December was another light reading month. Eventually I will return to reading more.
Middle Grade: The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle Young Adult: None this month Young Nonfiction: March Forward, Girl Adult Nonfiction: 168 Hours, You Have More Time Than You Think.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle Connor Read for Librarian Book Group
Mason is the reason to read this book because Mason is an overly large, overly sweaty kid who can’t read and is a little slow to put things together. He’s got a good heart, though, and is trying to make the best of his life, which, frankly, hasn’t gone very well lately.
I figured out what was really going on long before Mason did, and I suspect most readers will do the same, but I think that’s okay. It’s fun to see Mason’s love for Moonie the dog, plus his caring for friends old and new.
Always Never Yours Emily Wibberly and Austin Siegmund-Broka
I was feeling tired from Christmas prep and thus picked up this frippery of a teen romance. It was solid entry into the genre, providing some Shakespeare, a female character who knows what she wants, and a general PG-rated sex-positive story. (20 years ago the number of boyfriends Megan had, plus her general lack of apology as to enjoying physical activities with those boyfriends, would have cast Megan in a different light.) It was also set in a mystery town outside of Ashland, Oregon, so the Oregon connection was fun. (Though I’m not sure skinny dipping in October would have been a comfortable activity.)
This book was extremely predictable; it is a first novel that hits all it’s marks exactly when they should be hit. But when I’m overly tired from Christmas prep, I’m fine with predictable.
I am Alfonso Jones Tony Medina Read for Family Book Group
This book did not go over well in Family Book Group. None of us liked it. We had problems with the number of characters and they way they were drawn made it difficult to determine who was who. This was due mostly to inconsistent depictions.
The story device was good: Jones is killed in a department store by an off-duty policeman and must ride the train with other people who have also died due to police violence. In the book we see the current story playing out, both before and after Alfonso’s death and we also see the stories of the others on the train and how they died. Unfortunately, there aren’t many indicators to let us know if we are in present day, or recounting someone’s death. It was hard to follow what was going on.
This was a good premise, but a flawed final product.
March Forward, Girl Melba Pattillo Beals Read for Librarian Book Group
I was assigned to read Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir Warriors Don’t Cry in college and it has stuck with me. This book does not focus on her role in integrating Central High School, instead, it is her memories of growing up in Jim Crow-era Arkansas.
I appreciated how Pattillo Beals grounded her experiences with discrimination and terror in her body. As she illustrates example after example of being deemed lesser than, she talks about where she felt her feelings.
This book has some scary scenes. There’s a lynching in a church and a near rape. It’s frustrating to see Melba and her family have to maneuver to survive. But this is a story I’m glad she told because as a white person it’s easy to distance myself from the everyday indignities of that time period.
It’s also a story of where she thrived and the people who supported her.
Unfortunately, the illustrations are not a good fit for this book. Other than that, this is a worthy read.
The Bullet Journal Method Ryder Carroll A concise guide to getting started with a Bullet Journal. I learned that the daily logs aren’t logged in the index. Also, the layout is very pretty.
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think Laura Vanderkam
This book is heftier than your average productivity book. It will take you longer than 90 minutes to read it, and the margins aren’t large.
I’m not blown away–as the author is–that there are 168 hours in a week. That doesn’t sound like a ton to me. However, I did like her focus on figuring out your core competencies, figuring out 100 things you want to do and then start paying attention to how you spend your time. She also writes about split shifts and calls into question how much time we really spend at work. 60 hours? She doubts it.
I stopped watching TV in real time when the West Wing was in season three, so I’ve reaped the oodles of time rewards for at least 15 years, but for some people they may be amazed at how much time goes to television.
Overall, this was well worth some of my 168 hours.
This is month two of my 60 minutes per day for 30 days, plus I’m still restricting my sleep which means I didn’t read a ton this month. But it was good reading, what I did read.
Picture Books: A Big Mooncake for Little Star Young Adult: Dry is my top recommendation, though they were all good this month. Grownup Nonfiction: Anything You Want
Imagine Juan Filipe Herrera Read for Librarian Book Group
This is a good story from a migrant’s perspective and an inspiring story for anyone. I didn’t personally connect with the illustrations, but they were good.
Unfortunately, this picture book did not work for me. At first there seemed to be a scheme for how things would go. There were four pages ending with “Imagine” and then one page with “Imagine what you could do too.” I assumed this would continue through the book and when it didn’t, there was a tension built that I found off putting.
There was also one page I didn’t understand what was being said.
The Field Paul/Alcantara Read for Librarian Book Group
A picture book with many short sentences, this aptly conveys the excitement of a neighborhood game with great use color. Plus a nice author’s note.
A Big Moon Cake for Little Star Grace Lin
Delightfully limited color scheme and a great origin story of the phases of the moon.
The Lady’s Guide to Pirates and Petticoats Mackenzi Lee Read for Librarian Book Group
Mackenzi Lee continues the story started in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, this time telling the tale of Monty’s sister Felicity, who longs to be a doctor in a time when women are most decidedly NOT supposed to be doctors. Her quest to become one has her throwing her lot in with a pirate (the daughter of a pirate king) and traveling all around Europe.
This book is chock full of women things: adventure, friendship, and an examination of women’s place in the world. It’s full of great quotes about friendship, and work, and making decisions.
The author also includes a very good note at the end addressing the historical fiction charge of “modern-day character, set in the past.” She includes a list of women in history who inspired this story.
Long Way Down Jason Reynolds Read for Family Book Group
This was very well received by the Family Book Group; the kids gave it an 8.833 and the adults a 9.281 for an average of 9.089.
In addition, the novel-in-verse format worked very well for discussion as we could flip through and find things to discuss that caught our eye. That, combined with the gripping plot, made this a great book for discussion.
Dry Shusterman & Shusterman Read for Librarian Book Group
Southern California, after years of drought. One day, the water is shut off. The taps are dry.
So begins our story, which follows several people: Alyssia, the soccer-playing regular girl; Garrett, her little brother; their neighbor Kelton, the son of a “prepper,” a man who has been waiting his entire life for the moment the world devolves into crisis and he and his family can survive.
As people become thirsty, they also become desperate. And desperate people make life dangerous.
This book has incredible pacing, does a great job with separating the kids from the adults in an organic way, and I never could predict the twists and turns. My one problem with the book was that I was regularly confused about who was talking due to lack of distinct voices, but that was a minor quibble.
Neil and Jarrod Shusterman have written a taut novel with high stakes that will have you turning pages, and also heading to the store to make sure you have your emergency supply of water.
Hey Kiddo Jarrett J. Krosoczka Read for Librarian Book Group
A graphic novel of Krosoczka’s growing up years living with his grandparents due to his mother’s drug addition. I enjoyed his story, especially the way he pointed out the differences in your life when your grandparents are your parents. The color palette was great even before I read the note at the end that explained the inspiration and that same note had a good plug for counseling/therapy.
The grandmother was the one so-so part of the story. Krosoczka seemed to give her a pass for her (mostly) functioning alcoholism. Perhaps the love that’s apparent on every page blunted some of her behaviors for him. They were plenty unsettling for me, though.
If You Come Softly Jacqueline Woodson Read for Life’s Library
I tend to prefer books with a romantic plot be told from one person’s point of view because it’s more interesting to me to have a limited perspective and wonder along with the character what the heck is going on with the other person. Woodson uses two narrators, but uses different points of view for each of them. We learn about Ellie’s story directly from her, and Miah’s narrative comes in third person. This was very interesting.
I loved how spare the writing is. Jacqueline Woodson is a master at painting a mural with a handful of words. The book also is a sweet romance, and captures the tentativeness and awkwardness of adolescent love. There’s some good stuff about dating outside of your race and general hazards of being black in America.
This is a short, calm, quietly beautiful book that is worth reading.
Anthing you Want Derek Sivers
This book was designed to be read in about an hour and delivers on that promise. It’s the story of CD Baby, an online music store that gets the music of independent musicians to fans that want to buy it.
