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Book Spotlight: Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

Being a sixth grader isn’t generally the easiest thing in the world, but, for Carter Jones, this year is really shaping up to be a pain in the glutes.  And it’s only the first day of school.  His dad is deployed in Germany, his mom is super sad but trying really hard to keep it together, and his three little sisters, are, well, three little sisters.  Ned the dachshund won’t stop throwing up, the Jeep is on its last legs, it’s raining really hard, and the milk has turned.  Which is when the Butler shows up.

If you’re a kid living in Marysville, New York, you certainly don’t expect to inherit a butler.  Certainly not a Bentley-driving, tea-drinking, cricket-loving, real live British butler in a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella the size of a satellite disk.  But sometimes, that’s what you get.  Even if you’d rather have your dad back instead.

Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, it seems, has come to stay for the duration.  And despite Carter’s initial vow to resist the British invasion, he finds that, even though he now finds it his responsibility to walk Ned more times a day than seems strictly necessary, even in the rain, and having to attend the ballet and weird art exhibits with his sisters, the Butler just might have the right idea about a few things.  Like how to write school essays.  And figuring complicated family stuff out.  And cricket.  The glorious, marvelous, sportsmanly game of civilized countries.  Which, it turns out, might just be the thing to pull him back together again.

Laugh-out-loud funny and so, so full of heart, this story of how Carter figures out how to put himself back together after life throws him a googly (or twelve), keep the bails on, and introduce the Butler to pizza is another winner from one of my favorite authors, Newbery honor winning Gary D. Schmidt.  If you love a good story of family, friendship, sports, and don’t mind getting odd looks from your friends because you’re cracking up on your lunch break, Pay Attention, Carter Jones is a must-read!

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

Picture of book cover for She SaidSome of the books I blog about are ones I’ve read and enjoyed. Some are ones I want to read. Some are ones that have gotten fabulous reviews. And some are ones that I think are really important. And then there’s She Said, which ticks boxes 2, 3 & 4 (and I hope to add box #1 soon!). I have read excerpts but not enough to write a full review so I’m turning to the professionals:

“An instant classic of investigative journalism. The book is packed with reluctant sources, emotional interviews, clandestine meetings, impatient editors, secret documents, late-night door knocks, toady lawyers and showdowns with Weinstein himself. The cumulative effect is almost cinematic, a sort of “All the President’s Men” for the Me Too era, except the men are women, and they don’t protect the boss, they take him down.”— Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post

“She Said is first and foremost an account of incredible reporting, the kind that takes time, diligence and the kind of institutional support many newspapers can no longer afford. For journalist readers, it is a chance to watch experts at work. And this book is a rare view for nonjournalists into the exacting and rigorous process of quality reporting, and it acts as an implicit counterargument to rising, ambient skepticism of the press. Kantor and Twohey show the background research they ran on sources, to protect both them and the paper, the careful way they documented and substantiated information, and their extraordinary precision in acquiring proof.”— NPR

“*Starred Review* The dogged investigative journalism that brought down Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein is spotlighted in this gripping memoir. New York Times reporters Kantor and Twohey recount their months-long probe, which uncovered claims that Weinstein sexually assaulted or harassed many women, from actors Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow to employees at his company; the Times exposé led to formal rape charges and sparked the #MeToo movement… The authors deliver the sordid details—the seemingly innocent hotel-room meetings, the sudden demands for naked massages, and worse—but focus on the reporting: stakeouts of sources, document searches, assignations with an informant, fencing matches as they wormed information out of Weinstein’s flunkies, and the bullying they received from Weinstein himself, a larger-than-life figure of bluster, menace, and self-pity. Along the way, they grapple with the apparatus of secrecy protecting Weinstein—the colleagues and lawyers who covered up abuses, the confidential settlements that legally silenced some accusers, and the fear of industry retaliation that kept others from speaking out. The result is a crackerjack journalistic thriller that becomes a revealing study of the culture that enables sexual misconduct.”— Publishers Weekly

Book Spotlight: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia Tamarin is a seamstress, living and working with her father and three brothers in the family’s tailor shop – until the Emperor’s war with the shansen, A’landi’s most powerful warlord.  The youngest of the three, Keton, came home unable to walk – and Finlei and Sendo did not come home at all.  In the wake of her father’s grief, it is Maia who holds her shattered family together, and Maia who takes over the family business, even though no girl can ever aspire to become a master tailor.

The bloody civil war concludes with a treaty and a marriage contract between the Emperor and the shansen’s daughter, Lady Sarnai.  And with the engagement, the Emperor summons the twelve most talented tailors in A’landi to the summer palace to create a wardrobe for his reluctant bride-to-be.  The catch?  There is only one imperial tailor, and the twelve must compete for the position.

Maia’s Baba is one of the twelve tailors summoned, but he is much too weak to travel.  Keton cannot walk, and besides, he can barely sew on a button, much less design a royal wardrobe.  But Maia?  She knows her skills with the needle are unmatched.  But women are not allowed to compete, so, disguising herself as her brother, and with Baba’s gift of her grandmother’s possibly magical scissors, she sets off to the palace, knowing that if her secret is discovered, she will surely be executed.

What awaits her there is more splendid, and more dangerous, than anything she could have ever imagined.  Political alliances and court rivals are nothing compared to the brutal competition between the tailors as each rushes to satisfy Lady Sarnai’s almost impossible demands in the most stunning, unique way possible.  There’s also the ever-present form of Lord Edan, the Emperor’s Lord Enchanter, who Maia is sure must know her secret.  There is something so piercing about his yellow eyes – or are they blue? – that discomfits Maia, and it’s not just the fact that he is rumored to wield the magic of the gods.  But it is when Lady Sarnai makes the most impossible of demands – that Maia make her the three fabled dresses spun from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars – that Maia’s dedication to her family, her craft, and her belief in herself will truly be tested.

Spin the Dawn has been described as Mulan crossed with Project Runway, and it did not disappoint on either front!  This book has it all – an epic quest to impossible places, gorgeous gowns, cutthroat palace politics, heart-pounding danger, more than a touch of magic, and a deliciously swoony romance.  Maia is brave, determined, completely devoted to her family, and never backs down, even when all seems lost.  She’s also amazing with a needle and her grandmother’s magic scissors – I only wish I could have her on hand for my next formal event.  Fantasy readers, rejoice – your next adventure is here!

And, if you can’t get enough East Asian-inspired fantasy worlds, don’t forget to add Renee Ahdieh’s Flame in the Mist duology to your reading list – more girl-in-disguise fabulousness!