Books read in October 2014

VACATION!  I had one.  I read  a lot.

This month’s highlights:

Picture:  The Right Word, The Farmer and the Clown, Viva Frida.  (It was a good picture book month)

Middle Readers: Sisters

YA:  The Story of Owen, Firebug.  Both are really excellent quasi-fantasy-but-not-in-the-lame-way books. (Where She Went is good, but I’ve already read that)

Grownup Fiction: Work Song

Grownup Non:  In the American West, the Eugene Atget book.

Picture Books
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
Bryant/Sweet
Read for librarian book group
Picture book about the man who invented the Thesaurus.   Interesting story (did you know that the original versions of the Thesaurus weren’t alphabetical? They were arranged by idea.) and really fabulous illustrations.  I love this author/illustrator team.

The Farmer and the Clown
Marla Frazee
 Read for librarian book group
Worldless picture book that I enjoyed, and even laughed aloud at one point.  Although I’ve had a song from Oklahoma stuck in my head for days now. (Territory folks should stick together, territory folks should all be pals…)

Digby O’Day in the Fast Lane
Hughes/Vullamy
Read for librarian book group
Okay early reader.  I wasn’t a fan of the woman being spoiled and liking pink, though I’m certain spoiled women who also like pink exist.

Best observation made by person in librarian book group:  I feel like someone pulled out the manuscript  from 1952 from the cushions in their couch and published it.

Viva Frida
Yuyi Morales
Read for librarian book group
Beautiful picture book.  One I finished and thought, “I might buy this.”

Middle Readers
The Red Pencil
Andres Davis Pinkey
Read for librarian book group
Another tale told in free verse and yet another tale told in free verse that I found rather so-so.  None of the poems stood out on their own and I didn’t find the story as told, compelling.  The story itself was quite compelling, but the writing didn’t grab me.

Sisters
Raina Talgemeier
Read for librarian book group
Graphic novel that accurately captures that particular form of trapped feeling one gets when one has to continue living with one’s siblings, simply because they are siblings, even if they drive one crazy. Also great with portraying the awkwardness of transitions.

YA
The Story of Owen
E.K. Johnston
Read for Mock Printz
You know what sold me?  The first two paragraphs.  Here they are, so you can read for yourself:

Before the Thorskard came to Trondheim, we didn’t have a permanent dragon slayer.  When a dragon attacked, you had to petition town hall (assuming it wasn’t on fire), and they would send to Toronto (assuming the phone lines weren’t on fire) and Queen’s Park would send out one of the government dragon slayers (assuming nothing in Toronto was on fire). By the time the dragon slayer arrived, anything not already lit on fire in the original attack would be, and whether the dragon was eventually slayed or not, we’d be stuck with reconstruction. Again.

Needless to say, when it was announced that Lottie Thorskard was moving to town permanently, it was like freaking Mardi Gras.

Do you need more than Canadian dragon slayers, witty commentary, and a lively tone?  How about a female narrator who is intensely musical and thinks in symphonic tones, but is rather stunted when it comes to friendships?  How about fun retelling of history through the alternate reality of carbon-eating dragons?  How about  savvy commentary on all sorts of modern phenomena?  How about life as the nephew of the most famous Dragon Slayer in Canada?  How about a title that doesn’t really tell the whole truth of the story?

I’ve given you enough reasons to read this. Now go find a copy and read!

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ada Lavendar
Leslye Walton
Read for Mock Printz
I’ve read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the joke that goes with that title is that in Dave Eggers’s family they would always over exaggerate really mediocre things, lay the praise on thick.  Thus, a title mentioning both heartbreaking and genius was perceived by its own author to be a so-so piece of literature.

I do not think that Leslye Walton comes from the same school of thought.  I suspect that Walton thinks her book actually is full of the strange and beautiful sorrows of Ada Lavender.  However, what it is full of is a torpid plot that I don’t think ever really got going, magical realism done very badly, strange jumps in POV that I can’t figure out why they were ever acceptable.  Plus an eerily unfortunate plot device that is shared with a very popular Disney movie released just this year.

