Books read in September 2018

September reading brought a cornucopia of books, the kind that can only be achieved by take a week-long vacation. (Or perhaps suffering from a bout of unemployment, though thankfully that wasn’t the case for me.) There were a lot of really good books this month, so much so that I’m going to call out more than one in each category.

Picture Books–Grace for Gus
Middle Grade–Harbor Me, Taking Care of Terrific
Young Adult–The Sun is Also a Star, My Plain Jane
Young Nonfiction–Bonnie & Clyde: The Making of a Legend
Grownup Nonfiction–How to Instant Pot
Adult Fiction–Dietland, Swing Time

Jerome by Heart
Scotto/Tallec
Read for Librarian Book Group

This books wins on two fronts. I don’t often come across depictions of love between two elementary-aged boys.  As someone who did recess duty for nine years, I’ve seen boys become infatuated with each other and the best of friends. I also enjoyed the color scheme (muddy ocher?) and the illustrations which reminded me of Madeline, but in a blurry way.

What didn’t work for me was the lack of context, which set the whole book on the defensive and made it seem like the love the boys felt was wrong. Since the book was going for the opposite message, I would say this was not a successful book.

Mabel and Sam at Home
Urban/Hooper
Read for Librarian Book Group

A series of adventures Mabel and Sam have while moving into a new house. I loved the sister/brother relationship, especially the take-charge nature of the older sister. The 50s-style drawings were delightful and it was fun to see what the pets were up to while the children played.

Grace for Gus
Harry Bliss
Read for Librarian Book Group

Grace sneaks out of the house one night to raise some money to support Gus, the class pet. Over the course of the night, Grace partakes in a number of money-raising activities. 

I loved Grace’s various money making schemes and I would have been very excited to read this book as a young child.  The illustrations are fun, there’s Grace, who is appealing, and there are many details in the illustrations to look at such as headlines, signs and such.

As an “exact words” sort of person I was vaguely troubled trying to figure out if this was a real thing or some sort of extended dream fantasy sequence. But the book itself was so delightful that part doesn’t matter much.

Harbor Me
Jacqueline Woodson
Read for Librarian Book Group

A very short, beautifully written book about a small group of students who spend the last hour of the week alone in a room talking to each other.  As I type the phase “alone in a room” I realize that this would not happen in real life, due to the potential litigation factors of a teacher in the US leaving her students alone in a room together.

Regardless, these students tell their stories as the year progresses. One of the six is dealing with the aftermath of his father being arrested and held for deportation and the tension is built around that situation, but other stories are shared as well. The kids come from different backgrounds and their bonds grow the more they open up to each other.  

Also, I like the cover, while also wondering if it leans a little too far to the schmaltzy side of things.

Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom
Blas/Muldoon/Seely

A group of campers at a weight loss camp for teenagers finds themselves embroiled in a murder and a mystery. This graphic novel had many different kinds of characters and both the art and the campers’ expressions were enjoyable. I found the mystery wrapped up very quickly in a rather unsatisfying way, but I wouldn’t mind seeing these characters come back together for another book.

Taking Care of Terrific
Lois Lowry

I read this book multiple times as a child. It was the first book I voted for for the Young Reader’s Choice Award, one of my many lightbulb memories of reading. I did a re-read to see how it holds up thirty-five years later.

The book is dated in a few ways. There are many early 1980s references that will make no sense to the kids of today and some terms are out of date: namely “transvestites” and “bag ladies”

But man, after this rereading, I think think this book really got under my skin. Was this the reason I moved to Boston after college? Was this the reason I see “bag ladies” as people with complex problems and not an annoyance to society? Was this the reason I love the song “Stardust” when I heard it years later?

The fact that Lois Lowry is a talented and intelligent author is not in dispute, and her skills are on full display here. The primary theme is identity formation. Enid hates her name, pointing out it rhymes with such words as “putrid” and “stupid.” It’s also about making your own decisions about rules. As the summer babysitter of a four-year-old boy she discards many of what she sees as ridiculous rules imposed by the child’s mother.

