Teen Book Reviews: Anna and the French Kiss & Twelve Steps to Normal

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from two teens who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Reviewed by Lily S.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is a Young Adult contemporary romance. It takes place in a prestigious boarding school in Paris, France called the School of America in Paris, A.K.A. SOAP. Anna, the main character, was forced into entering the school by her father, although she’d rather stay in Atlanta with her friends, and soon-to-be boyfriend, Toph. When she arrives, she feels a bit homesick, but soon meets a great friend group. In her friend group are St. Clair, Meredith, Josh, and Ramishi. St. Clair catches Anna’s attention, a result of his great personality, looks, and charming English accent, but Anna has to suppress her feelings for St.Clair because he has a girlfriend. On top of this, Anna struggles to actually speak French. St.Clair frequently asked to show Anna Paris, and Anna finally relented. They begin to get along and get closer and closer.

To start, Stephanie Perkins has a very great way of writing. Her writing was made for a very fun read, all while really toying with my emotions. This story was not just a simple frivolous romance novel, but it also dealt with serious issues that really make you feel for the characters and you find your subconsciously feeling so many emotions for them. Perkins’ writing made me feel so connected to each character. She also nailed it when it came to describing Paris. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, and this book made me feel like I was there. It was honestly a form of escapism for me. I felt as though I was there with Anna and St. Clair, walking around Paris, seeing vintage movies, and eating delicious food. I fell in love with Paris and it is now my dream place to visit. I especially loved the characters in this book because they each had such powerful personalities and said words that really stuck with me. Because they were so real and had real problems, I felt like I could really relate to them which contributed to the connection I felt with each character. I especially felt this with St.Clair because he was so genuine and he had a fun personality, but also said heart-warming words that had me feeling so many emotions. I felt so bad for him while he experienced family- problems. I found myself worrying about him in a really deep way. I also really loved Anna. She was so relatable and honest. Anna was such a great person and friend, so much that she makes decisions while taking into consideration how her friends will benefit. She was overall such a good narrator. It was so cute how she loved movies and reviewed them.

The next aspect of this book that really stuck with me was Anna and St.Clair’s relationship. It was so pure and innocent and then quickly escalated to a very romantic relationship. I loved how St.Clair convinced Anna to leave her room and show her Paris. I absolutely loved how they helped each other feel better and overall made each other better people. It was so sweet how they were best friends and in love. There was a lot of slow burn in the book, which was nice, but it got slightly annoying that they kept hiding their feelings. But when they admitted the love, it was so nice because of all the tension that was previously there. I think Perkins wrote their story so well and really included the very real long hill of falling in love. The other characters, Ramishi, Josh, and Merideth were written equally as well. I didn’t really like Ramishi though. I loved Josh and how he was a very talented artist. I hated Meredith at first, and how she “claimed” St. Clair, but I ended up feeling bad for her.

Overall, the story was very beautiful. Reading about Anna and St.Clair’s friendship and how it escalates made for such a great read. Anna and The French Kiss is definitely one of the best contemporary romance books I read. It had such a beautiful setting, excellent storyline, and simply had everything and more of what the perfect romance book should have.

5 stars.

Twelve Steps to Normal by Farrah Penn. Reviewed by Sarah F.

The main character Kira, had her whole life ripped away because of her dad’s alcoholism. She had to move away from her boyfriend, friends, her home, and basically everything she knew. After almost a year of being away, her father is sober and she’s moving back home. Kira is determined to fix her lost friendships and forgive her father or in her case, go back to her “normal life”. However, that is all ruined when Kira returns home to find three recoveries that her father brought home from rehab. Now another thing on her list is to get rid of them.

Without spoiling I would like to say most characters are very likable except Whitney and Jay, what they did is unforgivable in my opinion and how come Whitney is avoiding Kira and not the other way around? Some things Kira did were extremely confusing to me at least since I didn’t grow up in a household of recovery from substance abuse but, knowing her father’s past I don’t understand why she did what she did (page 342 if you want to know what I’m talking about). Kira can also be a huge brat sometimes but she isn’t too bad. I understand her temper for things and I think she blames a lot of her own issues on her father. I did enjoy the small romance between Kira and Alex I feel it lightened the mood of Kira in the book, I think Alex also really helped her accept and change the way she sees things. Nobody is perfect and I think the author purposely made Kira this way not to show that she’s a brat but, to show that nobody is perfect and feeling that way (how Kira feels) is normal.

