Books read in April 2017

April is an unusual month in which I’m most excited about the nonfiction selections.

Picture Books: Big Cat, Little Cat
Middle Grade: Better Nate Than Ever
Young Adult: Pyromantic
Young Nonfiction: Vincent & Theo
Grownup Nonfiction: Every Body Yoga

Big Cat, Little Cat
Elisha Cooper
Read for Librarian Book Group
Picture books are short and this one made me laugh and cry within the space of its 32 pages.  The illustrations of the cats are stupendous.  Recommended.

Wolf in the Snow
Matthew Cordell
Read for Librarian Book Group
Wordless picture book about a girl walking home from school in a snowstorm and what she finds on her way.

Triangle
Barnett & Klassen
Read for Librarian Book Group
Not a book about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  Instead a funny little interlude between Triangle and Square.  Barnett and Klassen together don’t tickle my funny bone.  I recognize I’m in the minority with that opinion.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile
Schlitz, Floca
Read for Librarian Book Group
Fabulous illustrations paired with an easy-reader story about Princess Cora wanting more from her dreary days.

Out of Wonder
Alexander/Colderley/Wentworth
Read for Librarian Book Group
Poems written in the style of famous poets and paired with gorgeous illustrations.

Better Nate Than Ever
Time Federle
Read for Family Book Group

I adored this book, so much so that even the small detractions were steamrolled by Nate Foster’s approach to the world.  This is a great book for outcasts everywhere.

The Best Worst Thing
Kathleen Lane
It’s too bad that the adult audience who would really enjoy this book probably won’t find it. Maggie is a worrier in a way that I think will be off-putting to a lot of tweens/teens.  But Maggie’s nervous energy is something that adult readers would want to read about.  It’s a beautifully written story.

Fish Girl
Wiesner/Napoli
Read for Librarian Book Group
Mermaid in rinky-dink seaside aquarium begins to question her situation. The answers she finds are illuminating  and cause changes.  There were a lot of problems with this story, but it had some good feminist and coming-of-age stuff.

 

Pyromantic
Lish McBride
The sequel to Firebug, a book greatly enjoyed by me, this continues the story, bringing back all the favorite characters.  I was sorry I didn’t have time for a re-read of Firebug before launching into this, but it was an enjoyable tale all the same.

Wonderful Feels Like This
Sara Lovestam
Read for Librarian Book Group
Nice story of a young musician bulled by her peers who forges a friendship with a retired jazz musician.  The bullying is intense, with some of it rising to the level where the police should be involved.  The stories of the Stockholm jazz scene during WWII were nicely done and the author did a great job working in nuance of her portrayal of bullies.  The point-of-view switches were jarring.  While overall, this was a nice book, it was one I finished out of obligation, rather than pleasure.

The Book Jumper
Mechthild Glaser
Read for Librarian Book Group
This story includes a wonderful discovery: girl returns to ancestral home and learns that her family has the ability to jump into books.  While this would be an exciting development in my own life, I don’t think it made any sense for the plot.  I was never really clear WHY they were supposed to be jumping into the stories, as most of their actions in the books caused trouble that would have been avoided if they had simply read the books, not hang out in them.

I think there are some in-jokes that went over my head for not having read some of the books mentioned.  Much like the book from Sweden I just finished reading, this book also has abrupt point-of-view shifts I found jarring.  Other details about the book jumping also baffled me. So much so that the invented world didn’t hold up, which made for a so-so read.

Rivers of Sunlight
Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm
Read for Librarian Book Group
The framing device “I am the sun” reminded me of a theatrical production written by a well-meaning older person, to show the poor youth of the ghetto the magic of the thee-ah-tar.

Undefeated
Steve Sheinkin
Read for Librarian Book Group
Sheinkin’s ability to make history sing is on display here, even for this reader, who isn’t interested in football.  I am, however, interested in Jim Thorpe and I found the details about the Carlisle Indian School to be interesting, in that terrible way.  There was too much football in this book for me, but I recognize that I am not the target audience.  I would have appreciated a little more unpacking of the special privileges afforded to athletes.  Overall, this was a solid nonfiction.

Vincent & Theo
Deborah Heiligman
Read for Librarian Book Group
Character-driven biography of Vincent Van Gough and his brother Theo.  I was interested in the brothers’ relationship, and how Vincent’s mental illness affected his family and other relationships.  This was big on detail, without bogging down.  I loved the color plates, which were apparently not present in the e-book version.

Every Body Yoga
Jessamyn Stanley
I know a goodly amount of people who will not get far in this book due to the salty language of the author.  However, I found her frank and funny, and I didn’t mind at all the copious use of the F-word.

