Books read in December 2015

This was not a stellar month for reading good books.  Which I guess makes recommending easy.


Picture Books: Flop to the Top
Middle Grade: none read this month.  What?
Young Adult: Carry On
Young Nonfiction: The Book Itch
Grownup Nonfiction: Big Magic
Fiction: Eh, I guess you could read the Girl on the Train. Other people seem to really like it.

picture books

The Plan
Paul / Lehman
Read for Librarian Book Group
Bad title, I had to look this one up to remember what it was about.  But I liked it!  I liked how clever one change of letter made a new word that moved the story forward.  I really loved the illustrations and how one could “read” the entire story by looking at the pictures.

Flop to the Top
Davis & Weing
Read for Librarian Book Group
I love kids books that make me laugh.  And this story of a wanna-be it-girl (of the under-10 set) and her reaction to her dog’s sudden it-dog fame is hilarious.

Lenny and Lucy
Philip C & Erin E Stead
Read for Librarian Book Group
I really liked both story and illustrations of a new boy settling into a new place.

Written and Drawn by Henrietta
Read for Librarian Book Group
I loved watching Henrietta’s process of writing and drawing her book.  Very nicely done.

Drum Dream Girl
Read for Librarian Book Group
I’m always a fan of girls being able to realize their dreams, despite the sexist restrictions of the societies in which they live.  Good illustrations, too.

Big Bear Little Chair
Read for Librarian Book Group
Perfect for teaching concepts of size.

Read for Librarian Book Group
Have fun learning how to make salsa in two languages.  Enjoy Tonatiuh’s illustrations.

young adult

Kissing Ted Callahan
Amy Spaulding
Honestly?  Not even one month later I have no idea what book this is.  Let me go and look at the cover on Goodreads…

Ah yes.  That book.  A solid book with the subject of making not-so-great choices on the way to love.  I started to read it because a certain someone alerted me it was about band.  However, it was kids in A band, not IN band, a crucial difference.

But the main character was a female drummer, so that was cool.  Also, I’m remembering that the main character was female and liked three guys at once and was kind of dating them all.  That was interesting, as books featuring relationships usually have a direct path to love prescribed.  Sometimes there’s a love triangle, but I don’t usually see female characters having to navigate through a bounty of options.  We’re usually stuck in some form of the wallflower-at-the-dance narrative.  Hmmm.  In reflecting on this book, it just gained another star.  Well done, Amy Spaulding.

Famous in Love
Rebecca Serle
This is one of those books where there’s an erudite Me sitting on my shoulder tisk tisking at how much I’m enjoying this book.  First off, let me say that the Portland details are WRONG in a way that is annoying.  Rebecca Serle, if  you want me to beta read your next book, I’ll make sure your Portland details are correct.

However!  I loved the concept of a love triangle developing between actors making a movie based on a best-selling teenage romance that has its own love triangle.  (*cough*Twilight*cough) Genius!  And despite the fact that I thought Ms. Serle should have done a better job making one of her characters be a certain way, and despite my irritation at the Portland details being wrong, I found myself putting off chores to finish reading it.  I also recommended it to no less than three people as an excellent fluffy YA.  It is for all of those reasons that I’m giving this four stars and not the two my erudite self would have bestowed.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Patrick Ness
Three pieces of advice I have read about writing books:  You must have a good understanding of what the hell will happen in your plot in the first 500 words.  Never have too many characters with the same first initial. For that matter, don’t have too many characters.

I had no idea what was going on in this book for the first three chapters.  I had to keep looking back to piece things together.  There were three siblings that all had the same first letter, plus there were nicknames that further muddied the waters. There was a friend group of four people, plus a younger sister and another guy.  It wasn’t until page 34 (thirty four!) that I even realized the narrator was male, not female.

But guess what?  I really liked this book.  It was quirky in all the best ways, there was that parallel story told in the chapter headings, there were interesting friendship and relationship things and it was amusing.

If you can persist until you get it (or are possibly quicker to pick up on things than I am) this is an enjoyable read.

Martine Leavitt
Read for Librarian Book Group
Hey!  How about a second book about schizophrenia in one month!?!  I found this to be much more accessible than Challenger Deep and thus much more successful.  I admired that Leavitt could have so many action points in a story that mostly is just walking across a frozen lake.  Overall, though I found myself impatient and irritated with the premise.

Carry On
Rainbow Rowell
Despite loving all of Rainbow Rowell’s previous books, I wasn’t looking forward to this one.  It’s the story of Simon Snow, who was the Harry Potter-like wizard in Rowell’s book Fangirl, about which her main character, Cath wrote fanfiction.   See?  Already, in explaining who Simon Snow is, I have an awkwardly constructed sentence.  Anyway, my main critique of Fangirl was that the Simon Snow parts were kind of boring and I skimmed through them.  So why would I want to read a whole book about Simon Snow?