The story was pretty good however the ending felt extremely rushed. Everything happened too quickly, there were like 5 things happening at once. Overall this book is decent, I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing I’ve ever read but it’s pretty good. I would recommend this book to those with similar experiences or as a light read(I am a relatively quick reader though).

4 stars.

Teen Book Reviews: A Dog’s Purpose and Three Dark Crowns

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from two teens who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

A Dog’s Purpose reviewed by teen volunteer Madelyn:

W. Bruce Cameron’s novel, A Dog’s Purpose, highlights the love dogs have for their owners from the canine’s point of view. To start, the young dog is a puppy in a stray litter. He learns about his love for people, however he was soon euthanized. After this life, the young dog is reborn, becoming Bailey. He learns the satisfaction of being a “good dog” for his owner Ethan, while experiencing years of love and trust. Bailey would risk his life for Ethan, and after devoting years and years to his owner, he feels he has fulfilled his purpose. However, when he passes, he simply wakes up in another dog’s body! Here, Bailey finds that his journey is not yet finished, and he has a lot more to learn. As he continues to reincarnate, he strives to find his meaning in this crazed world.

Bailey is reborn as a female German Shepherd, who grew into a police dog named Ellie. Ellie is sadly shot while trying to save a kidnapped girl from drowning. Next, reborn as a corgi named Tino, he strives to help his owner find happiness while he watched as she grew from a college student to a mom of three. Bailey reincarnates again as a St. Bernard/Australian Shepherd named Waffles. Here, Waffles is neglected and is abandoned after years of being tortured. Waffles soon then makes his way back to his old master, Ethan, where they reunite. Bailey narrates his triumphs and how life is all about having fun, saving others, finding someone to be with, not getting upset over the past and future, and most importantly living for today. Overall, I found this book to be incredibly impactful and it helped me gain a new point of view while reflecting on my past pets as well as my current ones.

5 Stars.

Three Dark Crowns reviewed by teen volunteer Claire:

Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake displays the hardship of sisters to a new level. Out of three sisters the same age, only one can become queen of Fenbirn. Each sister is blessed with a gift from the goddess, and until the age of sixteen, live among others with the same gift. However, in the year they turn sixteen, they must kill each other until only one remains for the crown. Arsinoe, the naturalist queen is shown to be the weakest and seemingly giftless. Naturalists are supposed to be capable of blooming plants and taming animals, but Arsinoe can’t even grow a mere daisy. Katherine, the poisoner queen, also has a weak gift. Poisoners are capable of ingesting deadly poisons and skillfully poisoning others. Finally, Mirabella is the elemental and strongest sister. Elementals are able to control elements of the Earth, although Mirabella is only shown to be using lightning, water, and fire.

My favorite queen was Arsinoe, due to her carefree attitude and interesting attempts to gain power. When she dabbled with low magic throughout the entire book, it was generally looked down on, especially for a queen. However, she did not care about the stigma, and just wanted to focus on surviving. She was not like either of her sisters. While Mirabella displayed love for her sisters and did not want to kill them, Arsinoe was willing to do what was necessary to win. Katherine was not focusing on strengthening her gift and was only focusing on gaining the attention of suitors. My favorite part was near the ending, when a poisoning attempt had failed to poison Arsinoe, and instead hurt her best friend Jules. However, the poisoned chocolates were actually also eaten by Arsinoe, making her realize that she is not a naturalist, but a poisoner queen.

4 stars.

Library Services You Might Not Know About – Part 1

Life sure has changed from this time a year ago, hasn’t it? It’s still hard to wrap my head around how differently we are living our lives since the Covid-19 pandemic made its presence known. Schools and businesses have had to restructure just about everything they do. Libraries, too, have had to change the way they work, depending so much more on the Internet to connect with their patrons.
Cheshire Library is constantly reviewing and adjusting our online services to bring  patrons what they need. You’re probably familiar with our online programs by this time (had most of us even heard of Zoom before the pandemic?), and you may have become a pro at downloading library ebooks,  but there are so many other services and resources you can avail yourself of any time, right from our website. The library is still here for you, even though how you use it these days might look a little different.

Getting books to readers: Matchbook and Grab ‘n Go services.

