Books read in March 2015

Some good stuff this month.  It’s the rare month when I have more picture book favorites than any other categories.

Picture: Nana in the City, When Otis Courted Mama, Lucky
Middle Readers: nothing blew me away.
YA: Heaven to Betsy, My Most Excellent Year
Grownup Fiction: Bellwether Rhapsody
Young People’s Nonfiction: Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

Picture Books

Nana in the City
Lauren Castillo
Read for librarian book group

Child visits his Nana who has moved to the city and is scared by all the very “city” things about the city.  Luckily, his Nana has a way to help him feel better.  Quite delightful and recommended.

When Otis Courted Mama
Read for librarian book group

I felt a great surge of affection for this picture book because it’s just so darn cute.  Who knew that coyotes had to deal with blended families too?

Raindrops Roll
April Pulley Sayer
Read for librarian book group

Very nicely done story of a rainstorm in the garden.

A Fine Dessert
Read for librarian book group

See blackberry fool being made over four hundred years.  Great for compare/contrasts purposes.  Also, this book let me know that the “fool” in question is an adaptation from a French word meaning “to squeeze” or “to press.” 

David Macintosh
Read for librarian book group

Nicely illustrates the inflation of good news that so many of us experience.

Middle Readers

Mikis and the Donkey
Read for Librarian Book Group
Charming story of a boy on a Greek island and his love for the donkey his grandfather purchases.


Heaven to Betsy
Maud Hart Lovelace

They’ve made it to high school!  And this is when the liking of Betsy-Tacy turns to adoration.  I was telling Matt how these books made the pre-teen me look forward to being a teenager.  I would have a Crowd!  We would ice skate and make fudge and sing along around the piano just like Betsy!  He laughed at this, and okay, so my teenage years weren’t exactly like a fictional heroine from 1907, but I did have a gang of friends and we did ramble from house to house and sure, there wasn’t singing along around a piano, but we sang a lot with the radio and even just a capella.

On this re-reading I loved how flawed Betsy was, how she spent most of the year boy-crazy over the tall, dark and handsome fella who only had eyes for her friend. I loved her sadness over leaving her childhood home behind for a brand new, bigger house and I liked how she foolishly squandered a writing opportunity.  She also does some classic adolescent forging of her own path by choosing to leave her family’s Baptist faith and become an Episcopalian.  I found a lot of this book to be very relatable, at least to my own adolescent experience of 20+ years ago.  And the illustrations are wonderful.  So Gibson Girl fantastic!

Betsy in Spite of Herself
Maud Hart Lovelace

The structure of this book isn’t the best.  A great chunk of it is taken up with Betsy’s visit to Milwaukee to visit her friend Tib over Christmas.  If you are interested in German American Milwaukee Wisconsin Christmas Traditions circa 1900 depicted in fiction, this is your book. However, when Betsy comes back, vowing to be dark and mysterious she sets her cap for the rich, auto-driving Phil Brandish and things pick up, lessons are learned, things happen.

My two favorite parts in this book: Betsy asks Julia, her worldly older sister, what Julia does when she wants guys to like her.  Julia’s off-hand response caused a bark of laughter.  There’s also a great passage about what to do if a guy gets too “spoony”.

Bone Gap
Laura Ruby
Read for librarian book group

Come with us to Bone Gap, Illinois, home of two brothers, a bee keeper and her daughter, the Rude brothers. It’s also the former home of Roza, who has disappeared mysteriously.  What has become of Roza?  This and other things kept me turning the page.

Marissa Meyer

I like this book, despite wondering on page 44 if “X” happened to be the big plot twist.  And several hundred pages later IT WAS!  Given I rarely figure things out about books, I see that as a sign of weak plotting. Or possibly an editor’s encouragement to make the details more telling.  It’s my new favorite thing to blame editors, though I promise to stop when I finally get one.

The other interesting thing I noted is for how much of the book I refused to believe it was set in futuristic Asia, despite the fact that the city was called New-Beijing. I think my USA-white self just really wants all books to be set in the USA, despite all evidence to the contrary. 

I’m interested in where the next book will take me.

The Bunker Diary
Kevin Brooks
Read for librarian book group

Very visual book of a boy’s time being held captive in a bunker.  Gripping.  A true-to-the-tale (yet ultimately frustrating) ending.

My Most Excellent Year
Steve Kluger

The subtitle is: a novel of love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park.  I would add a secondary subtitle of: (and musical theater!)  This was a fantastic read packed full of three different love stories. It’s about the families you are born to and families you create for yourself.  Every single moment was enjoyable. 