As Cynthia (the name Enid has chosen for herself) and Tom Terrific (her babysitting charge) spend the summer in the bucolic setting of the Boston Public Garden, there are protests over root beer popsicles, a better understanding of the bag ladies who live in the park, and even some racial justice commentary. That this is all carried out while our characters are busy performing an illegal act makes this story that much more marvelous, though I wonder how parents today would receive its messages.

Burn for Burn
Han/Vivian

Hoo boy, this book was so badly written, I started taking notes. It read like the editor had the thought: “these two women have published books individually before, so I need to do no editing for this story.”

This may be a function of two people writing the book, but many details didn’t jibe. For instance, the island has 1000 people who live permanently on it.  And there are four middle schools and a high school. This is not statistically possible.  According to some quick googling, children make up 24% of our population, which means there are about 250 children on the island. Breaking them down into age cohorts, that’s not even enough to have one middle school, much less four.

Then there was the ferry, whose schedule ran at the convenience of the plot. It ran until 11pm on weeknights. Would a ferry serving an island of 1000 people run that late? The after school ferry is said to arrive at 3:00 and 3:30 in one part of the book, and at 3:00, 3:20, 3:40 and 4:00 in another.

Another inconsistency? The lockers at school have no locks because the island is so safe, but one of the characters lives in a condo complex that has suffered an increasing amount of burglaries. 

There were also sentences like this one: “I pinch my hand hard, the web of skin between my thumb and ring finger, just to make sure I’m not dreaming.”  The ring finger is the fourth finger, separated from the thumb by the index and middle fingers.

Moving on to the people who populate the book, the characters weren’t very believable, many were not sympathetic or interesting, and at least one of them was terribly unpleasant. There was also some hinting at some supernatural abilities that I couldn’t decide was intentional or accidental.  And I don’t buy that the character with the single mother who isn’t very financially successful had a nose job at 16.  Where did that money come from?

Finally, and this is the real reason not to read this book, THERE IS NO ENDING. The characters are wondering how things are going to work out on the final page. Presumably, how things work out is explored more in the following books, but I hold firmly to my belief that authors should wrap up one book as they are sowing the seeds of the next one.

The Sun is Also a Star
Nicola Yoon
Read aloud

This makes for a great read aloud. The short passages, the many side stories, the immediacy of their day keep the words flowing and the pages turning.

Matt was drawn in immediately and was very invested. I enjoyed hearing it a second time.

My Plain Jane
Head/Ashton/Meadows
Read for Librarian Book Group

The authors who brought us alterna-history of Lady Jane Grey have returned with an alterna-retelling of Jane Eyre. And it was so much fun!

The resulting book is a great mix of the Jane Eyre story layered with a new story. In this one Charlotte Bronte is a student at the same academy where Jane Eyer attends. And also, Jane Eyre can see ghosts.

I admire the world building and the book is quite amusing.  They also speak in asides from time to time, just as Bronte did.  Here’s a great one:

Reader,  your narrators understand Jane has fallen for Mr. Rochester rather quickly. The reasons for this could be threefold: first, it was pre-Victorian England, and courtships could last the length of an egg timer. Second, Jane’s lack of experience with men. And third, Jane’s perception of men, which was gleaned mostly from books that tended to glorify tall, dark, and brooding ones. The broodier the better. And Mr. Rochester was among the broodiest.

There were a few details missed here and there, but overall, this was a great book.

Mr. & Mrs. Bo Jo Jones
Ann Head

Someone made an offhand reference to this book in a blog post on the internet and the title, combined with the subject matter, was enough for me to see if they library had it. They did.

The story of couple July and Bo Jo’s accidental pregnancy was contemporary for it’s 1967 publication date and thus, it was a fascinating time capsule of what might happen if a girl got “in trouble” 50 years ago.

In this case, as the title implies, the couple snuck off and got married. The story that follows is one of a young marriage and two people who didn’t really know each other very well before they wed. There are also class differences, which were very interesting. It’s also interesting to see how men and women interact as a couple before the third wave of feminism took hold. My favorite example was Bo Jo saying, “July will get you some coffee” to a friend who stopped by. Nothing makes a marriage happy like commanding your wife to do things.

