in Ohio where she discovers just how special she is. A bright, 1920’s feminist, Evie asserts herself into investigations around the city that have a paranormal elements to them. Not only is Evie a great role model but someone I would love to run around New York City with.

Janelle Franklin from Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious: A Mystery (bookshop.org)

A student at the illustrious Ellingham Academy, Janelle Franklin is a character I very much see aspects of myself in. Passionate, driven, and a seasoned multitasker Janelle pours everything into what she does. Whether it is building a Rube Goldberg Machine or corralling grumpy Nate to go to the Halloween dance, Janelle shines as a role model.

Kiera Johnson- Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay (bookshop.org)

Coder Kiera Johnson believes there should be safe spaces for Black gamers so she creates Slay- a place to celebrate the diversity of Blackness. When a teen dies in the real world as a result of the game Kiera must grapple with whether to step forward as the creator of the game. Kiera also faces situations many young black people face and acts as a role model for how to move through these situations.

Vivian Carter from Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie (bookshop.org)

Fed up with the extremely sexist culture of her high school, Vivian Carter starts a revolution through the power of zines. If you are wondering where you can find zines, there is a boxful in our Literary Arts room! Quiet but fierce, Vivian utilizes her strengths to make social change. 

The Gallagher Girls from Gallagher Girls Series by Ally Carter

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (10th Anniversary Edition) (bookshop.org)

I could not make this list without including the characters from the series that shaped my child through young adulthood. I also could not pick just one of the characters from this cast. Cammie Morgan, Rebecca “Bex” Baxter, Liz Sutton, and Macey McHenry were the original squad. I wanted to grow up to have a group of friends like them; they were highly individual and still the best of friends. They were way ahead of the curve when it came to women supporting women. 

I would encourage everyone to read about powerful women- real or imagined. Who were some of the fictional women that had an impact on you? Happy Reading!

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Terry Gilbert Lays Bare the Cleveland Legal System in Trying Times.

“Many of the legal battles in this book speak to the long tradition of radical lawyering in the style of the great Clarence Darrow, based on the realization that eventual outcomes are not always determined by legal proceedings but rather by societal responses. The establishment cringes at this approach because the legal system takes pride in being untouched by outside forces, projecting a façade that a case should only be decided by facts and legal precedent, not public outrage or political influence. This rigidity is often hypocritical, because no one actually believes that politics are not at play in courts.” Terry Gilbert, “Trying Times”

I felt like scales fell off my eyes after reading Trying Times, the memoir of civil right attorney Terry Gilbert. If you think routine miscarriage of justice and police brutality just happen in New York City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Terry and his co-author Carlo Wolff will shock you about history of systemic violence, inequality, and unfairness in the legal system right here in Cleveland, OH. 

Trying Times discusses by name judges and prosecutors who obstructed justice.  Evidence was withheld; testimonies were falsified; police raided the homes of peaceful protesters. It humanizes and remembers local revolutionaries, like Father Robert Begin, Art McCoy and Brother Diablo of the Black Unity House. They detail the struggles of the American Indian Movement in their battle for autonomy and against corruption in the United States government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Trying times is essential reading for those who want to dig deep into the history of Cleveland from 1970 to present. This memoir is for legal professionals committed to the cause of justice and the ordinary citizen who desires to clearly see the machinery of systemic racism in Cleveland.

To purchase an autographed copy of Trying Times, please go to Loganberry Books’ online store or call Loganberry at 216-795-9800. 

You can also read books mentioned in Trying Times or related to its history at Bookshop, the online affiliate of Loganberry Books.

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The Low Desert by Tod Goldberg

The characters in The Low Desert are gangsters, murders, criminals, and those caught up in the underbelly of the brutal world of crime and broken lives. The stories maybe cringe-worthy, frightening, and sad, but Tod Goldberg finds the heart and depth of his characters, their insights and longings—though their insights and longings may be fabrications, justifications and just plain wrong, leading them to more bad choices, more death.  Still we come to care about what happens to them, even as we want to step away from the pain they cause others, and themselves.  Goldberg’s writing is so solid, and brave, that the stories in this book compel the reader to keep turning the page, to see how things will turn out, and to find out what these characters are driven by, and what they are driven to do, and what choices they make—because we the reader wonder, and decide, what choices we would make, how we would never find our way into these lives.  And yet, none of us are perfect.  All of us are at fault somehow.  The Low Desert speaks to humanity, even as it shows us the immoral and unfortunate lives of these haunting, cruel and damaged characters.

