Books read in July 2019

July was a month of YA reading, and came with some excellent book-reading experiences. All hail summer reading!

Recommended

Young Adult: Internment, With the Fire on High, Birthday, We are the Perfect Girl, Like a Love Story

Young Adult

Internment
Samira Ahmed
Read for Librarian Book Group

An alternate-present distopia where all the Muslims in the US are moved to concentration camps just like the Japanese were during WWII. I found this to be a highly discusssable book, with high stakes that I gobbled up.

I correctly predicted the fate of one of the characters very early on, and I would have liked more of a wrap up, but overall, it was a great read.

Within These Lines
Stephanie Morrill

Hot on the heels of Internment, I read this book about a young couple separated by the forced relocation of people of Japanese descent during World War II. The book excelled in depicting the conditions in the internment camp.

It was also one of those historical fiction books where the characters seem to have been transported from 2019 to the early 1940’s. And there weren’t nearly enough siblings. Both the main characters were only children, somewhat of an anomaly during that time.

With the Fire on High
Elizabeth Acevdo
Read for Librarian Book Group

Man, oh man, do I love this book. I can’t recall the last YA novel I read where the main character is also a mom. And what a good mom she was!

Emoni is also a talented cook and the descriptions of her meal preparation felt like descriptions of how art is made. Ultimately, I think she was a little too perfect, but Acevdo’s writing was so good that I didn’t mind.

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc
David Elliott
Read for Librarian Book Group

The story of Joan of Arc told in different forms of verse.

I loathed all of the verse. I didn’t like how it was written, I despised the poems arranged in shapes, and I thought the guide that explained the different types of poetry within the book should have been at the beginning, not the end.

That said, it’s a short book, so the torture didn’t go on for an overly long period of time.

Birthday
Meredith Russo

It took me a bit to realize this was the same sort of set up as David Nicholl’s One Day. (Which is, of course, the same set up as Same Time Next Year, which probably has the same set up as something in Ovid I don’t know about.)

Anyway! In this case we have two best friends who share a birthday and we meet them on their 13th birthday. Morgan wants to tell his best friend Eric a secret, because if he can tell Eric, then he can tell his father, and after that maybe he can start telling the world.

The stakes are high in this novel. There is no inclusive culture in the small town where the boys live. Life is hard, and both of them are dealing with challenges–poverty, loss of parents, authoritarian parents.

Meredith Russo writes the brutal reality of kids without a support network. This is a hard book, but a good one.

We are the Perfect Girl
Ariel Kaplan

It’s been quite some time since I read such a funny book. Just like in the movies, comedy doesn’t get the same respect as tragedy. It also had very gentle stakes, (no one was going to die, or be killed!) but still packed a punch.

There’s great body image stuff that will probably feel universal for most girls and women, and Kaplan expertly captures pining for a certain someone to love you, while also being convinced they never will love you.

Like a Love Story
Abdi Nazemian

AIDS. It was killing a lot of people during my formative years. And I feel like we’re in a phase of not talking about it.

Enter this book, the story of three kids in New York City. Art is out, Judy is is best friend, and Reza is the new guy at school, lately from Toronto, originally from Iran.

Through their stories, we get the horror and magic that was 1989, the danger of coming out, and the worry and hope of falling in love.

Interspersed with their stories are Art’s note cards written by Judy’s Uncle Stephen as a primer to gay life. I would have liked more of these note cards, but it was a pretty long book, already.

Young Nonfiction

Planting Stories
Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar
Read for Librarian Book Group

A beautifully illustrated story of the life of Pura Belpre, librarian, storyteller, puppeteer, and namesake of the award for outstanding works of literature by Lantinx authors and illustrators.

The illustrations are gorgeous. The text had some gaps. For instance: How long did she give up her storytelling to follow her husband around the world?

Books read in June 2019

One of my YA-zeitgeist books is on this list. Check out Dig, by A.S. King.

Picture Books

Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies
Jorge & Megan Lacera
Read for Librarian Book Group

A funny book about a zombie kid who prefers eating vegetables to eating humans; it also doubles as a nice coming out narrative.

I am Hermes
Mordicai Gerstein
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book has illustrations that pair perfectly with the text. It makes for a whimsical illustration of the life of Hermes.

