Books Read in June 2020

Middle Grade

Kaela Noel
Read for Librarian Book Group

A baby is abandoned in a rail yard and a flock of pigeons lift the baby to an abandoned dovecote on the top of the building. It is here where the baby grows into a little girl.

I’m unclear how the baby got through the milk-only stage of development, as pigeons can’t supply that. I also never understood how old the girl was.

Aside from these things, this was an engrossing middle grade novel with a bit of danger, a bit of wonder, a bit of outrage, and a bit of fantastical things.

When You Trap a Tiger
Tae Keller
Read for Librarian Book Group

Two girls and their mother move abruptly to Washington state from California to spend time with their grandmother. On their way there, the younger sister Lily sees a tiger near her grandmother’s house.

Good Korean folktales and good stuff around loss and sister issues.

Tornado Brain
Cat Patrick
Read for Librarian Book Group

Frankie is getting through middle school as best she can. She doesn’t have a best friend anymore and sometimes it’s hard to communicate. But when her former best friend turns up missing, Frankie focuses her attention on figuring out where her friend might have gone.

Efrén Divided
Ernesto Cisneros
Read for Librarian Book Group

Efrén lives with his mother, father, and twin brother and sister in a tiny studio apartment. When his mother is deported to Mexico he steps up to take care of his siblings while trying to keep his life (school, friends) in balance.

Rob Harrell
Read for Librarian Book Group

Man! Middle school is hard enough without Ross getting cancer and radiation treatment that causes his eye to drop. Plus he has to wear a cowboy hat all the time.

This book is packed with interesting characters and dilemmas. It’s well-paced and engaging and I’m impressed.

Young Adult

We Didn’t Ask for This
Adi Alsaid

It’s Lock-in Night at an international school and the kids are excited. But when Marisa and her friends chain themselves to the doors of the school to protest the degradation of coral reefs they REALLY lock people in and plans change.

Alsaid effectively manages point of view of six characters plus a few more. Nicely done.

Mindy McGinnis

Mickey knows where she belongs: playing softball.

When here right hip is torn from her body in a car accident, she does what she needs to do in order to start conditioning with the team. It’s not the best choice for Mickey, but it sure is in terms of plot.

Another eminently readable novel from Mindy McGinnis!

The Afterlife of Holly Chase
Cynthia Hand

Christmas in June! I loved this modern-day take on the Scrooge story, but with a teenage girl as a failed Scrooge. A great blend of the fantastic with the normal. Another great novel by Cynthia Hand!

When You Were Everything
Ashley Woodfolk
Read for Librarian Book Group

My senior year of high school, my oldest friend ghosted me, though we didn’t have a term for it then. It hurt. A lot.

Friendship breakups are inevitable, but I don’t see a lot of them in fiction. But this book has the friendship breakup front and center.

Cleo is dealing with the loss of her best and only friend. As we bounce back and forth between now and then, we see bad acting on both sides, a lot of hurt, and forging a new path. There’s also new friends and a dreamy guy.

In the author’s note Woodfolk says this was a hard book to write. Partially because it was her second published book (which are known to be difficult beasts) and partially because she had to relive all those dead friendships. I’m glad she struggled through, because this was a great read.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
Samira Ahmad
Read for Librarian Book Group

Oh my god, an Art History Mystery that also is grounded in the female experience! This book hit all my pleasure points, including a nice romance.

Heartstopper Vol 1
Alice Oseman
Read for Librarian Book Group

A graphic novel about two boys who *might* like each other. Maybe. There’s a ton of emotion on each page. I wasn’t clear until the end (where you get handy stats for each character) how old everyone was. They were younger than I thought.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Maureen Goo

High-achieving girl turns to Korean dramas to teach her how to get a boyfriend, specifically hot new art guy. This was an amusing book, with mostly predictable results.

The State of Us
Shaun David Hutchinson

Presidential election year! In this book, the two presidential candidates each have a son who is a high school senior. They meet during a lock down at a debate and though they are initially wary, they get to talking.

I don’t love alternating perspectives, but this was a good example of the technique done well. The different ways the two boys texted was amusing. Also Shaun David Hutchinson seemed to get all his feelings about the current administration out through via the villainous third party candidate.

Just Breathe
Cammie McGovern

A boy with cystic fibrosis and a girl coming back from a major depression meet at a hospital.

McGovern writes really good internal feelings.

Alice Oseman

Oseman wrote this when she was seventeen years old. An impressive feat! The book was published in 2015 and has multiple examples of teenagers blogging and using Facebook—both of which I feel like teenagers had moved on from by that time. I blame a lag time in publishing.

Aside from that, our main character was depressed in a very authentic way that is hard for me to read. I also felt the central mystery wasn’t very well paced.

But was it better than any book I would have written at seventeen? Most certainly yes!