I found the writing rather staid, but the story was interesting and it read well. It also came with buckram binding, which is rare library treat.

What I Leave Behind
Alison McGhee
Read for Librarian Book Group

Very, very, very, short book with a male protagonist that explores weighty issues and has a lot of details for having so few words. It’s a good depiction of a character who feels there is little he can do, and who wants to do something.

This was the second book I’ve read in 2018 that heavily references David Bowie. (The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic was the first) Given that Bowie died in 2016 and Tom Petty died in 2017, can we expect a lot of Tom Petty references coming in 2019?

Bonnie & Clyde: The Making of a Legend
Karen Blumenthal
Read for Librarian Book Group

A great example of why people of all ages should be reading nonfiction books written for a young adult audience. From the first first sentence, this book is readable and engaging. I loved how it translated things of yesterday into today’s terms. This happens most often with prices of things, but also now I know that a Model A car was approximately the same width as a Ford Focus.

Bluemnthal carefully illustrates the outlaws’ story from different angles, taking time to pick through what details probably stem from legend rather than truth. The book also takes time to recognize the people who were murdered during Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree and they present their story as a complex one, rather than just a tale of bad criminals.

One small quibble. Given the attention to translating early-20th century things into modern day, I would have expected Bluemnthal to do the same thing when she mentions people’s weight.  Bonnie, Clyde, and their associates all grew up in extreme poverty at a time when Americans were smaller from birth to death. Currently, there is a lot of pressure for women and girls to obtain an extremely low body weight, so some context of why a historical figure weighed 81 pounds, and why that would not be the case today, would have been welcome.

Aside from that, this was another great example of the golden age of children’s nonfiction we are living in.

Seeing Into Tomorrow
Wright/Curtis
Read for Librarian Book Group

Back in the day Richard Wright wrote a lot of haiku.  Nina Curtis illustrates those haiku with repeating photos that are assembled into a bigger picture. All of the haikus feature photos of contemporary Black boys, which is great, as photo representations of elementary-school-aged boys tend to be lacking in picture books.

Dietland
Sarai Walker

This book succeeds on so many levels: what it’s like to move through the world with a larger-than-“normal”-sized body; what it’s like to be perpetually on a diet; a scathing sendup of women’s place in American culture; a brilliant satire. It’s also amusing throughout.

Just as part of me responded to the false world created in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club so did I respond to the feminist terrorist organization called Jennifer. When an author gets this much right with her first novel, I can’t wait for her next book.

Swing Time
Zadie Smith

Something about Zadie Smith’s writing makes me want to curl up and not stop reading until all the many pages of the novel have been read. It doesn’t even matter who the characters are.  So it was with this book.

How to Instant Pot
Daniel Shumski
Shumski discards the usual cookbook setup (Appetizers, Soups, Main Dishes, etc.) and instead arranges recipes by Instant Pot function. As there is a learning curve with the appliance, this is appreciated.

I also enjoyed his humor and the fact that he did not have a lengthy list of desserts which could be made in the Instant Pot, but which no one will ever make.  I’m buying this cookbook, which is a rare move for me.  Well done Mr. Shumski!

The pleasures of reading a library book older than me

Mr. and Mrs Bo Jo Jones was a good read made better by the physical copy of the book I was reading. Some of the fun features:

Buckram! That’s that hard wrapping that used to be put on all books when I was growing up. This was before it became standard practice to retain the book cover, but fortify it with plastic. I prefer the new method, but the texture of buckram is something I enjoy.

This book also has an older style barcode. The barcode is only a backup measure. The book is checked out using RFID, which is a small chip placed inside the front cover of the book.

It’s also got an old-style sticker on the spine and a highlight on that old-style sticker. I’m guessing the highlight has something to do with how the book is stored at the library.

The paper was thick and stiff, much more so than books I read today. It made the pages easier to turn and the relative heft was appreciated.

