Books read in March 2019

14 books read this month, thanks to a vacation at the start of the month. And 13 of the books I really liked. I remain thankful that assignment reading (Librarian Book Group, Family Book Group) is so darn enjoyable.


Picture books: When Angels Sing: The Story of Carlos Santana
Middle grade: all of them
Young adult: both of them
Grownup fiction: all of them
Young nonfiction: both of them
Grownup nonfiction: yes, that too.

Picture Books

All of a Kind Family Hanukkah
Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky
Read for Librarian Book Group

I adored the All of a Kind Family books when I was a child, so I was excited to see this book pop up in the Youth Media Awards.

And then I was underwhelmed, perhaps because my expectations were too high. I didn’t feel that this picture book captured all that was delightful about the All of a Kind Family, and I didn’t love the illustrations.

It might be a nice as a Hanukkah intro, though I’m not Jewish, so can’t say for sure.

When Angels Sing: The Story of Carlos Santana

A short biography of Carlos Santana with gorgeous illustrations. The illustrations are made even better by the fact that they incorporate the year. Brilliant!

Middle Grade

You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P.
Alex Gino

A middle grade novel about how to be a white person and a good ally, both for members of the Deaf community and people of color. Very short and nicely done.

A Crack in the Sea
Read for Family Book Group

A great blend of fantasy and historical fiction as well as a work that highlights sibling relationship and slavery. Though I wondered about the use of modern words (kids) in a world that hadn’t had contact with our world since the late 18th century. The author’s note at the end added important context to the story.

I sat on this review until after Family Book Group so I could report what everyone thought. Alas, the three children in the group read, at the most, half of the book. One of them stopped reading after the first page because he thought he had read the book in third grade. But he had not.

The adults liked the book. Mostly.

New Kid
Jerry Craft
Read for Librarian Book Group

In this graphic novel, Jordan is starting at a new school where most people aren’t the same race or class as him. In bright, clear drawings we see Jordon deal with microaggressions, joining sports teams, and making new friends who have his back.

I did notice at one point that spring sports were not required and then at a later point they were required.

The Book of Boy
Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s 1350 and the plague has killed one-third of the people in Europe. In France, our main character, Boy, is content to tend the goats on his master’s estate, and avoid rocks thrown at him by Ox, who taunts Boy for his hunchback.

Enter a pilgrim on the search for relics. Boy is compelled by Cook to go with him, so he can pray for her soul. So begins our adventure which leads to surprises for both Boy and the pilgrim. The book includes lovely line drawings at the beginning of chapters.

I felt the ending was a bit hurried and convenient, but until that point, I greatly enjoyed following Boy on his journey.

Young Adult

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
Ben Phillippe
Read for Liberian Book Group

I loved Norris as a hapless Canadian teen set adrift in his new home of Austin, Texas and I loved the chapter headers. This was a low-key amusing book, in that it was never actually laugh-out-loud funny, but was instead a steady heh-heh (though not in a Beavis & Butt-Head way) type of funny.

It did, however, need one more editing pass. There were several times sentences didn’t make sense and there were errors. At one point there is a reference to the father of a set of twins. Later, it was stated the twins had two mothers.

Field Notes on Love
Jennifer E. Smith

Hugo, one of the Surrey Six, a locally famous set of sextuplets, was going to go on a train trip across the US with his girlfriend, before heading off to the local college with his five siblings. He’d rather go elsewhere, but the six are a package deal, and it’s one way to get a free education.

But then his girlfriend breaks up with him before they can leave. She encourages him to go on the trip and he plans to. But there’s one problem. The tickets are in her name, and aren’t refundable. So Hugo advertises for anyone with the same name and he gets Mae, who is heading off to college and working through her disappointment at not being accepted into film school.

And thus we are off on a cross-country train trip with stops in major cities. This was a breezy contemporary romance that offered an evening’s worth of entertainment.

Grownup Fiction

Crazy Rich Asians
Kevin Kwan

I ran out of fiction before my vacation ended, plus my flight home was delayed, so the Tucson Airport got $16.99 of my money (plus a bit more for M&Ms) and I got to read the book version of a movie I watched last summer.