Save the Date
Morgan Matson

I love me a novel with a big family. Plus, the family has comic strip counterparts because their mother has featured them in her syndicated strip since they were still small children.

This is the story of a wedding where everything goes wrong and highlights things we find when things don’t go according to plan.

Grownup Fiction

No Judgments
Meg Cabot

In the past week I’ve read a book about a high school athlete who develops an opioid addition, a neurotypical middle schooler whose friend goes missing, a middle schooler who’s mother was deported, and a seventh grader with eye cancer.

I needed a break, and so grabbed this breezy romance.

Unfortunately, the traditional gender norms bugged the heck out of me and it wasn’t the respite I was looking for.

Snow Falling on Ceders
David Guterson
Little Free Library Late-Night Insomnia Read

I grabbed this from a Little Free Library to use as my time passer for those nights when I’m awake for an hour or two.

This was my first read since the 90s (when we weren’t too concerned about who was telling the story of the Japanese Internment). My recollections are that I liked it, and that it was the first time I’d really read about the event.

It retained the careful and colorful descriptions of people, places, and events. Guterson is not worried about retaining readers with short attention spans. It’s interesting how restrained the writing is that describe action or big emotional moments. Perhaps it’s that contrast that drew me in.

Normal People
Sally Rooney

A good work of fiction in that I couldn’t decide whether the main characters were better or worse off together. Also excellent in bringing up uncomfortable feelings in me.

Which made for a unpleasant reading experience.

Young Nonfiction

Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism and You
Jason Reynolds
Read for Librarian Book Group

Jason Reynolds remixes Ibram X Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning into a not-history book that examines how racism has affected every facet of American life.

They explore a variety of movements and historical figures in therm of segregationists, assimilationists and anti-racists.

Jane Against the World
Karen Blumenthal
Read for Librarian Book Group

A history of abortion in the United States that keeps reminding us that controlling fertility is always harder for poor women, even today.

I found this to be an interesting and readable book! Did you know that a Rubella outbreak in the 60s loosened controls on abortion in some states? This is just one of the many facts I learned!

Grownup Nonfiction

Because Internet
Gretchen McCulloch
Read for Northwest Editors Guild Book Group

A linguist analyzes how language changes specifically through the growth and dominance of communication via the internet.

I loved her divisions of internet people, which have more to do with when you really started using the internet, than with the year you were born. According to her categories, though I could have easily been an old internet person (one from the days of early chat rooms and coding and the like) I’m actually a semi internet person because my first regular exposure to the internet was through my work environments as an adult. Whereas one of my former co-workers born 8/8/88 fit exactly into the description of the full internet person.

There’s a thorough discussion of memes (which are something that, as a semi internet person, I’ve always been on the fringes of). McCulloch also explores how language travels.

My favorite takeaway: girls learn language from their friends and boys learn it from their mothers. Apparently, this is so common that linguists barely remark on it. Teenage girls advance the language!

On Hold Since March

Back in March, I made a special Friday trip to grab my holds. My weekend had cleared and I wanted to have books and movies to tide me over. There was one book that had arrived, but it wasn’t with the other books on the shelf.

“Oh well,” I said to myself. “I’ll grab it on Monday.” Monday was my usual hold pickup day.

I did not grab it on Monday.

The libraries shut down along with everything else and it was about three months before I could bring this book home.

To do that I had to make a phone call, sit on hold, and arrange a day and time for pickup.

Pandemic fun!

I enjoyed the book, by the way.

Books Read in May 2020

Middle Grade

The List of Things That Will Not Change
Rebecca Stead
Read for Librarian Book Group

Good gravy, can Rebecca Steed write! She is excellent at capturing character and the nuances of daily life. The setup of this book (brothers hearing corn grow) didn’t pay off for me at the end, but the writing was so good and the main character so memorable that I overlooked it.

The Only Black Girls in Town
Brandy Colbert
Read for Librarian Book Group

Amelia is the only Black girl in her grade until Edie’s mom buys the B&B across the street. There’s good friendship transitions and bonus diary entries from “long ago” (the 1950s.)

Young Adult

I Kissed Alice
Anna Birch

Alabama boarding school setting! But also duel perspectives, my least favorite way to tell a story. Rhodes and Iliana hate each other, but they are linked through their friendships with Sara and also in a way they both don’t know.

This was a book where I struggled to find someone to like and also struggled to find a reason to keep reading.

The How and the Why
Cynthia Hand

Boise! Letters!

The letters are written by a pregnant teenager living at Booth Memorial Home. She writes them to her daughter because there used to be a program in Idaho where mothers giving up their child for adoption could do that. (!)

The other part of the story is that baby who was given up for adoption and is now turning 18. Though her life is a bit topsy-turvy, she’s curious about her biological mother.

Aside from including many southern Idaho landmarks, this book was hilarious in places, and also very sad.