And inside was the best treat of all: the old checkout pocket. I was sad when these were eliminated, because I liked to look back and see how often a book was checked out. Also note that at one time this was a 28 day book with no renewals. Now books are checked out for 21 days with unlimited renewals.

The second page in the pocket tells us that the book was checked out infrequently over three decades and was shelved in the “Young Peoples” section. The author of this book wrote it for adults, though it has been categorized as “for teens” since the 60s.

And on the front page, a stamp identifying the Multnomah County Library. I’m not sure why the library association is listed in parenthetical, but I’m sure there was a committee brought together to decide that.

And one more stamp on the top!

Books read in August 2018

Hello YA-centric August.  Brought to you by Jenny Han.  It started with the Netflix movie and led to three days of frantic reading, and the purchase of all three novels in the trilogy.  I also read some other good things. And some so-so things. So it goes.

Young Adult: Finding Yvonne. Also the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series
Young Nonfiction: Otis and Will Discover the Deep

Pink is for Boys
Pearlman/Kaban
Read for Librarian Book Group
I was not a fan of this book and I can’t really put my finger on why. Part of me is probably resistant because I find the idea that colors are associated with genders ridiculous and something that should probably go extinct and something about this book makes me think it’s not helping. I enjoyed the style of the illustrations, but I found the text to be choppy. 


Cardboard Kingdom
Chad Sell (and others)
Read for Librarian Book Group

The antics of many different neighborhood children are depicted by Chad Sell and other authors who helped shape the narrative. This neighborhood includes many different types of children, all around the same age.  Colors are bright and panels are clear. Words are minimal. I enjoyed the different types of play the children engaged in and would have liked to live in such a neighborhood when I was growing up.

The Brightsiders
Jen Wilde

More of the “famous” genre. In this case, the story of a trio of teenagers who have managed to become a massively famous band before the drummer turns 18.

The writing plunged headlong into plot, and at times seemed a breathless and relentless pounding of words, with not much time for reflection or even backstory. I had many questions as to how the band was formed, and how they gained stardom so fast. None of these were answered. The story itself was so present focused it was overwhelmingly underwhelming.

However, the reason to read this book is how normally so many different gender identities are present. While many more gender identities are appearing in the YA books I read, this is the first book I’ve read that wholeheartedly embraced the “no big deal” aspect of how people identify and who likes whom. Characters had problems due to outsider’s reactions, but within the friend group, there was a take-all-comers attitude.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary
NoNieqa Ramos
Read for Librarian Book Group

When people talk “voice” this is what they are talking about. I loved reading Macy’s dictionary, her asides to the reader, and her honest reflection of her life.

Macy’s life is tough and because I cared about Macy, it made it very hard to keep reading this book. In fact, I read two other books while on break from this one. Macy regularly encounters relentless poverty, neglect, discrimination, prostitution, family incarceration, a sibling absent due to removal by Child Protective Services and a sub-par schooling experience, with the exception of one teacher.

This book is worth reading, so I suggest you press on through any discomfort you might feel. And when you finish reading you might have to convince someone else to read this too, because you’ll want to discuss the ending.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Jenny Han
When I was in high school, sometimes my feelings about a boy would overwhelm me and I’d write a letter to that boy, then hide it away among the books in my bookshelf. I still have those letters, but I still can’t bring myself to read them because the feelings are too much.

Lara Jean also writes letters to boys when the feelings are too much, but she puts them in envelopes and addresses them.  Somehow, those letters she wrote are mailed to the boys in question and thus begins the conundrum of the story.

This novel could have happily settled itself in the quirky, fun YA category, because all sorts of plot shenanigans can happen when you and a boy pretend to be a couple. However, Han takes the story up a few notches and we get really interesting sisters and family relationships as well as a good exploration of how to navigate the early stages of romantic relationship. Or, in this case, the early stages of pretending to be in a romantic relationship.

