Books read in October, 2017

Nary a “grownup book” in sight this month

Picture books: Stay: A girl, a dog, a bucket list
Middle grade: All’s Faire in Middle School
Young adult: Jane, Unlimited
Young nonfiction: How to be an elephant

Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List
Read for Librarian Book Group
For everyone who has had an old dog in their life.

I love you like a pig
Read for Librarian Book Group
Neither the writing, nor the art spoke to me in this book.

Sam Usher
Read for Librarian Book Group
It’s raining. Will Sam get to go outside?

Jaques Goldstyn
Read for Librarian Book Group
A boy in a town hangs out with a tree.

The Only Road
Alexandra Diaz
Read for Family Book Group
Just as gripping the second time around.

It All Comes Down to This
Karen English
Read for Librarian Book Group
Once you get past the forgettable title, you will find a nice little gem of a historical fiction book.  1960s Los Angeles is our setting, and Sophie is getting used to her new neighborhood. Her family is black, and there aren’t many other black kids in the neighborhood. It’s summer and  Sophie busies herself with writing a book, making a friend or two, keeping track of her sister’s antics and trying out for a play.  It’s not the most plot-driven novel, but it’s a good glimpse into a specific experience of the past.

All’s Faire in Middle School
Victoria Jameson
Read for Librarian Book Group
Renaissance Faires and middle school come together in this story of Impy (Imogene,) who has been home schooled by her parents.  They are active in the yearly Renaissance Faire, and it’s a second home for Imogene.

Jameson perfectly captures all of the middle school feelings.  Aside from that particular pot of angst, this book is also funny.

Swing it, Sunny
Holm & Holm
Read for Librarian Book Group
Accurately captures an awkward time, both in growing up, but also the everyday life of when one member of the family is going through some troubled times.

Jane, Unlimited
Kristen Cashore
There were many things to love about this book, which is currently in the running for best book of 2017.  First thing to love? The structure, which is a brilliant fun surprise once you figure out what is happening.  I loved that Jane, the main character, was a bit prickly and on the far side of likable. Books with maps in the the front?  Win!  Books set in huge mansions?  Win! Learning random stuff about umbrellas?  Win! Overall, a quality book from an author I already appreciate. (Graceling!)

ps:  You might not catch the excellent structure thing if you listen to this book, rather than read it.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing
E.K. Johnston.
Ah, E.K. Johnston, how your thought-process-turned-book delights me.  What if, instead of marrying her many children off to European princes and princesses, Queen Victoria had married them off to royal families within the empire?  In Johnston’s world this would have resulted in an incredibly diverse–and much stronger and peaceful–empire.

That past leads us to the nearby present and Canada, where Victoria-Margaret, heir to the throne, has gone incognito for her debut.  There are parties and new friends to make, and even some traveling to a summer house.

I loved this book for a few reasons.  It was such a fun premise.  E.K. Johnston is Canadian, and her books are so firmly Canadian, which is fun. I love future-set stories where the kids are all right.  I also watched the movie “The Reluctant Debutante” at an impressionable age, which made me very interested in the whole debutante thing. Plus, there’s a great and complex love story in these pages.
How to be an elephant
Katherine Ron
Read for Librarian Book Group
Very well done nonfiction text about elephants.  The drawings are beautiful and every kid will enjoy discovering what baby elephants eat.

Dazzle Ships
Read for Librarian Book Group
Random facts about history!  Score!  From World War I comes a story of an attempt to confuse enemy torpedoes by painting the ships in a crazy fashion.  The illustrations were not to my taste, but fit nicely with the period.

John & Hank Green, on tour.

Thanks to Kelly, I got to experience John and Hank Green on John’s book tour for Turtles All the Way Down. (When you are a successful YouTuber with your brother, you BOTH go on book tour, even if only one of you wrote the book.)

Here’s John reading from the book.  When I read the book later, I realized he read from two different sections.
We had a visit from Hank disguised as Dr. Lawrence Turtleman. He taught us about tuataras, which are reptiles from New Zealand which are NOT lizards.  Unfortunately, Dr. Turtleman’s PowerPoint wasn’t working, so the good doctor did the PowerPoint from memory.  We had partially obstructed seats which gave us a view of the various people working backstage to try and get the PowerPoint to work.

Hank did some singing and we got our own personal Dear Hank and John Podcast (parts of which made it on the Dear Hank & John episode #114 that compiled this segment from several cities).  We finished the night with a lusty rendition of the Mountain Goats’ “This Year” as sung by the crowd, John, and played and sung by Hank.

Last time, when Matt and I saw John and Hank on book tour, they had a van.  Things have changed.

Here we are, fourth from the end.
It was a fun night. Thanks, Kelly.

One Story: Toby and A Month on Greene Street

A story of loss, written by a student at Portland’s own Grant High School.

Tom Hanks has a successful career as an actor, director and producer. Plus a book deal for his short stories. He’s probably got enough money to start his own literary magazine.  Thus, it bugs me that he’s taking up space in the One Story lineup.  That said, I quite enjoyed this story.