Derek Sivers is not your standard entrepreneur which makes reading about his business–now former business–very interesting. He’s a man who knows what he wants, and is willing to go about getting it in unique ways. It’s also a story of what not to do once your business gets successful.
It was a month of doing a lot of things that aren’t reading. Two things have contributed to this. My continued sleep restriction, which leaves me staying up later than usual to reset my sleep schedule. This means that when I sit down to read, I almost always want to fall asleep. This means I’m reading less. Also, I’m doing this whole thing with starting side jobs? That’s cutting into the reading time too.
Picture book: We are Grateful Middle grade: The Parker Inheritance Young adult: Damsel Young nonfiction: Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom Schmidt/Minter Read for Librarian Book Group
This book had a ton of things wrong with it.
The layout. There is an intermittent poem (?) that appears on certain left-hand pages. It always ended with a comma and I was always confused by that comma. Halfway through I poked around to see if it’s appearance would ever end with a period. The answer was no. What was that interlude? I should not be asking that question.
The text is awkward and didn’t flow well. There was context that was missing that confused me. I was not aware that Sojourner Truth was a slave in New York state before slavery was made illegal there and thus I had some dissonance reconciling “slavery” and “New York.” The information could have been introduced more smoothly.
Also, the illustrations were not my style.
Imagine! Raul Colon Read for Librarian Book Group
I enjoyed the setup: a boy skateboards over a bridge (that I’m too lazy to look up to see which New York City bridge it was) to go to the Guggenheim. Once there, he has adventures with paintings. Because the people in the paintings come to life and hang out with him. You know, like they do. There were some amusing situations with the boy and the characters in the paintings.
The illustrations were nice, in that blurry way. I didn’t love the boy’s face. It looked fairly plastic and was distracting to me. But overall, I enjoyed the message about art.
The Party Sergio Ruzzier Read for Librarian Book Group
This book is three short stories that are laid out like a graphic novel for the beginning reader set. Both Fox and Chick cut fine figures, though in the latter case, Chick is fun in annoying ways. I thought the size of the text benefited the book, and while the illustrations were not my style, they were clear, which is always a good thing.
We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga Sorell/Lessac Read for Librarian Book Group
The biggest win as far as I’m concerned is that the Cherokee words that are used are DEFINED ON THE VERY SAME PAGE! I’m not sure why it’s taken this long to get to this point in picture book layouts.
No need to wonder if there was a glossary in the back. No need to decide if I’m going to exert the effort to turn to the glossary. Instead, there was the word’s definition, right there on the same page. Picture books have so much space I think this should be a regular practice.
Aside from that innovation, this was a nice intro to Cherokee culture and had great use of color.
Dreamers Yuyi Morales Read for Librarian Book Group
Yuyi Morales’s illustrations are always so wonderful and this book is worth reading just to see them.
That said, I’m not quite sure who this book is for. The vocabulary was sometimes pretty advanced (suspicious, improbably.) Also, the Spanish went undefined, which is a choice an author can make. It’s hard for me, though when I can’t pick up the word from context and it increased my distance from the words.
The Parker Inheritance Read for Family Book Group
It’s always interesting when a book I greatly enjoyed is not enjoyed by other people. So was it for the members of the Family Book Group, who were lukewarm on this story, that I think is one of the best of the year.
There was a call for a better puzzle, one that unfolded throughout the story a la the Westing Game, rather than four clues that carry you through the book.
I realized, on further reflection, that this book is a little of a bait and switch. There’s a puzzle/mystery to keep the contemporary plot going, but a lot of the book is a historical fiction story. If you love historical fiction (and I do!) then this is a delightful development. If not (I suspect many of the members of this reading group do not) then it’s not the greatest thing.
The Summer I Turned Pretty Jenny Han
A middling effort. This book lacks a strong sense of place. Its setting is a beach community, sure, and there are enough place references that I know it’s an East Coast beach community, but which one? The beach in Florida is different from Virginia, which is different than New Jersey and all the places in between.
The stakes never felt very high. She’s been in love with the son of family friends she’d lived with every summer. Aside from the fact that she’d “turned pretty” and was getting interest from other boys, not much seemed different. This book also has an ending designed to entice you to start immediately on the second book. Which is to say it had no ending.
I did feel the characters were fully formed in a way the setting and the plot weren’t. And I love stories of girls who live among guys. That was clearly explored.
Will I read the second book? Time will tell.
Damsel Elana K. Arnold Read for Librarian Book Group
Elana K. Arnold’s What Girls are Made Of was an uncomfortable read for me. I hurried through it. Then I gave it four stars and have thought of it often. In that book Arnold was a master at shining a light on that dark underbelly of being a woman: the girl who desires only to be the object of interest to a boy.
Plus, she writes very honestly (and fairly graphically for a YA book) about sex.
Damsel is a fairy tale. It begins with Prince Emory on his quest to slay a dragon. After the dragon is slain and the damsel is rescued, we switch to the damsel Ama’s perspective for the remainder of the story. Again, I was uncomfortable, and again I read quickly. Arnold doesn’t shy away from all the humiliations felt by women as they are subjugated.
Ama is a compelling character. As I was reading, I wanted her to–I’m not sure what. Escape? Win?
It’s not a fun book, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. Two things keep it from being the ne plus ultra of YA novels: I figured something out very early on (and I’m not someone who figures things out very often) and the book ended much too quickly.
Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees Dan Brown Read for Librarian Book Group
Great content and the bibliography at the end points to a lot of good source material that was consulted. Dan Brown also chose to focus his story on “children,” “men,” “women,” etc. rather than “Sunnis,” “Muslims” etc.
The refugees’ plight is plainly illustrated and he makes sure to provide context for how big or how far away things are. The book also calls out those doing nothing while the people suffer—like the United States of America.
Unlike the two other Dan Brown books I’ve read, I found the illustration style did not work well here. Was it looser than usual? The effect seemed to me to make the people he was attempting to humanize more anonymous and distant from us.
Educated Tara Westover
I mean no disrespect to Tara Westover, but I’ve read this book before. Most recently, it was the Glass Castle. The fiction version of this story is Barbara Kingsolver’s the Poisonwood Bible. The story of a young woman having her life shaped by an eccentric or insane father is–tragically–common. It’s also a story I don’t have very much head space for right now, while I’m trying to work through society’s reaction to the current leader of the country and his views about woman (among many other things.)
What you’re in for with this version of the story: a homeschooled Mormon family, although in this case, you’d best put some quotes around the word homeschool to properly place the amount of teaching the children received. You also get a lot of descriptions of family members in physical danger and also pain. There’s also physical and mental abuse. Plus the pain of your family turning away when you call out your abuser. There’s even a brutal killing of a family pet.
The writing is good, and if you haven’t already been steeped in this story, this is a good entry into the cannon. My takeaways? The uber-patriarchal nature of mainstream Mormonism combined with bipolar disorder/schizophrenia in the family patriarch do not bode well for the people in the family. And also, homeschooling in Idaho should have a hell of a lot more oversight.
It took me a while to notice how awesome the cover of this book is. It’s very subtle. Kudos to the designer.
September reading brought a cornucopia of books, the kind that can only be achieved by take a week-long vacation. (Or perhaps suffering from a bout of unemployment, though thankfully that wasn’t the case for me.) There were a lot of really good books this month, so much so that I’m going to call out more than one in each category.
Picture Books–Grace for Gus Middle Grade–Harbor Me, Taking Care of Terrific Young Adult–The Sun is Also a Star, My Plain Jane Young Nonfiction–Bonnie & Clyde: The Making of a Legend Grownup Nonfiction–How to Instant Pot Adult Fiction–Dietland, Swing Time
Jerome by Heart Scotto/Tallec Read for Librarian Book Group
This books wins on two fronts. I don’t often come across depictions of love between two elementary-aged boys. As someone who did recess duty for nine years, I’ve seen boys become infatuated with each other and the best of friends. I also enjoyed the color scheme (muddy ocher?) and the illustrations which reminded me of Madeline, but in a blurry way.