Finding Yvonne
Brandy Colbert
Let’s talk about the slight flaw in this book first and get it out of the way. Yvonne plays the violin, and her changing feelings about the violin take up a lot of the story.  Her feelings of love and confusion regarding her instrument were clear. However, many aspects of the violin story were unclear. She was still playing in the school orchestra, so presumably she was still bringing her violin back and forth to school and practicing. But there were laments in the story about how she used to have her violin with her all the time at school and now it gathers dust. How can both those things be true?  This was a very small part of the book, but it showed up enough to become the one quibble I had.

  Now, on to what I liked.

I loved so many things about this book. It depicted what dating culture looks like when two people are interested but aren’t committed. I rarely see that in YA books.  I loved the portrayal of the dad who was very much a “so-so” dad meaning that he was great at providing Yvonne a home and clearly loved her but was not really emotionally available.  Both race and class issues were present. There were friendship issues around judgement about who and how many people one chooses to have sex with and there was also a contemporary issue that I feel doesn’t get discussed enough.

I also love books about teenagers where the main character has no friggin idea what they want to do with their lives.

P.S. I Still Love You
Jenny Han
Lara Jean’s story continues in this book.  Aside from continuing to mark the ways a family changes as the children age and mature, this book also includes several main characters playing a game.  I love books where the characters play games!  In this case it’s Assassins, a long-form game that was one of the things the then-friends used to do in middle school. The game added a lot of verve to the plot, as did the confusion and elation that comes with liking two boys at the same time.

This book also takes time to examine how friendships change from middle school to high school and the ramifications what is and isn’t left over.

Han is also great at marking the small losses in adolescence as in this quote:

I’m lying down on my back in the tree house, looking out the window. The moon is carved so thin it’s a thumbnail clipping in the sky. Tomorrow, no more tree house. I’ve barely thought about this place, and now that it’s disappearing, I’m sad. It’s like all childhood toys, I suppose. It doesn’t become important until you don’t have it anymore. But it’s more than just a tree house. It’s goodbye and it feels like the end of everything.

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic
David Arnold
Read for Librarian Book Group
This was–disappointingly–not a very good book. It started out strong, with interesting characters with some good things to overcome. But a shift happens and the bulk of the book’s execution heads in a different direction than the beginning of the book. While reading through that section I felt adrift, unsettled, and grumpy that there had been a bait and switch. In the last bit the book shifts back and an unnecessary additional thing is piled on to that part of the plot.

The kicker is that the writing is quite good. I leave you with a number of delightful quotes I flagged.

Iverton, Illinois, is the personification of its resident youth: someone gave it the keys, a credit card, and no curfew, and now it thinks its shit doesn’t stink. The suburb is populated by these gaudy, homogeneous brick houses, each a clone of the one next to it; driveways and garages are stocked with a variety of shiny SUVs, lawns are pushed to the greenest of greens, and trees grow in suspiciously symmetrical fashion.

Will and Jake Longmire felt out of the douche tree and hit every nozzle on the way down. Also, and not entirely unrelated, they’re really good looking, but in the same way Lochte or the Hemsworth brothers might be called good looking, by which I mean, when one sees them, one senses the overwhelming urge to punch them in the face. 

Pontius Pilot is a Chicago-based recording artist who performed in the Iverton High School auditorium last year as a reward for our junior class having a decent magazine fundraiser. Nothing takes the wind out of a concert’s sails like a Tuesday morning billing; even so, the student council dubbed the event Magazine Mega Gala, and, like that, Pontius Pilot became a legend. Though collectively, the Iverton High populace felt about his music the way one feels about their fourth-grade soccer trophy, or the crinkle-cut fries in the cafeteria: it’s a nostalgic love, weak at the root.

Sometimes talking with a sibling is like hiking in a foreign country only to round a corner and find your house. Penny and I are so different in so many ways–and yet, I know this place well.

One final note. I very much appreciate this movie for calling out the horrible racism present, via Micky Rooney’s character, in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The more people can get the word out, the fewer people will have to experience the slack-jawed discomfort I did.

Always and Forever Lara Jean
Jenny Han

Taken together, these three books encompass a picture of the many changes that happen during the final two years of high school. Relationships are formed and dissolved, people mature, families morph and change, and then there’s the question of what to do when it’s time for college.