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American Daughter By Stephanie Thorton Plymale

American Daughter by Stephanie Thornton Plymale is one of the most astonishing memoirs I’ve ever read. Our assumptions at the beginning of this story are upended by the discoveries Stephanie makes about her mother just before her mother dies, just in time for understanding and forgiveness. At the age of six, Stephanie, her siblings and her mother are living in a car in the Mendocino Headlands State Park, eating seaweed for nourishment. Things get worse as her mother goes in and out of mental institutions and jails, and as Stephanie and her brothers and sister are separated, moved back and forth between foster homes, and back to her mother. One sibling just disappears. Stephanie’s mother lies and tells crazy stories and is, in most ways, a terrible parent. This memoir takes the reader to devastating moments of sexual, physical and mental abuse, and to an astonishing conclusion, where we begin to understand, as Stephanie puts it in her book, “that he most difficult people are often suffering in ways we can’t fathom.” This book is both a difficult read emotionally and a page turner, as well as being the story of finding one’s path through a haunting past.

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Reading Goals

It’s January, which means it is time to set our yearly reading goals. Last year, I arbitrarily set one goal: read 100 books. I read 139. I celebrated achieving this goal briefly but because my goal was arbitrary it was not as satisfying. I had not given much thought to why I choose the number 100, which is very antithetical to how I typically operate. When I sat down to plan my 2021 reading goals I thought about why I was reading. This guided the goals I set- spoiler alert, there is not a number in sight.

Why do we read. I read for a number of reasons: to learn and grow as a person, to understand different perspectives, as well as to relax and have fun! It is fun to see the numbers go up- don’t get me wrong- but for me the number tracking added an extra layer of pressure. I felt that is I did not read X-number of books, I was not a good enough reader- taking the fun out of reading. To my first goal, numbers alone cannot tell me how much I have grown or what I have gotten from a book. To my second goal, I can read 200 books but if they are all from my perspective , I have not gained any insight to another point of view. And to my third goal, stress reading a ton of books just to check a box is not fun.

With all of this in mind, I set four reading goals:

  • Continue to read diversely and from different perspectives
  • Read more nonfiction
  • Try Sci-fi, Horror, and Urban Fantasy
  • Read translated works

Because these goals are not number based, I am still figuring out how to measure and track them. I invite you to follow on my reading journey this year. Honestly, I am not sure where we will end up, but I figure that is half the fun. If you have any recommendations for me, I would love them. Happy Reading!

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Book Reviews – New & Upcoming Teen Titles

I hope everybody has had a happy and healthy holiday season. I have read a few teen books recently that I found particularly engaging and I would like to share them with you here!

The Life I’m In by Sharon Flake

In this companion novel to Flake’s popular book The Skin I’m In, the focus is on the bully character Char. With the events of The Skin I’m In behind her, Char is living with her older sister, but her sister, feeling unable to care for Char, sends her to stay with their grandparents in Alabama. On the bus ride down south, Char meets a woman on a baby who entrances her, and in Florida she decides to get off on the same bus stop as her and make a new life for herself there – along with the now-abandoned baby. Stuck in a financial tight spot, she becomes prey to a human trafficker and must fight for her freedom. Will she make it out of the life? Read and find out in this masterfully written book.

Girl on the Line by Faith Gardner

This moving book starts with Faith’s suicide attempts and follows her life as she attempts to deal with losing her friends and her family’s trust, her bipolar diagnosis, and a possible budding romance. Meanwhile, she volunteers at a suicide hotline and learns about herself as she helps others. I loved this book because of it’s unflinching honesty towards these topics, as well as an very engaging plot.

Remedy by Eireann Corrigan

This psychological thriller features Cara, a 9th grader who has been sick nearly her entire life – but the many doctors who have seen her can’t figure out what is going on. Her mom keeps on fighting for her, starting a webcast for parents of those with chronic diseases and eventually starting a Caring for Cara fundraiser so that she can see a new specialist. But something about her situation doesn’t sit right with Cara after she talks about it with a new friend, and the more she investigates, the more confused she becomes. Will she solve the mystery? This book is a real page-turner, and I didn’t want to put it down until the very end! (Out April 6, 2021)

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This One Wild and Precious Life (Book Review)

I’ve been on a mission of self-improvement the past couple of months, and the book This One Wild and Precious Life, by Sarah Wilson, has been congruent with my quest. Part ecology book, part natural history book, part self-help book, this book does not easily fit into one category but delivers a wallop in many aspects. Wilson writes beautiful accounts of her various hikes around the world, which are interspersed between exhortations to get over our anxiety, grow up, and make a difference in the world – in an inspiring way, not a preachy way. I won’t go to quite the extremes that she has gone (I’m not cleaning my underwear while in the shower, I’ll stick with the washing machine), but this book has made me think about how I can make small changes that can help ameliorate our current situation – if others also follow that path out of over-consumption hell. (Comes out December 29, 2020)

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