Remember the days when you could come into the library and leisurely browse the shelves, find a comfy place to sit and look through books or magazines before checking out your selections?  While the library is now open limited hours to the public, it’s not a place to kick back and hang out these days, due to social distancing and safety precautions we’ve put into place. To help you find your next good read, we began offering a service called Matchbook.  It’s a service we had tried a few years ago with limited success, but it has been booming since we brought it back in July of 2020. Fill out a quick form on our website letting us know your reading preferences, and a library staff member will hand-select several titles we think you will like, and put them aside for you, “matching” you up with some books! One Matchbook user told us it was like her birthday or Christmas every time a new selection of books was ready for her, and she discovered several new authors she loved! Books can be picked up inside the library at the Checkout Desk when they’re ready, or you can arrange a contactless pickup with our Grab ‘n Go program.

Stream away with Acorn TV and The Great Courses.

One of the first things we did when the library was shut down in the spring was figure out how to increase out digital offerings on a budget. We crunched some numbers and came up with two streaming services (available through the RBdigital app) that have proved to be  user favorites. Acorn TV is a very popular streaming video platform that many people pay for, but CPL cardholders have free access to. Acorn TV brings world-class mysteries, dramas, and comedies from Britain and beyond to your Internet-ready TV or mobile device. The Great Courses is another for-pay service that CPL cardholders can use for free.  The Great Courses is the leading global media brand for lifelong learning and personal enrichment, with hundreds of courses spanning thousands of in-depth video lectures on subjects like Science, Health & Wellness, History, and even Travel. Learn at your own pace, in your own time!

Dig up your ancestors.

Well, not literally. We’re talking genealogically, here. Ancestry® Library helps you research and understand your family tree with access to billions of names in thousands of genealogical databases including Census and Vital Records, birth, marriage and death notices, the Social Security Death Index, Passenger lists and naturalizations, Military and Holocaust Records, and more. Before the pandemic, Ancestry® Library was available for use inside the library only, but the company has generously extended our subscription to home users during this time of limited library use. All you need is your CPL card and a computer, and you’re ready to climb your family tree!

Keep up with the latest newspapers and magazines, digitally.

We’ve has to suspend our subscriptions to local newspapers during this time, but you’ll be happy to know that you can still access the news online though Newsbank, a news database that provides archives of media publications, and includes access to the Cheshire Herald, Meridan Record-Journal, and New Haven Register. While we still have many magazines available for checkout at the library, there are many more (over 3000 titles and up to three years of back issues!) that are available digitally through the Libby app. The great thing about digital magazines is there’s no waiting list, and back issues are available on most titles!




Women Who Rock

Veterinarian. Astronaut. Paleontologist. Actress. President. Everyone dreams up at least one career for themselves when they’re a kid or a teenager and the future stretches out in front of them like a vast, unending ocean. Me? You couldn’t tell from the basic Gap jeans and the guitars that lived mostly in the darkness of their cases, but I wanted to be a rock star.
I never ended up getting a record deal (big surprise), but I still enjoy music immensely. And lately, I find myself reading about music and thinking about the culture around music. It’s got me wondering where all the women are. Why are we so severely underrepresented in rock bands, and when we’re there, why are we only lead vocals or playing bass? Why do we often dress up in skirts and heels, but guys can throw on a black t-shirt and call it a day? Why aren’t more of us in the wake of #MeToo taking our anger to microphones and drum kits, screaming louder than those floppy-haired skinny emo boys whose photos plastered our bedroom walls before their predatory conduct towards underage female fans plastered the news? Or, perhaps more disturbingly, are we already screaming out to be heard, but the world just isn’t listening because a man hasn’t come along and validated our efforts yet?
On that distortion-pedaled, dropped-down-a-half-step note, here’s some titles to stoke your inner riot grrrl:

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Noise rockers Sonic Youth might be a tough listen for some folks (coughs, averts eyes), but this memoir by bassist Kim Gordon is not. She details her time in the band, her life as an artist in New York, and her marriage to frontman Thurston Moore.
Did you know that the title for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came from Bikini Kill’s lead singer, Kathleen Hanna? Never heard of Bikini Kill? Then give a listen to this history of riot grrrl, the radical feminist punk uprising in the 1990s, the waves of which can still be felt today.
You might go, “Oh, that’s the woman from Portlandia,” but before her foray into comedy, Carrie Brownstein was best known as the lead guitarist for punk band Sleater-Kinney. (IMHO, their 2005 album The Woods is one of the best rock albums of the oughts.) Her memoir presents a candid and deeply personal assessment of life in the rock-and-roll industry that reveals her struggles with rock’s double standards.
If you don’t know Amanda Palmer from the dark cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls, or her solo albums, or as a crowdfunding pioneer, you’ll know her as the wife of Neil Gaiman. (How I wish I could eavesdrop and hear the bedtime stories they tell their child!) Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet, meant to inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love. Available from us in print and audiobook formats.


