Excerpt from Picture us in the Light

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.

–Kelly Loy Gilbert

Books read in May 2018

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.

Aquarium
Cynthia Alonso
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.

Hello Hello
Brendon Wenzel
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!
David Wiesner
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.

The Funeral
Matt James
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.

Hello Lighthouse
Sophie Blackall
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.

Ghost Boys
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.

Rebound
Kwame Alexander
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.

Be Prepared
Vera Brosgol
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
Tomi Adeyemi
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.

Alex Approximately
Jenn Bennett
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.

But.

*****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
Becky Albertalli
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.

Starry Eyes.
Jenn Bennett
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.


Most Dangerous
Steven Sheinkin
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
Elizabeth Partridge
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.

Books read in April 2018

A big month of YA.  And a great YA month.

Picture books: Baby Monkey, Private Eye
Young Adult: I mean, everything?  Except the Hazel Wood.

They Say Blue
Jillian Tamaki
Read for Librarian Book Group
Beautiful illustrations and a meditation on color.

Baby Monkey, Private Eye
Selznik & Serlin
Read for Librarian Book Group
Hilarious easy reader story of Baby Monkey solving important cases. You’ll love Baby Monkey’s expressions, his difficulty putting on pants, and how his office decor changes to match the case. Don’t forget to read the index!

Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship
Latham/WatersQualls/Alko
Read for Librarian Book Group
Good poems exploring race and other topics kids bring up.

Island Born
Diaz/Espinosa
Read for Librarian Book Group
What to do when your assignment is to draw a picture of where you come from, but you have no memories of that place? Lola asks people to tell her their stories and they do, giving her lots of things to put in her picture.

The illustrations are delightful. I could easily frame every one of them.


The Story of Owen
E.K. Johnston
Read for Family Book Group
While my second reading of this book was just as delightful as the first, the Family Book Group discussion was very polarized with about half of the group disliking the story intensely.  Reasons for their disinterested: nothing happens (so not true!) and the dragon slayers are the bad people (missing the dragons=climate change connection, and actively rejecting it when presented with it). Our ratings were siloed at the zero level and at the 9-10 level, with only one participant giving the book a seven.  Overall this is our worst reviewed book thus far.  Sigh.

Speak: The Graphic Novel
Anderson/Carroll
Read for Librarian Book Group
I have not read the non-graphic novel version of this story, so I can’t say how well the story translated to graphic form. I can say that all of the swirling feelings were deftly illustrated and the book had great resonance.

Thunderhead
Neil Shusterman
Read for Librarian Book Group
And so our story continues.  This book picks up Rowan and Citra’s story one year after Scythe ends.  We re-acquaint ourselves with people from the first book, meet a new person, and spend time with the Thunderhead.  The pacing is unbelievable.  This 500+ page book goes down fast and furious. It left me panting for book three, which–alas–has no release date.

The Hazel Wood
Melissa Albert
Read for Librarian Book Group
I found the dark fairy tale/mystery/weird-things atmosphere intriguing for a good chunk of the book. But by the time Alice set out for the Hazel Wood, things turned trippy in a way that reminded me of some subsets of 60s cinema.  And not in a good way.

I Have Lost My Way
Gayle Forman
Three strangers have all lost their way, but they find each other in New York City’s Central Park. Forman weaves the present day narrative with episodes from the characters’ past and a complete picture of their lives emerges.  This book also fit into the “famous” category of book I’ve been enjoying for the past few years.

I happen to think it has a terrible cover.  The story inside the cover was much better.

Zenn Diagram
Wendy Brant
I loved the premise of this book:  when Eva Walker touches a person, or objects that they own, she gets insights into that person.  This comes in handy in her job as math tutor, because when she picks up a person’s calculator, she can tell exactly where they are getting stuck.

This is a good first-relationship book and also a good changing-friendship book.  I liked how Eva’s father is a minister, and Eva is not religious, but that never became a fractious plot point.

Overall, I thought the great premise was slightly spoiled by a little too much of everything: feelings, reactions, drama, quadruplet siblings.  But it was an enjoyable read overall and I look forward to Wendy Brant’s next book.

The Poet X
Elizabeth Acevedo
Read for Librarian Book Group
A novel in verse that is very readable! Xiomara is doing the things that her mother wants her to, including attending confirmation for a religion she doesn’t really believe in, and ignoring the attention her curvaceous body brings from the neighborhood boys and men. She writes poetry, but doesn’t share it.