Vamos, Let’s Go to the Market
Raul Gonzalez III
Read for Librarian Book Group

The pages are packed with a ton of things to look at, appealing to those kids who like to really study their picture books. There’s a great English/Spanish mix of words and the journey through the market is interesting.

Where are you from?
Yamile Saied Mendez, Jamie Kim
Read for Librarian Book Group

A long (and beautifully illustrated) answer to a question we* should probably be more aware of what we’re saying when we ask it.

*we=white people

Middle Grade

Other Words for Home
Jasmine Wanga

Read for Librarian Book Group

A slimmer novel in verse that shows us Jude’s life in Syria and then how her life changes when she comes to America.

I would have liked more details, but I enjoyed the verse. I also couldn’t remember anything about this book when it came up in book group discussion until I looked at the cover.

Young Adult

Dig
A.S. King
Read for Librarian Book Group

“Am I really up for A.S. King’s weirdness?” I asked myself as I picked up the book.

Turns out: yep! I was. It’s best to carve out a larger segment of time to get started with this book. There are many characters and many things aren’t clear as the book begins. But stick with it, and soon it will be hard to stop reading.

Most A.S. King books are uncomfortable. She seems to tap into the parts of this modern world that just aren’t right. But being uncomfortable and adrift is not an uncommon feeling in life, so perhaps A.S. King has her fingers on the pulse.

If you are a white person ages 15–107, this is your 2019 zeitgeist book.

Again, but Better
Christine Riccio

At first, I thought this book was aggressively mediocre, but I kept reading because the mild social panic was described so well. I also liked the idea of a college student realizing she’s done a terrible job making friends and trying her best to start fresh during her study abroad program.

Then the story changed and I was hooked. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat brilliant book.

Not to mention, it’s YA fiction with a 20-year-old protagonist. I’ll have to add it to my list of YA-in-college books. (Take that, agent who told me I wasn’t writing YA!)

The Afterward
E.K. Johnston
Read for Librarian Book Group

E.K. Johnston builds us a world where a group of knights, a mage and a thief have successfully completed a quest and now it’s back to the everyday. But the everyday is tough. Some of them have battle trauma, some of them have to do things to survive that become increasingly hard. Some of them are in love, and can’t be together for various reasons.

This book constantly challenged my mental pictures, and I love it for that. It’s also a fantasy book that doesn’t take place today that I was still interested in reading. Big wins! Hopefully it will get a better cover in the future.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Power of Habit
Charles Duhigg

A thorough examining of how habits rule our lives, not just on an individual level, but in companies, and in social movements.

This is more of an informational text than a self-help book. I would have liked more of a how-to on how to change habits. But I’m sure there’s a book out there for me. In the meantime, this was interesting and informative.

Nolo’s Guide to Single-Member LLCs
David M. Steingold

This is a handy guide of things to know if you are thinking about starting a single-member LLC. The information is clear, it breaks down details and there are links to free forms.

Elizabeth Gilbert at Revolution Hall

Back in the day (this particular day: the early 2000s) Powell’s Books would rent a venue for its big authors and you could see a reading for free. No longer. Now you pay money, and also get a copy of the book. This is how I’ve obtained Gilbert’s last three books.

Elizabeth Gilbert was her usual self. She was funny, wry, and admitted to drinking too much at lunch with Cheryl Strayed. She talked about the loss that had come lately to her life. In the Q&A section she was very clear about what a question was, which was very much appreciated. The woman who asked the first question, asked the most beautiful question I’ve ever heard at an author reading. The whole room took a breath simultaneously. What was the question? I do not recall. But it was a great moment at the book reading.

Gilbert also read us the first chapter of City of Girls. Which would have been enough to sell me on reading the book. Of course, I already had a copy.

Books read in May 2019

Ah, vacation reading, you let me do things like re-read a book so I can properly read the second and then the third in a series. So delightful.

Recommended

Picture books: The Undefeated
Middle grade: Genesis Begins Again
Young Adult: On the Come Up
Young Nonfiction: Biddy Madison Speaks Up

Picture books

When Spring Comes to the DMZ
Uk-Bae Lee
Read for Librarian Book Group

An odd and interesting little book about the wildlife that has flourished in Korea’s DMZ. The illustrations were not my style, but there is a lot to look at.

If you’re looking for Baby’s First DMZ book, this is it.

The Undefeated
Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
Read for Librarian Book Group

When Kwame Alexander isn’t slaying you with his words, Kadir Nelson is slaying you with his illustrations.

