Books read in June 2018

It was a big reading month with multiple things read in (nearly) every category.  This is a sign of both “good books to read” (because I want to finish them and thus read them quickly) and “vacation” (because I have time to finish them). I even got to read two of my favorite adult fiction authors this month.  What a treat!
Picture book: Pie is for Sharing
Middle grade: The Parker Inheritance
Young adult: When my Heart Joins the Thousands
Young nonfiction: The Girl who Drew Butterflies
Grownup nonfiction: For Everyone
Adult fiction: Since we Fell, You Think it, I’ll Say it.
Ocean Meets Sky
The Fan Brothers
Read for Librarian Book Group
A boy builds a boat in honor of his decesaed grandfather and sails to where the ocean meets the sky. There is a lot to look at, I especially loved Library Island with bookish birds.

My slight quibble involves the grandfather’s age. Would he have really been 90 and had a grandson so young?

Pie is for Sharing
Ledyard & Chin
Read for Librarian Book Group
Family and friends spend an idyllic Independence Day holiday by the local lake. The illustrations are gorgeous, there are many things for sharing and I loved the different ways the kids played together. I want to live in this book.

Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Stevenson, Elllis, Walters, Allen
Read for Family Book Group
An exciting adventure; a camp with a great name (Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types); a great group of friends. As a former girl scout who read the handbooks for both girl and boy scouts, I loved the handbook excerpts. I could have done without the non-ending, but it is a comic book.

The Serpant’s Secret
Sayantani DasGupta
Read for Librarian Book Group
Good things: fantasy adventure with a female main character inspired by stories from India.

As mentioned before, I’m not the best audience for fantasy, so this was a slog. For those who are fans, it had many things good things going for it.

All Summer Long
Hope Larson
Read for Librarian Book Group
What do you do when your best friend leaves for the summer for soccer camp? Lots of hanging out.  This graphic novel captures a summer of boredom and changes.

Also: guaranteed to get the song “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock stuck on my head.

The Parker Inheritance
Varian Johnson
Read for Librarian Book Group
Truth? I tend to sigh when I pick up a middle grade novel on my reading list.  They don’t tend to be my thing.

But Varian Johnson? The two books I’ve read (The Great Greene Heist is the other one) have been smashing!

Candice has to spend the summer in Lambert, South Carolina, far away from her Atlanta home.  She’s living in her deceased grandmother’s house with her mother, while her own home is renovated for a post-divorce sale. Her grandmother always loved puzzles and when Candice finds a letter addressed to her grandmother with a puzzle that promises great riches to the person who can solve it, she and the neighbor boy across the street spend the summer chasing down leads.

It’s a contemporary mystery, sure, but it’s also window into Jim Crow-era life in South Carolina, and a story about revenge and redemption.

It was a perfect book.

You Go First
Erin Entrada Kelly
Read for Librarian Book Group
The story of two kids, both going through hard times in different parts of the country. They are tied together by their online Scrabble relationship.

Erin Entrada Kelly seems to thrive telling stories that take place in compact time periods. This plays out over a week. Charlotte is twelve and dealing with her father’s illness and her relationship with her best friend changing. Ben is eleven decides to put himself out there and run for student council.

It’s an emotionally charged week, and one with tough life lessons. But it’s a week worth reading about.

Picture us in the Light
Kelly Loy Gilbert
Read for Librarian Book Group
This book had pacing problems, with the first two thirds meandering through some interesting characters and setting, and I couldn’t quite get the point of the story. I put it down to read another book, but came back to finish it so to be ready for discussion.

The last third was much better, I had an idea of where things were going, and some interesting stuff came up. And the last 10 pages were packed with story in a way that made me wish Kelly Loy Gilbert had an editor with a firmer hand.

I loved the characters in this book, and the clear view I got of the town of Cupertino.  Had the story been told in a less meandering way, I would have been able to rate it higher.

Critique of things the author doesn’t have control over: the cover implies this will be (yet another) graffiti artist book.  However, the main character is not a graffiti artist and also spends most of the book unable to draw.  Poor form book cover people, poor form.

When my Heart Joins the Thousands
A. J. Steiger
Read for Librarian Book Group
Quirky romance with a main character who is on the autism spectrum, this book is also a good depiction of living in poverty.  The lows are very harrowing and I had a lot of worry while reading.

Kelly Loy Gilbert
The author’s second book Picture us in the Light had structural problems, but super engaging characters and an interesting story, and I was curious what her first book was like.

It was great!

Braden’s father, a popular right-wing talk radio host, has been arrested for vehicular manslaughter.  His other brother Trey–long estranged–has returned home to act as his guardian while Braden finishes high school and his father awaits trail. Braden is a Christian and wants to do the right thing, but protecting his father requires him to make a choice.

While the will he/won’t he plot rumbles along, we’re also puzzling over his brother’s odd actions, plus some good baseball stuff, plus a lot of wondering about Christianity and how it squares and what his father wants him to do.  Plus, there’s a girl he likes.

I found a few plot points convenient in distracting ways–namely to do with recording of the trial–and I didn’t believe the case would have been decided the way it was.  But I loved Braden and his thoughtful navigation through a confusing period in his life. I’m also quite curious what happens to him after the story ends. Sequel? I would welcome one.

Rachel Hawkins
What happens to your normal Florida teenage life when your older sister gets engaged to the future King of Scotland? In Daisy’s case, due to a subpar ex-boyfriend selling a story to the tabloids, it means spending the summer in Scotland with the royal family and their assorted friends.