This Light Between Us
Andrew Fukuda

In the mid-1930s Alex, a Japanese-American strawberry farmer’s son from Bainbridge Island, Washington and the daughter of a wealthy Parisian merchant became pen pals.

Change is on the horizon for both of them and the story follows Alex as his world turns upside down. It’s a book of letters (yay!) but also of the complications and choices made when everything you once were is taken from you.

Goodbye From Nowhere
Sara Zarr

An examination of how parents’ choices affect their kids, and one kid in particular.

It’s also a tale of the things that come with loss.

There were a lot of characters to keep track of and I had to make a family tree. You might also benefit from this process.

Not Another Love Song
Olivia Wildenstein

The cover does not match the book! This is highly irritating.

Angie lives in Nashville and her only focus is to be just like her favorite singer Mona Stone.

But when a new guy moves into town, things are a jumble.

I give this book points for the main character ebiking everywhere.

Be Not Far From Me
Mindy McGinnis

Man vs. Nature! But with a teenage girl!

The Friend Scheme
Cale Deitrich

A promising start: Romeo & Juliet-style story but set in Miami and with two guys.

Unfortunately, that strong start is sunk by too many single-sentence paragraphs and a lack of dialog tags.

On the one hand, it’s a YA M/M romance, on the other, I think we can do better than this.

The Blackbird Girls
Anne Blankman
Read for Librarian Book Group

Chernobyl with a sprinkling of WWII.

It was interesting to see the nuclear meltdown from the standpoint of people living in Ukraine. I also enjoyed the recovery arc (there was abuse) and the friendship. The grandmother! So good! Too good?

Most Likely
Sarah Watson

A great hook: It’s 2049 and a woman is about to be sworn in as president. We learn that she and her husband met in high school.

We then travel back to present day and follow four friends as they navigate through their senior year. Which of them is the future president? Sara Watson makes it hard to tell (because we only know the future First Husband’s last name), but it’s fun to speculate.

Tigers Not Daughters
Samantha Mabry
Read for Librarian Book Group

This was a very atmospheric novel about four sisters. It was told in alternating sister perspectives plus an outside observer. For me, the narrative sunk under its collective misery and didn’t deliver enough of a payout at the end.

Grownup Fiction

The Secrets She Keeps
Deb Caletti

Alternating perspectives between a young woman in 1951 living on a divorce ranch in Nevada and her modern-day niece who flees to the ranch when her marriage hits a snag.

Good characterization and the twists happened in ways I wasn’t expecting.

He’s Gone
Deb Caletti

What if you woke up one morning and your husband wasn’t there? That’s what happens to Dani, a graphic designer who lives in a houseboat in Seattle. As we try to figure out what’s become of her husband, we learn more about the complexities of her life.

I enjoyed piecing the story together as it unfolded.

Young Nonfiction

The (Other) F Word
Edited by Angie Manfredi

A series of essays written to fat teenagers from fat adults who were once fact teenagers. The book has a great design and a list of places to find clothing. Portland’s Fat Fancy gets a mention!

Grownup Nonfiction

The Big Leap
Gay Hendricks

Maybe you are lucky enough to escape self-sabotage, but if not, this book is for you. Hendricks is a terrible name dropper, but if you can look past that (I did) this book is a primer on getting past your ULP (upper limit problem) and getting you living in your Zone of Genius.

It’s a little woo-woo, but if you’re fine with that, it’s worth checking out.

Books Read in April 2020

Middle Grade

P.S. I Miss You
Jen Petro-Roy

Letters! I’m always in. These are letters from a 7th grade girl to her older sister who has gone to live with their great aunt for the duration of her pregnancy.

The mechanics of this book worked well, though the story seemed to be trying to lead me away from the conclusion I’d drawn. My conclusion turned out to be correct, which caused some annoyance at the leading-astray shenanigans.

Young Adult

By the Book
Amanda Sellet

Things I don’t usually see in debut novels: Big families; Gaggles of friends.

Those tend to fall in the “too much to deal with” category and people trim things back. Not here!

Aside from a fun hook (girl steeped in 19th century literature enters public high school; uses her skills to navigate 21st century high school) this also has a protagonist with four sibings and two parents. In her new school, she makes friends with three girls and the four of them try to figure out love.

There’s a good romance subplot too, but this book is worth reading for its lit references, family and friendships.

Now That I’ve Found You
Kristina Forest

On the plus side: Famous!

Well, the main character, Evie, isn’t famous yet, but she wants to be and her grandmother is a reclusive famous actress.

On the minus side: I found Evie to be too self-centered for my full sympathy, but I enjoyed watching her navigate through this sticking point in her nascent career.

Almost American Girl
Robin Ha
Read for Librarian Book Group

In this graphic novel memoir (read via Kindle via the library—a mostly smooth reading experience) Robin Ha illustrates her life from the point where she moves from Korea to Huntsville, Alabama at age fourteen. Gripping setting, great illustrations!