Middle grade

The Moon Within
Aida Salazar
Read for librarian book group

While Are You There God, it’s me, Margaret was a seminal book when it was published, when I read it in 1985, it was already dated. There’s a whole section about buying belts to hold the pads and even though I hadn’t yet gotten my period, I suspected that wasn’t how things worked anymore. And so it came to pass that many authors stepped in and wrote more books about that time around when a girl gets her period.

Kidding! Where are all the fiction books on this topic? There should be one every decade or so to capture various menstruation trends/practices.

Enter The Moon Within, which gets a lot of stars for exploring the topic. It’s also written in verse, which will make for quick reading.

That said, I personally found the ceremonial aspect of this transition that was emphasized to be the kind of thing I distance myself from, so from that perspective, it wasn’t a book that worked for me. I did like the friendship changes and the navigating that stage where someone you like likes you back for the first time.

Genesis Begins Again
Alicia D. Williams
Read for Librarian Book Group

I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a book for kids that so thoroughly explores feelings about how dark or light one’s skin is.

Genesis has to move all the time. It’s not unusual for her to come home to find all her belongings on the street. While that’s an unfortunate situation, what really made me ache is how hard she tries to change the color of her very dark skin.

This book is set in the suburbs. Genesis’s father has moved them to a house in a school district with a lot of things she hasn’t had in her school before. One of them is a choir teacher who encourages Genesis to find her voice.

Genesis also makes friends for the first time. And yet, while those things are going on, she’s going to a lot of extremes to lighten her skin.

I loved this book, and it was hard to read. I highly recommend it. And it’s got a great cover.

Young adult

On the Come Up
Angie Thomas
Read for Librarian Book Group

This was a great book on so many levels. My notes list six different things, all with plus signs. They are: main character; rap battles; dilemma (selling out vs staying true); people interpreting your words; friendships; church

It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and then not think about it again. But Angie Thomas is so good at creating worlds that I think about different scenes, characters and situations many times after the book is done. I particularly love main character Bri, who has a lot to balance: the neighborhood legacy of her father; her desire to be a successful rapper; struggles with how she is perceived at school; worry about her mother’s health.

I particularly loved Bri’s friends and the many different ways they responded to escalating tensions at school. I also found Bri’s observations of church members to be quietly amusing. There’s also a good dose of observing how it is to be female and looking to break into the music business.

We are so lucky to have Angie Thomas. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Every Day
David Levithan

I loved Every Day when it was first published I found it inventive and interesting. It was also a great book for introducing the concept of gender fluidity.

This was a re-read so I could read this and the two companion books in sequence. On second reading, it still held up.

Another Day
David Levithan

My plan to read this right after reading Every Day turned out to be not the best plan. It’s the same story, but from Rhiannon’s point of view. I knew this, but didn’t realize that 90% of the book is exactly the same book. Because I had finished Every Day the day before, entire passages were word-for-word familiar. I could picture Levithan’s copy/paste skills increasing as he wrote this book.

There were a few things worth reading for. I recommend reading this a month or so after Every Day.

Someday
David Levithan

This is the third book in the Every Day series. (Which I notice has a .5 digital-only book called Six Days Earlier.)

My book-loving friend mentioned that she had to put this book down because it was making her too anxious. I totally get it. The character X is not a good person.

And yet! This book is great! It’s got a complex plot: A and Rhiannon; A and X; A’s usual shifting from body to body. Plus there are other characters.

I think it’s a book-length exploration of what love is, when it can’t be love as we usually see it. There’s also a lot of drama, especially for David Leviathan.

I found the ending quite satisfying and well worth getting through the portions of the book that are X’s story.

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss
Kasie West.

This was a perfectly serviceable YA romance. The main character was also a working actress, so there was that fame angle, which is always fun.

The Opposite of Always
Justin Reynolds

The first 100 pages of this book are marvelous, because Justin Reynolds knows how to write his way through a romance. [Main character] is so fun to watch while he’s working through quandaries, and his friends are very interesting. Plus, his parents are amusing. There’s even a time travel aspect hinted at.

And then. Once the time travel aspect kicks in we get shades of the same story three more times. Though there are variations, the repeat of the stories provides diminishing returns and the more pages I read, the more often I put the book down.

