Books read in February 2019

It was a month of reading to catch up to the Youth Media Award winners and I found a few gems. Nothing was really terrible.

Recommended

Middle Grade: Finding Langston
Young Adult: A Heart in a Body in the World, I Claudia

Picture Books

Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop
Alice Faye Duncan
Read for Librarian Book Group

A historical fiction picture book that covers the Memphis sanitation strike of 1964, which also happened to be the cause that Martin Luther King, Jr. was supporting just before he was assassinated.

I was confused while reading this book because at the beginning it says the story is based on a real girl who was at the strike. The main character in the story is a daughter of a sanitation worker. But the woman thanked in the afterward was the daughter of a minister. This threw me into disequilibrium if the book was fiction or nonfiction and ultimately left me feeling very so-so.

Middle Grade

All’s Faire in Middle School
Victoria Jamieson
Read for Family Book Group

This book retained its charm on second reading. Impy is still muddling through middle school as best she can. Her family is still dealing with her muddling as best they can. There is still a lot of fun Renaissance Faire stuff.

As to discussion, the two middle schoolers in the room who had read the book were lukewarm. The three adults (myself included) really loved it.

Finding Langston
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Read for Librarian Book Group

I need to make a Goodreads shelf for very short books that tell a lot of story in their tiny number of pages. This is one of those books. Finding Langston takes place after World War II in Chicago. Langston and his father have moved north from Alabama trying to escape both the restrictive Jim Crow conditions and their grief over the death of Langston’s mother.

Langston feels out of place in Chicago, he has no friends, and his father is too sad and tired to fill in for his missing mother. But one day, Langston finds a library, and that sets him on the path to finding the charms of Chicago.

Young Adult

I, Claudia
Mary McCoy
Read for Librarian Book Group

The 1934 book I, Claudius was hanging about in the ether during my formative years. Possibly because there was a TV miniseries in 1976. I had no idea what the story was, but something about the title stuck with me.

Enter I, Claudia, the tale of Claudia McCarthy, daughter of an internet-wealthy family and a reluctant student at Imperial Day Academy, the elite Los Angeles private school unique for its Honor Code, enforced by an eight-member student-led Honor Council, a body with no faculty oversight.

Claudia speaks with a stutter and her legs are two different lengths, and these two things combined mean she is content to be an observer and a cataloger; she calls herself a historian. She plans to get through her time at Imperial Day making as few waves as she can.

But when her older sister Maisie, a junior at Imperial Day, brings Claudia along when her friend group before high school begins, a fortune teller tells Claudia that her plans to get through Imperial Day aren’t going to come to pass.

And so begins our story of power and corruption. It’s a story that would most likely come off as cheesy if television ever got its hands on it. But in book form, Claudia’s reluctant journey to power is thoroughly engrossing.

It’s been a bit of a dry spell of late on the can’t-put-them-down books. Thank goodness for the Printz awards, or I never would have found this.

Sadie
Courtney Summers
Read for Librarian Book Group

This goes down in my particular reading history as the first book to use a podcast to fuel the narrative. I liked this aspect as many of my weekend hours are spent listening to podcasts. I also didn’t like it because it made me realize that podcasts have a certain style, and that ruined the investigative journalism magic of podcasts for me.

This is also the second of two books in a row where the main character is someone who sometimes stutters.

Sadie is a tough girl who has lived a tough life. She’s incredibly likable in her unlikableness. She’s also missing. We get to hear about her from the people who know her. That’s what the podcast device is for. We also get to know her through Sadie herself, as podcast segments alternate with Sadie’s life.

This podcast/what happened thing manages to work, rather than seeming repetitive.

I’m ambivalent about the ending and hoping that enough people at Librarian Book Group will have read this book to have a decent discussion.

The Vanishing Stair
Maureen Johnson

The exquisite torture of starting a trilogy when book one has just been released is that it’s going to be a very long wait to get to the end. Luckily, this is Maureen Johnson we’re talking here, and she shares none of, say, George R. R. Martin’s proclivities. Book one, Truly Devious arrived in January of 2018 and it was so good that I read it twice in a row. Book two (this review) also appeared on schedule, so I know that by January 2020 I will reach the conclusion.

Seconds in a trilogy can be placeholders (Back to the Future II) or they can be the story that makes the series work (The Empire Strikes Back). This was the latter, not the former. We’re back at Ellingham Academy. Astute readers will note that Truly Devious ended with Stevie leaving Ellingham, and I’ll leave it to you to discover how she makes it back to school.

It’s not long after the first book ends, and though Stevie is told to let the Truly Devious mystery go, she is who she is, and she’s got new clues and there’s no way she’s not finding out more.

We get a few new characters and a few more clues. I’m enjoying the complexity of this mystery and trust it’s going to continue to unfold in a satisfying way in book three. I also enjoyed the writing in this book, adding several passages to my Goodreads quote page.

For people who would find a cliffhanger ending with no resolution for months torture, I would advise you to hold off reading book two. January 2020 will be here before you know it.

Darius the Great is Not Okay
Adib Khorram
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book brought the term “fractional Persians” into my realm of knowing, and for that I salute it. I loved the perspective of an American-born fractional Persian visiting Iran for the first time and how Darius struggled with how much he was a part of his extended family’s life when he only saw them through a computer screen.

I also appreciated the author’s attempt to cover run-of-the-mill depression, the kind that isn’t bad enough to put you out of commission, but is bad enough to keep you from fully feeling things.

This book wandered and was very easy to put down. It was character driven and full of characters not quite effervescent enough for me to want to keep reading. I did though. I read the whole thing.