This is All Your Fault
Aminah Mae Safi

A beloved independent Chicago bookstore is the setting of this novel, which was so very good, I checked to see if I’d read the author’s other books. (I had not! Lucky me!)

The prologue is from the perspective of Eli, who is the first to discover the bookstore’s secret. Eli makes a bad decision, which sets off the rest of the book, which is written in alternating perspectives. Daniella, an angry secret poet; Imogen, who just broke up with her girlfriend, and Rinn, a high-school-aged Instagram influencer.

Aminah Mae Safi reveals the hidden faces of the girls, ratchets up a tense situation, and writes many memorable scenes. I loved this book!

Not the Girls You’re Looking For
Amirah Mae Safi

I read this and immediately reread it because I wanted to see if the things that seemed wobbly had to do with me reading in an ebook format. Re-reading told me that the format was the problem. I skim (even more than I usually do) with ebooks.

This book is doing a lot, especially for a first novel. Friendship with three different friends, difficulties with being half Arab, boys. I loved that Lulu spent her time trying to take back a smidgen of what boys have (the ability to make out without consequences, the ability to be the subject and not the object. )

But mostly, I love that Safi examines fully the attraction to someone who is bad for you.

There’s a lot of great writing in this. Amirah Mae Safi is really great at capturing agency and how things can go wrong.

99 Days
Katie Cotugo

The one-chapter-per-day format means you always know how far along in this story you are—a plus when reading via ebook, where there are no pages for me to tap my measuring finger.

I’m all in on love triangles, and the setup for this had a delicious component of a mother’s betrayal. Still, there was that point where I didn’t really buy a turn of plot and the story was annoyingly opaque about consummation, which, given the setup, doesn’t really seem fair.

Last Chance Summer
Shanon Klare

This book’s setup is good. Pressed into work as a summer counselor at a camp for troubled youth, Alex is attracted too and repelled by Grant, her co-counselor. What it lacked was a rich back story.

  • Who was Marcus and what was their relationship like?
  • What about flashbacks with her friend?
  • Why did her aunt think she could handle being a counselor?

Without a window into Alex’s past, we’re adrift and left with Grant saying too many times, “You’re not qualified!” (Which she totally wasn’t!)

Virtually Yours
Sarvenaz Tash

A virtual dating experience is the setup for this romance which is a fun twist on the genre. The author did a great job keeping me guessing as to what would happen.

What I Carry
Jennifer Longo

Murial was dropped off at a hospital as an infant and never adopted. She’s eleven months from aging out of foster care. She knows how to navigate the foster system and knows how not to get attached.

Then she gets a placement with Francine on Bainbridge Island and plans get upended.

Tell Me How You Really Feel
Aminah Mae Safi

Dual perspective of two driven girls at an elite private high school. They haven’t been friends for the four years they have attended the school, but the last month before a May first deadline will throw them together.

Grownup Fiction

Call Me By Your Name
André Aciman

This book completely immersed me in Elio’s head which was a big change from the movie. A lot of the prose seemed like a swirling mass of thoughts. As evidenced by the star rating, I found this enjoyable.

Young People’s Nonfiction

The Fire Never Goes Out
Noelle Stevenson

A graphic memoir (with very tiny print in places) of the years of Noelle Stevenson’s life where a lot of things happened. You know, she went to college, developed a big fan following, started her career before she finished school, and became the showrunner for She-ra Princesses of Power

It was hard not to feel jealous, but Stevenson kept us appraised of her rough spots. And the visual part makes for a fun read.

Grownup Nonfiction

Manuscript Makeover
Elizabeth Lyon

A section-by-section guide to improving your manuscript. The edition I read had out-of-date information (courier as a font to use when submitting) but the revisions techniques seemed tried and true.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel
Jessica Brody

This takes the beat sheet idea of the original screenplay book and applies it to novels.

I especially liked the refashioning of genres to cross all types of novels.

Books Read in March 2020

Picture Books

The Grizzly Mother
Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) & Natasha Donovan
Read for Librarian Book Group

A grizzly mother and her two cubs show us their life cycle. I found the abrupt jumps in time disorienting, but the subject matter interesting.

The Book Hog
Greg Pizzoli
Read for Librarian Book Group

Officially a story about a hog who loves books. I wonder if there is a hidden (or obvious) commentary about American practices of acquiring excessive amounts of things when we can’t take full enjoyment from them.

Flubby is Not a Good Pet!
J.E. Morris
Read for Librarian Book Group

Our narrator compares a cat to other pets and finds he comes up short. Right up to the realization of what, exactly, makes Flubby a good pet.

Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You
Sonia Sotomayor, Rafael López
Read for Librarian Book Group

Sonia and her friends plant a garden and talk about the things they need to do to live and thrive, or things that help them live and thrive.