Still, the first 100 pages were fabulous. And my notes state: the best slog I’ve read in 2019!

There was so much to like about this book, I look forward to what Justin Reynolds can give us next.

Young nonfiction

Biddy Mason Speaks Up
Arisa White, Laura Atkins, and Laura Freeman
Read for librarian book group.

The story of Biddy Mason, who was a slave taken to California where she “spoke up” for her freedom.

I like how this series gives us the factual stuff. Words are defined on the page they are introduced and the layout is great with photos, illustrations and other supports. There’s very good back matter.

The one thing I wonder about is the alternating verse/nonfiction prose setup. While the verse is good for people who like stories told in verse, and the nonfiction is good for people who like fact-based books, I wonder if tumbling them both together might dilute the entire book?

Books read in April 2019

The thing about getting behind on your blog posts? It sometimes feels like it’s been a lifetime since you’ve read this book. If you had asked me today (June 28) when I read To Night Owl, From Dogfish, I would have said, “last year sometime, maybe?”

But apparently, I read it in April. It was great! So was Serious Moonlight, Love to Everyone, Kiss Number 8, and Let ‘er Buck!

Middle Grade

To Night Owl, From Dogfish
Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
Read for Librarian Book Group

Being a fan of epistolary fiction, I was all over these two girls’ back and forth emails as they first plotted against their fathers’ plan to send them to camp together so they could get to know each other.

Aside from Avery and Bett, who shine through their correspondence, we meet and get to know a lot of other people in their orbits. This book includes the fun of correspondence and the fun of summer camp. It may be my favorite book so far in 2019.

The Backstagers
James Tynion & Rian Sygh
Read for Family Book Group

The final selection of the Family Book Group year (and my tenure as the person leading the group) was this little graphic novel comic book about the people who work backstage during plays.

As established in previous reviews, graphic novels aren’t my medium and this very comic-book style of graphic novel is especially not my medium, so there was that barrier. Despite the barrier, I really enjoyed the characters and the magical backstage. In doing preparatory work for our Family Book Group meeting, I read interviews with the creators that had me liking the book even more. While I won’t be reading volumes 2 and 3, I’m really glad this series exists.

It was well received by both the kids and the adults in the Family Book Group.

Young Adult

Bloom
Kevin Panetta, Savanna Ganucheau
Read for Librarian Book Group

A graphic novel with good illustrations and a color scheme that screams pleasant beach environment. I also enjoyed seeing the variety of delicious baked goods that were featured as a part of the story.

What I didn’t love was the main character Ari, who was kind of a jerk, although appropriate enough for his age and stage in life.

Serious Moonlight
Jenn Bennett

What is it about Jenn Bennett that makes me want to start reading her books from the beginning right after I finish the last page? She’s got great characters, for one. And her conundrums are spot on, and never manufactured drama.

In this book, Birdie is an overly sheltered (home schooled by her religious grandmother from the age of 10 when her mother abruptly died) girl from Bainbridge Island who is starting her first job as a night clerk at at Seattle hotel. She’s a mystery enthusiast, hoping her new job will bring some sort of a case her way.

There is a mystery for her to solve, but there’s also Daniel, the guy she met at the Moonlight Diner.

Bennett excels at the tentativeness of first love, and also witty repartee and amusing situations. There was even a gasp or two by me as the story unfolded.

Slight quibbles: I found it hard to believe that someone who grew up for 18 years in Seattle and the Seattle metro area would not have been well-acquainted with sushi, especially with that freewheeling Aunt Mona in her life. And even if she wasn’t familiar with sushi, the fact that Birdie didn’t know that Japanese culture is a shoes-off culture struck me as very weird. Plus, with all that June Gloom, would those apricots would have ripened as early as they did?

We Set the Dark on Fire
Tehlor Kay Mejia
Read for Librarian Book Group

When I set down a book mid-read for a different book, it’s not a great sign. When I read that new book twice in a row, it’s a very bad sign.

Nothing really worked for me with this book. The pacing was off. It took until mid-book for things to really get going and I was 10 pages out from the ending wondering how in the heck things were going to wrap up.

I never really believed the world. You can put a rambling myth at the beginning of a story, but that doesn’t mean I will believe it.

Things developed in ways that were not at all surprising and I could tell the parts in the book where I was supposed to feel tense, but my feelings never moved past boredom.