Leading Ladies in Literature – Strong Female Reads for International Women’s Day (March 8)

When asked to write a post about strong female protagonists, it took me longer than I’d like to admit to think of my favorites. Even if I’ve read hundreds of books over the course of my life, only a handful stand out in their portrayal of a female lead. Most often, the most interesting characters I’ve come across are varied, flawed, and human, filled with errors and quirks that I find easy to relate to in my day to day life. These are the women I find myself relating to (even if I do wish I could be as perfect as Hermione Granger) and rooting for. I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorites, which barely scratch the surface of the wonderful and wide world of women in books, but hey, we all have to start somewhere.

If I’ve missed your favorites, please feel free to leave a comment down below, I’m always looking to add books to my reading list.                                                    

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. First off, this is a book I swore to never read again, ironically,  just because of how much it hurts to read. Wally Lamb is a master of creating a character you physically hurt for after getting to know them, and Dolores Price is no different. At once a fragile girl and a hard-edged cynic, so tough to love yet so inimitably lovable, Dolores is as poignantly real as our own imperfections. Through rough edges and rougher trials, including assault, mental institutions, absentee parents and lonely adulthood, Lamb shapes a character you find yourself cursing at, wincing for, and holding close.

519bogs1ivl._sx330_bo1,204,203,200_How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. After she shames herself on local TV, 14-year-old Johanna Morgan reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde–a fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. Watching Johanna stumble through her rebirth into a plucky more confident version of herself made me look back fondly (and lets be honest, not that fondly) on my high school years. Trying to re-brand yourself, whether it be with new fish net stockings, a streak of pink in your hair, or a new favorite band, is a rough process. How to Build A Girl highlights how surface level all of these additions are, and asks the question, how far will one really go to re-imagine themselves? I found myself wanting to hug the pivotal character Johanna, and tell her it gets better, if not by action, then by time. It seems like even if she’s struggling, Johanna is a character you find yourself egging on, and even being somewhat jealous of at times.

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein.  I brought this book on vacation thinking I’d enjoy a pulpy novel about crime scene clean up. I’m a true crime fan myself, and my interest in forensic science has led me down an interesting path in terms of books in the past year. This book turned out to be the opposite of pulp, and had very little to do with crime scene clean up after all. Sandra Pankhurst is a titan in the industry of Specialized Trauma Cleaning, she does her job and she does it well. Before she began professionally cleaning up their traumas, she experienced her own. First, as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home. Then as a husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, and trophy wife. The true life story of Sandra left me wounded in ways I didn’t expect. In a world that profits of making jokes of hoarders and death, this book, and Sandra, treat these people with dignity. She bags up their postcards, their books, their recipe cards tucked into binders, and saves them from the despair of dirt and mold. She returns them to their family, and gives the people effected by it hope to start their life over. She never once jokes at their expense, or teases them for their situation behind closed doors. After going through such a violent and unforgiving life, Sandra shows grace and humility, mixed in with grit and sarcasm I find comforting.

51cbsqw0cbl._sx331_bo1,204,203,200_Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.  If you’re looking for a strange, otherworldly novel, that expands into two more books, then the Southern Reach trilogy is for you.  A group of female scientists, ignoring the high mortality rate of the previous missions, travels into an area only known as “Area X” to research a strange phenomenon.  Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.  The narrator, the biologist of the group,  is a strange and difficult character to get a hold on. You don’t know her motives until they uncover themselves, slowly and methodically throughout the text. She seems driven by knowledge and the unknown alone, until it’s revealed that she had a husband who also went into the reach, but who came back strange and unrecognizable. I think one of my favorite parts of this character is that she’s not a broken record throughout the story. She doesn’t repeat over and over her need to find her husband in the Reach, if anything, she loses that goal almost immediately. Her goals become more abstract, her position as a narrator is unreliable at best, which makes her all the more interesting.

Some other books with strong female protagonists worth checking out: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell, Little Women by Louise May Alcott, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.