Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider, reviewed by Sophia Christodoulou (age 13) Thanks Sophia!

Extraordinary Means is a read that will broaden your knowledge on what it is like to be a sick teenager. Lane lived a fairly normal life as a teenager: applying to colleges, hanging out with friends and family and working none stop to get into the best college. When he is diagnosed with tuberculosis he is sent to a sanitarium called Latham house where he is treated as though he is on vacation. He meets Sadie and her friends and learns how to operate at Latham to ensure he beats the disease and gets the most out of the ‘vacation’. As Lane and Sadie fall in love their world becomes filled with excitement and adventure. But when hope starts to occur and their group of friends start to get sicker, their worlds threaten to come crashing down.

If you have never understood what it is like for a sick teen or the challenges they go through, this book will help you get a better sense of how their lives operate and their perspective of of life as a teenager.

Extraordinary Means is written simply, with hints of humor, insight, and facts about tuberculosis. What I really enjoyed about this book is that it showed me issues that sick teens faced that I had never considered a problem. It broadened my knowledge about the consequences of tuberculosis and showed very meaningful insight about the characters. The writer's style reminded me of a John Green novel so I think if you are a man of his books you will love Extraordinary Means.

Thanks Sophia!


Austin Sailsbury
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

You know that scene from the Oscars last night? The one where La La Land won, then didn’t win? Well that could have come straight from a Maria Semple novel. The craziness, the cringing, the idea of what NEVER could, NEVER should happen, but then does. That was all very reminiscent of Maria Semple and two of the most entertaining books I have read in the past few years, “Where’d you Go, Bernadette” and her latest novel “Today will be Different”.

“Where’d you Go, Bernadette” was a sleeper. One of those strange novels almost impossible to pigeon hole and with a quirkiness that makes its success so unpredictable and therefore so much more fun.

But while in “Where’d you Go, Bernadette”, one had the feeling that Maria Semple wasn’t quite sure how “different”, quirky and edgy she could allow her main character to be, in “Today will be Different” it is obvious that the success of Bernadette has emboldened her to go all in with her new protagonist Eleanor Flood.

The novel takes place during one “out of control” day in the life of Eleanor Flood, a former (“has been”) tv writer trying to come to terms with a marooned career in a status obsessed world; her son Timby who attends an equally status obsessed Seattle private school and who owes his name to the auto correct function of his mother’s smartphone; and Joe, her hand surgeon husband who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth.

Into the roller coaster ride of Eleanor’s day Maria Semple inserts Eleanor’s memories of the past, in particular her relationship with her sister Ivy whose life in the exaggerated southern elite culture of New Orleans adds spice as well as bewilderment to the more shaken than stirred cocktail Ms Semple offers up.

“Today will be Different” is a wonderfully funny and satirical, yet at times quite moving and serious novel that will please fans of "Bernadette" and I am sure initiate new members into the Maria Semple fan club.

Janet Maslin of The New York Times put it perfectly when she wrote in her review that “Maria Semple’s Today will be Different serves up screwball with Soul.” Happy Reading!


Austin Sailsbury
Girl Up by Laura Bates

Book of the Week - Girl Up by Laura Bates, reviewed by Natalie Kelly-Haigh (one of our young readers). Thanks Natalie for a strong review!

"Girl Up is like a combination of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Chicken Soup for the Soul, except not for the faint hearted.

Girl Up is a perfect, well researched and honest book. It states the facts, mocks the ridiculousness of gender inequality, and unapologetically gives the happiness and confidence that in today’s world, too many teenage girls need. Girl Up made me feel so welcome and at home, reminding me how proud I am to be a feminist.

Girl Up can be enjoyed by everyone, especially feminists who will love the articulate humour and easy relation to the author’s words. It is a needed and comforting voice that should be heard by everyone.

This book is a masterpiece by Laura Bates, who is one of the only people capable of elegantly displaying dancing vaginas, swearing and patriarchy busting. The book is so funny and many times I found myself in hysterics while reading. Laura Bates harnessed the ability to mix humour and seriousness together, in a page turning and delightful book.

Girl Up is a necessary and solid book, filled with stories from girls, experiments from children, real-life facts and Laura Bates’ mature and strong words. Laura Bates managed to juice the simple and important things to do with gender equality, pouring them into pages.

I am still amazed by the book, for it has had a real impact on me, despite how much I felt the same way towards gender equality before reading it. Girl Up is a special and unique book, designed for special and unique people. Plenty are, but I can guarantee that they will be even more so after they read Girl Up."