Love to Everyone
Hilary McKay
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book has the best first page I’ve read in a very long time. It’s the kind of first page so good at drawing me in that I was moved to post it on Instagram. It’s the kind of dreamy writing that immediately reminded me of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, a favorite book from my childhood.

From that first page, it’s a book chock full of details of the pre-World War I time period and characters so vivid I wouldn’t be surprised if they stopped by for tea.

It does not have the standard sort of plot that I’ve grown used to, rather it follows Clarry from her early childhood to her early adulthood. That left me feeling the book dragged through the middle. However, the other very good things propped me up and the book overall left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

P.S. I have just discovered that the British title of this book is The Skylarks’ War. Man, those Brits get all the good stuff. That’s a much better title!

Kiss Number 8
Coleen A.F. Venable & Ellen T. Crenshaw
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book does a great job capturing the adolescent rage I think we all felt during our adolescence. And I felt the frustration right along with Amanda because the lack of clarity provided by her parents was maddening.

That lack of clarity adds a nice layer of mystery. There are also friendship expectations and identity stuff. Also, it’s set in 2004, so there might be some nostalgia details baked in for readers of a certain age.

In short, great story, great drawings, really great book.

Young nonfition

Titanosaur
Jose Luis Carballido
Read for Librarian Book Group

I was unclear about a few details (What year was this? Was the gaucho on the first page also the landowner?) and that was distracting. However, it’s a pretty cool dinosaur book. I liked the combination of illustrations and photos from the dig.

Let ‘er Buck
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & Gordon C. James
Read for Librarian Book Group

I loved this picture book of history of George Fletcher who did not win the 1911 Pendelton Roundup even though he probably would have, had he not been a black man.

This book not only has an excellent voice for its subject matter, but also has incredible illustrations, all of which I would be glad to have on the walls of my imaginary high desert cabin.

There’s also great back matter that is frank about how hard it was to verify information, plus a selected bibliography.

Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits
Cynthia Lord, John Bald and Hazel Mitchell
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m not a person who is interested in rabbits as pets, but boy did I like this book, which combines photographs and illustrations to teach us both about the specific bunnies that Cynthia Lord was fostering and also about pet rabbit information in general.

There’s a good afterward discussing things to think about before you adopt a bunny.

Alex Gino at the North Portland Library

Thanks to the Multnomah County Library’s commitment to bringing authors of children’s literature to local audiences, I got to see Alex Gino, author of George and You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P. at the North Portland Library. Gino is non-binary and uses the pronouns they, them, and their.

Things I learned:

Alex prefers to refer to their book George as Melissa’s Story, because George is a name that Melissa would prefer to never hear again. This had me wondering at the process to pick the book’s title.

There were many questions from the audience, which we submitted on index cards. The audience was at least half young people which might be the cause of Alex’s encouragement to write down questions that begin with something besides “what.” (Although my question What is your favorite part about being an author? also began with “what” so perhaps we all needed that encouragement.)

There was a question about navigating the world as a non-binary person and they said that it is hard, but it used to be harder, namely because there wasn’t a term. They were 19 before they found the term genderqueer.

Their next book Rick is coming in 2020 and they wrote it as a companion book to Melissa’s Story. They cited the reason that they did not write a sequel to Melissa’s Story is that for a book to happen, plot would have to happen and that means that bad things would have to happen to Melissa. They are not about having bad things happen to Melissa. Instead, Rick is a story investigating what it means to be so unsure of yourself that you hang out with the bully.

When asked about Melissa’s Story becoming an OBOB Book (Oregon Battle of the Books) they said that they grew up in a world where being queer on purpose around children wasn’t a thing. There were certainly people who were queer around children, but they had to hide that part of them. For their book to be recognized as literature is phenomenal and it gives them hope that things are moving in a good direction.

This led to a story of the signing event that happened on Sunday in Canby, Oregon. Apparently there were 250 people in attendance. The person sitting next to me was in attendance for the Canby signing and said that attendance was so high because Melissa’s Story was excluded from Canby’s OBOB tournament and the Canby Mayor rejected a proclamation honoring International Transgender Day of Visibility. So people of Canby made themselves visible in support of the author.

They ended their talk by saying that they believed that books saved lives and what their hope is for Melissa’s Story is that someday a trans woman will be walking late at night and someone coming toward her might be a very big guy, who is also drunk, and who recognizes this person as trans. And instead of doing what happens to so many trans people now–harassment or assault–that person will think of Melissa and just walk on by and everyone will get home safe.