As her life grows more complicated, Xiomara’s poems capture the conflict she has with her mother, her observations of her brother’s problems, the interest of a classmate and other parts of her daily life.

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart
Jenn Bennett
Beatrix Adams wants to be a medical illustrator. A chance meeting with Jack leads to a summer romance. There are complications, but my favorite thing about this book is that the complications never have to do with the question of whether Beatrix and Jack will be together.

Books read in March 2018

Most of this month involved catching up with various winners of the Youth Media Awards.

Picture Books: No recommendation
Middle Grade: The Epic Fail was fine.
Young Adult: You’re Welcome, Universe
Young Nonfiction: Twelve Days in May
Grownup Nonfiction: Getting Things Done
Smart Smut: Crosstown Crush
Silent Days, Silent Dreams
Allen Say
Read for Librarian Book Group
Five stars for introducing me to the art of James Castle, someone I’d never heard of, despite being raised in Idaho.  However, those five stars run away quickly,  starting with an early page that seems to identify Allen Say as being the nephew of James Castle. (He is not.) It just got more confusing from that point. Were the illustrations in the book made by James Castle, or were they made by Allen Say in the style of James Castle? Is this a true story (nonfiction, biography) or a made-up story based on a real person’s life?

Some of the illustrations were stunning, but when the family of the subject sues an author to keep them from publishing their book, and one of the sources cited in the bibliography states that he thinks Allen Say didn’t actually read his book, and other people are saying outright that Allen Say made up his own facts, I think this book can be marked as a swing and a miss.  I’m not sure why it won the Schneider Family Book Award.


The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
Pablo Cartaya
Read for Librarian Book Group
Great slice-of-life story of one Miami family restaurant.
You’re Welcome, Universe
Whitney Gardner
Read for Librarian Book Group
This book brought me into both the Deaf culture world and the graffiti world. Julia is a salty main character, who makes some decisions that make it harder to like her, but which are reasonable from her character’s point of view. I like books about friendship and while I was reading this, I realized I also like books about making art. That we got to see the art that Julia was creating added to the fun.

Little and Lion
Brandy Colbert
Read for Librarian Book Group
I loved the sibling relationship (forged from a step-sibling pairing) of Little and Lion.  It also did a great job highlighting the super bummer life can be when living with someone with mental illness.  There was some good bisexual stuff in there too.  Nicely done, Brandy Colbert, weaving all that together.  Plus, I loved the house Little and Lion lived in.

However, I never really fully locked into this book and had to force myself to keep reading.

This is How it Happened
Paula Stokes
As I enjoy reading books that have to do with “famous” people, this was a fun foray. Genevieve Grace is the girlfriend of a famous YouTube star, who is just releasing his first album. She wakes up from a coma to find she has been in a car accident; her boyfriend is dead, and the other driver–a man with a former DUI convention–is fine.

Genevieve can’t remember the accident, and while she pieces her memories together she flees her St. Louis home to live with her father in Utah for the summer. While essentially hiding her identity, she watches the internet rage against the unfairness of her boyfriend’s death.  As slowly remembers the accident and the public’s grief turns to rage and violent action, Genevieve must make some decisions that will affect the rest of her life.

Stokes is very good at ending chapters with cliffhangers strong enough to keep me turning pages.

Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961
Larry Dane Brimner
Read for Librarian Book Group
A narrow focus on the Freedom Ride of 1961 suits this book just fine. The layout is gorgeous, inviting the reader to keep turning the pages. There is enough text to tell the story, but not too much as to be off-putting. This should be in every home library.

Overall, a perfect book, but I was very disappointed in one aspect of the biography section.  While each of the participants received their own biography, the married couple was lumped together.  And within their entry, there was a lengthly paragraph about the husband’s background and what brought him to the movement.  The wife in the couple was briefly summed up as “his wife” and we were not provided with any equivalent background information or motivation.  She’s a person too! Her experiences also matter!


March Book One
Lewis, Ayden, Powell
Read for Family Book Group
This graphic novel was well-received by the participating members and helped fuel good discussion about racism and segregation.

Getting Things Done
David Allen
I have too many interests and not enough time and how in the world do I juggle all of that?  I read this book about ten years ago, but had forgotten nearly everything so it was time for a re-read.  I have read and implemented Allen’s suggestions and my life feels much more under my control. My favorite thing is that when I have that stressful thought of “I must remember X” I can now write it down on a note, (analog or electronic) and forget it, knowing that I will process it in a timely manner.