In this final book Lara Jean works through the last few months of high school, which means navigating the college admissions acceptance and rejection, figuring out what is going to happen with her boyfriend, and helping her family to combine to accept a new member.

This is a new side to Daddy–bickering, losing his patience just barely. Trina brings it out in him, and I know it sounds strange, but I’m glad for it. It’s something I never realized was gone in him. There’s making do, living a pleasant life, no big ups or downs, and there’s all the friction and fire that come with being in love with someone. She takes forever to get ready, which drives him crazy, and she makes fun of his hobbies, like bird-watching and documentaries. But they fit.

Otis & Will Discover the Deep
Rosenstock/Roy
Read for librarian book group

A short illustrated nonfiction story of two scientists/adventurers who take a very small vessel very far into the deep depths of the ocean. The illustrations capture both the curious spirit of Otis and Will, the claustrophobic confines of their deep sea vessel and the wonder of what they found in the deep water. The words capture the excitement and trepidation.

The one thing missing from this book was a clearer setting in time. I couldn’t tell from the illustrations or the text what year the deep sea dive was. The excellent back matter divulged that information, but it was distracting while reading the book.

Books read in June 2018

It was a big reading month with multiple things read in (nearly) every category.  This is a sign of both “good books to read” (because I want to finish them and thus read them quickly) and “vacation” (because I have time to finish them). I even got to read two of my favorite adult fiction authors this month.  What a treat!
Picture book: Pie is for Sharing
Middle grade: The Parker Inheritance
Young adult: When my Heart Joins the Thousands
Young nonfiction: The Girl who Drew Butterflies
Grownup nonfiction: For Everyone
Adult fiction: Since we Fell, You Think it, I’ll Say it.
Ocean Meets Sky
The Fan Brothers
Read for Librarian Book Group
A boy builds a boat in honor of his decesaed grandfather and sails to where the ocean meets the sky. There is a lot to look at, I especially loved Library Island with bookish birds.

My slight quibble involves the grandfather’s age. Would he have really been 90 and had a grandson so young?

Pie is for Sharing
Ledyard & Chin
Read for Librarian Book Group
Family and friends spend an idyllic Independence Day holiday by the local lake. The illustrations are gorgeous, there are many things for sharing and I loved the different ways the kids played together. I want to live in this book.

Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Stevenson, Elllis, Walters, Allen
Read for Family Book Group
An exciting adventure; a camp with a great name (Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types); a great group of friends. As a former girl scout who read the handbooks for both girl and boy scouts, I loved the handbook excerpts. I could have done without the non-ending, but it is a comic book.

The Serpant’s Secret
Sayantani DasGupta
Read for Librarian Book Group
Good things: fantasy adventure with a female main character inspired by stories from India.

As mentioned before, I’m not the best audience for fantasy, so this was a slog. For those who are fans, it had many things good things going for it.

All Summer Long
Hope Larson
Read for Librarian Book Group
What do you do when your best friend leaves for the summer for soccer camp? Lots of hanging out.  This graphic novel captures a summer of boredom and changes.

Also: guaranteed to get the song “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock stuck on my head.

The Parker Inheritance
Varian Johnson
Read for Librarian Book Group
Truth? I tend to sigh when I pick up a middle grade novel on my reading list.  They don’t tend to be my thing.

But Varian Johnson? The two books I’ve read (The Great Greene Heist is the other one) have been smashing!

Candice has to spend the summer in Lambert, South Carolina, far away from her Atlanta home.  She’s living in her deceased grandmother’s house with her mother, while her own home is renovated for a post-divorce sale. Her grandmother always loved puzzles and when Candice finds a letter addressed to her grandmother with a puzzle that promises great riches to the person who can solve it, she and the neighbor boy across the street spend the summer chasing down leads.

It’s a contemporary mystery, sure, but it’s also window into Jim Crow-era life in South Carolina, and a story about revenge and redemption.

It was a perfect book.

