Books read January 2017

This was a big YA month, with all but two of the eleven books being YA.  It was a really good YA month two, which is going to influence my recommendations section.Picture:  A Greyhound, A Groundhog.
YA if you are looking for a romantic series:  Perfect Couple (note that it is #2 in the series. Biggest Flirts is #1.)
YA if you want to be in a band: For the Record
YA the looks at the place of girls in the world:  The Female of the Species

Radiant Child
Javaka Steptoe
Read for librarian book group
Picture book of Basquiat’s life.  It deals with his mother’s mental illness in age-appropriate ways and sidesteps the drug addition.  There are no photos or reproductions of Basquiat’s works, but the illustrations are inspired by the artist.

There were two instances of possible typographic errors. One was in the author’s note at the beginning.  The other was in the text and included two words that I think should be a compound.  Or possible a random capitalization that made no sense?  I’ve returned the book, and thus cannot give specific examples.

A Greyhound, A Groundhog
Read for librarian book group
Tongue-twister picture book, which I read aloud to the cats. I giggled throughout.

Perfect Couple
Jennifer Echols

Text message exchange between my friend SS and me:

  • Me: Back to this book.  I’m not buying this part where she wants to break up because the votes were tallied wring.  WTF?  Where is the logic there?
  • SS: I know!  She’s such a rule follower?  Not terribly logical.  I liked book three better.
  • Me: I do appreciate this author for normalizing healthy sexual behavior as well as enlightened male culture.  Sawyer just told Brody to back off of Harper because he’s taller and it looks bad.  I’ve got the third book on hold. Hopefully I will like it better.
  • SS: I agree that the author has found a pretty sweet balance there.
  • Me:  Oooo!  This girl just talked to her mom about getting on the pill!! So good!  And the last book had a girl character not-a-virgin while the boy character was a virgin.  That is INCREDIBLY rare
  • SS: I know.  I kind of felt like I hit the jackpot when I read the first one.  I just KNEW it was for you!!!  Oh, and drum corps!!  Oh and the female as the LEAD drummer.  What? What?
  • Me: The drum corps stuff was gold.  And it was a female band teacher too.
    [Includes picture of page where there is a daughter/mother conversation about the pill] Like these two paragraphs! Would that every female have this response to wanting to prepare for sex!
  • SS: And a pretty awesome mom response too.
  • Me: Right???
  • SS: Like seriously, these books would have been so good for teen SS
  • Me: Me too!
  • SS: Swoony and romantic to a point, but all of this other goodness too.
  • Me: She’s more explicit about the sex, too, without reinforcing traditional gender roles.
  • SS: I appreciate that she makes my toes curl when I read it.  Again.  Teen SS could have benefited from seeing good healthy and enjoyable sex that was good for the girl.  Admittedly, it is premarital, but still.
  • Me: Yup. I think this conversation is going in the Goodreads review.
  • SS: I think it’s important to note that while some of the characterization is flawed, the overall qualities of the book are great!
  • Me: Right?  Like overall, I would give this a two-star rating, because of weird and random character motivations.  But I like the other stuff she’s doing so much I’m bumping up the rating.

Philip Reeve
Read for Mock Printz
Solidly-written Sci-Fi book.  I liked the imagined future where inter-dimensional train travel is the way everyone travels.   There is an action scene was that was perfect: both vivid and horrible to read.  I also enjoyed that the main character is from the planet Cleave, which is my boyfriend’s favorite word.  Overall it was a very nicely-built world.

I didn’t love reading it, never really finding interest in the main character or his plight.  I also found the futuristic depictions of gender to not be different enough from 21st century gender to be believable.

Most Likely to Succeed
Jennifer Echols
More good stuff from Jennifer Echols.  I enjoyed both the depiction of Kaye’s terrible relationship with Aiden, as well as her interest in Sawyer, voted Most Likely to Go to Jail.  (An aside–what adult in charge is deciding that is an okay category?)  As per the rest of the series, this includes a healthy view of teen sexuality, as well as contraceptive mentions. (!!)  Another plus: of the three books in the series, two include a female orgasm.   Female orgasms, they’re a thing.  I’m glad Echols has included them.

(ps.  I loathe the covers to this series, but particularly this one, that has Sawyer’s hair color wrong)

For the Record
Charlotte Huang
Chelsea, a ninth place finisher in an American Idol-style show is recruited to be the new lead singer of the already established band Melbourne.  She spends the summer before her senior year of high school on tour.

Things that didn’t work:  All of the characters seemed older than their book ages.  Chelsea struck me as a mature high school graduate (she’s just finished her Junior year), and I don’t understand how the band could have become famous while at the same time spending their last two years of high school at a posh boarding school.   I suspect that the characters were written older, and ratcheted down for a YA audience.  Also, the opening scene is great, containing a make-out session between two characters, but I never felt like it was established why the two were drawn to each other, which becomes important later in the book.  Finally, I think it’s impossible in our celebrity-obsessed culture for someone to appear on a national TV show and not get a lot of positive attention for it at high school.  So I never really bought Chelsea’s loner/uncool status at high school.