Books read in February 2019

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

Recommended

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

Picture Books

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

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

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

Middle Grade

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

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

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

Finding Langston
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Young Adult

I, Claudia
Mary McCoy
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadie
Courtney Summers
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

The Vanishing Stair
Maureen Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Feet Apart
Lippencolt et.al.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books read in January 2019

January tends to be a month of free-reading. There’s the tail end of the holidays which affords more time for reading, and in book group we’re mostly to the point of having read all the potential youth awards we are going to read.

This month I had time to squeeze in some Grownup Nonfiction and some Smart Smut. But there are also some really great children’s books that I read this month.

Recommended

Picture Books: Stop that Yawn
Middle Grade: The Season of Styx Malone
Young Adult: The Assassination of Bragwain Spurge
Grownup Nonfiction: Profit First
Smart Smut: Bitter Spirits

Picture Books

Stop That Yawn
Caron Levis & LeUyen Pham
Read for Librarian Book Group

I tend to like picture books with more things on the page, rather than fewer. All the better to look at during subsequent rereads. There’s also the challenge of stopping that yawn, which I failed at every single time.

Heartbeat
Evan Turk
Read for Librarian Book Group

Perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this book. It struck me as something eight-year-olds would make fun of.

Carmela Full of Wishes
Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson
Read for Librarian Book Group

Carmila is old enough to go to the laundromat with her big brother. She also learns about wishes. Good illustrations, sweet book.

In the Past: From Trilobites to Dinosaurs to Mammoths in More Than 500 Million Years
David Elliott and Matthew Truman
Read for Librarian Book Group

Dinosaurs! And things that came before them! The illustrations are great, and we learn about the subject matter via amusing short poems such as this:

Dunkleosteus
You weren’t picky
When it came to diet;
if it lived in the ocean,
you would try it.
Which leads me to raise
this delicate question:
Your face—
the unhappy result
of indigestion?

Middle Grade

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World
Ashley H. Blake
Read for Family Book Group

Ivy Aberdeen’s house blew away in a tornado and now her family lives in a room at a local B&B. Ivy’s got problems. Aside from the lack of a house, her parents are tired from taking care of her baby twin brothers. Sandwiched between them and her older sister, Ivy feels like no one notices her.

And she’s lost her notebook, which is a problem because it’s got drawings that make it obvious that Ivy likes girls. Not only that, but she knows someone has found her notebook because they keep leaving her drawings in her locker.

This book is full of feelings: loss, anger, sadness, hope, worry. Some things happen that seem really unfair. But Ivy’s got some champions: the owner of the B&B and a girl who might be a new friend. Even the person leaving her drawings is encouraging. But who is it?

The Season of Styx Malone
Kekla Magoon
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book delighted me from the early scene when Caleb and his brother trade a very specific item for a bag of fireworks. They know it’s wrong, and they know they are eventually going to get in trouble, but they just can’t help themselves. It’s a bag of fireworks! Illegal ones!

After getting in trouble with their parents, and being assigned the summer-long punishment of doing chores every day with a kid they don’t like, they meet a different kid: Styx Malone.

It’s interesting to have an age gap of six or so years between the brothers and Styx. When you’re ten years old, sixteen seems very far away. The book also sets up an interesting compare/contrast between Caleb’s home life and Styx’s. And there is a lot of adventuring, while keeping things from parents.

This is a book that manages to hit all the feelings, but it doesn’t feel like it is using a sledgehammer to do so.

Tiger vs. Nightmare
Emily Tetri
Read for librarian book group

This graphic novel not only includes a futuristic world populated by Tigers (awesome!) but also a monster under the bed with a twist.

Sweep
Auxier
Read for Librarian Book Group

One of my favorite childhood book is A Little Princess, the tale of Sara Crewe, the most beloved daughter of a wealthy man, reluctantly sent away to a London boarding school. When her father dies, Sara Crewe is plunged into poverty, becoming a servant at her own school.

That book was mentioned in the afterward as one that inspired Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep, along with the Water-babies, which I believe was a book the girls in A Little Princess were reading.