What didn’t work for me was the lack of context, which set the whole book on the defensive and made it seem like the love the boys felt was wrong. Since the book was going for the opposite message, I would say this was not a successful book.
Mabel and Sam at Home Urban/Hooper Read for Librarian Book Group
A series of adventures Mabel and Sam have while moving into a new house. I loved the sister/brother relationship, especially the take-charge nature of the older sister. The 50s-style drawings were delightful and it was fun to see what the pets were up to while the children played.
Grace for Gus Harry Bliss Read for Librarian Book Group
Grace sneaks out of the house one night to raise some money to support Gus, the class pet. Over the course of the night, Grace partakes in a number of money-raising activities.
I loved Grace’s various money making schemes and I would have been very excited to read this book as a young child. The illustrations are fun, there’s Grace, who is appealing, and there are many details in the illustrations to look at such as headlines, signs and such.
As an “exact words” sort of person I was vaguely troubled trying to figure out if this was a real thing or some sort of extended dream fantasy sequence. But the book itself was so delightful that part doesn’t matter much.
Harbor Me Jacqueline Woodson Read for Librarian Book Group
A very short, beautifully written book about a small group of students who spend the last hour of the week alone in a room talking to each other. As I type the phase “alone in a room” I realize that this would not happen in real life, due to the potential litigation factors of a teacher in the US leaving her students alone in a room together.
Regardless, these students tell their stories as the year progresses. One of the six is dealing with the aftermath of his father being arrested and held for deportation and the tension is built around that situation, but other stories are shared as well. The kids come from different backgrounds and their bonds grow the more they open up to each other.
Also, I like the cover, while also wondering if it leans a little too far to the schmaltzy side of things.
Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom Blas/Muldoon/Seely
A group of campers at a weight loss camp for teenagers finds themselves embroiled in a murder and a mystery. This graphic novel had many different kinds of characters and both the art and the campers’ expressions were enjoyable. I found the mystery wrapped up very quickly in a rather unsatisfying way, but I wouldn’t mind seeing these characters come back together for another book.
Taking Care of Terrific Lois Lowry
I read this book multiple times as a child. It was the first book I voted for for the Young Reader’s Choice Award, one of my many lightbulb memories of reading. I did a re-read to see how it holds up thirty-five years later.
The book is dated in a few ways. There are many early 1980s references that will make no sense to the kids of today and some terms are out of date: namely “transvestites” and “bag ladies”
But man, after this rereading, I think think this book really got under my skin. Was this the reason I moved to Boston after college? Was this the reason I see “bag ladies” as people with complex problems and not an annoyance to society? Was this the reason I love the song “Stardust” when I heard it years later?
The fact that Lois Lowry is a talented and intelligent author is not in dispute, and her skills are on full display here. The primary theme is identity formation. Enid hates her name, pointing out it rhymes with such words as “putrid” and “stupid.” It’s also about making your own decisions about rules. As the summer babysitter of a four-year-old boy she discards many of what she sees as ridiculous rules imposed by the child’s mother.
As Cynthia (the name Enid has chosen for herself) and Tom Terrific (her babysitting charge) spend the summer in the bucolic setting of the Boston Public Garden, there are protests over root beer popsicles, a better understanding of the bag ladies who live in the park, and even some racial justice commentary. That this is all carried out while our characters are busy performing an illegal act makes this story that much more marvelous, though I wonder how parents today would receive its messages.
Burn for Burn Han/Vivian
Hoo boy, this book was so badly written, I started taking notes. It read like the editor had the thought: “these two women have published books individually before, so I need to do no editing for this story.”
This may be a function of two people writing the book, but many details didn’t jibe. For instance, the island has 1000 people who live permanently on it. And there are four middle schools and a high school. This is not statistically possible. According to some quick googling, children make up 24% of our population, which means there are about 250 children on the island. Breaking them down into age cohorts, that’s not even enough to have one middle school, much less four.
Then there was the ferry, whose schedule ran at the convenience of the plot. It ran until 11pm on weeknights. Would a ferry serving an island of 1000 people run that late? The after school ferry is said to arrive at 3:00 and 3:30 in one part of the book, and at 3:00, 3:20, 3:40 and 4:00 in another.
Another inconsistency? The lockers at school have no locks because the island is so safe, but one of the characters lives in a condo complex that has suffered an increasing amount of burglaries.
There were also sentences like this one: “I pinch my hand hard, the web of skin between my thumb and ring finger, just to make sure I’m not dreaming.” The ring finger is the fourth finger, separated from the thumb by the index and middle fingers.
Moving on to the people who populate the book, the characters weren’t very believable, many were not sympathetic or interesting, and at least one of them was terribly unpleasant. There was also some hinting at some supernatural abilities that I couldn’t decide was intentional or accidental. And I don’t buy that the character with the single mother who isn’t very financially successful had a nose job at 16. Where did that money come from?
Finally, and this is the real reason not to read this book, THERE IS NO ENDING. The characters are wondering how things are going to work out on the final page. Presumably, how things work out is explored more in the following books, but I hold firmly to my belief that authors should wrap up one book as they are sowing the seeds of the next one.
The Sun is Also a Star Nicola Yoon Read aloud
This makes for a great read aloud. The short passages, the many side stories, the immediacy of their day keep the words flowing and the pages turning.
Matt was drawn in immediately and was very invested. I enjoyed hearing it a second time.
My Plain Jane Head/Ashton/Meadows Read for Librarian Book Group
The authors who brought us alterna-history of Lady Jane Grey have returned with an alterna-retelling of Jane Eyre. And it was so much fun!
The resulting book is a great mix of the Jane Eyre story layered with a new story. In this one Charlotte Bronte is a student at the same academy where Jane Eyer attends. And also, Jane Eyre can see ghosts.
I admire the world building and the book is quite amusing. They also speak in asides from time to time, just as Bronte did. Here’s a great one:
Reader, your narrators understand Jane has fallen for Mr. Rochester rather quickly. The reasons for this could be threefold: first, it was pre-Victorian England, and courtships could last the length of an egg timer. Second, Jane’s lack of experience with men. And third, Jane’s perception of men, which was gleaned mostly from books that tended to glorify tall, dark, and brooding ones. The broodier the better. And Mr. Rochester was among the broodiest.
There were a few details missed here and there, but overall, this was a great book.
Mr. & Mrs. Bo Jo Jones Ann Head
Someone made an offhand reference to this book in a blog post on the internet and the title, combined with the subject matter, was enough for me to see if they library had it. They did.
The story of couple July and Bo Jo’s accidental pregnancy was contemporary for it’s 1967 publication date and thus, it was a fascinating time capsule of what might happen if a girl got “in trouble” 50 years ago.
In this case, as the title implies, the couple snuck off and got married. The story that follows is one of a young marriage and two people who didn’t really know each other very well before they wed. There are also class differences, which were very interesting. It’s also interesting to see how men and women interact as a couple before the third wave of feminism took hold. My favorite example was Bo Jo saying, “July will get you some coffee” to a friend who stopped by. Nothing makes a marriage happy like commanding your wife to do things.
I found the writing rather staid, but the story was interesting and it read well. It also came with buckram binding, which is rare library treat.
What I Leave Behind Alison McGhee Read for Librarian Book Group
Very, very, very, short book with a male protagonist that explores weighty issues and has a lot of details for having so few words. It’s a good depiction of a character who feels there is little he can do, and who wants to do something.
This was the second book I’ve read in 2018 that heavily references David Bowie. (The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic was the first) Given that Bowie died in 2016 and Tom Petty died in 2017, can we expect a lot of Tom Petty references coming in 2019?
Bonnie & Clyde: The Making of a Legend Karen Blumenthal Read for Librarian Book Group
A great example of why people of all ages should be reading nonfiction books written for a young adult audience. From the first first sentence, this book is readable and engaging. I loved how it translated things of yesterday into today’s terms. This happens most often with prices of things, but also now I know that a Model A car was approximately the same width as a Ford Focus.