Was there a very subtle gay subplot? I was never really clear if Darius was also dealing with coming out, on top of everything else.

Five Feet Apart
Lippencolt et.al.

I read a book during my ’80s childhood about a girl with cystic fibrosis (the name had not yet been shortened to CF). A google search isn’t coughing up the name, but the story made an impression on me. At the time, it was a big deal for people with CF to make it to 16 years old, and things seem to have improved tiny bit in the intervening decades.

In this book about CF, Stella Grant chronicles her CF journey via a YouTube channel, and has developed an app to help CF patients manage their treatment. She’s missing her senior class trip to Cabo because she needs to kick her illness, which means a month in the hospital.

Will is also in the hospital, and he’s just marking time until his 18th birthday when he can check himself out and be done trying to beat the disease.

It’s a great setup for a sick-lit romance, except that CF patients are at high risk for cross infecting each other and must stay six feet apart at all times.

This was a fine book for cluing me in about what CF looks like in the current decade. The story was serviceable, as were the characters. We shall see if the movie version is more dazzling.

A Heart in a Body in the World
Deb Caletti
Read for Librarian Book Group

Just as The Hate U Give was my zeitgeist book for 2017, so is this the 2019 zeitgeist YA book. (It’s early, but I’m feeling confident.)

It’s the tale of Annabelle who, in lieu of her last few months of high school, is running from Seattle to Washington, D.C. Something is driving her to keep running, and it takes a long time for the “what” to come into focus for the readers. In the meantime, we get the present-day story of the run and memories from her past.

This book does something I rarely see. It highlights the uncomfortable space women live in when a man’s interest isn’t welcome. How to juggle that, “thanks, but no thanks” sentiment while also not hurting feelings is something I struggled with as an adolescent.(Unsuccessfully–I tended to get mean.) I think it’s still something we don’t prepare teenagers for.

So you should read this book. For the zeitgeist-ness of it, for the feelings of not liking the liking, and because the writing is so very good:

“Fear is exhausting, and so is a run like the one she just did. But something else loosens and relaxes her, too. It’s the way the sheets are at first cold and then warm, and it’s the way they smell a little smoky, like camping, a sent that represents both freedom and safety. It’s the way that she has been tucked into her enclosed little bunk-cave. Just outside of it, there are two people completely at ease and satisfied with where they are. So she drifts off and sleeps hard.”

The Academy Awards

Kelly hosted the Oscar-viewing party and we had a good time (despite my disappointment with the Best Picture outcome.)

I prepared my Happiest Oscar Viewer game, and I was the second happiest Oscar viewer. Laurie beat me out, but also because she had two things listed for some categories.

Kelly prepared a BINGO sheet, but nothing shook down in a way that caused any of us to win. If only one person had told their kids to go to bed! Or, if only I had looked more closely at my BINGO sheet instead of taking the one on the top.

The night of the Academy Awards remains my favorite annual TV event. I learned that when there is no host, things clip along. And also it’s awkward at the very end when there isn’t an official person to see us off the air.

Postcard from New Zealand and SKS postcard from MN

Dana sent me this lovely card from New Zealand where she and her husband are visiting for a little over a month. (Nice!)

Sara sent me this postcard with the express purpose of commenting on my recent observation (sent to her via postcard) that despite a postage increase, the post office is sticking with the blandly offensive seashell postcard stamps. Ugh! At least there was a nice postcard to temper my disappointment.

Skating at Oaks Park

The Rosetown Ramblers went skating at Oaks Park and I had a quite good time.

The skates I rented. Though skating is fun, my feet hurt while I’m doing it.

Look at the price! Yikes!

If I wanted to, I could join the club that makes Oaks Park their home.

But I could probably not join the speed skating club.

I was surprised at how crowded the rink was on a Sunday afternoon, but I guess indoor family fun things are a big deal in February. I managed the skating quite well, and had enough fun that I envisioned a future where I took all the skate classes and became a really great skater.

And then I talked myself down. The joy of being in my 40s is that I can remind myself to focus on the many things I already do that I love.

And also, skating hurts my feet.

Quality bike parking at the EMSWCD

I went to pick up the native plants I ordered from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and I found this hearty and well-covered structure.

Way to do it right, EMSWCD. I forgive you for interviewing me twice and then never officially telling me I didn’t get the job. I didn’t get it right? Because if I did, I’m 12 years late.

My first bombe

Mom wanted a white chocolate cheesecake for her birthday so I made it. The recipe said I could make a bombe, or a regular cheesecake and I went with bombe. It involved buying a stainless steel bowl, but that was probably the hardest part of the process.

Here it is before I added the white chocolate icing.

And here it is after icing and adorning with chocolate curls.

Vacant Demolished

Work is doing a survey that involves mailing to many Portland residences. A lot of them come back to us as vacant. On this one someone helpfully added “demolished.” It’s not surprising.

Here’s my best guess as to what 3951 N. Vancouver looks like. It’s been absorbed on PortlandMaps.com into 3535 N. Vancouver, which is currently the Brass Tacks restaurant.

This building could have been torn down in the past few years, or it could have been torn down as part of the “improvement plan” in the 1960s that gutted a historically Black neighborhood and resulted in empty lots for decades.

Something will appear here though, and probably sooner rather than later as this area is hip, happening and nearly fully gentrified. We can’t have weedy, empty lots in that kind of neighborhood.

Snow!

It’s just past seven o’clock a.m. and I can tell that I’m the third person to walk to the train this morning.

It wasn’t enough snow to be a bother, and not nearly the amount of snow that was predicted. This is the snowstorm that has reminded me why I never let myself get excited about Portland snow forecasts. Often they are much ado about nothing.