I’m glad I read this book because it cleared up a lot of questions I had about the relationship in the movie. They were the kind of questions that had me wondering why I should be rooting for this couple. Thanks to the more time/more words situation of being a book, things made more sense.

Also, this book has footnotes! I love footnotes, and welcome them in all books. They cleared up some questions I had about words in the text and put in context what was going on. They helped a lot with grounding me in a world I’m unfamiliar with.

I also loved the large quantity of characters and how I didn’t have trouble keeping everyone straight–though I did spend a lot of time referring to the handy family tree in the front.

On the negative side, there was a lot more head hopping in this book than I’ve seen in some time. It was jarring to be in one character’s head in one paragraph and then in someone else’s in the next.

While I enjoyed this book, I did find that about the three-quarters mark the materialism had me feeling slightly ill.

I’m still not convinced Rachel and Nick are the ones for each other, but I had a good time reading their story.

Ian McEwan

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, but it was the kind of movie that is seared into my brain.

Based on that searing, I can say that this is the rare book/movie combination where you can pick your preferred medium and enjoy. The movie manages to get across exactly what the book is saying and doesn’t add or subtract from its source.

This is a heartbreaking story, made more so by the remote voice that is telling the tale.

It’s hard and beautiful and I recommend a read, a watch, or both. (I mean, if you watch it, you get to see that amazing dress, so there’s that in the movie’s favor.)

And, in news to me, apparently I read this book 11 years ago. And liked both the book and the movie then too!

The Witch Elm
Tana French

First off, a question. The tree in the book is referred to as a Wytch Elm. Is the title word “witch” instead of “wytch” Americanized for US reader’s benefit, or is it purposeful and a clue to the story?

I loved the main character, Toby, a golden boy who really had no idea that everyone’s life wasn’t as easy as his until there was a sudden turn of events. He seemed a perfect pick for the times we are a living in.

The turn that Toby takes isn’t the last as this story loops around several times tying up some things and bursting open others. This is a complex story with complex characters. I think Tana’s French’s greatest gift is how she wraps you up in her world.

Young Nonfiction

Baby Elephant Joins the Herd
American Museum of Natural History
Read for Librarian Book Group

Good book of facts about baby elephants which also includes a lot of pictures of baby elephants, which is awesome!

Bloom Boom!
April Pulley Sayre
Read for Librarian Book Group

A gorgeous picture book of blooms from different areas across the US. I appreciated the rhyme scheme which switched things up at just the right moment. Also the back matter gave me the names of all the flowers. It was also nice that desert blooms were featured so prominently.

Grownup Nonfiction

A World Without Whom
Emmy J. Favilla

Written by the global copy cheif of BuzzFeed this is a breezy meditation on how language should be depicted on the internet. As a descriptivist, I was down for Ms. Favilla’s various pronouncements and I especially appreciated the chapter: “How not to be a jerk: writing about sensitive topics” and also her tracking the loss of meaning of lol (aka LOL, aka Laughing Out Loud) from it’s origins in the early internet era to today’s proliferation and loss of meaning.

There’s also a handy “terms you should know” section, a helpful section on headlines (now that we’re free of space constraints, just what should that headline be?) and many paragraphs of practical advice such as this:

To that end, let’s talk a little about a language trend I’d be negligent to ignore: everything eventually becoming one word. The AP Stylebook is a fantastic resource for very many things, and I realize BuzzFeed’s job listings explicitly request “no haters” but holy crud—it took until 2011 for APS to say sayonara to the hyphen in email. Wut? Way, way back in the ’90s—when people were more likely to ask Jeeves than ask GoogleWierd’s style guide boldly asserted, “We know from experience that new terms often start as two words, then become hyphenated, and end up as one word. Go there now.” Descriptivists for the win! Go forth, young internetters, and close up those words (unless, you know, they look weird).

Songs of the month March 2019: Salvation, Now That You’re Gone

“Salvation” The Strumbellas

I no longer remember where I heard this song, but it’s great! And the video has families making up a dance routine in 30 minutes and then performing it.

It’s a classic rock song setup (verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus) and that bluprint imprinted on me early.