Bluemnthal carefully illustrates the outlaws’ story from different angles, taking time to pick through what details probably stem from legend rather than truth. The book also takes time to recognize the people who were murdered during Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree and they present their story as a complex one, rather than just a tale of bad criminals.
One small quibble. Given the attention to translating early-20th century things into modern day, I would have expected Bluemnthal to do the same thing when she mentions people’s weight. Bonnie, Clyde, and their associates all grew up in extreme poverty at a time when Americans were smaller from birth to death. Currently, there is a lot of pressure for women and girls to obtain an extremely low body weight, so some context of why a historical figure weighed 81 pounds, and why that would not be the case today, would have been welcome.
Aside from that, this was another great example of the golden age of children’s nonfiction we are living in.
Seeing Into Tomorrow Wright/Curtis Read for Librarian Book Group
Back in the day Richard Wright wrote a lot of haiku. Nina Curtis illustrates those haiku with repeating photos that are assembled into a bigger picture. All of the haikus feature photos of contemporary Black boys, which is great, as photo representations of elementary-school-aged boys tend to be lacking in picture books.
Dietland Sarai Walker
This book succeeds on so many levels: what it’s like to move through the world with a larger-than-“normal”-sized body; what it’s like to be perpetually on a diet; a scathing sendup of women’s place in American culture; a brilliant satire. It’s also amusing throughout.
Just as part of me responded to the false world created in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club so did I respond to the feminist terrorist organization called Jennifer. When an author gets this much right with her first novel, I can’t wait for her next book.
Swing Time Zadie Smith
Something about Zadie Smith’s writing makes me want to curl up and not stop reading until all the many pages of the novel have been read. It doesn’t even matter who the characters are. So it was with this book.
How to Instant Pot Daniel Shumski Shumski discards the usual cookbook setup (Appetizers, Soups, Main Dishes, etc.) and instead arranges recipes by Instant Pot function. As there is a learning curve with the appliance, this is appreciated.
I also enjoyed his humor and the fact that he did not have a lengthy list of desserts which could be made in the Instant Pot, but which no one will ever make. I’m buying this cookbook, which is a rare move for me. Well done Mr. Shumski!
Mr. and Mrs Bo Jo Jones was a good read made better by the physical copy of the book I was reading. Some of the fun features:
Buckram! That’s that hard wrapping that used to be put on all books when I was growing up. This was before it became standard practice to retain the book cover, but fortify it with plastic. I prefer the new method, but the texture of buckram is something I enjoy.
This book also has an older style barcode. The barcode is only a backup measure. The book is checked out using RFID, which is a small chip placed inside the front cover of the book.
It’s also got an old-style sticker on the spine and a highlight on that old-style sticker. I’m guessing the highlight has something to do with how the book is stored at the library.
The paper was thick and stiff, much more so than books I read today. It made the pages easier to turn and the relative heft was appreciated.
And inside was the best treat of all: the old checkout pocket. I was sad when these were eliminated, because I liked to look back and see how often a book was checked out. Also note that at one time this was a 28 day book with no renewals. Now books are checked out for 21 days with unlimited renewals.
The second page in the pocket tells us that the book was checked out infrequently over three decades and was shelved in the “Young Peoples” section. The author of this book wrote it for adults, though it has been categorized as “for teens” since the 60s.
And on the front page, a stamp identifying the Multnomah County Library. I’m not sure why the library association is listed in parenthetical, but I’m sure there was a committee brought together to decide that.
Hello YA-centric August. Brought to you by Jenny Han. It started with the Netflix movie and led to three days of frantic reading, and the purchase of all three novels in the trilogy. I also read some other good things. And some so-so things. So it goes.
Young Adult: Finding Yvonne. Also the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series Young Nonfiction: Otis and Will Discover the Deep
Pink is for Boys Pearlman/Kaban Read for Librarian Book Group I was not a fan of this book and I can’t really put my finger on why. Part of me is probably resistant because I find the idea that colors are associated with genders ridiculous and something that should probably go extinct and something about this book makes me think it’s not helping. I enjoyed the style of the illustrations, but I found the text to be choppy.
Cardboard Kingdom Chad Sell (and others) Read for Librarian Book Group
The antics of many different neighborhood children are depicted by Chad Sell and other authors who helped shape the narrative. This neighborhood includes many different types of children, all around the same age. Colors are bright and panels are clear. Words are minimal. I enjoyed the different types of play the children engaged in and would have liked to live in such a neighborhood when I was growing up.
The Brightsiders Jen Wilde
More of the “famous” genre. In this case, the story of a trio of teenagers who have managed to become a massively famous band before the drummer turns 18.
The writing plunged headlong into plot, and at times seemed a breathless and relentless pounding of words, with not much time for reflection or even backstory. I had many questions as to how the band was formed, and how they gained stardom so fast. None of these were answered. The story itself was so present focused it was overwhelmingly underwhelming.
However, the reason to read this book is how normally so many different gender identities are present. While many more gender identities are appearing in the YA books I read, this is the first book I’ve read that wholeheartedly embraced the “no big deal” aspect of how people identify and who likes whom. Characters had problems due to outsider’s reactions, but within the friend group, there was a take-all-comers attitude.
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary NoNieqa Ramos Read for Librarian Book Group
When people talk “voice” this is what they are talking about. I loved reading Macy’s dictionary, her asides to the reader, and her honest reflection of her life.
Macy’s life is tough and because I cared about Macy, it made it very hard to keep reading this book. In fact, I read two other books while on break from this one. Macy regularly encounters relentless poverty, neglect, discrimination, prostitution, family incarceration, a sibling absent due to removal by Child Protective Services and a sub-par schooling experience, with the exception of one teacher.
This book is worth reading, so I suggest you press on through any discomfort you might feel. And when you finish reading you might have to convince someone else to read this too, because you’ll want to discuss the ending.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Jenny Han When I was in high school, sometimes my feelings about a boy would overwhelm me and I’d write a letter to that boy, then hide it away among the books in my bookshelf. I still have those letters, but I still can’t bring myself to read them because the feelings are too much.
Lara Jean also writes letters to boys when the feelings are too much, but she puts them in envelopes and addresses them. Somehow, those letters she wrote are mailed to the boys in question and thus begins the conundrum of the story.
This novel could have happily settled itself in the quirky, fun YA category, because all sorts of plot shenanigans can happen when you and a boy pretend to be a couple. However, Han takes the story up a few notches and we get really interesting sisters and family relationships as well as a good exploration of how to navigate the early stages of romantic relationship. Or, in this case, the early stages of pretending to be in a romantic relationship.
Finding Yvonne Brandy Colbert Let’s talk about the slight flaw in this book first and get it out of the way. Yvonne plays the violin, and her changing feelings about the violin take up a lot of the story. Her feelings of love and confusion regarding her instrument were clear. However, many aspects of the violin story were unclear. She was still playing in the school orchestra, so presumably she was still bringing her violin back and forth to school and practicing. But there were laments in the story about how she used to have her violin with her all the time at school and now it gathers dust. How can both those things be true? This was a very small part of the book, but it showed up enough to become the one quibble I had.
Now, on to what I liked.
I loved so many things about this book. It depicted what dating culture looks like when two people are interested but aren’t committed. I rarely see that in YA books. I loved the portrayal of the dad who was very much a “so-so” dad meaning that he was great at providing Yvonne a home and clearly loved her but was not really emotionally available. Both race and class issues were present. There were friendship issues around judgement about who and how many people one chooses to have sex with and there was also a contemporary issue that I feel doesn’t get discussed enough.
I also love books about teenagers where the main character has no friggin idea what they want to do with their lives.
P.S. I Still Love You Jenny Han Lara Jean’s story continues in this book. Aside from continuing to mark the ways a family changes as the children age and mature, this book also includes several main characters playing a game. I love books where the characters play games! In this case it’s Assassins, a long-form game that was one of the things the then-friends used to do in middle school. The game added a lot of verve to the plot, as did the confusion and elation that comes with liking two boys at the same time.
This book also takes time to examine how friendships change from middle school to high school and the ramifications what is and isn’t left over.
