Books read August 2017

Hello August! The month in which I discovered Mr. Money Mustache.  Between that and my class, there wasn’t much reading this month.  If I hadn’t had vacation, I would have only finished five books this month.  Eeek!

Young Adult: Midnight at the Electric
Grownup Nonfiction: No Impact Man

Maze Runner
James Dasher
Read for Teen Book Council
The idea is a good one: waking up in an elevator that deposits you in a giant field which contains a bunch of other adolescent boys, their living and farming areas, plus a very large maze that changes every night.

After that, everything goes downhill.  The writing is clunky, a lot of the plot isn’t logical and inspired befuddled follow-up questions that remained unanswered.  The fact that there were only boys was annoying. It was the kind of book that while reading, inspired the thought: “I can’t wait to finish this, so I can read the wikipedia summaries of the other books in the series.”

And so I did. Based on what I read of the summaries, I can’t say the plot improves any.

However!  This was part of the After Hours Book-to-Movie Night that the Teen Council put on at the Hollywood Library.  The teens created a maze throughout the library using standard library items (chairs, carts, string, streamers, LEGO) and then an epic game of Sharks & Minnows was played after the movie was over.

Witnessing one enthusiastic teen yelling “I’m a griever and I am going to KILL YOU ALL!” while chasing a herd of stampeding, screaming teens made reading this book totally worth it.

The One Memory of Flora Banks
Emily Barr
Flora doesn’t have short-term memory, but she does have her journal and her friends and family.  After kissing her best friend’s boyfriend Drake, she then follows him to the Arctic Circle.

As Flora travels, she comes across pieces of her story which lets those of us reading piece some things together.  Though her journey was fairly anxiety-provoking for this particular reader, this was an interesting and engaging book.

Midnight at the Electric
Jodi Lynn Anderson
It takes place in the future (2065) and also tells additional stories through letters (1920s England) and diary entries (1930s Kansas dust bowl). Tying everything together is a turtle named Galapagos.

As stories told through diaries or letters is perhaps my favorite way to tell a story, this was a big winner.  But I also loved hearing stories of young women trying to find their place in this world (or in one case, out of this world).

As with Tiger Lily, the writing is very beautiful and the characters are memorable.

Once & For All
Sarah Dessen
Book 1-of-2-in-a-row where the mother figure is a wedding planner and the friend character’s family runs a food truck.  This was a nicely-plotted romance that has an interesting take on the ex-boyfriend issue.  The insight into the wedding planning business was fun.  It was the type of book that normally I would like just fine, but the coming together of it’s run-of-the-mill parts elevated it.

Ashley PostonBook
Book 2-of-2-in-a-row where the mother figure is a wedding planner and the friend character’s family runs a food truck. In this case, we have an updated retelling of the Cinderella story, with the ball being a cosplay convention based on a beloved sci-fi show.

While the characters of Cinderella (Ella)  and Prince Charming (teen actor Darian Freeman) were well-rounded, fully developed characters, I found that the stepmother and stepsister characters were one dimensional and entirely too evil.  This distracted from the overall goodness in the story in an unfortunate way, which was too bad, because this was a great update.

All About Mia
Lisa Williamson
I’m a sucker for books with three sisters told from the point of view of the middle child. This one had me from the beginning.

Mia makes some pretty terrible choices, and you can see the consequences coming a mile away.  Thanks to some deft writing, I understood where she was coming from and was rooting for her to find a better place for herself.  All three sisters were nicely developed.

No Impact Man
Colin Beavan
A man (and his wife and child) spend a year trying to reduce their impact on the world, and discovering how much better their life is when they do.

I think it’s pretty easy to judge authors like this, as opportunists looking to further their careers.  Mr. Beavan seemed sincere in his efforts and enjoyed following him along on his journey.

Early Retirement Extreme
Jacob Lund Fisker
A detailed primer on how to build up a skill set to allow you to live on less and save massive amounts of money.   Jacub Lund Fisker doesn’t give us a step-by-step guide to early retirement, but instead lays out the principles of how one would craft a path to early retirement for themselves.

Books read in July 2017

There was a little bit of nearly everything this month, including poetry!  I love months with poetry books.  Perhaps I should make them more of a priority.

