Books Read in September 2020

Picture Books

Baloney and Friends
Greg Pizzoli
Read for Librarian Book Group

Three short tales for young readers about Baloney and friends. Plus three comics, plus instructions of how to draw Baloney and his friends.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
Suzanne Slade

A picture book about Gwendolyn Brooks’ early life and her career as a poet. The words and illustrations combine to convey how her neighborhood shaped her poetry. I read this on a tiny screen, and lost some detail, alas.

Up on Bob
Mary Sullivan

Bob, a dachshund has a job. It’s hard work, but he’s happy to do it.

I laughed and laughed, as will anyone with pets who like to arrange their surroundings just so.

Middle Grade

Brave Like That
Lindsay Stoddard
Read for Librarian Book Group

Let’s deal with the not-great first. There was a glaring date typo (In 1789 there were no banks to rob in Northfield Minnesota as the town was founded in 1855) plus everything in town was within walking distance. I’ve lived in a town smaller than Northfield and while things were close by, not everything was that close.

But one of the weirdest thing about this story was the reaction to the woman who joined the fire station. One of the firefighters could not wrap his head around the thought of a woman fire fighter so much so that I wondered if this book was set in the 1970s. It was not. While I understand that there is probably still pushback to women serving as firefighters, in 2020 the idea that there are women firefighters is not a foreign one.

Aside from those things, I really liked this novel. It’s great at depicting the churning emotions on tap when a child doesn’t love the thing a parent loves. There was a ton of nuanced and complicated emotion in this novel.

Fighting Words
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Read for Librarian Book Group

Amazing main character alert! Della is plainspoken and funny and will pull you right into her story of life in the foster care system Which so far is better than life before foster care.

I loved her foster mother who embodied that matter-of-fact caretaking vibe. There were also some really great post-trauma sequences.

Young Adult

Not Your #Lovestory
Sonia Hartel

Great setup. An aspiring YouTuber who deconstructs romantic comedies finds herself unwittingly cast onto a viral social media romance that didn’t happen. Solid stakes and great depiction of life lived on the edge of poverty.

Up to this Pointe
Jennifer Longo

What do ballet and Antarctica have in common? In this case, the two have Harper in common. She’s one of three teenagers picked to spend the winter in Antarctica after her ballet career—the one thing she’s been working towards for years—never gets off the ground.

Alternating timelines tell the tale of now and then.

This is My America
Kim Johnson
Read for Librarian Book Group

Amazing, and a great example of why we need diverse books. The whole time I was reading I wondering how many amazing stories we’d missed all that time because of #publishingsowhite. (It still is, but books like these are finally starting to be published regularly.)

This is a mystery, a chronicle of the family of an innocent man on death row, plus it deals with police brutality and knowing your rights. There’s also a love triangle and a crackerjack plot!

Mike Curato
Read for Librarian Book Group

Flamer is a graphic novel about summer camp that is full of adolescent boy things in a way that drives home how hard it is to be an adolescent boy. The color scheme captures that camp and campfire feel.

It also brought back memories of the racist chorus of Boom Chick a Boom we used to say (sing?) at Girl Scouts in elementary school. I’m glad that that one didn’t resurface. We totally did the Valley Girl one, though. I’m glad to see it’s still around.

The Beauty that Remains
Ashley Woodfolk

This was an ambitious first book. Three main characters, each mourning the death of a friend, sister or ex-boyfriend. All three characters have friends who are tangentially connected, and it was a lot of people to keep track of.

If you are up for the challenge, there’s great stuff about loss and also music.

All Our Worst Ideas
Vickey Skinner

This would have been a serviceable YA romance, except for the lack of attention to a legion of details. As they piled up, my annoyance increased.