Han is also great at marking the small losses in adolescence as in this quote:
I’m lying down on my back in the tree house, looking out the window. The moon is carved so thin it’s a thumbnail clipping in the sky. Tomorrow, no more tree house. I’ve barely thought about this place, and now that it’s disappearing, I’m sad. It’s like all childhood toys, I suppose. It doesn’t become important until you don’t have it anymore. But it’s more than just a tree house. It’s goodbye and it feels like the end of everything.
The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic David Arnold Read for Librarian Book Group This was–disappointingly–not a very good book. It started out strong, with interesting characters with some good things to overcome. But a shift happens and the bulk of the book’s execution heads in a different direction than the beginning of the book. While reading through that section I felt adrift, unsettled, and grumpy that there had been a bait and switch. In the last bit the book shifts back and an unnecessary additional thing is piled on to that part of the plot.
The kicker is that the writing is quite good. I leave you with a number of delightful quotes I flagged.
Iverton, Illinois, is the personification of its resident youth: someone gave it the keys, a credit card, and no curfew, and now it thinks its shit doesn’t stink. The suburb is populated by these gaudy, homogeneous brick houses, each a clone of the one next to it; driveways and garages are stocked with a variety of shiny SUVs, lawns are pushed to the greenest of greens, and trees grow in suspiciously symmetrical fashion.
Will and Jake Longmire felt out of the douche tree and hit every nozzle on the way down. Also, and not entirely unrelated, they’re really good looking, but in the same way Lochte or the Hemsworth brothers might be called good looking, by which I mean, when one sees them, one senses the overwhelming urge to punch them in the face.
Pontius Pilot is a Chicago-based recording artist who performed in the Iverton High School auditorium last year as a reward for our junior class having a decent magazine fundraiser. Nothing takes the wind out of a concert’s sails like a Tuesday morning billing; even so, the student council dubbed the event Magazine Mega Gala, and, like that, Pontius Pilot became a legend. Though collectively, the Iverton High populace felt about his music the way one feels about their fourth-grade soccer trophy, or the crinkle-cut fries in the cafeteria: it’s a nostalgic love, weak at the root.
Sometimes talking with a sibling is like hiking in a foreign country only to round a corner and find your house. Penny and I are so different in so many ways–and yet, I know this place well.
One final note. I very much appreciate this movie for calling out the horrible racism present, via Micky Rooney’s character, in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The more people can get the word out, the fewer people will have to experience the slack-jawed discomfort I did.
Always and Forever Lara Jean Jenny Han
Taken together, these three books encompass a picture of the many changes that happen during the final two years of high school. Relationships are formed and dissolved, people mature, families morph and change, and then there’s the question of what to do when it’s time for college.
In this final book Lara Jean works through the last few months of high school, which means navigating the college admissions acceptance and rejection, figuring out what is going to happen with her boyfriend, and helping her family to combine to accept a new member.
This is a new side to Daddy–bickering, losing his patience just barely. Trina brings it out in him, and I know it sounds strange, but I’m glad for it. It’s something I never realized was gone in him. There’s making do, living a pleasant life, no big ups or downs, and there’s all the friction and fire that come with being in love with someone. She takes forever to get ready, which drives him crazy, and she makes fun of his hobbies, like bird-watching and documentaries. But they fit.
Otis & Will Discover the Deep Rosenstock/Roy Read for librarian book group
A short illustrated nonfiction story of two scientists/adventurers who take a very small vessel very far into the deep depths of the ocean. The illustrations capture both the curious spirit of Otis and Will, the claustrophobic confines of their deep sea vessel and the wonder of what they found in the deep water. The words capture the excitement and trepidation.
The one thing missing from this book was a clearer setting in time. I couldn’t tell from the illustrations or the text what year the deep sea dive was. The excellent back matter divulged that information, but it was distracting while reading the book.
So much YA this month. And so much YA I enjoyed reading!
Picture books: Drawn Together, El Chupacabras Middle grade: Bob, (all of them, really) Young adult: Love, Hate and Other Filters (and Graceling, esp. as a read aloud.) Young nonfiction: Underneath it All Adult fiction: The Gunslinger
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag Sanders/Salerno Read for Librarian Book Group A history of the Pride flag, that rainbow symbol that has become ubiquitous. I loved the illustrations as many of the figures appeared to be striding forth in a confident manner. There were also interesting facts regarding how the colors changed and the book showed well the flag’s path to ubiquity. The information was also age appropriate.
Drawn Together Le/Santant Read for Librarian Book Group This mostly wordless picture book is the story of a grandson reluctantly visiting his grandfather. There are good compare/contrast sequences such as the difference between the grandfather and grandson’s lunches as well as the differing art styles. Very well done!
El Chupacabras Robin/McCreery Read for Librarian Book Group So many fun things in this bilingual book which uses sentences that switch between English and Spanish. I love the use of color and the humor. It’s fun to find the various things the goats are eating. Plus, it takes something scary–El Chupacabra–and deflates the scare level.
Vernon is on his way Philip C. Stead Read for Librarian Book Group A story in three parts, which I see rather as a story in two parts with a prologue. The illustrations were nice and I loved the porcupine’s expression throughout. I especially loved the punchline of the fishing story. However the gardening story left me with question marks.
Bob Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead Read for Librarian Book Group Livy is visiting her grandmother in Australia for the first time in five years. To her surprise when she opens the bedroom closet there’s a small creature waiting for her. The creature’s name is Bob and he hasn’t left the closet since the last time he saw Livy. Though he has passed time by building things with LEGO and reading the dictionary.
I loved how this book makes quirky situations seem normal. Both Bob and Livy are compelling characters and Mass and Stead have written a clean, smooth story that is peppered with illustrations that capture the setting and the story. I also appreciate the subtle humor throughout, such as the name “Bob” which is exactly the kind of name a five-year-old would bestow on a random creature.
The Journey of Little Charlie Curtis Read for Librarian Book Group Aside from initially being confused as to the race of Little Charlie (he’s white and the son of sharecroppers, not a black slave as I had assumed from the first page) this was an engaging read. Little Charlie gets roped into a journey to Dee-troit with a slave overseer. Though Little Charlie is still little in the sense of age–he’s 12–he’s as big as a full-grown man.
The dialect, which I initially found off-putting, grew on me and the high stakes throughout the book kept me reading. There is a lot of good discussion fodder around moral choices and existing laws. I also enjoyed the author’s note at the end of the book. I do wonder if the details of slavery might be a little much for an elementary school audience.
Front Desk Kelly Young Read for Librarian Book Group Not many novels examine the plight of Chinese immigrants. Mia’s parents manage a motel owned by a man who takes advantage of their labor. Mia works the front desk when she isn’t in school.
Things I loved: getting a window on one aspect of the immigrant experience; the rich characterization of the weeklies and the immigrants that passed through; Mia’s relationship with her parents; insight into the difficulty of being an adult immigrant trying to raise a family.
Things I didn’t love. While most of the characters were well-rounded, I found the writing to be flat and the book was easy to put down. (I read a different book in the middle of reading this one.) I wasn’t sure of the time period though the very interesting author’s note cleared up my confusion.
Having finished the novel, I’ve thought more about this book than I do most books. Overall, this is worth reading.
Monday’s Not Coming Tiffany D. Jackson Read for Librarian Book Group Claudia comes back from a summer with her grandparents to find that her best friend Monday is missing. Monday doesn’t come to school, and neither do her siblings. Claudia puzzles through this mystery as she attempts to make it through a school year without Monday, who has helped her hide her learning disability.
I liked a lot about this book, namely Claudia, the cultural markers of DC such as Go-Go music, and the way Jackson writes that keeps me turning pages. However, this book went too far, plot-wise. The structure had me confused and disinterested and when the big reveal happened, I was more annoyed than amazed.
I would suggest a rereading of the author’s first book, Allegedly, rather than a reading of this book, but I look forward to where Ms. Jackson will go for her next book.