(This was not the book cover picture I thought I was getting.  But it does give you a chance to compare and contrast the British/US covers.  I prefer the US cover, on the left.  But the British one is nice too.)

Picture books: A tie between Tell Me About Sex, Grandma, and Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, neither of which really fit the picture book label, but I can’t be having 15 different labels each month.
Middle grade: A Crack in the Sea
Young adult: The Pearl Thief
Young nonfiction: One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
Grownup nonfiction: You and a Bike and a Road
Adult fiction: Attachment

Tell me about sex, grandma
A. Higgenbothem
Read for Librarian Book Group
Aside from having a great title that practically begs everyone to pick up this book, it’s also a wonderful conversation between grandmother/grandchild about that thing that all children are curious about.  The art is delightful, and I particularly appreciate grandma’s cool pants.

Blue Sky, White Stars
Baberhous, Nelson
Read for Librarian Book Group
Great illustrations of the United States we love.  Some of the text didn’t flow for me.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe
Iwasa Takabatako
Read for Librarian Book Group
I’m a great fan of epistolary stories, so of course I would be delighted by this story of Giraffe, who writes a letter and sends it off.  Penguin writes back and so their delightful correspondence begins.  This early chapter book is funny.

Town is the Sea
Sydney Smith
Read for Librarian Book Group
Beautiful picture book which takes place in a Cape Breton mining town.  I suspect this will win many awards, due to the librarians going ga-ga over it at book group.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Rita Williams Garcia
Read for Librarian Book Group
There was so much to love about this story:  the frustrating and unfair way his mother dealt with Clayton’s grandfather’s death; how a child grieves; love of jazz music; the grandfather/grandson relationship; the mother/son relationship; the father/daughter relationship.

And then it seemed like Garcia had filled her allotted amount of pages and things wrapped up much too quickly.  It was as if a living, breathing story was hurried to its ending before it could come to its natural conclusion.  This was disappointing.

A Crack in the Sea
H.M. Bouwman
Read for Librarian Book Group
Combining the middle passage experience of slaves brought to the US, with the post-Vietnam War boat people experience? No problem.  It totally works in this tale that mostly takes place in the Second World, a place that can only be accessed once in a great while.

This is not only a story full of tales, it’s also a brother/sister tale of adventure and exploration.  I loved this book.

The Pearl Thief
Elizabeth Wein
Read for Librarian Book Group
A prequel to the stellar Code Name Verity, this takes place several years prior and features Julia Beaufort-Stuart’s summer adventures.

I have a friend who loves to read British mysteries set at boarding schools between the wars.  This nearly hit all of those preferences, just missing out on the boarding school aspect. Although the miss was a close one.  Julia is home for the summer from boarding school.  Also, her home is being turned into a boys boarding school, as her grandfather has died and his estate is being liquidated.

This book begins with a wallop to the back of the head (Julia’s) and a summer of trying to unravel who hit her, and why.  As with all of Elizabeth Wein books, there are a treasure trove of details packet into a tightly woven narrative including freshwater pearls, the history of the Travelers/Tinkers, and general class injustice.

Now that this exists, I’m not entirely sure which book should be read first. If one begins with Code Name Verity, this book will have an emotional resonance it wouldn’t have had.  But maybe it’s best to start here, and tread slowly into the Verity waters?


The Lines We Cross
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Read for Librarian Book Group
I’m not familiar with Australia’s anti-immigrant movement, but the sentiments are not very different than what is expressed in the USA anti-immigrant movement.  In this book, the son of a prominent “anti” becomes friends with a girl who is a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan.

I found the prose to be clunky at times, but this is worth the read, both for the aspect of a teenager’s awakening (my parents believe X, do I also believe X to be true?) but also for the refugee perspective and the many hard places refugees find themselves in.

The Whole Thing Together
Anne Brashares
A brilliant and engaging premise.  Sasha and Ray share half sisters, but have never met, due to the terrible divorce between Sasha’s father and Ray’s mother.  They also share a bedroom at the beach house the divorced couple continues to occupy.