Sweep takes place in Sara Crewe’s London, and the main character is a chimney sweep named Nan Sparrow. The book is clear about the difficulties of her life. Since the man (called the Sweep) who was taking care of her disappeared, she’s been working for a harsh master. The Sweep didn’t leave her much, but he did leave her a tiny glowing bit of coal that keeps her warm.

When her life is in peril, the bit of coal grows into a monster, sent to protect her.

I’m a great fan of golem stories, and the relationship between Nan and the monster is a sweet one. But even with a monster to protect her, danger still lurks at every turn, making for tense, engrossing reading.

Young Adult

The Assassination of Bragwain Spurge
Anderson/Yelchin
Read for Librarian Book Group

As a reader who only likes fantasy if it is set in the present and could happen to me, I wasn’t eager to dive into this book. A goblin hosting an elf visitor after a great war? Ugh! No!

And then, the goblin was so eager to be an excellent host, so excited about trading goblin/elfin histories that when the elf showed up and was a terrible guest, I couldn’t help but love this book.

Not to mention that it has illustrations that are gorgeous and add a completely different dimension to the story.

If you’ve ever had an unpleasant visitor, or if you’ve ever been an unpleasant visitor, this is a book for you.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Soul of Money
Lynne Twist

The Soul of Money provides a different way of looking at money and a different way of looking at wealthy people. Frankly, the second thing is what I needed right now.

There is a big call to action in this book. Lynne Twist wants society to move away from accumulation of things and hording of money. It’s a sentiment I agree with, and I feel like it was something that we were moving toward when the book was published in 2003 but that it is something we’ve gone away from now.

Profit First
Mike Michalowicz

I’m starting my own business (Keen Eye Copyediting & Beta Reading, 3SMReviews.com) and there is so much to learn. Among the many things I have low-grade anxiety about: where should the money go?

How to ensure that I have enough put by for taxes, for expenses, and to allocate for my own pay for my work?

Mike Michalowicz has a plan. He wants all small business owners to put profit first. This book provides a solid framework for the financial architecture of your business. If you are starting a new business, it should be on your reading list. If you have a business, but feel like you never make any money, this book should be on your reading list. Or maybe you should start reading it. Today.

Also, if you already use YNAB, you will have a basic understanding of the Profit First system. And also probably enough skills that will let you skip opening all the bank accounts.

Smart Smut

Bitter Spirits
Jenn Bennett

Last year I discovered and read all three of Jenn Bennett’s YA novels. They were great! Even the one that had what I considered to be a major flaw, I read twice in a row because I liked the characters so much. (And also to decide if I was right about the major flaw.)

And now I see why she is so good a crafting interesting characters and situations combined with female-focused, sex-positive hankypanky. It’s because she cut her teeth writing what I refer to as Smart Smut.

Bitter Spirits is the first in a three-book series focused on a wealthy family living in 1920s San Francisco. This story focuses on Aida, a spirit medium who is in town performing her act at a speakeasy. She runs into Winter Magnusson, a wealthy crab fisherman and bootlegger. Sparks fly. And also, someone is trying to kill Winter.

While the characters seemed like modern people dropped into the 1920s, the plot–involving ghosts and murder–was interesting and Ms. Bennett knows her way around a variety of good sex scenes.

I’m liking the pivot Jenn Bennett has made to YA. And I’m also looking forward to reading the rest of this series, plus another four-book series she’s also written.

Grim Shadows
Jenn Bennett

We continue on with the family and setting established in Bitter Spirits: 1920s San Francisco and the Magnusson family. This book focuses on Winter’s younger brother Lowe Magnusson, headed home from an archaeological dig in Egypt. On the way he meets Hadly Bacall, the daughter of a San Francisco museum curator and a woman who would like to be an archaeologist and curator herself. If only men would stop getting in her way.

Lowe’s not just an archaeologist, he’s also a swindler. Hadly isn’t just a thwarted archaeologist and scholar, she’s also got this curse where if she gets too mad creatures destroy things. (It’s kind of cool, but would be a pain to live with.)

The two must solve a variety of clues left by Hadley’s dead mother to recover pieces of an object that were hidden around San Francisco. While doing that, things get complicated, relationship-wise, and there is much carnal knowledge in a variety of settings.

I found a few plot points to be predictable, but I was into the conundrum of the destroying creatures being tied to anger.

Youth Media Awards 2019

The ALA conference was in Seattle this year, so I got to hear the Youth Media awards announced in the same time zone in which I live. This meant listening at work, but they were fine with it.