You Go First
Erin Entrada Kelly
Read for Librarian Book Group
The story of two kids, both going through hard times in different parts of the country. They are tied together by their online Scrabble relationship.

Erin Entrada Kelly seems to thrive telling stories that take place in compact time periods. This plays out over a week. Charlotte is twelve and dealing with her father’s illness and her relationship with her best friend changing. Ben is eleven decides to put himself out there and run for student council.

It’s an emotionally charged week, and one with tough life lessons. But it’s a week worth reading about.

Picture us in the Light
Kelly Loy Gilbert
Read for Librarian Book Group
This book had pacing problems, with the first two thirds meandering through some interesting characters and setting, and I couldn’t quite get the point of the story. I put it down to read another book, but came back to finish it so to be ready for discussion.

The last third was much better, I had an idea of where things were going, and some interesting stuff came up. And the last 10 pages were packed with story in a way that made me wish Kelly Loy Gilbert had an editor with a firmer hand.

I loved the characters in this book, and the clear view I got of the town of Cupertino.  Had the story been told in a less meandering way, I would have been able to rate it higher.

Critique of things the author doesn’t have control over: the cover implies this will be (yet another) graffiti artist book.  However, the main character is not a graffiti artist and also spends most of the book unable to draw.  Poor form book cover people, poor form.

When my Heart Joins the Thousands
A. J. Steiger
Read for Librarian Book Group
Quirky romance with a main character who is on the autism spectrum, this book is also a good depiction of living in poverty.  The lows are very harrowing and I had a lot of worry while reading.

Conviction
Kelly Loy Gilbert
The author’s second book Picture us in the Light had structural problems, but super engaging characters and an interesting story, and I was curious what her first book was like.

It was great!

Braden’s father, a popular right-wing talk radio host, has been arrested for vehicular manslaughter.  His other brother Trey–long estranged–has returned home to act as his guardian while Braden finishes high school and his father awaits trail. Braden is a Christian and wants to do the right thing, but protecting his father requires him to make a choice.

While the will he/won’t he plot rumbles along, we’re also puzzling over his brother’s odd actions, plus some good baseball stuff, plus a lot of wondering about Christianity and how it squares and what his father wants him to do.  Plus, there’s a girl he likes.

I found a few plot points convenient in distracting ways–namely to do with recording of the trial–and I didn’t believe the case would have been decided the way it was.  But I loved Braden and his thoughtful navigation through a confusing period in his life. I’m also quite curious what happens to him after the story ends. Sequel? I would welcome one.

Royals
Rachel Hawkins
What happens to your normal Florida teenage life when your older sister gets engaged to the future King of Scotland? In Daisy’s case, due to a subpar ex-boyfriend selling a story to the tabloids, it means spending the summer in Scotland with the royal family and their assorted friends.

This is a by-the-book contemporary romance with engaging characters, relationships that build and change, and a plucky heroine.  It made for some enjoyable reading and I was impressed with Hawkins ability to juggle the personalities of so many friends of royals.

A Study in Charlotte
Brittany Cavallaro
A grand Sherlock Holmes retelling. Charlotte is a descendant of the famous detective. Jamie Watson is the narrator and a descendant of Dr. Watson. Charlotte and Jamie meet at a Connecticut boarding school and are immediately thrown into a mystery when one of their classmates is murdered.

I’m only a casual reader of anything Holmesian, but I’m guessing this book is chock full of fun details for people who are bigger fans.  I enjoyed the mystery and the growing Holmes/Watson friendship.

The Impossible Knife of Memory
Anderson
A rather bleak story of a girl trying to hold her life together while her father, an Iraqi War veteran, falls apart.  Anderson combines the slow motion car wreck of a life with a heartfelt and complicated first love. It’s vividly written and, though bleak, not hard to keep reading.

Losing Gabriel
Lurlene McDaniel
At the library, stocking up books for my upcoming vacation, I grabbed this one because the author’s name sounded familiar.  At home I was amused to discover that the familiarity was from the fact that I read this author 30 years ago as an actual teenager. She did sick-lit before sick-lit was a thing. And she’s been busy in the intervening years. Her list of books is long.