Good stuff:  Lots of fun on-tour details.  Really good tension between band members, plus the thorough exploration of how hard it is to join an already established band, plus be the only girl, plus be the youngest.  The friendship between Chelsea and her only friend from high school was nuanced.  The book didn’t follow the conventional romance story, which was refreshing.  It was the kind of book where the details, good and bad, still made me want to be the singer in a rock band.

The Boys Next Door
Jennifer Echols
Lori, a wakeboarding tomboy who lives on a lake, sets her sights on Sean, the middle of the three boys next door.  She’s studied up on the best way to catch a boy by watching a lot of Mtv and investing in a great bikini.  When Sean steals his younger brother Adam’s girlfriend, Lori concocts a plan to win Sean by pretending to be in love with Adam, the boy she’s been friends with forever.

The plot goes exactly where you think it’s going to go, but spending time with Lori and her hairbrained plans is fun.  There’s also lots of good first kiss/first crush stuff and it’s fun to see a female character who is distracted by good looking guys as a teenage boy would be.  Plus: wakeboarding!  I also learned about bryoza, which lives in lakes and freaks Lori out.

Endless Summer
Jennifer Echols
This book suffered a little, having been packaged with its predecessor.  It’s hard to turn the page from the happy ending and launch right into the next novel, especially since this book recycled a lot of the plot from the first one.  It also trades back and forth between Adam and Lori’s point-of-view, which isn’t my favorite way to read books about couples. I think it kills the momentum, because just as you are wondering what the other character is thinking, the chapter turns and you get to hear what the other character is thinking.

Still, it was funny and sweet in places, and the early coupledom stuff is fun to read.

What Light
Jay Asher
Sierra spends every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas on a tree lot in southern California where her family sells trees from their Christmas Tree Farm in Oregon.  She is not interested in pursuing a relationship, due to the fact that her time in the town is brief.  Until, that is, a boy with a dimple stops by to purchase a tree.

Good YA-style conundrums consisting of romance, rumors and remote friendships.

The Passion of Dolssa
Julie Barry
Read for Mock Printz
I think the strength of this book lies in the three sisters’ relationship and I would have preferred the story be pared back to their experience, rather than expanding out to the (many) other voices included.  This is an uncomfortable book, as are all stories of the elimination of populations by institutions of power.  I also really liked the author’s note, and what she had to say about who writes history.

Unfortunately, overall I found this book to be a slog.  The many characters, multiple perspectives and a slow pace contributed to my dislike of this story.

The Female of the Species
Mindy McGinnis
I’ve been enjoying the recent spate of books that examine how we treat girls/young women/women in modern US society.  This is another one for that shelf.  It was an all-engrossing reading experience and a several-days processing experience.   I liked the pairing of attitudes towards females with attitudes towards animals (strays, animals we eat for food).  I have a minor complaint about voices. It wasn’t always clear from reading which narrator was talking.  This book is good fodder for discussion.  I’m especially interested in people’s reaction to Alex’s defense of her friend, as well as the community’s reaction to that defense.  I’m disappointed this didn’t garner a Printz award or honor.

Major Crush
Jennifer Echols
O! The marching band details!  So great!

Three sentence movie reviews: Real Genius

I did not see this in my 80s youth, so I had no feelings of nostalgia flowing through me as I watched this.  It hasn’t aged well.  Upon reflection, I’ve decided that the popcorn scene was probably truly amazing in 1985 in a way that CGI has totally ruined.*

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home, with Matt, who didn’t like it much, either.

*I mean, really!  They had to pop all that popcorn!  People were employed to figure out a way to do that!  The actual popping!  Not the making computers make it look like popcorn was popping.

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I hate this poster.  It’s one of those posters that matches the theme of the movie, but not the movie itself.  That building and window wasn’t in the movie!

Song of the Month January 2017

There’s been a slight Avett Brother’s obsession happening this month, and strangely, it was brought on by videos, not radio.

Granted, I first heard “Ain’t No Man” on the radio, the Avett Brothers being a KINK favorite.  I put the video on while I was folding laundry and half-watched it.

I liked the journey to the airport, which took them to another airport, a van and then into a studio.  The video ends with the three of them sitting in chairs.  The side bar of YouTube showed me that there was another Avett Brothers video with them also sitting in chairs.  As a person who likes to put things in order, I appreciated the flow to the second video.

Though I think they might be a little young for an end-of-life song (both brothers are younger than me), I enjoy such songs.  But what makes this a very good video is the flickering back to their younger selves. (Favorites: 1:08 skateboarding; 1:48 grinning; 2:10 90’s rocker look)  As the video continues, the flickers transition into their young musician days, then their established musician days, then pictures of them with their children.