Blood Water Paint Joy McCullough Read for Librarian Book Group I’m not in the head space for this book right now. It’s easier for me to get through my days if I ignore the millennia of subjugation of women. This book doesn’t let me do that. I’m also not the biggest fan of novels-length poetry.
Setting those things aside, this is a powerful story of Artemisia Gentileschi, the seventeenth century Italian painter. While Artemisia’s story is told in verse, there are prose interludes of her mother’s retelling of biblical stories of Judith and Susanna. The main conflict in the book is based on the real transcripts of the seven-month trial. The details are grim. There are many good topics for discussion.
Also, I really liked the author’s note at the end.
Love, Hate and Other Filters Samira Ahmed Maya is an American, with parents from India. She wants to go to NYU and study film; her parents want her to stay close by and study something practical. Her family would be happy if she paired off with a nice Muslim boy; Maya might like a nice non-Muslim boy instead. She balances these things with the usual senior year stuff, but when a terrible crime happens in another part of the US, Maya’s life gets much more complicated.
This book is great for discussing so many things like fear and bigotry. And it’s also a bit of a swoony romance. Plus, vignettes in the life of the person who committed the terrible crime bring more meaning to his story. Very well done.
(Note: if you read this book too close to when you read My So-Called Bollywood Life, the things that are similar might have you confused as to which book is which.)
Graceling Kristen Cashore Read aloud This turned out to be a GREAT read aloud. Halfway through the first fight scene, the boyfriend stopped reading mid-paragraph and said, “They should totally make a movie of this book!” I don’t disagree, but we’re going to have to wait for Hollywood to start making fantasy films starring women. It might be a long wait. In the meantime, there’s this awesome novel.
My So-Called Bollywood Life Nisha Sharma Winnie Mehta loves Bollywood movies, and plans to spend her senior year getting over her boyfriend (the guy a prophecy says was her soulmate, unfortunately he cheated on her while she was away at film camp) and getting into NYU.
Winnie seemed a little dense to me. Granted, this another problem with me being in book world and Winnie not knowing she lives in book world. Winnie didn’t pick up on details about the love triangle that were incredibly obvious. Also, she seems to have decided that only by accomplishing a very specific action will she be able to get into NYU. I wasn’t convinced that was the case.
However, I enjoyed Winnie’s review of Bollywood movies and how they synced to the chapter goings-on and I thought Winnie was a great example of how to handle an annoying ex-boyfriend who won’t go away. The obverse is that her annoying ex-boyfriend was a great example of male privilege and not taking no for an answer, which is infuriating to read.
(I read this right after I read Love, Hate and other Filters. Sometimes I confused the two books.)
Love and Other Carnivorous Plants Goncalves Danny’s just finished her first year as a pre-med student at Harvard, if by “finished” you mean “didn’t finish her second semester because she had to enter treatment for bulimia.” She’s home for the summer where she can reconnect with her best friend–who has no idea Danny was in treatment–get a job to keep her on the path of her future life as a doctor and look forward to going back to Harvard in the fall. None of those things happen.
This is a messy book. There was a major plot twist I didn’t see coming and the narrative ambles all over the place. It’s hard to read at times–the binging and purging feels very real–and people looking for a nice, tidy ending should not read this.
All that said, I liked this book a lot. It was messy and ambling like life is. The main character makes a lot of very bad decisions tempered with some only partially bad decisions. But I’m guessing we’ve all had periods like that, no?
Also, the title is great, particularly in the context of what carnivorous plants refer to in the context of the book.
Underneath It All Amber J. Keyser Read for Librarian Book Group I appreciated the feminist perspective of underwear through the ages. For instance, take a look at this quote, talking about how it was unusual for women to wear underwear–even while menstruating.
“In medieval Europe underpants and trousers were a symbol of male power. If the average women were to wear such garments, she was considered immoral or sinfully trying to undermine her husband’s authority. The nakedness of a woman beneath her dress signaled sexual availability. Wives were not allowed to refuse sex with their husbands at any time for any reason.”
Thinking about women’s clothing from a power dynamic sheds insight on why women wore such impractical garments for so long. As a feminist, I’m embarrassed I hadn’t fully considered that perspective past the thought of “it was what was done.”
The book was full of interesting insights through the first four chapters–Free bleeding into a rarely washed chemise! Mulling over the use of the chastity belt! After that it started to drag, though perhaps that’s because the history began to cover more modern times and I’m familiar with twentieth and twenty-first century underwear practices. I did find the information about the origin and propagation of Victoria’s Secret interesting.
The layout isn’t great. Some of the callout boxes appear several pages after things have been explained in text and the book describes some things that do not have accompanying pictures. I found that the sections about body positivity muddled the waters, but perhaps that shows my hand as seeing that movement separate from undergarments.
I write this while wearing a bralette, which is my weekend and after-work-hours-only bra. My underwire bras are in the washer, being cleaned so they will be ready to hoist my breasts into position for another week of office work. If I didn’t work in an office, would I wear sports bras all the time? Probably.
The Gunslinger Stephen King Read aloud A long walk through an arid landscape brought to mind the U2/Johnny Cash song “The Wanderer.”
It’s a desert landscape somewhere in the future. But it’s somehow connected to the 1980s. While things happened, it felt very much like the beginning of a saga. It was, however, a much better read-aloud book than the Game of Thrones series we stopped reading.
I haven’t read all five books on his list, but the Millionaire Next Door and Your Money or Your Life are both much better than this book. The stories in this book were originally written as pamphlets handed out by banks in the early twentieth century. We’ve moved on from the narrative of parables set in the time of ancient Babylonia. The rules set out are solid, but this is a slog to read. Google a summary (here’s one) and move on.
It was a big reading month with multiple things read in (nearly) every category. This is a sign of both “good books to read” (because I want to finish them and thus read them quickly) and “vacation” (because I have time to finish them). I even got to read two of my favorite adult fiction authors this month. What a treat! Picture book: Pie is for Sharing
Middle grade: The Parker Inheritance
Young adult: When my Heart Joins the Thousands
Young nonfiction: The Girl who Drew Butterflies
Grownup nonfiction: For Everyone
Adult fiction: Since we Fell, You Think it, I’ll Say it. Ocean Meets Sky
The Fan Brothers
Read for Librarian Book Group
A boy builds a boat in honor of his decesaed grandfather and sails to where the ocean meets the sky. There is a lot to look at, I especially loved Library Island with bookish birds.
My slight quibble involves the grandfather’s age. Would he have really been 90 and had a grandson so young?
Pie is for Sharing
Ledyard & Chin
Read for Librarian Book Group
Family and friends spend an idyllic Independence Day holiday by the local lake. The illustrations are gorgeous, there are many things for sharing and I loved the different ways the kids played together. I want to live in this book. Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Stevenson, Elllis, Walters, Allen
Read for Family Book Group
An exciting adventure; a camp with a great name (Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types); a great group of friends. As a former girl scout who read the handbooks for both girl and boy scouts, I loved the handbook excerpts. I could have done without the non-ending, but it is a comic book.
The Serpant’s Secret
Read for Librarian Book Group
Good things: fantasy adventure with a female main character inspired by stories from India.
As mentioned before, I’m not the best audience for fantasy, so this was a slog. For those who are fans, it had many things good things going for it.
All Summer Long
Read for Librarian Book Group
What do you do when your best friend leaves for the summer for soccer camp? Lots of hanging out. This graphic novel captures a summer of boredom and changes.
Also: guaranteed to get the song “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock stuck on my head.
The Parker Inheritance
Read for Librarian Book Group
Truth? I tend to sigh when I pick up a middle grade novel on my reading list. They don’t tend to be my thing.
But Varian Johnson? The two books I’ve read (The Great Greene Heist is the other one) have been smashing!
Candice has to spend the summer in Lambert, South Carolina, far away from her Atlanta home. She’s living in her deceased grandmother’s house with her mother, while her own home is renovated for a post-divorce sale. Her grandmother always loved puzzles and when Candice finds a letter addressed to her grandmother with a puzzle that promises great riches to the person who can solve it, she and the neighbor boy across the street spend the summer chasing down leads.