A record shop in Kansas City that is open until 11pm on weeknights and does enough business to employ three people all the way until closing? A rear ending that causes the driver to break his arm, but only does a little damage to the bumper? A character who never attended homecoming, even though she had a boyfriend during at least one homecoming? Just how big is this stockroom and why is there so much to do back there that it can fill a full shift? Someone can get a zero on a test and still make valedictorian?

Not to mention that one of the characters is a total asshat whose activities never seem to be fully reckoned with.

This was a shoddy effort that left me feeling angry.

Today Tonight Tomorrow
Rachel Lynn Solomon
Read for Librarian Book Group???

This was the second book in a row where the main character MUST be the valedictorian.

I liked this treasure hunt/adventure story, and enjoyed that it was pro romance novel. It was predictable from the first page and I also found the acrimony of the two leads to be off putting for the first part of the book. That part was a bit of a slog.

But this is a very fun Seattle book and would pair nicely with I am Princess X by Cherie Priest.

(A fun thing! I couldn’t remember the Princess X book title, so I googled “ya book seattle comics mystery missing friend” and the book was the second search result! I love when the search engines work!)

Blood Moon
Lucy Cuthew

2020, the year when books about menstruation really started flowing through the publishing pipeline.

This novel in verse covers a friendship hitting a rocky point plus that thing that half the population experiences, but is not often talked about. There’s also internet harassment!

While the bones of the story were good, the book’s resolution mirrored exactly an episode of Glee and I wonder if the author subconsciously absorbed that plot point, or if it was one of the things that springs forth from the culture.

We Regret to Inform You
Ariel Kaplan

Mischa has worked hard for four years and her mother has sacrificed a lot to send her to a fancy private school. Now it’s time for all of that to pay off as the college acceptances roll in. But they don’t.

When she’s rejected from every school she applied to, including the safety school where the average student’s SAT score is half of hers, Mischa is bereft, which turns to anger, which turns to asking questions.

I love Kaplan’s books. Her characters are so immediate!

Grendel’s Guide to Love
Ariel Kaplan

Tommy lives in a quiet neighborhood full of retired old ladies who pay him to mow their lawns. It’s summer and all is fine until loud parties start up next door.

Among other things I liked about this book was the depiction of an abusive sibling relationship (I can think of only one other YA book that depicts this not-uncommon situation) and the organic way the parents were absent.

This is also somehow related to the Beowulf story, but I haven’t read enough of the classics to have caught that connection.

More Than Just a Pretty Face
Syed M. Masood
Read for Librarian Book Group

What a delightful character! Danyal is fully conscious of who he is (pretty, loves to cook, good guy) and who he isn’t (smart, diligent student). This was a funny book, that also had me thinking differently about arranged marriages.

It’s worth the price of admission just for Danyal’s conversation with the library employee.

How to Save a Life
Sara Zarr

Jill is trying to get through life after her father’s sudden death. Things get harder when her mother invites Mandy, a pregnant teenager, to live with them so she can adopt Mandy’s baby after it is born.

There are a lot of feelings in this book, expressed in that great Sara Zarr way. Also, I could not for the life of me figure out how the story was going to end. This made for a singular experience.

Of note. This was in the to-read pile for a few library borrowing cycles. This meant that for many weeks I caught a glimpse of it which queued up The Fray’s song “How to Save a Life.” I’m not opposed to that song, but it was nice when the book returned to the library, thus ending the auto play in my brain.

Grownup Fiction

Ooona Out of Order
Margarita Montimore

I love books that play with time, so this one was a winner. It was fun to jump between years of Oona’s life. It was so enjoyable that at one point I felt sad I wouldn’t be able to read all of Oona’s years.

I also appreciated the realistic depiction of a character’s body changing over time. Most of us do not stay the same weight year after year, decade after decade.

Young Nonfiction

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots
Michael Rex
Read for Librarian Book Group

Solid intro into the concept of facts and opinions, with very engaging robots explaining the difference.

Title-wise I didn’t feel like the “vs.” attached to “Robots” in the title is accurate. The robots were used to show the difference between facts and opinions. They weren’t in opposition to either facts or opinions.