Crosstown Crush
Cara McKenna
A threesome!  In Pittsburgh!  Things get complicated.  As usual, really great character development by McKenna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books read in February 2018

Lotta picture books, read in a clump.  Then I struggled to remember which was which for reviews.  Oh, awards season.  And I also read a lot of other things too, some of them rather obsessively.

Picture books: All Around Us
Middle grade: The Stars Beneath our Feet
Young adult: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. But also: Truly Devious
Young nonfiction: Sea Otter Heroes. But also: Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
Adult fiction: We Were Eight Years in Power
Smart smut: Brutal Game.  But only if you’ve read Willing Victim.  If not, then: Thank You For Riding

All Around Us
Gonzalez and Garcia
Read for Librarian Book Group
I loved the different kind of circles in this book and the illustrations were particularly excellent.

Side note that has nothing to do with this book: in Portland, Oregon the words of the title are used to promote the surround-sound environment at the St. Johns Theater.  Which meant that every time I encountered the title I heard the power chord, mentally saw the balls bouncing, and then whispered “All. Around. Us.”

Effective marketing.  It’s a thing.

La Princesa and the Pea
Elya & Martinze Neal
A retelling of the Princess and the Pea.  The story rhymes, and some of the rhymes use Spanish words.  It was easy to understand the meanings of the words from context, and there was a glossary in the back.  I found the use of Spanish words completing the rhyme scheme to be delightful.

My Kite is stuck and other stories
Salina Yoon
Read for Librarian Book Group
What happens when a kite gets stuck in a tree?  Some ineffective (and funny) problem solving.

Snail and Worm Again
Tina Kugler
Read for Librarian Book Group
Is is a mirror, or is it a penny?

I See a Cat
Paul Meisel
Read for Librarian Book Group
What does the dog see through the sliding glass door?  Good repetition.

The Stars Beneath our Feet
David Barclay Moore
Read for Librarian Book Group
Sheesh, there’s a lot going on in this book.  Should I start with Lolly’s love of LEGO? Or the fact that his brother was killed a few months earlier? Or the pressure to join a “crew”?  Or his changing friendships?  Or all the interesting things that happen at the after school club?  All of these things flow through this novel in a masterful way that leaves me surprised to learn this is David Barclay Moore’s first novel.

Lucky Broken Girl
Ruther Behar
Read for Librarian Book Group
This is a great slice-of-life book for anyone looking for insight into the 1960’s New York City Cuban expat community, or what it’s like to spend a year in bed healing from two broken legs. There’s a lot of good detail, especially about the time as an invalid.  (Maybe slightly too much detail in some places.)

Meet Cute
Various Authors
Various YA authors bring their best “meet cute” short stories in this winning collection. There were no duds.

Truly Devious
Maureen Johnson
This mystery has it all: boarding school environment, map, remote location, plucky heroine, a mystery in the past, a mystery in the present, a rhyming riddle, those magazine cutout messages, friendships made and strained, plus a brooding potential love interest.  The worst part?  It ends.  The second worse part? It’s a cliffhanger ending and book two (of three) is not due until next year.

Truly Devious
Maureen Johnson
Sometimes, when I read a very good book and get to the end, I must then turn to the first page and begin again.  Well done, Maureen Johnson.  Well done.

Suite Scarlett
Maureen Johnson
Sometimes, when you read a really good book, you pick up another of the author’s books in an attempt to keep the magic going. While this is no Truly Devious, it was fun to experience the life of a daughter of New York City Hotel owners.

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life
Benjamin Alire Sanez
Read for Librarian Book Group
I found parts of this novel to be clunky. For example, there’s a point where the main character runs into his friend and the friend gives us a monologued paragraph with his entire life story–something that would not happen in real life.  The plot tends to wander hither and yon, and two characters experience the same type of loss within a few months of each other, something I found to be unbelievable, especially since the main character has also experienced that same loss in his past.

None of these things on their own sank the book, but they contributed to me finding it to be a slog.  Here’s hoping for a tighter narrative for the next book.

As the Crow Flies
Melanie Gillman
Read for Librarian Book Group
This book left me with a lot of questions.  It was never explained to my satisfaction why such a secular person was going on such a religious pilgrimage-type hiking trip.  The structure of the book set me up to be very interested in what happened when the hiking group got to the top of the mountain, but then the book ended before they got there.  Is this a deliberate technique, or just poor storytelling?