I also had the library catalog open and ready to place holds.

It was a special year this year because I knew someone on the committee that chose the Printz Award (it’s like the Newberry, but for YA books.)

I had no idea what she was gunning for, but I’m pleased with the Printz award winner, The Poet X. Also pictured on the other screen with Multnomah County’s website, Printz honor book I, Claudia, which future me can tell you is very good.

There’s Danielle’s name, right there on the screen! I’ll never be on the Printz Award Committee, but I can be excited when my friends get to be.

Books read in December 2018

December was another light reading month. Eventually I will return to reading more.

Recommended

Middle Grade: The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle
Young Adult: None this month
Young Nonfiction: March Forward, Girl
Adult Nonfiction: 168 Hours, You Have More Time Than You Think.

Middle Grade

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle
Connor
Read for Librarian Book Group

Mason is the reason to read this book because Mason is an overly large, overly sweaty kid who can’t read and is a little slow to put things together. He’s got a good heart, though, and is trying to make the best of his life, which, frankly, hasn’t gone very well lately.

I figured out what was really going on long before Mason did, and I suspect most readers will do the same, but I think that’s okay. It’s fun to see Mason’s love for Moonie the dog, plus his caring for friends old and new.

Young Adult

Always Never Yours
Emily Wibberly and Austin Siegmund-Broka

I was feeling tired from Christmas prep and thus picked up this frippery of a teen romance. It was solid entry into the genre, providing some Shakespeare, a female character who knows what she wants, and a general PG-rated sex-positive story. (20 years ago the number of boyfriends Megan had, plus her general lack of apology as to enjoying physical activities with those boyfriends, would have cast Megan in a different light.) It was also set in a mystery town outside of Ashland, Oregon, so the Oregon connection was fun. (Though I’m not sure skinny dipping in October would have been a comfortable activity.)

This book was extremely predictable; it is a first novel that hits all it’s marks exactly when they should be hit. But when I’m overly tired from Christmas prep, I’m fine with predictable.

I am Alfonso Jones
Tony Medina
Read for Family Book Group

This book did not go over well in Family Book Group. None of us liked it. We had problems with the number of characters and they way they were drawn made it difficult to determine who was who. This was due mostly to inconsistent depictions.

The story device was good: Jones is killed in a department store by an off-duty policeman and must ride the train with other people who have also died due to police violence. In the book we see the current story playing out, both before and after Alfonso’s death and we also see the stories of the others on the train and how they died. Unfortunately, there aren’t many indicators to let us know if we are in present day, or recounting someone’s death. It was hard to follow what was going on.

This was a good premise, but a flawed final product.

Young Nonfiction

March Forward, Girl
Melba Pattillo Beals
Read for Librarian Book Group

I was assigned to read Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir Warriors Don’t Cry in college and it has stuck with me. This book does not focus on her role in integrating Central High School, instead, it is her memories of growing up in Jim Crow-era Arkansas.

I appreciated how Pattillo Beals grounded her experiences with discrimination and terror in her body. As she illustrates example after example of being deemed lesser than, she talks about where she felt her feelings.

This book has some scary scenes. There’s a lynching in a church and a near rape. It’s frustrating to see Melba and her family have to maneuver to survive. But this is a story I’m glad she told because as a white person it’s easy to distance myself from the everyday indignities of that time period.

It’s also a story of where she thrived and the people who supported her.

Unfortunately, the illustrations are not a good fit for this book. Other than that, this is a worthy read.

Nonfiction

The Bullet Journal Method
Ryder Carroll
A concise guide to getting started with a Bullet Journal. I learned that the daily logs aren’t logged in the index. Also, the layout is very pretty.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
Laura Vanderkam

This book is heftier than your average productivity book. It will take you longer than 90 minutes to read it, and the margins aren’t large.

I’m not blown away–as the author is–that there are 168 hours in a week. That doesn’t sound like a ton to me. However, I did like her focus on figuring out your core competencies, figuring out 100 things you want to do and then start paying attention to how you spend your time. She also writes about split shifts and calls into question how much time we really spend at work. 60 hours? She doubts it.

I stopped watching TV in real time when the West Wing was in season three, so I’ve reaped the oodles of time rewards for at least 15 years, but for some people they may be amazed at how much time goes to television.

Overall, this was well worth some of my 168 hours.