It’s a contemporary mystery, sure, but it’s also window into Jim Crow-era life in South Carolina, and a story about revenge and redemption.
It was a perfect book.
You Go First
Erin Entrada Kelly
Read for Librarian Book Group
The story of two kids, both going through hard times in different parts of the country. They are tied together by their online Scrabble relationship.
Erin Entrada Kelly seems to thrive telling stories that take place in compact time periods. This plays out over a week. Charlotte is twelve and dealing with her father’s illness and her relationship with her best friend changing. Ben is eleven decides to put himself out there and run for student council.
It’s an emotionally charged week, and one with tough life lessons. But it’s a week worth reading about.
Picture us in the Light
Kelly Loy Gilbert
Read for Librarian Book Group
This book had pacing problems, with the first two thirds meandering through some interesting characters and setting, and I couldn’t quite get the point of the story. I put it down to read another book, but came back to finish it so to be ready for discussion.
The last third was much better, I had an idea of where things were going, and some interesting stuff came up. And the last 10 pages were packed with story in a way that made me wish Kelly Loy Gilbert had an editor with a firmer hand.
I loved the characters in this book, and the clear view I got of the town of Cupertino. Had the story been told in a less meandering way, I would have been able to rate it higher.
Critique of things the author doesn’t have control over: the cover implies this will be (yet another) graffiti artist book. However, the main character is not a graffiti artist and also spends most of the book unable to draw. Poor form book cover people, poor form.
When my Heart Joins the Thousands
A. J. Steiger
Read for Librarian Book Group
Quirky romance with a main character who is on the autism spectrum, this book is also a good depiction of living in poverty. The lows are very harrowing and I had a lot of worry while reading.
Kelly Loy Gilbert
The author’s second book Picture us in the Light had structural problems, but super engaging characters and an interesting story, and I was curious what her first book was like.
It was great!
Braden’s father, a popular right-wing talk radio host, has been arrested for vehicular manslaughter. His other brother Trey–long estranged–has returned home to act as his guardian while Braden finishes high school and his father awaits trail. Braden is a Christian and wants to do the right thing, but protecting his father requires him to make a choice.
While the will he/won’t he plot rumbles along, we’re also puzzling over his brother’s odd actions, plus some good baseball stuff, plus a lot of wondering about Christianity and how it squares and what his father wants him to do. Plus, there’s a girl he likes.
I found a few plot points convenient in distracting ways–namely to do with recording of the trial–and I didn’t believe the case would have been decided the way it was. But I loved Braden and his thoughtful navigation through a confusing period in his life. I’m also quite curious what happens to him after the story ends. Sequel? I would welcome one.
What happens to your normal Florida teenage life when your older sister gets engaged to the future King of Scotland? In Daisy’s case, due to a subpar ex-boyfriend selling a story to the tabloids, it means spending the summer in Scotland with the royal family and their assorted friends.
This is a by-the-book contemporary romance with engaging characters, relationships that build and change, and a plucky heroine. It made for some enjoyable reading and I was impressed with Hawkins ability to juggle the personalities of so many friends of royals.
A Study in Charlotte
A grand Sherlock Holmes retelling. Charlotte is a descendant of the famous detective. Jamie Watson is the narrator and a descendant of Dr. Watson. Charlotte and Jamie meet at a Connecticut boarding school and are immediately thrown into a mystery when one of their classmates is murdered.
I’m only a casual reader of anything Holmesian, but I’m guessing this book is chock full of fun details for people who are bigger fans. I enjoyed the mystery and the growing Holmes/Watson friendship.
The Impossible Knife of Memory
A rather bleak story of a girl trying to hold her life together while her father, an Iraqi War veteran, falls apart. Anderson combines the slow motion car wreck of a life with a heartfelt and complicated first love. It’s vividly written and, though bleak, not hard to keep reading.
At the library, stocking up books for my upcoming vacation, I grabbed this one because the author’s name sounded familiar. At home I was amused to discover that the familiarity was from the fact that I read this author 30 years ago as an actual teenager. She did sick-lit before sick-lit was a thing. And she’s been busy in the intervening years. Her list of books is long.
The book opens with Lani, Dawson, and Slone attending the same small-town Tennessee high school. Dawson is grumpily new in town–his father has accepted a new job at the hospital. Lani is a quiet girl who wants to be a nurse and Sloan is the balls-to-the-wall singer of a locally famous band who wants nothing more than to use music to get her out of of town. Lani has a crush on Dawson, Dawson only has eyes for Sloan and Sloan is in a relationship with the lead guitarist.
The book takes place in two parts; high school and then four years later. It’s a solidly-built story and I enjoy a teen novel that wanders into adult life, something I couldn’t properly visualize when I was a teenager.
The moniker “inspirational writer” tends to taint my viewpoint of any story, but this was solidly constructed. It also avoided judgement in places where there could have been some. There was a sacrificial lamb element I found off-putting, but it worked well with the story. There’s a segment at the Bonnaroo music and arts festival where a mostly unbelievable plot twist happens. But I did enjoy the thought of Lurlene McDaniel doing her Bonnaroo research.
Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
Read for Librarian Book Group
Mexican photographer Iturbide’s life is on display in this nicely written and drawn book. The text gave us a good sense of her life, and the illustrations fleshed things out. I appreciated the inclusion of Iturbide’s photographs into the narrative.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies
Read for Librarian Book Group
A nonfiction book about Maria Sibylla Merian, a German artist in the 17th century. Not only is this a woman-focused story in a time when women were rarely professional artists, it also is a book that combines science and art. Merian drew pictures of butterflies, and she also studied all phases of their life cycle–which was a big deal, because many of her contemporaries didn’t understand that butterflies came from caterpillars. (This was many years before The Very Hungry Caterpillar was written.)
The layout of the book is excellent, including reproductions of Merian’s art, and quotes by the artist. There is engaging writing to tell the tale and also an excellent timeline, glossary, and bibliography.
I’m not a fan of the title. While the story does begin with Merian’s girlhood, the bulk of the book is spent on her adulthood as a professional artist. Does the title infantilize a professional woman?
A letter written by Jason Reynolds before he was Jason Reynolds, successful author and super-cool guy. It’s a short book of words of encouragement to dreamers that not only employs the excellent phrase “internal eczema” but also calls out encouragement for “the squares who use nine to five cubes as planning sessions for the real work.”
I should probably set a calendar reminder to check this book out every six weeks.
This book starts with a room, shown in one decade, then another. As you turn the page, you see the room–or the place where the room is–during different centuries, both past and future. I love books that make me feel like a blip in the universe. This is a simple concept, beautifully executed.
Since We Fell
I haven’t been much of a fan of Lehane’s more recent works, but this was a return to form. I see Lehane as someone who writes really awesome love stories that happen to be wrapped in crime procedurals.
Rachel is searching for her father–the man her mother kept from her. She’s got a few facts, but they are common enough to make the search tough. Early on, she employs the services of a private investigator, who advises her not to waste her money. While that part of the book plays out, she’s also a rising star at a Boston television station. But when a post-earthquake visit to Haiti derails her career and her marriage falls apart, she crosses paths with the private investigator–now a successful businessman.
I like how Lehane can tell us a story that pivots several times, and it’s only at the end that things come together and you realize he’s be setting up the dominoes to fall at just the right moment. Plus, the whole love story thing.
You Think it, I’ll Say it
If you are lucky, you find a writer who is on the same emotional wavelength as you. Curtis Sittenfeld seems to be that person for me. We’re the same age, so we have the same reference points and more importantly, her writing connects with my ongoing feelings of sadness tinged with hope and moments of wonder.
Enter this collection of short stories, many of which feature 40-somethings dealing with work and children. In both dialogue and description Sittenfeld strips life down to what it is, but also writes with such care that I want to read and reread.
I think about how Sandra was mean sometimes, and funny, the things we used to laugh at together, and then I let myself think about all the horrible things you think about that will never go away. I think about her parents and how they have to wake up each day and do crap like–get honked at in traffic, or get guilted for not flossing better at the dentist, and how pointless and enraging it must all feel.