There are a lot of mid-chapter point of view shifts in this book that I found distracting.  And I wasn’t fond of how Brashares chose to wrap up the story.  It seemed too convenient, as in: “I’m tired of writing this story and need to be done.”  Still, the idea of two kids more or less the same age occupying the same space year after year, and yet never meeting was a winner.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
Nikki Grimes
Read for Librarian Book Group
Grimes pairs poems written by Harlem Renaissance authors with new poems written using the Golden Shovel method.  In this method, the author takes a line (or lines, or sometimes an entire poem) and writes a new poem using each word from that line as the end word of the line.

My brain boggled that such beautiful poetry could come from this method.

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up
Atkins, Yogi
Read for Librarian Book Group
Graphic novel true story of one man who refused to go to the “relocation” camps during World War II.  Great for people who might need to be reminded about the United State’s shady history with justice.

You and a bike and a road
Eleanor Davis
Davis chronicles her bike ride from her parents house in Tuscon, Arizona to her home in Athens, Georgia.  Quick drawings and spare text are employed for maximum benefit.  There’s a bit in Texas that deals with border crossing that was done remarkably well.

Rainbow Rowell
Read aloud with Matt
I enjoyed this re-read. This makes our second Rainbow Rowell read aloud.

Books read in June 2017

Lotta young nonfiction read this month.  I usually top out at one or two nonfiction books.

Picture Books: Over and Under the Pond
Middle Grade: Real Friends
Young Adult: Gem & Dixie
Young Nonfiction: Eyes of the World

Over & Under the Pond
Messner Neal
Read for Librarian Book Group
Lovely illustrations and great text.

The Book of Mistakes
Read for Librarian Book Group
What happens when the art doesn’t go just right? You roll with it.  I enjoyed tracking the mistakes as they changed and morphed into something fun.

Real Friends
Read for Librarian Book Group
I had some friendship troubles in late elementary school, and this nicely captures the feelings I experienced. It’s also got some great time-specific clothing on display.

Hello Universe
Erin Entrada Kelly
Read for Librarian Book Group
This book pulls off the ultimate middle-grade feat:  it manages to tell a story about children who work through their problems without adult assistance.  It does this without having to resort to such non-parent tropes as: orphan, foster children, boarding school, camp.

Each character was deftly drawn and the story kept turning in directions I wasn’t anticipating.  This is also a book populated with diverse characters who feel authentic, and not as though they are filling a specific diverse slot.

A Wrinkle in Time
Madeline L’Engle
This was a re-read in anticipation of the movie’s release.  Two things surprised me.  One was how much god was in this book.  There was much more god than I find in the children’s books I regularly read.  The second thing was that at some point, the characters meet a character named IT.  The character’s name is presented in that fashion with a capital “i” and “t.” Unfortunately, in the many years since I first read this book (1985?) the use of the capital “i” and “t” put together are regularly seen, but in a way they were not in the 1960s when L’Engle wrote the book.

So it was that I read every single occurrence of IT as Eye-Tee, a.k.a. Information Technology, a.k.a not what Madeline L’Engle was going for, tone-wise.

Other than that, it was an interesting exploration of kid-lit of yore.  If I find myself unemployed, it would be interesting to dive into the whole series.

Gem & Dixie
Sara Zarr
Sisters! But not the kind that sing a musical number a la White Christmas.  This is the story of Gem, who isn’t really that thrilled with her home situation, and her sister Dixie, who doesn’t mind so much. When their dad appears back in town something happens that has the girls exploring different options.  I liked that it spent some time wondering how not-optimal your living situation should be before you should find something else.

Anne & Henry
Dawn Ius
An updated version of the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII.  I felt that this particular retelling didn’t translate very well to the modern era.  Also the cover wigged me out, as the “Anne” model actually has a chunk of “Henry’s” flesh in her mouth.

We Will Not Be Silent
Russell Freedman
Read for Family Book Group
This worked well for a re-read, and it got overall high rankings, despite most people expressing that they don’t like nonfiction much.

Eyes of the World
Read for Librarian Book Group
The story of Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, this is a fine example of an exploration of how artists influence each other.  It was a little slow, but ultimately rewarding.   The photos, fonts and layouts are quite nice.

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books
Read for Librarian Book Group
There was a time when there was no children’s literature.  (Gasp!) Meet the man who who started the trend.