Near the end I started to question just how old these ninth graders were because they talked in very adult voice, and I question why the framing device of seniors in high school writing about their ninth grade year, but  those are small questions.  Overall this is highly recommended.

Graphic Novels for Grownups

We Can Fix It
Jess Fink

Main character uses time travel to attempt to fix her past mistakes.

Grownup Nonfiction

A Short Guide to a Long Life
David Agus

Inspired by Michael Pollen’s Food Rules, this is a book of rules, with each rule followed by three or so pages of why you should follow the rules.  My favorite was “embrace your OCD.”  Meaning, it’s a good thing to be fastidious about hand washing and keeping things clean.


Grownup Fiction

Bellweather Rhapsody

Kate Racculia

I’m not sure why this book appeared on my holds list.  I think maybe someone at book group recommended it because it was an Alex Award winner.  Those are the books written for grownups with teenage protagonists.  The teenage protagonists in question are twins who are attending an all-state music festival, the brother Rabbit playing bassoon in the orchestra and the sister Alice for chorus. We also follow the stories of their chaperone, the conductor of the orchestra, and the concierge of the very decrepit hotel.  Also a woman who witnessed a tragic event ten years before. It’s an excellent weaving of stories, very good writing (three passages made it into my Goodreads quotes pages) and it all comes together in an explosion of “Man, I didn’t see that coming at all!” If you were a high school musician, don’t miss out on this book.

Young People’s Nonfiction

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom
Lynda Blackman Lowery
Read for librarian book group

You’ve seen the movie Selma (or perhaps not) now read the story of the youngest person on the march.  Lowery tells her story to the two authors and the book is also illustrated.  It’s a quick read, but yet another reminder of choice people made to fight for rights they should have had all along.

Three sentence movie reviews: Lone Survivor

My friend Stephanie referred to this movie as “total war porn” and she wasn’t wrong.  I found the story to be mildly engaging and was interested in the amount of falling the actors/stunt doubles had to undertake while transferring this tale to celluloid. However, when I find myself mid-movie eagerly awaiting the part in the credits when we see pictures of the real people on which the movie is based, I know this is not a successful movie.

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home.

poster from:

Most of the newer posters on the IMP Awards site have comments. I usually read them.  These struck me as funny enough to include them here.

Three sentence movie reviews: Winter’s Tale

The book on which this movie is based is 748 pages, so it wasn’t very surprising to me that I had more than a few moments of “what in god’s name is happening?”  This is a great movie for people who like to look at Colin Farrell; for people not so much into just watching a movie to look an actor, you might find yourself alternating between confusion and complete boredom.  Given the number of stars packed into this movie, I suspect this was destined to be a hit and entirely missed the mark.

Cost: Free from library
Where watched: at home.

poster from:

Three sentence movie reviews: Something Wild

I had a rare experience of spending the first part of the move hating* this movie and then there was a slow reversal until I was completely charmed by the end.  What started out as a wild girl/uptight dude story gradually morphed into complex characters and interesting twists, all backed by this incredibly cool** new-wave reggae soundtrack.***  And then Ray Liotta appears, which amps things up considerably.

*It doesn’t help that I cannot stand Melanie Griffith.
**Although what was with 80s movies and their obsession with the Trogg’s “Wild Thing”?
***Sister Carol’s performance at the end was particularly charming.

Cost: Free from library
Where watched: at home.

poster from:

Three sentence movie reviews: Cinderella

The animated Cinderella was my favorite Disney film* and I wasn’t really convinced we needed a live-action entry.  However, while this does not break new ground (as in Maleficent) it is a grand example of everything being absolutely perfect in the film.  It’s worth watching just for the ballroom scene, which is exquisite to say the least, and probably worth watching just for the costumes, even if you don’t think you are interested in costumes.

Cost: $5.00 (Upgraded theater, upgraded prices)
Where watched:  McMenamins St. Johns Theater & Pub.

*Until the Little Mermaid came out.  Then Cinderella became my favorite of the old-school Animated Films.

poster from:

A Walk to St. Johns Cinema & Pub

Edgefield on Sunday, Kennedy School on Monday, St. Johns Pub on Tuesday.  It’s a McMenamin’s week.  The walk from my house to St. Johns takes about as long as the walk to Kennedy School, but it feels much longer.  For whatever reason, that road has at least two spots where I always think, “Why am I not there yet?”.  This happens via foot, bike or car.  On the bus, I’m always reading so I don’t tend to notice specific points of “long”.  It’s just a long bus ride.