Austin Sailsbury
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, reviewed by Alison Walker (of the Books & Company Book Club).

Paul Kalanithi was a 36 year old neurosurgeon on the verge of attaining everything he had worked so hard for over the last ten years, when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He decided to write "When Breath Becomes Air" as a two-part memoir. The first part chronicles his life from childhood, through university, medical school and his neurosurgical training, while in the second part he bravely recounts his quest to come to terms with his mortality.

"When Breath Becomes Air" is a fascinating book. Paul was academically a very high achiever and it is interesting to read that he was determined not to become a doctor like his father. He said he knew medicine only by it's absence, because of the long hours his father worked, so instead he initially pursued studies in English literature and human biology. He became interested in the brain because it enabled us to give meaning to our lives, but he never lost his love of literature and in the second part of the book he often returns to literature to help him make sense of his diagnosis and the thought of death.

Paul is an engaging writer and tells many interesting stories about his life as a surgeon, but it is the second part of the book that will remain with me for a long time. Yes, his diagnosis was extremely tragic, but I liked reading about how he coped with becoming the doctor instead of the patient, how he faced his new reality head on, and how he and his wife decided whether or not to start a family during his treatment. Despite the subject matter, it is not a book that is without hope and it is one that I am very glad I took the time to read.

Email us today to reserve your copy of When Breath Becomes Air.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, reviewed by Sofia (age 9).

What better way to celebrate the back to school month of August than by welcoming our new book reviewer Sofia (age 9)….and what better book to start with than Mary Poppins by P.L.Travers.

“I have read many wonderful books in my lifetime, but none were as interesting as the one I just finished. Mary Poppins by P.L.Travers is a great read. It connected to the Disney film, but it was also very different. Mary Poppins was very strict in the book. After the film was made, many people said that Walt Disney made Mary too sweet. I would agree if I had not watched the film first. When someone says Mary Poppins, I automatically think the sweet Mary Poppins from the film.

P.L. Travers had Jane and Michael as characters but in the book there was also John and Barbara, the younger Banks twins. Mr. Banks was mean, and did not often appear in the book.
The magic in the book was breathe taking. Every chapter took you through a different course of Magic. My favorite chapter was Miss Corry. It was baking magic (and I love love to bake). There was star hanging, sugar cane fingers, and much more. I truly love this book. Go to your neighborhood bookstore, Books and Company and read it yourself.”

Thanks for the lovely review Sofia!

Email us today to reserve your copy of Mary Poppins.

Austin Sailsbury
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I thought I knew what to expect when I picked up “Homegoing” the debut novel by Yaa Gyasi – a novel of emigration and immigration, of loss and the search for a new and better life.

I did get that, but I also found myself quickly turning the pages of a novel set in the fascinating historical and cultural context of Ghana, a country I knew little about.

“Homegoing” opens with the heartbreaking, chilling stories of the African slavetrade, of wars fought between the Asante and Fante tribes with British and American slavetraders waiting in the wings ready to exploit the situation. The novel follows two half-sisters Effia and Esi born in two different villages and into two very different futures. We follow their families from 18th century Ghana to present day as some stay in Africa and some travel to America destined to a life in slavery.

The novel covers a lot of ground in its 300 pages, leaving some historical periods, especially the development and growing independence of Ghana, unexplored or at least not fully explored. In spite of each chapter’s focus on a different family member the novel never feels disjointed, as Yaa Gyasi succeeds in making each story utterly personal, intimate and relevant, willing the reader to move forward at a quick pace to discover their fates.

With “Homegoing” we are once again reminded that where we come from is an inextricable part of who we are and that – if we allow it to – it can determine who we become, for better or for worse.

Email us today to reserve your copy of Homegoing.

Austin Sailsbury
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Marie Laure and Werner are young adults during World War II. One blind, the other an orphan; one a young French girl, the other a young German radio operator. Both find themselves in the small town of Saint Melo during the German occupation of France.

The book is a beautifully crafted tale of two people caught in situations beyond their control trying to find their way, literally through their senses. All the Light we Cannot See is full of detailed description as if Doerr is attempting to feel his way through the simple, yet multi-layered stories of kind, generous people whose lives are turned upside down by war.