I don’t often find myself reading first novels and thinking, “whew!  This is very much a first novel!” but this was one of those times.  Each page I read made me want more than ever for it to be the last page.  However, I was tasked with reading to the end and read to the end I did.

Dirty Wings
Sarah McCarry
 Read for librarian book group
I never could quite put my finger on what made me uncomfortable in this book.  Both main characters were interesting, sympathetic and well written.  The plot was solid, if nerve-wracking.  I’m not sure, but maybe the woo-woo aspects didn’t work for me?

Interestingly, my copy of the book included the first chapter of the continuation of the story and I responded quite well to the switch in narrators.

Also, I’m not really seeing this is as retelling of Persephone.

Egg & Spoon
Gregory Maguire
Read for librarian book group
This book is a great example of an established author getting to do what no new author would be allowed to, namely natter on and on about things that are not vital to the plot.  His nattering, while well written, made this book a slog.  If moves were ever made about 13 year-old girls, this would make a fabulous film as the multitude of paragraphs of description could be absorbed by a few panning shots in each scene.  Fun story, fun growth of all, fun setting, just too much writing.  It was like being force-fed a delicious 10-layer cake.  A slice would have been quite satisfying enough.

Also, it didn’t work for me that Baba Yaga made references to things both in the future (Cheerios, etc) and her many amusing asides to historical figures/events had me wondering just why, exactly, this was published as a children’s book.

Isla and the Happily Ever After
Stephanie Perkins
I found the set up rather unbelievable (a US Senator sends his only son to an elite Paris boarding school for high school?) but enjoyable.  The Paris setting was very fun, the romance interesting and I though Perkins did a great job of capturing a very specific style of breakup.

Also, just so you don’t go pronouncing the main character’s name wrong like I did, it’s Eye-la. It derives from the word Island.

Where She Went
Gayle Forman
Having reread If I Stay in preparation for the movie, I needed to even things out and read the sequel.   I sped through it when I read it for the first time a year ago, so it was good to go back and catch details.  I really liked how the second half of the two-book series fleshed out the first one and tied everything up in a very nice way.

Firebug
Lish McBride
Read for librarian book group
Looking for a fun quick read with snortingly good humor sprinkled throughout?  Looking for an alternate world with fire starters and were-foxes and a dryad?  Looking for a magical mafia?  Looking for a quick and feisty plot?  This is your book.  It is a solidly really great read.

Grownup Fiction

Work Song
Ivan Doig
True confession time.  I’ve always stayed away from Ivan Doig because his last name made me think his books would be way too smart for me.  However, this came highly recommended by a book-reading friend (thanks Ben!) so I requested it from the library and opened the cover with much trepidation.

The verdict?  You shouldn’t judge an author by his last name.  This was a fun story set in Butte Montana just after WWI.  It’s full of all sorts of rollicking mining town details and has a gratifying plot that rolled right along.  I greatly enjoyed it and perhaps will be checking out more of Mr. Doig’s work.  

Grownup NonFiction

In the American West
Richard Avedon
Very large photos (maybe 12″ by 18″ inches?) of run-of-the-mill people living the “the west” in the late 70s/early 80s.  Simple portraits, great details.  Apparently when the photos were first shown, there was general hue and cry of outrage that “those people” were not the true westerners.  But they are and he captured them well: drifters, carnies, ranchers, coal miners, farmers, teenagers, mental patients, waitresses, what have you.

A really excellent book.

In Focus: Eugene Atget. Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum
Gordon Baldwin
I enjoyed this “In Focus Series” because it used the very accessible format of putting the photo on one page and an analysis on the facing page.  I learned a lot about Atget, who was a great photographer of buildings in early 20th century Paris.  He created these photos to sell to designers, painters, anyone who needed photos of buildings.

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