The book opens with Lani, Dawson, and Slone attending the same small-town Tennessee high school. Dawson is grumpily new in town–his father has accepted a new job at the hospital. Lani is a quiet girl who wants to be a nurse and Sloan is the balls-to-the-wall singer of a locally famous band who wants nothing more than to use music to get her out of of town.  Lani has a crush on Dawson, Dawson only has eyes for Sloan and Sloan is in a relationship with the lead guitarist.

The book takes place in two parts; high school and then four years later. It’s a solidly-built story and I enjoy a teen novel that wanders into adult life, something I couldn’t properly visualize when I was a teenager.

The moniker “inspirational writer” tends to taint my viewpoint of any story, but this was solidly constructed. It also avoided judgement in places where there could have been some. There was a sacrificial lamb element I found off-putting, but it worked well with the story.  There’s a segment at the Bonnaroo music and arts festival where a mostly unbelievable plot twist happens.  But I did enjoy the thought of Lurlene McDaniel doing her Bonnaroo research.


Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
Isabel Quintero
Read for Librarian Book Group
Mexican photographer  Iturbide’s life is on display in this nicely written and drawn book. The text gave us a good sense of her life, and the illustrations fleshed things out.  I appreciated the inclusion of Iturbide’s photographs into the narrative.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies
Joyce Sidman
Read for Librarian Book Group
A nonfiction book about Maria Sibylla Merian, a German artist in the 17th century. Not only is this a woman-focused story in a time when women were rarely professional artists, it also is a book that combines science and art. Merian drew pictures of butterflies, and she also studied all phases of their life cycle–which was a big deal, because many of her contemporaries didn’t understand that butterflies came from caterpillars. (This was many years before The Very Hungry Caterpillar was written.)

The layout of the book is excellent, including reproductions of Merian’s art, and quotes by the artist. There is engaging writing to tell the tale and also an excellent timeline, glossary, and bibliography.

I’m not a fan of the title.  While the story does begin with Merian’s girlhood, the bulk of the book is spent on her adulthood as a professional artist. Does the title infantilize a professional woman?

For Everyone
Jason Reynolds
A letter written by Jason Reynolds before he was Jason Reynolds, successful author and super-cool guy.  It’s a short book of words of encouragement to dreamers that not only employs the excellent phrase “internal eczema” but also calls out encouragement for “the squares who use nine to five cubes as planning sessions for the real work.”

I should probably set a calendar reminder to check this book out every six weeks.

Here
Richard McGuire
This book starts with a room, shown in one decade, then another.  As you turn the page, you see the room–or the place where the room is–during different centuries, both past and future.  I love books that make me feel like a blip in the universe. This is a simple concept, beautifully executed.

Since We Fell
Dennis Lehane
I haven’t been much of a fan of Lehane’s more recent works, but this was a return to form.  I see Lehane as someone who writes really awesome love stories that happen to be wrapped in crime procedurals.

Rachel is searching for her father–the man her mother kept from her. She’s got a few facts, but they are common enough to make the search tough.  Early on, she employs the services of a private investigator, who advises her not to waste her money. While that part of the book plays out, she’s also a rising star at a Boston television station.  But when a post-earthquake visit to Haiti derails her career and her marriage falls apart, she crosses paths with the private investigator–now a successful businessman.

I like how Lehane can tell us a story that pivots several times, and it’s only at the end that things come together and you realize he’s be setting up the dominoes to fall at just the right moment. Plus, the whole love story thing.

You Think it, I’ll Say it
Curtis Sittenfeld
If you are lucky, you find a writer who is on the same emotional wavelength as you. Curtis Sittenfeld seems to be that person for me. We’re the same age, so we have the same reference points and more importantly, her writing connects with my ongoing feelings of sadness tinged with hope and moments of wonder.

Enter this collection of short stories, many of which feature 40-somethings dealing with work and children.  In both dialogue and description Sittenfeld strips life down to what it is, but also writes with such care that I want to read and reread.

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.