There were a lot of words for a picture book. Perhaps too many? It was fun to pick out the different children on different pages of the book.

Bilal Cooks Daal
Aisha Saeed & Anoosha Syed
Read for Librarian Book Group

Bilal and his friends learn about daal. There is a recipe at the end of the book, thankfully.

It seems like Bilal livers in a lovely neighborhood chock full of friends and things to do.

Chick and Brain: Smell My Feet
CeCe Bell
Read for Librarian Book Group

Chick is insufferable, trying to get Brain to say please, thank you, and other niceties.

I found this book tedious for that reason and for Brain/Brian confusion.

However, I am not six. Were I, I probably would have found this funny.

Julie Flett
Read for Librarian Book Group

A year in the life of a girl and her elderly neighbor. Soft illustrations

Do Fish Sleep
Jens Raschke & Jens Rassmus
Read for Librarian Book Group

A brief book about the death of a younger brother translated from the German.

Raven Makes the Aleutians
Sealaksa Heritige/Janine Gibbons
Read for Librarian Book Group

Rarely does a picture book feel like I am sitting in a room with a storyteller. This one did. The illustrations are beautiful and I’m curious from the introductory note about the raven stories that are inappropriate for children.

Middle Grade

This Promise of Change
Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy
Read for Librarian Book Group

Most novels in verse I tolerate the verse to get to the story. This novel in verse I enjoyed the verse! Plus, it illuminated a mostly forgotten integration effort. I really enjoyed the back matter and the author’s note.

I’m Ok
Patti Kim
Read for Librarian Book Group

Ok’s father has died and things aren’t great. But Ok has a plan to help his mom and make more money.

I loved Ok and I love this story. One of my favorite characters this year.

Prairie Lotus
Linda Sue Park
Read for Librarian Book Group

For everyone who loved the Little House books and yet now find them problematic for a number of reasons.

Hanna arrives with her father in Dakota Territory, but faces ostracism for her half-Chinese, half-white background. She’s got some plans though: graduate high school, and turn her father’s dress goods store into a dressmaking shop.

All the flavor of the Dakota Territory, but with bonus content about fitting in and finding your place when so many don’t want you to have a place.

I’d love a sequel.

Kat Leyh
Read for Librarian Book Group

This started as a so-so graphic novel, but the story morphed more than once to directions I didn’t see coming that also felt organic.

I love when kids find their niche, especially when it’s an odd niche.

Young Adult

Hearts Unbroken
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Read for Librarian Book Group

Lou Wolfe breaks up with her boyfriend when he disrespects Native people. With time on her hands, she joins the school paper. There, she pitches stories and becomes part of a story when color-blind casting is applied to the school musicals and her brother is cast as the Tin Man.

Stuff happened in this book, but I felt so removed emotionally, it was hard to care. I would have liked to feel closer to the character, but it seemed she was keeping me at arms length.

Apple in the Middle
Dawn Quigley
Read for Librarian Book Group

Reasons this book needs a copyeditor:

  • Grandfather served in WWII
  • Grandfather is in his 60s
  • The book is set in approximately 2002
  • This makes Grandpa about two years old when serving in WWII
  • Mom graduated high school in 1988
  • Mom had Lief Garrett posters in her room
  • Leif Garret was not popular in the 70s, not the 80s
  • Mom was born in 1968
  • This makes mom 20 when she graduated high school even though she was “very smart”
  • House depicted as being on a long, gravel road
  • House has alley behind it with another house on the other side of the alley. This doesn’t fit any framework I’ve experienced when getting to a house on a long, graveled road.

In matters of style, the voice of this character felt like a 10–12-year-old, not someone in high school.

A lot of the writing is very conversational—many parenthetical asides and talking to the reader. This makes the book feel very unsophisticated and increased my dislike which is too bad, because I’m interested in the story’s framework of a girl who had not been exposed to her Native American heritage.

Also, her grandparents dialog was great, but got lost by Apple’s chatter.

I’m glad the North Dakota State University Press is recognizing contemporary indigenous voices. It would also be good if they employed some basic publishing standards such as a thorough copyedit, and possibly a better developmental and line edit.

I Can Make this Promise
Christine Day
Read for Librarian Book Group

Edie is half Native American, but it’s not something that is a part of her life. Things happen over the summer to change things up.

After the big reveal, I had a hard time believing that Edie’s mother would have distanced herself for all those years.

Red Hood
Elana K. Arnold

Things I never see in books:

  • Discussions of menstruation
  • Women fending off attackers

Bisou has a solitary and quiet life. Then one night she is attacked in the woods by a wolf.

Everything changes.

Elana K. Arnold excels at writing about women in contemporary society, even when she’s writing about other things.

Every Other Weekend
Abigail Johnson

An alternating perspective novel about two kids whose friendship grows over the course of the weekends they spend with their divorced and separated parents.

Nicely done!