It’s the last bit of footage that keeps me coming back.  The two of them, one still a child, one working on being grown. The arm easily slung around the shoulder. “There’s Scott causing trouble with Seth.”

These songs together, I feel like they can be taken a couple of ways.  The most generous way is the way I think they are intended to be taken.  “Ain’t No Man” is an upbeat affirmation of their confidence in themselves.  “No Hard Feelings” is a reminder to let things go and focus on the good things.

However, the success of the Avett Brothers means I am more likely to interpret these songs in a less generous fashion.  Through that lens, “Ain’t No Man” feels like the winner bragging how great he is.  “No Hard Feelings” is a song about someone who has enough currency that he believes that him not having hard feelings means that no one has any negative feelings of him, so much so that he has no enemies.  The line “I have no enemies” is repeated three times to end the song.  It’s the kind of line that has me wondering how fast I can find some enemies of the Avett Brothers.  Not just people who don’t like their music, people who know them and don’t like them.  Ex-wife?  Former drummer? I think they’re out there, those enemies.  You can’t be that successful of a band without dragging some grudges behind you.

From that viewpoint, these two songs present life philosophy that seems more douch-baggery than laid-back good guy.  It the song of a person who can sing that no one can change them, and that they have no hard feelings and also no enemies.  That sounds like someone fairly confident of their own actions, and fairly clueless of the reactions of the people around them.  They’re good looking men, they grew up in a prosperous family and Rolling Stone tells me that their dad was friends with fingerpicking master Doc Watson.  I’m sure life hasn’t been completely easy for them, but it doesn’t look like it’s been very hard, either.

This slots these songs into the Conflicted Music category. I like them, I will probably continue liking them, but I don’t think they are as true as the people who sing them think they are.

Three sentence movie reviews: 20th Century Women

There is no discernible plot arc in this film, which could be the kiss of death, were the characters not so delightful to hang out with.*  I related to Lucas Jade Zuman’s Jamie trying so very hard to connect with his much-older mother about feminist issues** despite the fact that she was not interested in relating to her son in that manner.    The cast was outstanding, and there are several scenes in this movie I will think of with fondness for many years to come.***

Cost: $5.35
Where watched: Regal City Center Stadium 12 with S. North

*It’s also full of other stuff that could be really annoying, like intrusive voice over.  Somehow, it manages to make those annoying things not-so annoying.
**Using Sisterhood is Powerful!  Which was a seminal work of my teen years in the 80s and 90s.
***”Art Fags”; Elle Fanning’s list of why she likes having sex; the dinner party scene where Gerwig talks about things not talked about during dinner.

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Three sentence movie reviews: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I had low expectations going in and really enjoyed myself.  The cast was marvelous.* I found that some of the fantastic beasts scenes went on for too long, but otherwise was happy to add this to the Harry Potter world.

Cost: $5.00
Where watched: Jubitz Theater with Matt.

*Waterston, Folger & Sudol were new to me.  Obviously I know Redmayne.

I have pledged to call out “funny” fat jokes in movies when I see them and I’m disappointed to say that this movie contains one.  When Dan Folger first attempts to follow Redmayne into the suitcase, he gets stuck and must jump up and down to get the rest of the way in.  Later in the movie, a beast larger than a house goes back into the suitcase without getting similarly stuck, so there was no reason for this fat joke.

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Three sentence movie reviews: You Can Count on Me

Having loved Manchester by the Sea, I did a nostalgia re-watch of this film.  This was the film where I sat up and took notice of Linney and Ruffalo.*  It’s still good, though a few fashion details have aged unattractively.

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home

*IMDB tells me that I had seen Laura Linney in several things in the 90s, but this was the first big thing.  Ruffalo was unknown to me the first time I watched this.

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YALSA Mock Printz

Today was the day for the YALSA Mock Printz.

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

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

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

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

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

The Lie Tree. (91 votes)


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

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

The crew heading off for the Women’s March (and pictures from the road)

People were over for breakfast, and some of the group was headed downtown for the Women’s March.  I had a workshop, so was not going, but Kelly, Burt, Laurie and Matt were gearing up.

“I’ll take a picture” I said, and got my camera ready.  Laurie and Kelly were waiting by the door, Burt was sitting in a chair and Matt was getting on his coat.  “Maybe Laurie and Kelly should go stand by Burt.” I suggested, trying to efficiently get my ducks in a line.

“Wait, are we starting the Women’s March, by having the women orient themselves around a man?” Matt asked.

Below is the photo that came from that statement.

And the official photo.

A little later, I headed out for my own trip downtown.  I have never seen this many people at the Kenton Max stop.

It’s not a protest unless the Margeliz Jewelry Shop is boarded up. I notice the Banana Republic also had the plywood out.  They needn’t have feared, there wasn’t a single arrest.

After my workshop ended, I waited for the Max, watching various people get their picture taken with the riot police.