Books read in April 2015

I’ve been reading one chapter every night of the  Betsy-Tacy books, but this month I zoomed on through several of them.  Someone on Goodreads observed that, much like Tolkien, the world is so clearly imagined that the books are a pleasure to read, even if you could care less about Merry Widow hats and “puffs” and pompadours.

Highlights this month:
Picture:
Last Stop on Market Street
Trombone Shorty

Middle Reader:
Listen, Slowly

YA:
Betsy & Joe

Grownup Fiction:
The Grapes of Wrath

Picture
Last Stop on Market Street
de la Pena/Robinson
Read for librarian book group
Looking for a picture book depicting commuting via bus?  This is your book.
Earmuffs for Everyone
Meghan McCarthy
Read for librarian book group
I found the story to be interesting, the telling of the story rather random and chaotic and the illustrations to be sub-par.  “Man,” I thought to myself, “If I had written this and THIS was the illustrator they pared me with, I wouldn’t be too happy.”  But the author seems to also be the illustrator, so I guess she’s happy with her work.
Draw What You See
Benson/Andrew
Read for librarian book group
Story of the life of Artist Benny Andrews, who also illustrated the book.  Good, although Mr. Andrews seems to be no longer with us which was addressed in a weird way.  Present tense in the book itself, past tense references on the flap with the author/illustrator notes.
The Case for Loving
Alko/Qualls
Read for librarian book group
The story of the family whose interracial marriage brought them all the way to the Supreme Court.  Story itself was well written, but I found some of the illustrations random and odd.
Trombone Shorty
Andrews/Collier
Read for librarian book group
The story of Trombone Shorty, written by Mr. Trombone Shorty himself.  Good narrative, with illustrations I spent a lot of time looking at, but mostly because I found their construction distracting.  Really great historical photos in the afterward of Trombone Shorty when he was a boy.
Middle reader
Listen, Slowly
Thanhha Lai
Read for librarian book group
The story of a twelve year-old girl regretfully giving up her summer to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam to find out more about her grandfather’s last days as a soldier during the Vietnam war. Things I loved:  perfectly captures the outrage of the loss of summer, combined with the guilt that comes along with helping family members.  The main character’s descriptions of everything that was foreign about Vietnam (despite growing up in a Vietnamese immigrant family) were mostly funny, when they weren’t pulling on your heartstrings.  There was a great progression of maturity of feelings as the story progressed. I really loved every character in the book.
I was never, however, compelled to just keep reading more, which I found odd.  I’m not sure if this was because the story is such a good meander, or the writing wasn’t very gripping.
YA
Betsy was a Junior
Maude Hart Lovelace
Oh Betsy, you’ve finally decided to set your cap for the handsome and proud Joe Willard and what happens?  Not what you think is going to, just as with many of your exploits.  This is also the book where I learned that sororities aren’t such a great idea.  Not that I ever probably thought otherwise.
Betsy & Joe
Maude Hart Lovelace
Lest you think that life is smooth sailing for Betsy just because Joe has second billing in the title, think again!  It’s senior year for our friends and Betsy once again begins the school year deciding how things will be.  And then we get to read about how those things don’t quite come to pass.
 
When I Was the Greatest
Jason Reynolds
Read for librarian book group
Great setting, good characters.  Nearly complete lack of plot.  It took a long time to figure out what this book might be about and then what it was about felt very thin.
Betsy & the Great World
Maude Hart Lovelace
Betsy sets sail for Europe in 1914.  Guess what big event eventually brings an end to her year abroad?  I found the transition from the end of Betsy and Joe to this book jarring.  Four years have passed and the Ray family has moved from Deep Valley to Minneapolis, something that is referred to in passing and never fully explained.  I went back and looked twice, just to see if my skimming had something to do with it.  This may be because I should have read Carney’s House Party after Betsy and Joe, but I did not know to do this, nor is it listed in the series order.
Anyway, aside from that, Betsy’s adventures in pre-World War I Europe are interesting, and it has a great ending.
This Side of Home
Renee Watson
Read for librarian book group
YA fiction set in Portland, Oregon with a neighborhood level view of gentrification.  Good narrative, good characters.  For whatever reason, Jefferson High School and Alberta Street were renamed for this novel and I found it immensely distracting.
Adult fiction
The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
Read for Kenton Library book group
I’ve finally made it to California with the Joads.  It was a very good ride.  For the first 200 pages I chafed at the sheer volume of words, but after that I settled in for the ride.  Someone in book group remarked how she thought about the characters throughout the day and I had the same experience.  So much of this book applies now that it’s almost as if more than 70 years have not passed. Alas.
Nonfiction
Aqua Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town
Jennifer Niven
I adored Niven’s All the Bright Places and was eager to read her memoir of growing up in small-town Indiana, attending a large high school in the 1980s.  However, reading the actual book I spent a lot of time debating if I disliked the book so much because I would have not liked the author had I encountered her in high school. After much contemplation, I can say that I think my dislike stemmed partly from that, partly from jealousy (Niven was pretty, popular with boys, an only child with lots of privileges and her family was much wealthier than mine was) and also partly because the way she presented her stories from high school was not that interesting.  Have you ever looked at yearbooks from high schools that were not yours?  They are boring.  And that’s what this book felt like.  Boring stories told by a person I wasn’t too enamored of.
So skip this and read All the Bright Places.  It’s a beautiful story.
Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman who Challenged Big Business and Won.
McCully
Read for Librarian Book Group
Thoroughly researched book about pioneering journalist (and muckraker–though she rejected the term). Her coverage of the Standard Oil Company for McClures magazine helped bring about the trust-busting reform movement in the early 20th century.  Tarbell, aside from being an accomplished career woman in a time when few women worked outside the home, also was an Anti-Suffragette.  This made for a very interesting dichotomy later in her life.
This book was very complete and so incredibly boring to read.  It’s a great source for someone doing research, but otherwise kind of a snoozer.
In searching for the full title, I was pleased to discover the book that Tarbell published about the Standard Oil Company is online.  Though it sold quite well, it was very difficult to find copies in the decades after it was written, perhaps due to the Standard Oil Company purchasing and destroying the book.  You can read the book by going to: http://www.pagetutor.com/standard/

3 thoughts on “Books read in April 2015”

  1. I just can’t seem to get into middle readers, but I absolutely love the cover of Listen, Slowly. It’s really beautiful. I haven’t been able to muster much enthusiasm for reading lately. It’s kind of sad. Maybe I need better books.

    1. I used to feel the same way about middle readers, but I’ve taken a turn lately. I’ve read some really good stuff. Perhaps Listen, Slowly will cure your lackluster lust for reading…

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