When the Stars Lead to You
Ronni Davis

This is a relationship book that doesn’t follow the usual trajectory. I could have done without the filthy rich protagonist, but enjoyed the complexity of the romance.

The Voting Booth
Brandy Colbert

This continues Brandy Colbert’s streak of darn good YA novels. In this book we spend a single day with two teenagers trying to vote in their first election. It’s not an easy thing to do.

In Oregon, where we vote by mail, this would have been a few sentences, not a novel. I guess we can thank the country’s inefficient voting process for the inspiration. But I’d rather just have people be able to vote with little muss and fuss.

Grownup Fiction

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital
Lorrie Moore

This was one of those slim volumes of prose where I puzzled if it became a national bestseller without people reading it. The writing was good, but I was reminded how navel-gazing fiction for adults comes across. (Not well.)

Young Nonfiction

All in a Drop
Lori Alexander Vivien Mildenberger
Read for Librarian Book Group

A run-of-the-mill man develops a microscope. I especially loved seeing the microscopes.

Books Read in February 2020

Picture Books

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played Piano for President Lincoln
Margarita Engle Rafael Lopez
Read for Librarian Book Group

Lovely illustrations capture the 1860s. This picture book has a lot of words in it which felt like a lot when I read it aloud to the cats, who were indifferent and gave me no feedback if it was too long. I would have liked a picture in the back matter.

The Bell Rang
James E. Ransome
Read for Librarian Book Group

A week in the life of a enslave family where each day starts with the bell ringing. As depictions of enslaved families are rare, this is a pretty cool book.

What is Given From the Heart
Patricia McKissack & April Harrison
Read for Librarian Book Group

Calm and quiet pictures illustrate a story of giving when one has very little.

Lupita Nyong’o
Read for Librarian Book Group

Sulwe’s skin is darker than her family and she is troubled by this. I’m glad to see more of this topic lately (I also enjoyed the middle grade novel Genesis Begins Again) and I loved the illustrations.

Double Bass Blues
Andrea J. Loney & Rudy Guiterrez
Read for Librarian Book Group

A lot of really great sounds paired with illustrations that are both abstract and representational. Really great faces!

Hey Water
Antoinette Portis
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s the water cycle, but with each form having its own page. Both the illustrations and text draw the eye from page to page.

Bear Came Along
Richard T. Morris & LeUyen Pham
Read for Librarian Book Group

A book that builds on itself and has a lot of dramatic tension.

I was unclear about why the river didn’t know it was a river. Are rivers having some sort of identity crisis I don’t know about?

A Friend for Henry
Jenn Bailey, Mika Song
Read for Librarian Book Group

Henry likes very specific things. He also doesn’t like very specific things. It’s hard for him to make a friend.

Between the words of the text and the excellent illustrations, I felt for Henry. Especially with the carpet squares.

Across the Bay
Carlos Aponte
Read for Librarian Book Group

Carlos lives with his mother and grandmother, but misses his father who, his mother tells him, lives across the bay. One day Carlos travels across the bay by ferry to look for his father.

The illustrations were sunny and tropical, a nice break from gray winter skies.

Bowwow Powwow
Brenda Child, Jonathan Thunder
Read for Librarian Book Group

Windy Girl and her dog Itchy Boy remember about the powwows in the summer.

Stop Bot!
James Young
Read for Librarian Book Group

A vertical story of a bot that floats up the face of a tall building. As it floats, people try to stop it. There are many details to follow from page to page.

Gittel’s Journey
Lesléa Newman & Amy June Bates (sp)
Read for Librarian Book Group

Gittel is sad to leave her home to sail to America with her mother. She is even sadder when her mother has to send her on alone. The illustrations feel period-appropriate.

Middle Grade

Each Tiny Spark
Pablo Cartaya
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Emilia Torres is making strides becoming her own person, learning to manage her style of learning and is navigating changing friendships and her dad’s return from a tour of duty. There were many good character acts.

Lety Out Loud
Angela Cervantes
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Letty is learning English (her second language) and her time at a camp at the animal shelter—the kind of camp we used to call a day camp, rather than a sleepaway camp—has her writing and making plans. This book has well-rounded characters and a suitable middle-grade level of tension/subject matter.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree
Paola Peretti
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A slim book about a girl losing her sight written by a woman who was a girl losing her sight. It was a slow, repetitive build, but I was completely emotionally invested by the end.

The Other Half of Happy
Rebecca Balcáreal
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Quijana struggles with not knowing more Spanish, especially when her cousins move to her Texas town. She also has a big crush on Jayden and doesn’t want to visit Guatemala with her family.

This book hit all the middle-grade notes, and I appreciated the full-on exploration of feelings around her crush. It was also one of those books that took me forever to get through. That’s usually a sign that something hasn’t quite clicked for me.