The Quest for Z
Gregg Pizzoli
Read for Librarian Book Group
An age-appropriate exploration of that Amazon guy who has a grownup nonfiction book, a movie, and now a picture book.  I loved the illustrations in this, and it has a very good front cover hidden under the jacket. In book group discussion, someone made an observation that it was a little “old-fashioned” a la from the explorer’s point of view and not so much any insight into the Amazon Indians who were being explored.

A year of Family Book Group

I had great amounts of fun in my first year leading the Family Book Group for sixth and seventh graders. And I also had fun making a handy color-coded sheet of our highs and lows.

Overall, our highest rated book was I Am Princess X.  Our lowest was the Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.

Based on these results, I’m on the hunt for YA that isn’t too old for next year’s group.

I also received a very nice card from one of the participants.

Best snack for Family Book Group

The bar code is obscuring the full title, but we read I am Princess X for Family Book Group. Danielle came up with this most excellent snack item.

She also posted many images of Princess X around the room, sneaking them into normal displays.  This was very fitting to the story, and was a delightful bonus.

Librarians are so fun.

A.S. King at Taborspace

A.S. King writes weird books.  Some of them don’t work for me, some of them I adore, and all of them are flat-out strange.  She’s also a strong feminist writer, which I appreciate.

A.S. King is a intense and hilarious speaker.  In this reading, she read a little from her newest book, Still Life With Tornado, talked about her process and then took questions from the audience.

A.S. King writes all her books without any outline.  (Writers call this “pantsing” a shorted form of the phrase: by the seat of my pants.)  She revises probably 150 times, and uses a lot of paper because she prints and revises.  Still Life is her twentieth book, though the first eight she wrote weren’t published.  Most of her writing tends to reflect what’s going on in her life, though in a subconscious way.  Everybody Sees the Ants, for instance is partially driven by her obsession with the Vietnam war.  Learning this fact, I thought, “uh-oh,” because a recent book has to do with domestic violence.

A.S. King married at 22, and had the goal of living on a self-sufficient farm.  She did so, for eight years in Ireland.  She was submitting things at that time, and had to hatch a certain number of chicken in order to pay for the postage.  She said her writing career–at least the publishing part–didn’t really start until she moved back to the US.  Proximity matters.  She is currently separated from her husband and did experience domestic violence in that relationship.  She had a long explanation about how people are surprised that she, a strong woman, would put up with that.  In her mind, strong women are great as DV victims, because they will do whatever they can to keep the relationship going.

A.S. King was a bit of a math savant in elementary school, but ran into a seventh grade math teacher who said on the first day that he would never call on any of the girls because they couldn’t do math, and were just going to get married and fat anyway.  This was the beginning of a downward slide that had her graduating in the bottom quarter of her high school class.  “Kids!  Proof that you can graduate in the bottom quarter of your class and go on to do good things, not that I recommend graduating in the bottom quarter of your class.”

A.S. King has an angry face.  When she gets excited about things, she looks mad.  She once filmed a promo for reading or libraries when she enthusiastically exclaimed, “Reading is great!” only to see her agent encouraging her to smile.  They re-filmed it, to hilarious results. “Reading is great!” Pause for odd-looking smile.

A.S. King’s first name is Amy, and she writes under the name A.S. King partially because another writer is also named Amy King, but also because she likes that her author name spells “asking”.  (Cue excited gasps around the room.)  Matt had pointed that out to me just in the previous week and I, too, had my mind blown.

None of the things I have written get across A.S. King’s sense of humor which is dry and matter-of-fact and relentless.

It was a very good evening with A.S. King, and I will be sure to prioritize seeing her whenever she finds herself in town.

A note on the photos. It was a small space with dim lighting, and I was very self-conscious about my picture taking.  I stopped after three, and all seemed to be not great.  However, looking at them after the reading, I thought they captured her personality quite well.

Books read in April 2017

April is an unusual month in which I’m most excited about the nonfiction selections.

Picture Books: Big Cat, Little Cat
Middle Grade: Better Nate Than Ever
Young Adult: Pyromantic
Young Nonfiction: Vincent & Theo
Grownup Nonfiction: Every Body Yoga

Big Cat, Little Cat
Elisha Cooper
Read for Librarian Book Group
Picture books are short and this one made me laugh and cry within the space of its 32 pages.  The illustrations of the cats are stupendous.  Recommended.