Books read in September 2017

Schooling is over for the summer.  Time to return to the regular reading schedule.

Picture Books: When’s My Birthday?
Middle Grade: Ashes to Asheville
Young Adult: Genuine Fraud (thought see the picture accompanying this post for my other favorite)
Adult Fiction: The Beautiful Land
Young Nonfiction: Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee

When’s My Birthday?
Read for Librarian Book Group
As a person who enjoys her birthday, I enjoyed this book.

Ashes to Asheville
Sarah Dooley
Read for Librarian Book Group

When Fella’s mother, Mama Lacy died, Fella could have gone on living with Mama Shannon and her sister Zaney.  But Fella’s grandmother Mrs. Madison thinks Fella should live “with her blood.” She goes to court, and wins, so Fella lives with Mrs. Madison, and only sees Mama Shannon and Zaney for church.

One night, Fella catches Zaney breaking into Mrs. Madison’s house.  Zaney’s goal?  To steal Mama Lacy’s ashes, drive to Asheville to scatter them, and be back before anyone knows she’s gone.  Fella comes along, as does Mrs. Madison’s dog.

The plan to drive hundreds of miles in an old car in the middle of the night without detection falls apart quickly, and this book is full of misadventures.  It’s also full of heartbreak, while managing to be quite funny.  Some plot points are convenient, but overall, this book is worth reading for the love, humor and even class issues, as well as LGBTQ custody issues.

When Dimple Met Rishi
Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon sets up a great “meet cute” by having Dimple fully focused on her education and career, and not at all interested in being matched with a husband by her Indian family.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Dimple,  Rishi has been matched with her and is excited to begin their lives together, first by getting to know each other, then after they are married which Rishi guesses will happen after they finish college and before he goes to graduate school.

The opposite of sparks fly.  Or maybe, sparks fly in one direction and are then repelled and sent right back to a surprised Rishi. This sets the stage for a delightful little reverse romance that also includes class and friendship issues, parental and sibling relations and a satisfying ending.

Genuine Fraud
E.K. Lockhart
This is Jule’s story, but her story can’t be told without also telling Imogen’s story.  E.K. Lockhart lets us in on both stories as this book unfolds.  A fun read, and best when one can read a large chunk at the beginning.  If read in bits, this book might be confusing.  Memorable characters, plus class issues.  Nicely done.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
F.C. Yee
Read for Librarian Book Group
This book is hilarious and the kind of outsized, bombastic story that I enjoy. It also hooked me up with some Chinese folklore, and has a punny title.  Big win!

Words in Deep Blue
Cath Crowley
Read for Librarian Book Group ????
Let’s imagine that a boy goes to school in a town until he is well into middle school.  Then he moves away.  A few years later, he drowns.  In this modern world, where we are all connected via social media, what are the chances that no one in the old town will hear of this boy’s death?

If you think the chances are zero that not one person would catch wind of this boy’s passing, you are going to have the same problem with this book as I did.  The entire premise of the book rests on the dead boy’s older sister moving back to their old town, yet not a single person she encounters (except for her aunt) knows about her brother’s death.  Even the friends she has kept in touch with during the years she has moved elsewhere.

There was a lot to like in this book.  The friendships and romantic relationships were well developed and there was good stuff around mourning and losing things (brothers, bookshops.) However, my reading experience was marred by the continuing confusion as to why no one even mentions the dead brother and then the increasing skepticism that they wouldn’t have heard about the dead brother.  I’m not sure how this book made it into publication with that largest of plot hole.

The Beautiful Land
Alan Averill

Takahiro is a washed-up American-born Japanese reality star when he goes to work for the Axon Corporation. Samira is an Iraq War veteran, crippled from PTSD.  They have their Seattle childhood in common, and their friendship that never developed into something more.

Tak’s job at Axon is to explore parallel universes, which is not your normal kind of job.  When it turns out that someone has other plans for parallel universes, Tak and Sam must work together to save the world.  And also figure out that whole latent romance thing.

Averill balances the parallel universe and the relationships with flair.  This book is high-stakes, high-action and also funny.

Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee
Read for Librarian Book Group
Picture book story of James Van Der Zee, who took portraits of people in Harlem during the 20th Century.  Likable illustrations, plus actual examples of Mr. Van Der Zee’s work at the end of the book.

One Story: Please Give Me One Good Reason Not to Hate You

Benny narrates this, and Benny isn’t the greatest of guys.  But he’s the kind of guy you probably should like less, but don’t.  Here’s a quote: “I arrived in Bozeman after the place that came after Animas, was thinking I would stay forever—thinking I would finally stop what I’ve been doing and be someone, thinking this place was really me.”

Bozeman is going well, sort of, until he goes on a backpacking trip with some friends.  The story is structured so that I felt equally sorry for everyone on the trip, and also happy to see Benny get what is coming to him.

There were fun class/income observations also.  Nicely done, Shawn Vestal.

Books read August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books read in July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books read in June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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