Good stuff: the uncomfortable feelings of being an outsider, in this case, the only person of color among white people and a queer person among (presumably) straight people. The dichotomy of an all-women, Christian hike was interesting.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Mackenzi Lee
A rollicking eighteenth century adventure of a tour of the Continent gone wrong. This book is full of many emotional highs and lows and is great fun all around.

Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos
Brown/Parra
Read for Librarian Book Group
Picture book about what the title says.  (Aside: I heard a picture book author talk recently, and he said, “This isn’t independent cinema.  We know what the ending will be.”)

I liked the use of color, and the age-appropriate version of Kahlo’s biography.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
Martin, Lee, Man One
Read for Librarian Book Group
The story, the text, and the illustrations all came together in the story of Chef Roi Choi and his food truck.

Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song
Erskine & Palmer
Read for Librarian Book Group
South Africa.  Apartheid.  One woman and song.

Malala: Activist for Girl’s Education
Frier & Fronty
Read for Librarian Book Group
Picture book story of Malala.  Bold color used in the illustrations.

Not so Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability
Shane Burcaw
Read for Librarian Book Group
A nonfiction picture book about Burcaw’s life and questions children (and adults) might want to ask him.  There are clear photo illustrations throughout and overall, the layout is great.

Sea Otter Heroes
Patricia Newman
Read for Librarian Book Group
This is the kind of book that makes me glad that Librarian Book Group feeds me a steady supply of nonfiction picture books.  I wouldn’t be up for reading an entire nonfiction book about Sea Otters and their effects on a slough, but this was exactly the amount of cool information I wanted to take in.  It’s also very informative in not very many words.

We Were Eight Years in Power
Ta-Nehisi Coates
If I had my druthers, everyone in America over the age of sixteen would read Coates’ article “A Case for Reparations” and then follow that up by reading “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”  If you missed those particular articles in The Atlantic, happily, they are contained in this volume, along with six other essays, plus material that introduces each articles.

Aside from being an excellent “Public Intellectual” and his words being worth your time, this book has awesome end papers.

After Hours
Cara McKenna
I’m pretty tired–kind of worn down from accumulated work stuff.  I’ve realized that when there is undue stress, illness or exhaustion in my life, I turn to my Smart Smut books.  And so it was time for a re-read of this novel.

Brutal Game
Cara McKenna
Holy cats, there has been a sequel to Willing Victim out for more than a year and I didn’t know?  What a terrible oversight.  This picks up Flynn and Laurel’s story eight months after Willing Victim ends.  Stuff happens to complicate things.  The feelings are real.  It’s a hot, worthy second book.

Willing Victim
Cara McKenna
Having read Brutal Game four days ago, I decide that it’s time to re-read this, just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything.  I hadn’t.  It was still good.

Brutal Game
Cara McKenna
And having finished my re-read of Willing Victim, why not see how the two books flow?  Very well, it turns out.

Thank You for Riding
Cara McKenna
While some of McKenna’s opening novels of her series are prohibitively expensive, even in Kindle form, this is a mere ninety-nine cents right now. It’s a quick short story where the action takes place on the Orange Line of the T and as a former rider of Boston’s MTA, I applaud this story.

Goodreads commenter Rick makes a point


I did not love The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, but I appreciated Goodreads Member Rick’s response to the “homosexual activity” question posed. It reminded me to be grateful that we’re moving on from the view that things that certain kind of people do is “activity” instead just of living their lives like the rest of us.

Books read in January 2018

There were a few last gasps of reading for the Mock Printz. (An activity which I had to miss due to the flu, alas.)  Plus some non-assigned reading of the non-fiction sort.
Picture Books: A Different Pond
Middle Grade: No recommendation
Young Adult: Dear Martin & Saints & Misfits
Young Nonfiction: The 57 Bus
Nonfiction: The Simple Path to Wealth

A Different Pond
Phi/Bui
Read for Librarian Book Group
A father/son tale about fishing, which is also about being an immigrant and about the country left behind.

Before she was Harriet
Cline-Ransome/Ransome
Read for Librarian Book Group
Clear text and good illustrations trace Harriet Tubman’s life.

Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets
Chang
Read for Librarian Book Group
I didn’t love this picture book. I think details regarding circumstances were too few, and I expect picture books to have a certain type of ending, which this didn’t.