Stanley, a large girl who grew into a large woman, describes how she came to practice yoga, her various feelings about her body, and provides recommendations for yoga practice for women of all kinds, including fat women. Her recommendation to practice at home was particularly freeing for me, as that is currently the only type of yoga practice that will fit in my schedule.

Books read in March 2017

It was a stellar month for YA. 

Picture Book: None this month
Middle Grade: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
Young Adult: Piecing Me Together; The Hate U Give
Young Nonfiction: Grand Canyon
Adult Fiction: The Underground Railroad

The Secret Project
Jonah & Janette Winter
Read for Librarian Book Group

The development of the atomic bomb!  In picture book format!

I think this story needs a lot of scaffolding.

Tony
Ed Galig/Erin E. Stead
Read for Librarian Book Group

It wasn’t apparent to me I was reading a poem, and I found myself puzzled by the writing throughout and also by the ending.  It took reading the book flap to clarify things.  Even with clarity, I found that there wasn’t much there for me.

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
Janet Fox
Read for Family Book Group

The second reading was nearly as fun as the first for me.  The family book group was all over the place in their reviews.  I had the highest rating of the adults, with an 8.  The kid average rating was 7.0046, the adults’ was 6.575 for an overall rating of 6.770

On Edge
Gin Price
Five stars for a star-crossed story of a runner (parkour enthusiast) and a writer (graffiti artist).  I also really appreciated the urban Detroit setting.  Unfortunately, the stars start to drop as the story progresses.  The romance, while convincingly written, had a love-at-first-sight origin that was not really believable.  This was advertised as a mystery, but the mystery didn’t get going until halfway through the book.  My largest criticism has to do with the actions of the person who did the deed.  That person is the epitome of a 1950’s cliche and was not well received by me.  We’ve moved beyond that particular stereotype.

Nora & Kettle
Lauren Nicole Taylor
1950s historical fiction about a Japanese American orphan trying to make his way in Brooklyn after being released from the “relocation” camps.  He crosses paths with the daughter of a civil rights lawyer who is  abusive toward his family.

The writing is crisp and vivid, and the characters complicated and sympathetic.  There is a well-placed warning at the beginning. The scenes of domestic violence are brutal to read, and some of the experiences Kettle has are difficult.

This is a good addition to the post-war historical fiction cannon.

The Lonely Hearts Club
Elizabeth Eulberg

A girl, terribly hurt (emotionally) by her boyfriend, decides to give up boys for the rest of high school.  Her friends join her, and the club grows.  Overall a good quick read, though I there were a few detractions.

My high school had the exact same law-and-order/sports-oriented principal depicted in this book, yet I found it incredibly hard to believe he would even take notice of a band of girls forming their own club, much less be so vindictive.  There was also a scene of assault that was swept under the rug in a way that I did not feel fit at all with the sentiments of the club.

Piecing Me Together
Renee Watson
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m interested in why Renee Watson sets her books so firmly in Portland and changes some, but not all, of the names.  As a Portland reader, it’s maddening.

Other than that, this book was exactly the kind of book I love. It gave me the opportunity to live in Jade’s life, which is a good life, and hard life.  Watson is a master at depicting the good/hard blend.  I particularly appreciated parsing the complicated feelings that come with being picked for the organization that will give you exposure to things you don’t get to experience, due to your reduced circumstances.

Aside from that, I loved the complexity of Jade’s friendships.  I’m a huge sucker for a romance, but those stories are plentiful.  Because of that, I really love coming across a coming-of-age book with a character I adore whose growth and change has nothing to do with finding romantic love.

Allegedly
Tiffany D. Jackson
Read for Librarian Book Group

One of those gobble-down books.  What would the life of a nine-year-old alleged murderer be like?  The details were fierce and disturbing.  I was all in, until the author pulled the rug out from under me with the ending.

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas
Read for Librarian Book Group

I loved this book unconditionally. I love:

**Starr Carter, one of my favorite characters this year
**How the book shows the terror of being the bystander in a police shooting.
**How complicated the details of the shooting are.
**How complicated and nuanced Starr’s life is–kind of like how real life works.
**Starr’s family, especially the relationship between her parents.
**How this book was sad and weighty and difficult, but also delightfully funny.
**How Starr experiences sorrow and joy, and maybe even in the same day.
**That this book was in a 13-way bidding war

I don’t love that while I was reading this book, a young man of color in my hometown was shot and killed by the police.

If you are looking for a zeitgeist book for 2017, this is your book.

City of Saints & Thieves
Natalie C. Anderson
Read for Librarian Book Group

It took me a while to put my finger on what was off about this book.  I found the story and characters engaging, and the pacing was quite good.  But I never really felt like I was in Kenya.  I think more smells and descriptive sights would have grounded me more in a sense of place.

