Books Read October 2018

It was a month of doing a lot of things that aren’t reading. Two things have contributed to this. My continued sleep restriction, which leaves me staying up later than usual to reset my sleep schedule. This means that when I sit down to read, I almost always want to fall asleep. This means I’m reading less. Also, I’m doing this whole thing with starting side jobs? That’s cutting into the reading time too.

Picture book: We are Grateful
Middle grade: The Parker Inheritance
Young adult: Damsel
Young nonfiction: Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees

So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom
Read for Librarian Book Group


This book had a ton of things wrong with it.

The layout. There is an intermittent poem (?) that appears on certain left-hand pages. It always ended with a comma and I was always confused by that comma. Halfway through I poked around to see if it’s appearance would ever end with a period. The answer was no. What was that interlude? I should not be asking that question.

The text is awkward and didn’t flow well. There was context that was missing that confused me. I was not aware that Sojourner Truth was a slave in New York state before slavery was made illegal there and thus I had some dissonance reconciling “slavery” and “New York.” The information could have been introduced more smoothly.

Also, the illustrations were not my style.

Raul Colon
Read for Librarian Book Group

I enjoyed the setup: a boy skateboards over a bridge (that I’m too lazy to look up to see which New York City bridge it was) to go to the Guggenheim. Once there, he has adventures with paintings. Because the people in the paintings come to life and hang out with him. You know, like they do. There were some amusing situations with the boy and the characters in the paintings.

The illustrations were nice, in that blurry way. I didn’t love the boy’s face. It looked fairly plastic and was distracting to me. But overall, I enjoyed the message about art.

The Party
Sergio Ruzzier
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book is three short stories that are laid out like a graphic novel for the beginning reader set. Both Fox and Chick cut fine figures, though in the latter case, Chick is fun in annoying ways. I thought the size of the text benefited the book, and while the illustrations were not my style, they were clear, which is always a good thing.

We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
Read for Librarian Book Group

The biggest win as far as I’m concerned is that the Cherokee words that are used are DEFINED ON THE VERY SAME PAGE! I’m not sure why it’s taken this long to get to this point in picture book layouts.

No need to wonder if there was a glossary in the back. No need to decide if I’m going to exert the effort to turn to the glossary. Instead, there was the word’s definition, right there on the same page. Picture books have so much space I think this should be a regular practice.

Aside from that innovation, this was a nice intro to Cherokee culture and had great use of color.

Yuyi Morales
Read for Librarian Book Group

Yuyi Morales’s illustrations are always so wonderful and this book is worth reading just to see them.

That said, I’m not quite sure who this book is for. The vocabulary was sometimes pretty advanced (suspicious, improbably.) Also, the Spanish went undefined, which is a choice an author can make. It’s hard for me, though when I can’t pick up the word from context and it increased my distance from the words.

The Parker Inheritance
Read for Family Book Group

It’s always interesting when a book I greatly enjoyed is not enjoyed by other people. So was it for the members of the Family Book Group, who were lukewarm on this story, that I think is one of the best of the year.

There was a call for a better puzzle, one that unfolded throughout the story a la the Westing Game, rather than four clues that carry you through the book.

I realized, on further reflection, that this book is a little of a bait and switch. There’s a puzzle/mystery to keep the contemporary plot going, but a lot of the book is a historical fiction story.  If you love historical fiction (and I do!) then this is a delightful development. If not (I suspect many of the members of this reading group do not) then it’s not the greatest thing.

The Summer I Turned Pretty
Jenny Han

A middling effort. This book lacks a strong sense of place. Its setting is a beach community, sure, and there are enough place references that I know it’s an East Coast beach community, but which one?  The beach in Florida is different from Virginia, which is different than New Jersey and all the places in between.

The stakes never felt very high. She’s been in love with the son of family friends she’d lived with every summer. Aside from the fact that she’d “turned pretty” and was getting interest from other boys, not much seemed different. This book also has an ending designed to entice you to start immediately on the second book. Which is to say it had no ending.

I did feel the characters were fully formed in a way the setting and the plot weren’t. And I love stories of girls who live among guys. That was clearly explored.

Will I read the second book? Time will tell.

Elana K. Arnold
Read for Librarian Book Group

Elana K. Arnold’s What Girls are Made Of was an uncomfortable read for me. I hurried through it. Then I gave it four stars and have thought of it often. In that book Arnold was a master at shining a light on that dark underbelly of being a woman: the girl who desires only to be the object of interest to a boy.

Plus, she writes very honestly (and fairly graphically for a YA book) about sex.

Damsel is a fairy tale. It begins with Prince Emory on his quest to slay a dragon.  After the dragon is slain and the damsel is rescued, we switch to the damsel Ama’s perspective for the remainder of the story.  Again, I was uncomfortable, and again I read quickly. Arnold doesn’t shy away from all the humiliations felt by women as they are subjugated.

Ama is a compelling character. As I was reading, I wanted her to–I’m not sure what. Escape? Win? 

It’s not a fun book, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. Two things keep it from being the ne plus ultra of YA novels: I figured something out very early on (and I’m not someone who figures things out very often) and the book ended much too quickly.

Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
Dan Brown
Read for Librarian Book Group

Great content and the bibliography at the end points to a lot of good source material that was consulted. Dan Brown also chose to focus his story on “children,” “men,” “women,” etc. rather than “Sunnis,” “Muslims” etc.

The refugees’ plight is plainly illustrated and he makes sure to provide context for how big or how far away things are. The book also calls out those doing nothing while the people suffer—like the United States of America.

Unlike the two other Dan Brown books I’ve read, I found the illustration style did not work well here. Was it looser than usual? The effect seemed to me to make the people he was attempting to humanize more anonymous and distant from us.

Tara Westover

I mean no disrespect to Tara Westover, but I’ve read this book before. Most recently, it was the Glass Castle. The fiction version of this story is Barbara Kingsolver’s the Poisonwood Bible. The story of a young woman having her life shaped by an eccentric or insane father is–tragically–common. It’s also a story I don’t have very much head space for right now, while I’m trying to work through society’s reaction to the current leader of the country and his views about woman (among many other things.)

What you’re in for with this version of the story: a homeschooled Mormon family, although in this case, you’d best put some quotes around the word homeschool to properly place the amount of teaching the children received. You also get a lot of descriptions of family members in physical danger and also pain.  There’s also physical and mental abuse. Plus the pain of your family turning away when you call out your abuser. There’s even a brutal killing of a family pet.

The writing is good, and if you haven’t already been steeped in this story, this is a good entry into the cannon. My takeaways? The uber-patriarchal nature of mainstream Mormonism combined with bipolar disorder/schizophrenia in the family patriarch do not bode well for the people in the family. And also, homeschooling in Idaho should have a hell of a lot more oversight.

It took me a while to notice how awesome the cover of this book is.  It’s very subtle. Kudos to the designer.

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