Where’s Halmoni
Julie Kim
Read for Librarian Book Group
Two children looking for their grandmother go on an adventure.


The Wild Book
Juan Villoro
Read for Librarian Book Group
Odd little story about a boy who goes to live in his Uncle’s book-stuffed mansion for a summer.  The translation felt heavy; it weighed this magical realism story down.

Boys Don’t Knit (in Public)
T.S. Easton
Read for Family Book Group
Reading this a second time, I worried that it wasn’t the greatest choice for sixth/seventh grade book group.  I remembered the parents’ double entendres, but they weren’t quite as amusing picturing at 12-year-old reading them.  Plus, there was a 50 Shade of Grey send-up, I had completely forgotten about.

The group was fair-to-middlin’ about the story, but had fun talking about what did and didn’t work.

Dear Martin
Nic Stone
Read for Librarian Book Group
A good kid named Justyce, who goes to the right school and is doing the right thing gets handcuffed because the cop sees him as a black guy in a hoodie, trying to assault a white woman.  This incident frames Justyce’s senior year of high school.

This is a short book, and tells a worthy story while examining the entrenched racism in school, society and friendships.

Saints & Misfits
S.K. Ali
Read for Librarian Book Group
A really great book depicting Janna Yusef’s life as a young Muslim girl. Janna is driven, friendly, and has a lot going on.  Her brother has moved back home, she’s excelling in school, taking part in the activities of her mosque, hanging out with her friends.  She also has a crush on a non-Muslim boy, and is dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault.

While the sexual assault casts a pall over the story, and there is a lot to be worked through on that front, this book isn’t a grim and gripping march; it’s full of humor, amusing conundrums, interesting characters and so many different kinds of friendship.

There was a lot to love about this book, though I did find that many characters were introduced superficially and mostly all at once.  They would then disappear for many pages.  This lead to me constantly asking “now who is this person?” as the story unfolded.  There were also some first-novel-type problems, but I have greatest confidence that S.K. Ali will get all those things worked out for any subsequent novels, and I hope there are many.

Well, That was Awkward
Rachel Vail
Read for Family Book Group
That time in your life when suddenly the people you’ve gone to school with for some time are–what is this feeling? Attractive?  And maybe someone likes you likes you?  That is this book.  With texting.

Aside from that whole early relationship stuff, there are friendship things and parental role things.  Gracie, the main character has an older sister, but the older sister died before Gracie was born.  Being the living sibling of a sister she’s never met has shaped her, and her parents.  Their changing relationship takes up a goodly part of this book.

The Whydah
Martin W. Sandler
Read for Librarian Book Group
Unlike most nonfiction books, I looked forward to reading. Sandler’s writing was engaging and zipped right along. It was also fun to learn about a pirate’s life, and to understand why one would become a pirate.

I did feel that the negative actions of pirates were downplayed, and there was little examination from an environmental perspective of the process of hunting for sunken ships.  I would have also liked a map that more clearly showed where the wreck of the Whydah is.

The 57 Bus
Daska Slater
Read for Librarian Book Group
Sasha is a an agender teen in Oakland who likes to wear skirts.  Richard is another Oakland teenager. They were on the same city bus one afternoon, when Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire.  His actions changed both teenagers’ lives.  Slater invites us to get to know the families of Sasha and Richard and see what lead up to that fateful day, as well as the consequences.


The Simple Path to Wealth
JL Collins
Mr. Collins (we are perhaps related, if you trace the tree far enough back?) writes in an easy and understandable style about how to build wealth.  The number one thing from this book I wished someone had told me in 1997?  Live on 50% of your salary.  Even if I hadn’t been able to achieve that right away, I would have benefited from striving toward that goal.

The Subversive Copy editor
Carol Fisher Saller
Advice for copy editors and those aspiring to be, written by the woman who supplies answers to the Chicago Manual of Style’s Q&A portion of their website.  Warm and funny, this book gives a sense of the work of the copy editor, and was quite enjoyable reading.

Books read in December 2017

It was a low-read month.  We bought a TV at the end of November and some amount of hours have been wiled away catching up on Netflix stuff I’ve missed.  I also purposely didn’t read a bunch of picture books when they came in at the end of the month because I wanted my book reviews for 2017 to be done in 2017. There also weren’t a lot of books I was eager to keep reading this month.  When faced with the prospect of slogging through another few pages or seeing how the 13 Reasons Why adaptation was, well, the TV was the winner.