This is a by-the-book contemporary romance with engaging characters, relationships that build and change, and a plucky heroine.  It made for some enjoyable reading and I was impressed with Hawkins ability to juggle the personalities of so many friends of royals.

A Study in Charlotte
Brittany Cavallaro
A grand Sherlock Holmes retelling. Charlotte is a descendant of the famous detective. Jamie Watson is the narrator and a descendant of Dr. Watson. Charlotte and Jamie meet at a Connecticut boarding school and are immediately thrown into a mystery when one of their classmates is murdered.

I’m only a casual reader of anything Holmesian, but I’m guessing this book is chock full of fun details for people who are bigger fans.  I enjoyed the mystery and the growing Holmes/Watson friendship.

The Impossible Knife of Memory
A rather bleak story of a girl trying to hold her life together while her father, an Iraqi War veteran, falls apart.  Anderson combines the slow motion car wreck of a life with a heartfelt and complicated first love. It’s vividly written and, though bleak, not hard to keep reading.

Losing Gabriel
Lurlene McDaniel
At the library, stocking up books for my upcoming vacation, I grabbed this one because the author’s name sounded familiar.  At home I was amused to discover that the familiarity was from the fact that I read this author 30 years ago as an actual teenager. She did sick-lit before sick-lit was a thing. And she’s been busy in the intervening years. Her list of books is long.

The book opens with Lani, Dawson, and Slone attending the same small-town Tennessee high school. Dawson is grumpily new in town–his father has accepted a new job at the hospital. Lani is a quiet girl who wants to be a nurse and Sloan is the balls-to-the-wall singer of a locally famous band who wants nothing more than to use music to get her out of of town.  Lani has a crush on Dawson, Dawson only has eyes for Sloan and Sloan is in a relationship with the lead guitarist.

The book takes place in two parts; high school and then four years later. It’s a solidly-built story and I enjoy a teen novel that wanders into adult life, something I couldn’t properly visualize when I was a teenager.

The moniker “inspirational writer” tends to taint my viewpoint of any story, but this was solidly constructed. It also avoided judgement in places where there could have been some. There was a sacrificial lamb element I found off-putting, but it worked well with the story.  There’s a segment at the Bonnaroo music and arts festival where a mostly unbelievable plot twist happens.  But I did enjoy the thought of Lurlene McDaniel doing her Bonnaroo research.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
Isabel Quintero
Read for Librarian Book Group
Mexican photographer  Iturbide’s life is on display in this nicely written and drawn book. The text gave us a good sense of her life, and the illustrations fleshed things out.  I appreciated the inclusion of Iturbide’s photographs into the narrative.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies
Joyce Sidman
Read for Librarian Book Group
A nonfiction book about Maria Sibylla Merian, a German artist in the 17th century. Not only is this a woman-focused story in a time when women were rarely professional artists, it also is a book that combines science and art. Merian drew pictures of butterflies, and she also studied all phases of their life cycle–which was a big deal, because many of her contemporaries didn’t understand that butterflies came from caterpillars. (This was many years before The Very Hungry Caterpillar was written.)

The layout of the book is excellent, including reproductions of Merian’s art, and quotes by the artist. There is engaging writing to tell the tale and also an excellent timeline, glossary, and bibliography.

I’m not a fan of the title.  While the story does begin with Merian’s girlhood, the bulk of the book is spent on her adulthood as a professional artist. Does the title infantilize a professional woman?

For Everyone
Jason Reynolds
A letter written by Jason Reynolds before he was Jason Reynolds, successful author and super-cool guy.  It’s a short book of words of encouragement to dreamers that not only employs the excellent phrase “internal eczema” but also calls out encouragement for “the squares who use nine to five cubes as planning sessions for the real work.”

I should probably set a calendar reminder to check this book out every six weeks.

Richard McGuire
This book starts with a room, shown in one decade, then another.  As you turn the page, you see the room–or the place where the room is–during different centuries, both past and future.  I love books that make me feel like a blip in the universe. This is a simple concept, beautifully executed.

Since We Fell
Dennis Lehane
I haven’t been much of a fan of Lehane’s more recent works, but this was a return to form.  I see Lehane as someone who writes really awesome love stories that happen to be wrapped in crime procedurals.

Rachel is searching for her father–the man her mother kept from her. She’s got a few facts, but they are common enough to make the search tough.  Early on, she employs the services of a private investigator, who advises her not to waste her money. While that part of the book plays out, she’s also a rising star at a Boston television station.  But when a post-earthquake visit to Haiti derails her career and her marriage falls apart, she crosses paths with the private investigator–now a successful businessman.

I like how Lehane can tell us a story that pivots several times, and it’s only at the end that things come together and you realize he’s be setting up the dominoes to fall at just the right moment. Plus, the whole love story thing.

You Think it, I’ll Say it
Curtis Sittenfeld
If you are lucky, you find a writer who is on the same emotional wavelength as you. Curtis Sittenfeld seems to be that person for me. We’re the same age, so we have the same reference points and more importantly, her writing connects with my ongoing feelings of sadness tinged with hope and moments of wonder.

Enter this collection of short stories, many of which feature 40-somethings dealing with work and children.  In both dialogue and description Sittenfeld strips life down to what it is, but also writes with such care that I want to read and reread.

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