I’ve grown up knowing how when you leave the world–however it happens, however it went with my sister–you take a part of it with you, like when water dries up in a creek for the summer and it’s silent and lonely and parched. This is something I know now I didn’t then, though: that almost all of us have wanted to leave it before. Maybe you always do when your days feel like one endless night closing in on you and you lose the light, grope around in darkness before it starts to feel easier to just let it swallow you altogether.
But I also know you can try to rope off that idea that somehow you’d be better off gone and set your compass to some shore beyond it. I know it can be done.
Art doesn’t change the ending. It doesn’t let you lose yourself that way–the opposite, really; it calls you from the darkness, into the glaring, unforgiving light. But at least–this is why it will always feel like a calling to me–it lets you not be so alone.
Words I rarely say: What a great Middle Grade month of reading! Also, there was some good catch up reading for a new author I’ve discovered: Jenn Bennett. And who doesn’t want to steep themselves in Vietnam stuff? When you read the two books listed below, you will be happy to familiarize yourself with that debacle.
Picture: Hello Lighthouse
Middle Grade: All of them! Great middle grade month.
Young Adult: Leah on the Offbeat (esp. if you have read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)
Young Nonfiction: Go for a Vietnam two-fer! Read them both.
Read for librarian book group
A girl brings a fish inside the house and proceeds to fill various recepticles with water for the fish to live.
I loved the illustrations and use of the color, but that black hose running through the various dishes and bowls, what was that? Was she using a soaker hose? How would the water get into the bowls? Also, as someone who has inadvertently killed a fish by not treating the tap water first, I can say with authority that the fish would be dead.
Basically, this is a good book for kids who lean more toward magical realism than practical storytelling.
Read for librarian book group
We say hello to a variety of animals, with fun illustrations and color. That’s great. And then there is the last page that talks about the endangered status of all the animals we’ve just met. Bit of a downer.
I Got It!
Read for librarian book group
I didn’t get this book. I don’t understand the transition to bird. I thought the faces were weird looking, so I wasn’t much of a fan of the art. This was a swing and a miss, though I do enjoy being able to use that term about a baseball book. Slight win.
Read for librarian book group
What’s fun about a funeral? When you are five and you get to spend the day hanging out with your favorite cousin and running around outside, everything is fun about your great-uncle’s funeral.
The illustrations capture the feeling of freedom.
Read for librarian book group
As someone who love small details about odd things, and someone who loves a good cutout illustration, this book was a big win. The book itself is tall and slim like a lighthouse, and by reading it you can learn all about the job of the lighthouse keeper in days of yore. The illustrations are beautiful and I liked the repeated echo of Hello hello hello.
Jewell Parker Rhodes
Read for librarian book group
Jerome is twelve and he becomes a ghost boy when he is shot by the police while playing with a toy gun near his home. As a ghost boy, he meets up with Emmett Till, hangs around his family’s apartment, and meets some new people. Chapters in the present are interspersed with chapters from the past and as time moves forward, we see how Jerome’s last day shaped up.
This is a short book–I read half of it on my lunch break and half of it on the commute home–and well worth the read.
Read for librarian book group
Alexander continues making poetry cool, this time with a book set in 1988. I include this fact at the outset because I missed that point and was incredibly confused while reading.
We join Chuck Bell for a life-changing summer. His father has recently died, his mother isn’t sure what to do with him and so she sends him to live with his grandparents in DC for the summer.
Aside from the confusion about the year, this was a good read.
Read for librarian book group
Vera is glad to finally be doing what all her friends are doing: going away to camp. But this isn’t the same type of sleep-away camp her friends go to; Vera’s camp is Russian summer camp. But Vera’s Russian, so she should fit right in. Right?
Not so much. Just as her life is awkward and not quite right away from camp, so is camp a not-quite-right experience. However, for the reader, Vera’s struggles are hilarious and heartfelt. Anyone who has been to sleep-away camp will appreciate this. Anyone who hasn’t but hasn’t really fit in with their friends will also enjoy this tale.
Children of Blood & Bone
Read for librarian book group
Hoo boy, I do not like fantasy that does not take place in the present and could happen to me. So this was a slog. For those who do like fantasy it’s got good world building and the characters are great, as is the problem they must all face. I thought there was a plot wrinkle that made the story unnecessarily long.
Bailey has an online friendship through a website devoted to classic films with a boy her age named Alex who lives in the same town as her father. When she moves to that town, she does so without letting Alex know. She’s got some clues about who Alex is, and she intends to find him and vet him in real life. Meanwhile, there’s this guy at her new job, Porter, who is both infuriating and intriguing. Watching Bailey’s relationships develop and change is fabulous and this book is a totally five star book from this perspective.
*****This is your spoiler territory, here. Alert!*******
I realize I know the characters are in book world and they do not know they are in book world, but it was exceedingly obvious to me that the new workmate Porter is actually Alex. I spent about half of the book thinking, “Isn’t he the guy?” and then I was for sure he was the guy. This meant as Bailey and Porter’s awesome relationship grew I became increasingly annoyed at Bailey. A scan of my brain during reading would reveal the repeated silent yelling, “Porter is Alex! Why don’t you see it? Why?????”
I found this so frustrating that I re-read the book. And it was just as ridiculous as I thought. One of Bailey’s main clues is that Alex works for his family’s business. So on page 85, when Porter says that he works for his family’s surf shop, why (oh why?) doesn’t Bailey then engage Porter in a conversation about classic movies. You know, just to check?
She never does. Not when she meets up with Porter at the DVD store, not when he mentions that he used to watch old movies with his grandmother, not when he remarks that he’s not sure how she knows the movie Deliverance. Porter figures it out. Her dad figures it out. Baily does not, until 98% of the book has passed.
This fact nearly completely spoils the book and it’s a shame because this is one nice little romance otherwise.
Also, the cover has nothing at all to do with the book. (Which I realize the author has little control over.)
Leah on the Offbeat
Those ready to take a step away from the luxury upper-middle-class lifestyle of Simon and his intact happy family can come hang out with Leah. We met Leah in Simon’s book, but this is Leah’s story of the last part of her senior year. She’s not got a lot of money–it’s just her and her mom in their apartment. She plays drums in an all-girl band, though they always have to practice at school because she doesn’t own a drum set. She likes someone, someone likes her and those two people aren’t the same people. There’s drumming and a road trip and confused feelings all around.
As usual, Albertalli excels in hitting all the complexities of high school.
Bennett once again wins with her romance and also, unfortunately, creates a female character who is a little slow to pick up on things. Zorie hasn’t spoken with her best friend (and almost boyfriend) Lennon since he ditched her at Homecoming. She’s moved on to different friends, including a spoiled entitled girl who wants Zorie to come “glamping” with her.
Zorie over plans everything and glamping is out of her comfort zone, but the dreamy guy she’s been mooning over is going, so she plans as best she can and sets off on an adventure.
While Zorie is quicker on the uptake than Bailey, the main character in Bennett’s Alex Approximately, it does take a very long time for her to figure stuff out. In the meantime, there’s great hiking and wilderness stuff and Bennett’s skills at crafting a delightful romance are on clear display.
Read for Family Book Group
I procrastinated re-reading this for Family Book Group, but once I got started, I (once again) could not put it down. Sheinkin is so good with telling the story of history. It was also highly rated by the book group members, with an overall rating of 8.732, making it our second-highest rated book.
Boots on the Ground
Read for librarian book group
This would make a great companion book for Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous. While Sheinkin dives into the details behind why we were in the war, Partridge uses a series of first-person interviews to explain the Vietnam experience. The interview subjects are diverse and from them we take away a better understanding of what it must have been like to experience the war, either as a soldier, a nurse, a Vietnamese refugee and others.
The interviews are interspersed with background information about the policies and people who kept the war going, and attempted to end it. Information is relayed in an age-appropriate way and there are good photographs to supplement the story. This is an excellent example of quality nonfiction.