Books read in June 2015

When it’s kind of a grumpy time because a very exhausting school year is ending, why not disappear into a few books?

Recommended this month:
Middle Reader:  Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, The Way Home Looks Now
YA–Prairie Fire, All the Rage, the Geography of You and Me
Nonfiction:  The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

Picture Books:
Jihyeon Lee
Read for librarian book group.
Picture-only book perfect for those who love swimming pools.

The Night World
Mordicai Gerstein
Read for librarian book group.
Picture book about how things look different in the middle of the night.

Middle Readers:
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Kelly Jones
Read for librarian book group.
Very fun middle reader about the new girl town, if “town” is her deceased great uncle’s farm.  There, she comes across a catalog “Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer” and strange things begin to happen.  Told in letters written to the company, her dead grandmother and dead great Uncle, this is a fun and funny story.

The Way Home Looks Now
Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Read for librarian book group.
Written with a cinematic flair that had me thinking “this should be a movie!”  It’s quietly funny and also a good exploration of the ramifications of grief and families.  I also loved the ending, which was perfect and had me thinking this book shouldn’t be a movie, because they would muck up the ending.

Young Adult:
Prairie Fire
E.K. Johnston
The second in the Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.  (Which is actually the story of Siobahn, bard to Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.) Once again, Johnston has her finger on the zeitgeist of this generation. Once again, she does amazing things, describing  things via musical terms.  This book appeared soon after the first one and I wonder if she rushed to write it?  The ending seemed to come from nowhere and wrap up very quickly, which was a disappointment.  Still, this was a grand contemporary fantasy set in Canada and well worth the read.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Stephanie Oaks
I read an ARC passed on from a friend.
Points for contrasting settings (The past: a cult commune tucked away in the woods.  The present: juvenile detention/jail.) Points for interesting main character and strong supporting cast.  There were more than few major plot points I didn’t really go for, which made this only a so-so read.

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go
Laura Rose Wagner
Read for librarian book group.
I can heartily recommend this book if you are looking for a first-person narrative of Haiti after the earthquake.  Or possibly you are interested in a story of two sisters (actually cousins) and how their lives change after the earthquake.  This book was very strong in those areas.

For me, this was a book to slog though.  I found that I was interested in the characters lives and what happens, but not in a way that I really wanted to keep reading.  I think I was rooting for them, but didn’t really care for them.  Is this a writing flaw or a personality flaw?  If you are interested in the setting or topic, feel free to read for yourself and report back your experience.

Recovery Road
Blake Nelson
Madeline is 16 and in rehab.  She meets Stewart there and the book follows their relationship through the next few years of their sobriety.  I liked the portrayal of addiction and how so many things can influence a persons dedication to their clean-and-sober path.  By the end of the book, it felt like the main character was just reporting, “and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened” which grew tiresome.  However, few books feature the city in which I currently live and the college from which I graduated, so that was fun.

The Duff
Kody Keplinger
I was charmed by the actors in the movie adaptation of this book.  I was not at all charmed by the book itself.  The writing is poor (although fine for a teenager, which the author was at the time) the plot is repetitive and the book needed a lot better editing.  On page 160 there is a great example where the writing suggests a character got out of a two-door car, shut the door, then opened that same door and got into the front seat.

Carney’s House Party
Maud Hart Lovelace
The book I should have read before Betsy’s and the Great World (grumble grumble, numbering system, grumble grumble) it primarily concerns Carney, a secondary character in the high school books, and her “house party” which apparently once upon a time had a definition meaning people coming to visit you for an extended time.  All sorts of things happen during the house party, which are quite enjoyable to read about.  There’s the usual singing, going on drives, chattering, hosting parties of every stripe.  Betsy shows up midway through and also we get to nicely tie up the Carney/Larry plot that simmered in the back of the high school books all those years.

The Ghosts of Heaven
Marcus Sedgewick
Read for librarian book group.
Four stories you can read in any order.  Or so I was told.  I chose the order of 3, 4, 1, 2 and came away underwhelmed.

Simon vs. the Homo sapiens Agenda
Becky Albertalli
Read for librarian book group.
There are a lot of characters in this novel and I was confused as to who everyone was for about the first fifty pages.  Once that sorted itself out, I was fine and enjoyed this novel.  I loved the family scenes, which felt very true, and the coming out process also felt very authentic (at least to this heterosexual).  The title flummoxes me, but does not detract from this enjoyable read.