Grownup Nonfiction

Love Money Money Loves You
Sarah McCrum

Incredibly woo woo book about how to talk about and interact with money. It’s one of those books where my attitude is, why not? Can’t hurt.

Thomas Cully Park

For a few years now, I’ve been wondering how to get to that park I can see when I drive east on Columbia Boulevard. I finally google mapped it and found it was called Thomas Cully Park. Matt and I went to check it out.

I’m a big fan of this park. It has a great vantage point and lets you see a lot of sky.

It also has some fun design features like this Native Gathering Garden. You can read about these features here.

It also has a fun fitness path surrounding the athletic fields. We partook.

And so much sky!

Sky like I don’t usually see in Portland.

Cully park was a win in our book.

Standing in Line for Ikea.

I drove to Ikea last week, but they were closed due to smoke. (That smoke was intense.) As you can see, the smoke has cleared, so now it was time to take part in another 2020 thing: standing in line to go into a store.

Kind of like waiting in line for a roller coaster, but with more space and no discombobulation due to testing physics. Ikea had a clearly marked path to get into their building. I made four turns while making my way through the line. Luckily Ikea is a big enough store that the line moved at a steady clip.

This is Becoming Increasingly Rare

This street, at least on its south side, doesn’t have cars parked on the street.

I think this has to do with every house having a driveway, and every house being a single-family dwelling. Once multi-family dwellings appear, street parking picks up, since builders aren’t required to include parking.

This is a pretty wide street, but a lot of Portland side streets (this is especially true in a lot of southeast neighborhoods) feel unsafe to drive on when cars are parked bumper to bumper on both sides. It’s not unusual for a car driving down the street to pull over to let an oncoming car pass them.

I’d like to see the Portland City Council get on top of this, but they aren’t likely to. Fixing things would be a pain, and the fact that we have city-wide representation, rather than districts means that people can’t really band together in an area with unsafe parking situation and demand their representative do stuff about it.

Someday we’re going to revamp our city’s governing system. And then we can actually start being the city that works.


1994. I was a freshman, settling in to my second semester. It was an optimistic time. I felt at home in college, Hillary Clinton was going to make sure everyone in the US had access to healthcare before I graduated from college—Time had even published a mockup of the national health insurance card—and women were ascendant, something that made choosing a women’s college seem like a brilliant decision.

My government professor had everyone pick a special project for the semester. Mine was to keep up with the doings of the Supreme Court. There was some end-of-semester assignment, now long forgotten, but I what I do remember is that I needed to read the New York Times and other publications like Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, to keep track of what SCOTUS was up to.

I liked this assignment. In my picture of my impending adulthood, I saw myself always making time to sit down and scour the news, keeping up on current events, informing myself about the issues, and being able to talk intelligently about not only the Supreme Court but also state and local issues. I would for-sure be a person who always had a subscription to not only my local newspaper, but also the New York Times.

I loved following the Supreme Court. Rehnquist, Blackmun, Stevens, O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg. Blackmun was the key to the reason I’d grown up in a country where abortion was legal. He would retire that year, making way for Breyer, and that court would stay the same until 2005, when I was well into my imagined adulthood with no national healthcare and no subscription to the New York Times.

One of the things I loved about the Supreme Court was that it stood above politics. We said that all the time then, and talked about how the Founding Fathers (we used that term without much comment) designed the Constitution so that the Supreme Court was above the fray. The justices were appointed for life! They often went off in different directions than the presidents who appointed them!

And Ruth Bader Ginsburg was my favorite. A tiny woman with a big brain who wore lace collars on her robe, I took her nomination as one of the many signs the country was shaking off the conservative shackles I’d come of age chafing under. Her appointment and confirmation meant we were moving to a brighter future where women could finally fulfill their potential, and the idiotic notions of supply-side economics and shaming people who needed help were finally behind us.

