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.

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
Klise/Klise
Read for Librarian Book Group
For everyone who has had an old dog in their life.

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

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

Bertolt
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
Barton/Nagi
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?
Fogliano/Rubinson
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
Loney/Mallett
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.

Geekarella
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.