Although set in the 1930s and 1940s of Germany and France, it is difficult not to read the story and its descriptions of shattering windows, basement shelters and thousands of people, families, parents, grandparents, crazy uncles and frightened children on the run without thinking of the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and devestation in Syria.

We read books like these and are moved by the plight of the characters, silently grateful that we don’t have to experience the same horrors, that the war ended and a peaceful Europe rose from the ashes.

I recently re-read passages of Anthony Doerr’s book – and once again was struck by the shortness of our collective memories. The generation that experienced the horrors of that war are still alive to bear witness to the atrocities committed and the years and reasons that led to them.
Yet, here we are, making similar mistakes, accepting – if not applauding – similar rhetoric, giving in to similar fears, one group of scapegoats exchanged for another, watching a generation of Europeans leaders who cannot agree on letting in the Marie Laures of our time.


Email us today to reserve your copy of All The Light We Cannot See.

Austin Sailsbury
Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Is there a better way to tackle a grey Monday than by diving into the world of Harry Potter? Thank you for another great review, Sofia!!

“I love reading books, but none as intriguing as the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rolling. I just finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in the series. I would not suggest this book for children under seven years old. This book was a mystery yet an adventure, you thought you had the plot figured out but things twist and turn and it turns out you don’t.
I enjoyed the character choices that J.K. Rolling has in this series. Some of my favorites characters were the thirteen year old wizards, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and last but not least Buckbeak the playful hippogriff.

Like all of her books J.K. Rolling made this a real page turner. Whenever I had a free moment, I would dash to my backpack to grab my Harry Potter book. I completely tuned out the whole world while I read this book.

When I asked my classmates who had read Harry Potter only 51% of the class had read it! So don’t end up like them, because they are missing out on a great book experience.”


Email us today to reserve your copy of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

Austin Sailsbury
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
Author J.D. Vance

I had a very different beginning – and ending – in mind for this book review. Because Hillary was supposed to win! Right? Well, that didn’t happen and now I am more grateful than ever for having read this week’s Book of the Week, Hillbilly Elegy – A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.

The book is a memoir of a young man who has made his way from a poor white community of Jackson, Kentucky (the land emboldened by the words of Donald Trump) through the dreams of middle class America in Middletown, Ohio to the hallowed halls of Silicon Valley. But this is not your typical memoir depicting the classic American dream; it is more than anything an analysis of a country and culture in crisis.

J.D. Vance’s journey from a poor Appalachian town via the Marines and Yale Law School to success in California is a journey filled with fear, pain and hard work, but it is also a journey made possible by the love of a grandmother who in any other setting would be reported to Social Services. On the face of it this might seem like your ordinary rags to riches story. However, What makes J. D. Vance’s book so powerful and moving is the recognition that for the vast majority of children growing up in poor white America there is very little hope, if any, of making it to even the periphery of what the rest of us would call a comfortable life. It seems at times as if there is conspiracy of circumstance and coincidence that sets up hurdle after hurdle for these kids and that only a stroke of luck, a single devoted teacher or a tough as nails family member can play the role of superhero. But this surely cannot be what the children of the wealthiest nation in the world (and their parents) should have to rely on in 2016?

Hillbilly Elegy has no racial component. It does not set white communities up against African Americans and it does not address the black experience in America today (many other great books are doing that.) Yet, interestingly, many of the experiences of Vance’s family members mirror those of the poor black community in the south.

The book also describes the historic migration of entire communities from the South to the North in search of post war middle class dreams of homes, white picket fences, security and education for their children. It opens the reader’s eyes to what happened to these large communities once the dream disappeared due to globalization and financial crisis and how many of the members of these communities had nowhere to go and not much to lose.
And in an additionally interesting “twist” Vance does not blame one or the other, the system or the individual, rather describes how the downfall of this very large group of people (voters!) is due not only to an, at times, unfair society but also to the inability of individuals to understand the role they could play in their own lives.

It only took a chapter or two to realize that I had met the people (millions it turns out) who voted for Donald Trump. It wasn’t all a huge surprise – I had peered through my bubble and thought I had seen them, but really I hadn’t.

In this week of Thanksgiving I am grateful to J.D. Vance for broadening my horizon and adding color to the default “black and white”. I fear Trump and all the ugliness he embodies but thanks to Hillbilly Elegy I am less angry at the people who voted and more angry at the politicians who took advantage of them, lied to them and will without a doubt let them down.


Email us today to reserve your copy of Hillbilly Elegy.

Austin Sailsbury