Young Adult

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
Junauda Petrus
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The story of Audre, a girl banished from Trinidad for loving another girl. She lands in Minneapolis where she reconnects with Mabel, a childhood acquaintance.

This book includes tons of good friendship and love stuff. I loved how individual Audre and Mabel’s voices were. There was a bunch of dream stuff that I felt like meandered and I’m too linear of a person for the ending, but otherwise this was an enjoyable read.

Where the World Ends
Gearldine McCaughren
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This was a book that I read to find out what happened to strand twelve people on a crag of rock more so than for a love of the story itself. There’s also a lot of bird killing in this book, which could be off-putting for some.

I didn’t love this novel, but I enjoyed how McCaughren could find a lot of plot in a tiny space where each day was the same, plus her descriptions were excellent. I also was really looking forward to the author’s note at the end and it did not disappoint. What a tale has been woven from just a few sentences in the historical record!

The Hand on the Wall
Maureen Johnson

This was a very satisfying conclusion to the Truly Devious trilogy. Aside from wrapping things up, it was good at evoking New England during a blizzard.

Karol Ruth Silverstein
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An overly long book about a fourteen-year-old girl dealing with the sudden onset of a chronic and painful disease written by a woman with the same disease. It includes a prickly male teacher I could root for. I’m always up for a teacher who is a stickler and also loves their students. Also includes a principal and a doctor who might as well have been twirling their villainous mustaches.

There were weird gaps in the plot. Sure, she lives with her dad, but why does she never see her mom?

This book wasn’t the most polished I’ve read, but a lot of people deal with chronic illness and I don’t come across depictions of the day-to-day struggles. I welcomed this portrayal.

Someday We Will Fly
Rachel DeWaskin
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Did you know that Shanghai was a place for Jewish people to flee to during World War II? Me neither! This book imagines the life of a teenager from Poland living in Shanghai with her father and much younger sister. It was full of interesting details about a segment of WWII history I knew nothing about.

It’s also a WWII book set outside of Europe, something I regularly comment that we need more of. It was a World War, not a European War.

Sick Kids in Love
Hannah Moskowitz
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“They don’t die in this one.” That’s what the text on the front cover says. It took me a bit to notice it because the library’s bar code was partially blocking the words, but it cracked me up when I did finally see it.

There are all kinds of illnesses, many of them not fatal, and this is the second rheumatoid arthritis book I’ve read this month.

Aside from being a great love story, it also does a deep dive into life as a sick person and how things work differently. It’s also a good “finding your family” book.

This is one of those books that was pleasurable from start to finish. It’s not changing the world, or upending literature as we know it, but it’s a good story that I put off reading the newspaper for. Nicely done, Hannah Moskowitz.

Surviving the City
Tasha Soillett & Natasha Donvan
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Much of this book was unclear to me. Partially because I’m not familiar with the traditions of the culture and also because it took me a bit to catch on to the ghost things.

Young Nonfiction

The Great Nijinsky: God of Dance
Lynn Curlee
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A brief history of the famous that dancer that includes just the right amount of detail and which also normalizes same-sex relationships in a way I find to be very good.

Growing up, in the 80s and 90s, we didn’t talk about gay people, except the ample use of the word “faggot.” I remember seeing a poster in the late 80s titled something like, “Famous gay people throughout history” and my first reaction was “No, all of those people can’t be gay!”

I didn’t hate gay people, I just didn’t ever see them, except as flamboyant caricatures in a very few movies, or as sick and dying men on TV. I was not overly told that being gay was a “wrong” thing, but I had absorbed the message that something was wrong with it.

I’m all better now, so no worries there, but I know there are kids who are still raised the way I was. They have more messages countering the stealthy and overt “gay is bad.” The more varieties of media that can say matter-of-factly, “these two men were lovers” the better off we all are.

Books read in January 2020

Picture Books

Oge Mara
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A mother and daughter make the most of their Saturdays together despite whatever obstacles may get in their way.

I’ve been taking a deep breath and letting it out since I read this charming book.

Middle Grade

Free Lunch
Rex Ogle
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One of the many things aspiring authors learn about writing novels is that often the book you write to teach a lesson is not a book that is very good. And so it was with this book.

I understand that Rex Ogle had it rough growing up. Clearly his early years were miserable, and I hope that he has escaped the demons that follow along with the grinding poverty and abuse that was his childhood.

However, the prose that he wrote about his childhood was clunky and the piling on of terrible stuff was unrelenting. The book wraps up in a way that is unbelievable, given what’s come before.

Young Adult

Look Both Ways
Jason Reynolds
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10 short stories that show off Reynolds mastery of prose and had me marveling over his sentences. And there was one story (featuring the Low Cuts) that caused me to burst into tears.

Hello Girls
Cavallaro & Henry

Winona and Lucille come from different parts of town and have different terrible home lives. Their friendship is the thing that keeps them going.