It was so important to have more than one woman on the court. I’d watched with worry as several big decisions about abortion rolled through the court in the 80s and early 90s. It seemed ridiculous that eight men could properly put the importance of access to that procedure in context. Ginsburg was smart, and as I listed to Mara Liasson’s NPR stories about the Supreme Court I always held still to make sure I could feel the weight of Ginsburg’s words.

And now it’s many decades later, and I woke to the news she is gone. I’m no longer a college freshman optimistic about my future. I watched a talented, competent woman with clear platforms and tons of experience lose an election to a man with no plans, no respect for the people he supposedly serves, and no real desire to do the job. The healthcare system is a mess, the problems of systemic racism seem insurmountable, and the Supreme Court is not far above the fray, it’s right in swamp throwing elbows with the other two branches. My life is not what I planned it to be; it’s far from the rosy picture my nineteen-year-old-self envisioned.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life didn’t run its course as she planned. When I think of her, graduating at the top of her class, taking the hits of overt sexism, and interviewing with law firm after law firm, it’s hard to think about. She was sidelined, like so many women and people of color, and we lost years of her (and so many others) contributions.

But she kept going. She stayed with her love of the law however she could and eventually was appointed to a position only 113 other people have ever held, becoming one of six people to ever serve on the court who weren’t white men.

I’m pretty sure Ginsburg was set to retire once Clinton was elected president. She was already very old, and her health was turning. Her husband had died, and she had served for more than two decades. But when the election fell out a different way, she just kept going.

I was going to have a lazy day today. I’m tired from more than a week of wildfire smoke, worn down by this pandemic, beyond feeling anything about the current administration, sick at the amount of hatred and willful ignorance displayed by so many, and forever worried about how my health will affect my finances, now and in the future. The best course of action seemed to be to sink into my bed and my couch and let this day pass.

But Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead, and she worked so long against such long odds for so many things that have made my life better, either overtly or tangentially. So I’m going to make my bed and get dressed. What I do today won’t matter much in the world, but it will matter in my life. If I don’t take care of my needs, I can’t do the work I need to do to make a better life for myself and my community. Today is the first day without RBG and it’s another one of the many days in my life where what I do makes a difference.

I thank Ginsburg for her service. And I will do my best to make my own service ongoing.

Filmspotting’s Triviaspotting Event

The Filmspotting podcast had fun events planned at different locations around the country this year. Alas, pandemic. But they’ve started a new monthly event, an online movie trivia game.

For $20, I got to log into the game, was put in a group (We named ourselves Adam’s Manimals) and then we did our best to answer the two rounds of trivia questions. There was a lightening round too, where we had to pick one person from our team to answer quick questions. The topic was Marvel heroes/actors. The person was given the name of the superhero and had to name the actor. We got out in the second lightening round with Vision. I couldn’t think of Paul Bettany’s last name, and neither could our point person.

We did great in the first round, and then not so great in the second round. Still, it was a fun time and I enjoyed working with my team to answer the trivia questions.

Here’s a screen shot of one point in the trivia. Can you find me?

I’m looking down because I was embroidering.

Our Smoky September

This picture was taken at 8:09 a.m. But it could have been taken at any time on this day because thanks to the smoke covering most of Oregon, this is what daylight looks like all day long.

Our air quality is so bad it broke the scale, the sun hasn’t been visible for days and even my hearty lungs were screaming for fresh air.

Big fires lead to big smoke and this is yet another of the many ways climate change is affecting us all.

Nope. Didn’t Fit.

One day sitting in the new chair told me that despite all my careful measuring, it did not fit in the space the folding chair occupied. This meant reorienting my bed.

I don’t like beds jammed against a wall because that position makes it difficult to change the sheets. But I happened on a good solution by moving the cat tree over against the wall. When it comes time to change the sheets, I can push the cat tree out of the way.

Sentinel approves of this new setup.