Wolf in the Snow
Matthew Cordell
Read for Librarian Book Group
Wordless picture book about a girl walking home from school in a snowstorm and what she finds on her way.

Barnett & Klassen
Read for Librarian Book Group
Not a book about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  Instead a funny little interlude between Triangle and Square.  Barnett and Klassen together don’t tickle my funny bone.  I recognize I’m in the minority with that opinion.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile
Schlitz, Floca
Read for Librarian Book Group
Fabulous illustrations paired with an easy-reader story about Princess Cora wanting more from her dreary days.

Out of Wonder
Read for Librarian Book Group
Poems written in the style of famous poets and paired with gorgeous illustrations.

Better Nate Than Ever
Time Federle
Read for Family Book Group

I adored this book, so much so that even the small detractions were steamrolled by Nate Foster’s approach to the world.  This is a great book for outcasts everywhere.

The Best Worst Thing
Kathleen Lane
It’s too bad that the adult audience who would really enjoy this book probably won’t find it. Maggie is a worrier in a way that I think will be off-putting to a lot of tweens/teens.  But Maggie’s nervous energy is something that adult readers would want to read about.  It’s a beautifully written story.

Fish Girl
Read for Librarian Book Group
Mermaid in rinky-dink seaside aquarium begins to question her situation. The answers she finds are illuminating  and cause changes.  There were a lot of problems with this story, but it had some good feminist and coming-of-age stuff.


Lish McBride
The sequel to Firebug, a book greatly enjoyed by me, this continues the story, bringing back all the favorite characters.  I was sorry I didn’t have time for a re-read of Firebug before launching into this, but it was an enjoyable tale all the same.

Wonderful Feels Like This
Sara Lovestam
Read for Librarian Book Group
Nice story of a young musician bulled by her peers who forges a friendship with a retired jazz musician.  The bullying is intense, with some of it rising to the level where the police should be involved.  The stories of the Stockholm jazz scene during WWII were nicely done and the author did a great job working in nuance of her portrayal of bullies.  The point-of-view switches were jarring.  While overall, this was a nice book, it was one I finished out of obligation, rather than pleasure.

The Book Jumper
Mechthild Glaser
Read for Librarian Book Group
This story includes a wonderful discovery: girl returns to ancestral home and learns that her family has the ability to jump into books.  While this would be an exciting development in my own life, I don’t think it made any sense for the plot.  I was never really clear WHY they were supposed to be jumping into the stories, as most of their actions in the books caused trouble that would have been avoided if they had simply read the books, not hang out in them.

I think there are some in-jokes that went over my head for not having read some of the books mentioned.  Much like the book from Sweden I just finished reading, this book also has abrupt point-of-view shifts I found jarring.  Other details about the book jumping also baffled me. So much so that the invented world didn’t hold up, which made for a so-so read.

Rivers of Sunlight
Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm
Read for Librarian Book Group
The framing device “I am the sun” reminded me of a theatrical production written by a well-meaning older person, to show the poor youth of the ghetto the magic of the thee-ah-tar.

Steve Sheinkin
Read for Librarian Book Group
Sheinkin’s ability to make history sing is on display here, even for this reader, who isn’t interested in football.  I am, however, interested in Jim Thorpe and I found the details about the Carlisle Indian School to be interesting, in that terrible way.  There was too much football in this book for me, but I recognize that I am not the target audience.  I would have appreciated a little more unpacking of the special privileges afforded to athletes.  Overall, this was a solid nonfiction.

Vincent & Theo
Deborah Heiligman
Read for Librarian Book Group
Character-driven biography of Vincent Van Gough and his brother Theo.  I was interested in the brothers’ relationship, and how Vincent’s mental illness affected his family and other relationships.  This was big on detail, without bogging down.  I loved the color plates, which were apparently not present in the e-book version.

Every Body Yoga
Jessamyn Stanley
I know a goodly amount of people who will not get far in this book due to the salty language of the author.  However, I found her frank and funny, and I didn’t mind at all the copious use of the F-word.

Stanley, a large girl who grew into a large woman, describes how she came to practice yoga, her various feelings about her body, and provides recommendations for yoga practice for women of all kinds, including fat women. Her recommendation to practice at home was particularly freeing for me, as that is currently the only type of yoga practice that will fit in my schedule.