First Rule of Punk.  I didn’t fully latch in, but it did all the things a good middle grade book should.
Far From the Tree. The book that made me aware I wasn’t loving the other books I had read, as this pulled me right in.
We Are Okay. Also not one to joyfully plunge into, but I’m recommending it because the story is interesting and the writing is divine.

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again
Dan Santant
I know you’ve been kept up nights wondering about Humpty Dumpty’s life after falling off the wall. Now you can sleep again.  And enjoy these delightful illustrations, too.

(Since the rhyme ends with Humpty not being put back together again, this is an alternative version where he is fixed.)

The First Rule of Punk
Celia C. Perez
Read for Librarian Book Group
Malu moves from Florida to Chicago with her mom, leaving  behind her dad and all that is familiar.  In her new city, she applies lessons learned from her punk-rock heritage to make friends, and deal with unkind people.

This book is chock full of early adolescent quandaries including being annoyed with your mom, making new friends, forging an artistic path, and dealing with the label of “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside.)

The War I Finally Won
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
I did not first read The War That Saved my Life (though I’ve only heard good things about it) and thus, a lot of the reading of this book was me being told what happened in the first installment. This, however, is not the fault of the author.

I can see that, had I read the previous story, I would have a deep understanding of the amount of trauma Ada endured. This book tells the worthy tale of her new life.

They Both Die at the End
Adam Silvera
Read for Mock Printz
In this alternative present book, people who are going to die get a call telling them so.  This is handy, as they can get their affairs in order in whatever way is best for them. It’s also tragic. Mateo and Rufus get the call and meet each other through an app.  They spend their last day together.

I suspect the title put a healthy amount of distance between myself and the characters.  And then, the day left to live was a very. long. day.  By the end, I was more than ready for them to die, which is too bad, because a character has a big personal milestone at the end that by the time it happened, I did not care about.  Also, I feel like there wasn’t enough leading up to that milestone, making it seem as if it came out of left field.

Far From the Tree
Robin Benway
This book alerted me to the fact that the reason I haven’t been reading as much this month is not because of the new Netflix subscription (okay, maybe that’s 20%) but because the books I’ve been reading this month have not been very interesting to me. Within the first few pages I was reminded that stories are fun and that I enjoy reading. And the first two pages of this book have the kind of opening that makes me want to just keep reading and reading.

I enjoyed the plot device of siblings surrendered to the state reuniting. But mostly, it was a pleasure to read: the characters were engaging, the action dribbled out in an attention-holding way, the backstories engaging.

We are Okay
Nina LaCour
Marin–named after the county–is finishing up her senior year of high school in San Francisco.  She hangs out with her friend Mabel, and lives with her grandfather, who has taken care of her since her mother died when she was three.

Marin also is spending Christmas break living alone in the dorms.  She’s run off to college with her phone, her wallet and a photo of her mother. She hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the summer.

The past and the present are woven together in a beautifully written novel Marin and the people she loves.


A Dog in the Cave
Kay Frydenborg
Read for Family Book Group
Solid nonfiction examining the way humans and dogs have co-evolved. While the writing was good, the book’s layout was maddening, inserting pages of focused information right in the middle of sentences.

One Story: The Crazies & Bulletin Board Dragon

I will probably always think of Roxane Gay’s description of the kind of short story she doesn’t want to read: “white people in sad marriages.”  This is one of those stories, even to the point of including a white character with an inheritance.  Aside from being one of those stories, I found it enjoyable, but I did notice that this is the second short story this year set in Montana.  Could the New York City-based editors be longing for wide open spaces?


A girl suffering from agoraphobia. Her neighbor, a boy with schizophrenia. It would be a nice setup for a Romeo and Juliet-style story, and the two do come together.  But star-crossed love doesn’t bring them together.  A dragon does.

This is the second One Teen Story issue with an author named after a particular flower.  Is there Lily/Lilly bias going on at One Story, or was their a run on that name in the early 2000s?

One Story: Are You Mine and No One Else’s?


A meeting at a party, a new couple, some choices made.  The narrative seemed removed from the emotional states of the characters in a way that was dissatisfying.

I’ve just read the interview with the author and it seems that Mr. Lorberbaum thinks this story is Tony’s, not Rhoda’s.  Whereas I thought the opposite.  Perhaps that’s the reason for the disconnect.