All the Rage
Courtney Summers
Read for librarian book group.
I find the title to be unfortunate as I keep forgetting what this book is and have to remind myself by looking at the cover.  However, once I remind myself, I get very excited, because this is a great book.  Why is our main character on the outside of the cool kids she used to be friends with?  Why is she so obsessed with nail polish and makeup?  What is going on?  I’ll leave you to find out yourselves.

The Geography of You and Me
Jennifer E. Smith
Two teenagers trapped in an elevator during a power outage.  Things go from there.  I really liked the obstacles the teenagers faced in this book and found it a nice breezy way to avoid packing for my upcoming vacation.

Also, Sara Zarr interviewed Jennifer E. Smith for her podcast.  You can listen to it here:

The Boys who Challenged Hitler
Phillip Hoose
Read for librarian book group.
Engrossing book about Danish teenagers who decided to not just roll over when the Nazis came to town.  Aside from being chock-full of interesting details, I appreciated how the author discussed the aftermath of the consequences.

In Focus: Carleton Watkins
J. Paul Getty Museum
Watkins was the big Yosemite photographer back in the nineteenth century.  Check out this book for high quality reproductions of his work, which is then put in context.  There’s also a great picture of the Columbia River.  I’m really enjoying this In Focus series.

Top movies of June 2015

13 movies watched

new_leafA New Leaf
Elaine May’s dark romantic comedy lives up to my youthful remembrances.

place_in_the_sun_ver2A Place in the Sun
Great mid-20th century class commentary and a good argument for why abortion should be legal. (I say this only partially tongue-in-cheek.)

now_you_see_meNow You See Me
It’s a heist movie with magicians and is populated with fabulous actors.

aint_them_bodies_saintsAin’t Them Bodies Saints
Join the Casey Affleck Aficionado Club.  Enjoy Rooney Mara too.

sessionsThe Sessions
Ignore Helen Hunt’s accent and marvel at John Hawkes performance.

love_and_mercyLove & Mercy
Get inside the mind of Brian Wilson in this not-traditional biopic.

Enjoy the best movie about being a teenage boy since Kings of Summer was released.

lifeguardThe Lifeguard
Cringe at Kristen Bell’s inappropriate choices while enjoying everyone’s acting. Contemplate how ugly those lifeguard suits are.

Top Movies of January-May 2015

New Feature!

Because I watch so many movies, I thought it would be handy to have a summary at the end of the month of my top movies of that month.  These are movies I watched during the month that I feel are worth watching, for a variety of reasons. Just like my viewing patterns, movies will be both first-run and from the back catalog. I will include a total of movies* watched in the month and a sentence or two explaining why I’m recommending this movie to you.  After this catch-up post, this will be a monthly feature.

*For our purposes “movies” will include both films and the DVDs of TV show seasons.

(6 total movies watched)
dear_white_people_ver2   skeleton_twins   zero_motivation_ver2

Dear White People
Come for the peek into college campus life via Black characters, stay for Lionel, the nerd.

Skeleton Twins
Hollywood is littered with the broken careers of post-Saturday Night Live actors.  Watch this for two alumni, attempting/succeeding at serious drama.

Zero Motivation 
You will probably have to work to find this comedy, an Israeli Army female version of Office Space, but it will be worth it.


(2 total movies watched)

Treme Season 1
Travel back to just after Katrina and watch a multi-racial cast attempt to put their lives back together.


(11 total movies watched)
Cinderella (2015)
Marvel at how well Disney translates an animated classic into a live-action movie.  Become verklempt during the ballroom scene and gasp just how well the dress works.


(9 total movies watched)
twelve_years_a_slave      short_term_twelve   furious_seven_ver2

12 Years a Slave
Watch it because the acting is first rate and the subject matter is important.

Short Term 12
Recommended for its heart (it’s so much better than those movies designed to inspire you) and for its female-centered plot.

Furious 7
Only watch this after you have enjoyed numbers 1, 4, 5, & 6 of the series and marvel at how well they sent off Paul Walker


(12 total movies watched)

ex_machina now voyager      me_and_orson_welles    while_were_young    mikey-and-nicky-movie-poster-1976-1010724664   like_crazy

Ex Machina
A great movie for post-viewing conversation and spellbinding to watch.

Now, Voyager
Female centered 1950s drama (not the sci-fi film I thought it was) about a woman of a certain age finding her path

Me and Orson Welles
A very good backstage drama of Wells’s 1937 production of Julius Caesar.

Like Crazy
Quietly acted and improvised realistic love story.

While We’re Young
Smart and funny and a good time capsule of current life for 20- and 40-somethings.

Mikey & Nicky
Look to Elaine May for a different kind of gangster film.