I forgot about Rowell’s magic touch.  This book was awesome. In that way that means I stand in awe of it.  It’s like reading the seventh book in a series, but not actually having to read the other six books!  That’s kind of amazing.  And Rowell is, as usual, firmly in control of her characters.  Plus, there’s the fact that Rowell can write a love story.  There was a whole plot about all this wizard stuff and it was good too.  So overall, very well done.

Challenger Deep
Neil Shusterman
Read for Librarian Book Group
Ugh!  The cynical part of me wonders if Mr. Shusterman didn’t get the National Book Award simply for the author’s note at the end.

I did not cotton to this book. I felt the disjointed nature (which yes, I understand the point) was difficult to wade through. I sent it back to the library twice before finishing it.  And yes, it gets easier and more understandable as it goes along, but how many people are going to make it past the first 100 pages to get to the part that is easier to read, but still unsatisfying?

Also, I disliked the illustrations intensely, which is a statement equal to my opening one in it’s curmudgeonly cynicism.  However, I felt the illustrations added nothing to the text and were actually quite distracting.

Young nonficiton

The Book Itch
Read for Librarian Book Group
Stories like these are why I love studying history.*  Short nonfiction story of an important bookstore.  Great details, and the illustrations fit so well with the text.

*Or, in my case, dipping my nose into history now and then.


Grownup Nonfiction

Big Magic
Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert is pretty rad, in a way that if she were a man she would be commanding, I don’t know, some large portion of the zeitgeist.  However, she is a woman, and she writes about shit that women can relate to and because of that, a lot of people don’t like her so much, even though she’s a stellar writer, can tell a great story and is hilarious.

However, a lot of women DO like her and we buy her stuff and enjoy it.  I’m one of those people.  This is an easy-to-digest book about the importance of finding some creative outlet in your life. I found it great to read in small bits, which makes it perfect for that room where you do your reading that also has a sink and a shower. You don’t have to agree with everything Gilbert says, you don’t have to go for all the woo-woo stuff.  But I bet you will find good stuff in here, regardless.

Thanks to Kelly for making sure I had my own copy of this book.

On Writing
Stephen King
You might have heard of this guy Stephen King?  He’s written a book about how to write books.  Apparently he thinks he’s qualified to write about this topic?

I will retain fond memories of this book, because of the book’s opening:

“I was stunned by Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars’ Club.  Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular, but by it’s totality–she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years….

“Mary Karr presents her childhood in an almost unbroken panorama.  Mine is a fogged-out landscape from which occasional memories appear like isolated trees…the kind that look as if they might grab and eat you.”

When I read this out loud to Matt he laughed and said, “Sweetheart, that’s like you and me!”  And indeed, I am the person who remembers everything in 70mm UltraPanavision and Matt is the person whose recollections of the past are fuzzy, sparse, and almost always end in a shudder.

This isn’t a conventional book of writing advice. You get a section of the sixteen or so clear memories King has from growing up, which are not super relevant, but really interesting.  Then there’s a rambly part about how he came to writing and how he writes things.  It includes some good advice (First draft: door shut.  Second draft: door open.) and some chatty observations.

There’s also a section where he writes about getting hit by the van that nearly killed him.  This is also not super relevant, but really engrossing and interesting and also funny.  After that comes some lists (I think I was reading the third edition) of books he really liked.

Overall, this was really enjoyable, and didn’t leave me with that feeling that writing advice books sometimes leave me with:  that I’m doing Every Single Thing Wrong.

Adult fiction
The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
This was great at the beginning and I was impressed with the way Hawkins set out clues to pick up on our breadcrumb path to the finish.  I also stood in awe of the vast quantities of alcohol the girl on the train consumed.  I was less impressed with the ending, finding it convenient that both male characters were the same type of people.







One thought on “Books read in December 2015”

  1. People used to recommend King’s “On Writing” to me all the time. No that I ever ASKED for books on how to write, thank you very much. Anyway, I’ve always been a little perplexed as to why people have such a hard on for that book. I used to love King back in the day (now I feel like he’s in serious need of an editor who knows the meaning of the word “no”) but I’m under no illusions that he’s a “good” writer. I think he’s a passable writer who has a lot of interesting ideas. Not my go-to guy for advice, if I were seeking advice.

    You’re the second person I know in just a week to thumbs down The Girl on the Train. Interesting.

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