Other than that, it was a good book.

Grand Canyon
Jason Chin
Read for Librarian Book Group

Jason Chin brings a sense of wonder to this books.  I loved the tour through the geologic ages of the Grand Canyon.  And that’s saying something, as Geology is one of those Zzzzzzzzz topics for me.

The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead

The realistic depictions of slavery combined with the alternate-reality version of pre-Civil War US made this book a big win.

One Story: Optimistic People

Charles Drangle wrote this story with a title I don’t like (though he does, I just read it in his author interview which I don’t recommend you read before reading this story).

This story starts along one path, and then takes a crazy turn that had me marveling.  I was so amazed at this changeup, I stopped where I was and put this story down for several weeks.

When I picked it back up, I started from the beginning. This time I was ready for the changeup and I finished the story, marveling at the skill of this author.

YALSA Mock Printz

Today was the day for the YALSA Mock Printz.

For me, this was not a good year for this organization’s Mock Printz.  Most of the books I found to be books that did not work for me on any level (The Passion of Dolssa; The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold; Golden Boys) or were okay, but kind of a slog (Railhead) or were fine, but I didn’t think they would win (Burn Baby Burn; We are the Ants; We Will Not be Silent).

Also, the programming wasn’t super interesting.  There is usually a chunk where you learn something interesting.  The year that one of the Printz Committee Members spoke was very informative, but this year it was a roundtable interview with the Jefferson County Library District Teen Book Council.  They seemed quite nice, but I could have done without 25 minutes of them.

Also, I wasn’t much of a fan of my discussion leader, or the fact that we sat on the floor for the discussion.  We were so far apart, it seemed hard to connect with anyone.  In the end, I voted for only two books in the small group discussion, and I only voted for Burn, Baby Burn out of spite, because I liked it and didn’t feel like my group appreciated it enough.

Tally of the Small Group Discussion results.  Overall, the small groups were in agreement that Lie Tree was the superior book.

After small group results, we had a big group discussion, then re-voted.  Our official winner:

The Lie Tree. (91 votes)

Runners-up:

We Are the Ants (72 votes)
Railhead (62 votes)
The Passion of Dolssa (52 votes)

Overall, I learned that I probably shouldn’t attend if I don’t like the majority of the books.

Finished! Reading for the Mock Printz

I am ready to discuss all 17 books for the Mock Printzes I will attend.  I’ve already been to the Hollywood Mock Printz.  What will the YALSA (Library) Mock Printz have in store for me? (Also: notice there isn’t much overlap between the two lists)

Reading for the Mock Printz was more difficult before I was a part of the Librarian Book Group.  Thanks to them, I had already read eight of the books.

Hollywood Mock Printz

Getting to the Mock Printz at the Hollywood library turned out to be difficult. That huge amount of snow we had mid-week is still hanging around.  I took the Max downtown so I could swim, and then had planned on jumping on a bus to the library.  But I was met with a new development in transit alerts. Usually these signs say, “15 minutes” or “7 minutes” or “due”.  I’ve never encountered them giving bus updates in miles.  I translated that as being “forever” and planned a different route.The better route was the Blue Max line, which was also delayed, but it was delayed while I was sitting on it, and thus, warm.

We had a great list of books to discuss and a large turnout of teenagers to discuss them.  Danielle, steller Youth Librarian, has nicely primed the pump by having a Mock Printz discussion group that meets monthly.  

After much discussion, here was my vote.  I was pleased that so many people enjoyed The Sun is Also A Star, which I loved, but figured was too swoony-romantic for the general population.

It turned out they loved it so much that The Sun is Also a Star won the Hollywood Mock Printz.  We also picked two honor books, Salt to the Sea and Exit, Pursued by a Bear.Thanks for the fun workshop!

One Story “In the Neighborhood”

Recently, it was advertised that Roxane Gay would be judging a fiction contest for the Masters Review.  There was an informative few sentences as to what kind of stories Ms. Gay likes and didn’t like.  Among the things she didn’t like: stories about writers, and stories about white couples in sad relationships.  I chortled, and decided not to enter that contest because the piece I had ready would have trended too closely to the sad relationship trope.  Then, this arrived in the mail.  I’m sorry to say that Roxane Gay’s comments were still too fresh in my mind.  It’s a story of a white couple in a sad relationship.  Even without Gay’s comments, I think I might have still compared it unfavorably to an earlier One Story about a white couple in a sad relationship.  That one–“Queen Elizabeth”–I really enjoyed.   This one, not so much.