Also, if I hadn’t watched this video I would have had no idea that the lyric was: Hey now kid, you’re my salvation.

“Now That You’re Gone” The Raconteurs

Speaking of things that imprinted early, everything about this song is something that imprinted on me. The steady drip of the bass, the guitar lick responding to the lyrics, the angry/sad/triumphant lyrics. These are all things I love.

Never known such unhappiness/Never thought it would end like this/What will I do now that you’re gone?

As for the video? Eh. The mirror thing is cool. There’s also classic boobage. Not my thing.

SKS postcards: coffee promos

Sara sent me these postcards, which both arrived on the same day, miracle of miracles. They are promo cards for a coffee delivery subscription her husband received for Christmas.

She had a plan to perhaps pass them off as some quick exotic travel, but that plan was thwarted by the information on the back about the coffee beans from the regions.

Her plan would have also been thwarted by her many social media updates about the writing of her dissertation, which is due soon. This work doesn’t lend much to the Secret International Travel Narrative.

They are nicely-designed postcards that made it through the mail mostly unscathed.

Crowns at Portland Playhouse

A different production of this play was mounted some years back and I’ve always been a little sad I didn’t see it. So I was excited to see that Portland Playhouse was going to give me another opportunity.

This was my first time at Portland Playhouse and I’m excited to return. What a great small theater!

This was where the musicians sat.

And it was a great performance, too. I was excited to see Ithica Tell, who I believe I last saw in a summer performance of Much Ado About Nothing. But the other woman who made up the cast were equally fantastic. The singing was tremendous, as were the hats.

Awesome clock! (a.k.a. rich people get all the good stuff)

I was passing by the shop window when I saw a smaller version of this clock and gasped. It told the time. But using letters. And the words changed locations on the clock every five minutes.

I took a picture and showed Matt and he thought it was cool too, so I went to the inquire as to the cost. The very nice clerk showed me the features, namely that there are dots in each corner and those show the minutes in between the five minute marks. We watched it change from 3:35 to 3:40 and it was an amazing experience. Then he told me that the 6″ x 6″ clocks were $600 and the 1′ x 1′ clocks started at $1400. I thanked him nicely and went on my way, muttering, “rich people get all the good stuff.”

And then, the shop put up a going out of business sign. Was this my chance to own such an amazing specimen? After all, I had a tax return coming. I waited until the signs said 60–75% before I went in to inquire.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted any clocks to be available. Was I really the type of person to have a small clock that cost that much, even on sale?

Thankfully, all the awesome clocks were spoken for at the 40% off mark.

So I left with no clock and a healthier bank account and I know exactly what I will do first if I ever come into a substantial amount of money.

Requiem: collage photo frame

Soon after I came home today, there was a terrible crashing sound and I knew that something broke. After I reassured Antares that he was safe (as usual, Sentinel was only mildly affected) I went to the pantry to see what had broken. I found nothing. I couldn’t think of any other place in the house where something would crash and break. Puzzled, I returned to my usual evening duties.

It was only at the end of the night, when I was changing into my pajamas that I found the source of the noise and breakage. It was my collage photo frame, which had somehow fallen from its nail.

I was a little sad about this development. This is the frame where I print out my best eight photos (or, more accurately, my top four portrait-oriented photos and my top four landscape-oriented photos) from the proceeding year and then I can look at them throughout the next.

I’m not sure if it will be replaced. Time to take good photos seems to be in short supply right now. I still bring my camera with me to most places, but I rarely use it.

I’ll find my way back to photography, someday. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed using this frame.

Requiem: Water Bottle

This water bottle was one of those volunteer thank you gifts I find so puzzling. I don’t need to be given gifts as a volunteer. I’m volunteering. Still, they come. Most are donated to the Goodwill, but some find their way into my life.

I’ve been using this bottle for many years, probably more than five and less than 10. It’s a good size, it’s never leaked, and is easy to wash.

Alas, when going through security I removed the top and then lost it, so I cannot use this water bottle any longer. I will miss it. Especially because water bottles can be quite spendy.

Where’s a volunteer gift when you need one? 🙂