I started my walk at Cup & Saucer Cafe (because there was still not any food in the house).  An excellent tuna melt was consumed, as were two cups of green tea.  Not long into my walk, Mr. Schofield stopped to have his picture taken.

On the site where these two large houses now live, there used to be a tiny stucco house with an out-of-control Kiwi vine in the yard.  RIP another small-house-big-yard.

Super awesome light/address block.

I’m curious about this garage.  The double French doors are an interesting combination.

Exciting times in the Don Lee family.  I’m guessing baby Ben is probably a grandchild, given the age of the sign.

So much of Lombard is still full of old-school businesses.  Here is Western Meats, which always has the best painted windows. None of the new school places would have painted windows, but I love them! However, I notice the building is for sale. so perhaps Western Meats isn’t there any more.  [Pause for googling] Well, I found a web site, so perhaps they are still around.

This dilapidated garage is one part of the lot that includes a grand house that has fallen into overgrowth and despair.

Driving, or riding on the bus, I’ve always wondered why this lot hasn’t been developed.  Walking by I noticed the church (left side) guessed that the house next door is the parsonage and figured out that the church probably owns the lot.  They keep the grass in very nice shape, I must say.

Here’s the iconic Fabric World, whose merchandise had not turned over since 1972.  It was like going back in time to the fabric stores of my childhood.  The Yelp reviews say that the store was owned by an old woman who just kept it going, despite lack of sales/customers.  She has now died, and the contents have been liquidated.

Another landmark on the road to St. Johns.  This gas station sign, which always has pubic appreciations/recognitions.

Eagles Aerie which features Blue Collar wrestling.  St. Johns enjoys it’s blue collar status.  So much so that it’s made some interesting development choices.  Stay tuned.

We’re in transition on Lombard too.  You could buy this car wash lot.

I’ve always appreciated the continuation of the -N- in this sign.  Although I might have suggested the ampersand, were I the sign maker.

Check out Gary N John’s hours.  I so rarely see opening times on the half hour. And a random Thursday closure.

I love the dramatic names of these 70s era infill apartment complexes.

Today it’s a real-estate office, but back in the day I know that many of our regular readers can identify what chain establishment this building used to house. Some of us may have even worked for said chain establishment.

I like this stripped-down lock place.  It’ a landmark on the route.  I thought it had disappeared, but it turned out I just wasn’t as far along as I thought I was.

I’ve heard-tell that this is where a New Seasons will be built. 

I’ve always liked the cheerful paint job for this U-Haul place. 

Crossing the bridge over the railroad tracks.  Such a pretty bridge.  Also, yet another point where I think, “Am I not there yet?”

The bridge also affords a very nice view. 

Great poetry in motion outside the other Fred Meyer on Lombard.

Kruger’s farm stand, featuring not only delicious fruits and vegetables but also food carts.  Kruger started his farm stand when the weddings and concerts he had been hosting on his Sauvie Island farm were deemed in violation of the land-use laws. (Also, am I not there yet?)

Interesting tiny house infill. 

The other Videorama/West Coast Fitness on Lombard. 

There are a lot of small churches along Lombard.  This is the Portland Samoan Church.

City Farm!  New-school business.

The next three buildings/businesses have been built since I moved to North Portland in 2007.  They all fit the blue collar aesthetic of St. Johns.

Aside from Lady Secrets Fashion Clothing (my favorite store name on Lombard) this store also has really great window displays.

This is the point where I’m finally getting close to my destination.  It’s also a main focal point as you drive out of downtown St. Johns toward Portland.  It has a shack on it. 

This is a main focal point on the way into St. Johns.  A 7-11 was built there.

“They had a huge parcel of land in a prime location that could really make St. Johns beautiful.  And what do they build there?  A huge self-storage facility!”  A longtime St. Johns resident bemoaned to me.  I have to agree.  There was a car dealership that closed up shop. During construction I thought it might be something great, but it soon had the looks of every other self-storage facility in the nation. There’s still hope for the building in the front of the picture, but it’s a quite tiny hope.

My destination is in sight!  I love seeing movies at this theater because the building was part of the Lewis & Clark Exhibition in 1903.  It was floated down the river and served a variety of functions before becoming a McMenamins.  However, I’m early for my movie, so I continue on.

Another interesting looking church.

And look!  The North Portland Library.  I’ve never been, but I aim to change that.

The North Portland Library was tiny and cute and has a wealth of reference material about St. Johns and Portland.  I enjoyed poking about.