There are some great observations about female bodies and class and landscape and I think I kept my distance from this book due to worry about the main characters.

The Loves and Lies of Rukhsana Ali
Sabina Khan

A good reminder that coming out isn’t always safe and sometimes lies about who you love are more important than the truth.

White Bird
R.J. Palacio

A graphic novel about the complexities of hiding during World War II. It was sad in parts (because war is hell) but there are some delights and a few twists I didn’t see coming.

Emergency Contact
H.K. Choi

Penny is my kind of prickly main character and her text-based relationship with a barista/aspiring documentarian had me turning pages. While on those pages, I delighted in some great writing. A certain subject was depicted in a way I think happens a lot, and I appreciate H.K. Choi for bringing that experience to light.

Also: gorgeous cover.

Young Nonfiction

They Called us Enemy
George Takei
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This graphic novel does a good job showing the Japanese-American internment through a child’s eyes. It also puts this policy in perspective nationally and historically. I liked that the narrative continued on through Takei’s life so we could see the ramifications afterward.

The Toll
Neil Shusterman

This is a big, thick book that is third in a trilogy and Shusterman’s genius is that I was never confused about what was going on, even though there are multiple characters and I read the previous book last year.

All of the feelings are back and the tension is high. If you haven’t read this series, start with Scythe. If you have read Scythe and Thunderhead ——>GO!

Grownup Nonfiction

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life
Tom Corley

I wasn’t a fan of the repeated references to “self-made millionaires,” one of whom was Donald Trump who we know is not at all a self-made millionaire. However, a few things can be gleaned from this. For instance, don’t spend more than 5% of your annual income on vacation.

Grownup Fiction

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
Kate Racculia

Immensely readable! Tuesday Mooney is a compelling character. People in her life (Dex, Dorrie) are also interesting and the mystery/game was engrossing and complex.

It’s also a book set in Boston, so if you’ve spent time there, you will enjoy it in a geographical sense.

This Must Be the Place
Kate Racculia

This is a debut novel with some debut novel things, like the random flash forward when two people become friends. There are also some time shifts that had me confused. It didn’t help the library only had an electronic copy, which thwarts my paging through what I’ve read.

Still, I liked the characters, the writing and there were some really great passages about teen first love. (Debut love?)

Books read in December 2019

Picture Books

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
William Steig

Picture books in the late 1960s had so many words!

Sylvester learns to be careful what you wish for.

Freedom Soup
Tami Charles & Jacqueline Alcántara
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Belle Learns how to make Freedom Soup, and I have a new New Year’s Day activity to try. Great illustrations.

What Color is Night?
Grant Snider
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Grant Snider is an orthodontist by day, but during the early morning hours he wrote an illustrated this look at colors on display when the sun isn’t up. As a person who is up long before the sun for many months of the year, this resonated with me.

I enjoyed both the word usage and the illustrations.

Young Adult

Akweke Emez
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It’s the future and everything is okay! No one lives in fear because all the monsters (drug abuse, child abuse, violence, etc.) have been vanquished.

But one day a creature appears saying there is still a monster to hunt.

The fable-like quality was distancing and one character’s large family was introduced in a jumble that was hard to follow. Still, the book has an interesting premise, was packed with all sorts of characters outside of the straight/white arena, and was very short, so I kept reading.

Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker
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A witch & werewolf love story and mystery. Excellent blushing throughout.

The Downstairs Girl
Stacy Lee
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I’ve missed a book since Under a Painted Sky, but I’ll have to loop back because Stacy Lee has got the historical fiction thing going on!

Atlanta, late 1800s and Jo Kuan has just lost her job at a millinery shop. I loved the historical details and reading historical fiction from a Chinese-American perspective. I figured out a few things before they happened, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this novel.

“The knowledge that the person to whom I am writing is also writing just one floor above me makes my shadow sit up straighter, and if shadows had smiles, I might see one reflected there.”

13 Doorways, Wolves Behind them All
Laura Ruby
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I’m all about books set in orphanages, so that was a win. This book has two main characters, Frankie, the orphan and then also the ghost who checked in on Frankie and others.

Ultimately, while both of the characters’ stories were interesting, weaving them together diluted them and left me less interested in the book as a whole.

The stories didn’t seem to be building to anything even as they both were.

There were great period details and I liked all the characters, so it wasn’t for naught.

Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks
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Despite many good experiences with graphic novels, I still approach them with a sigh. I have to look at pictures to find out what’s going on? I can’t just look at text?

However, this was a delightful graphic novel, from the map of the best pumpkin patch in the end papers to the zany last-day-of-work quest that happens within in the pages.

I’ve made a mental note to visit the Omaha area during pumpkin patch season. And I need to make some Frito Pie!

Ordinary Hazards
Nikki Grimes
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A memoir in verse about Grimes’ harrowing childhood. I’m glad she made it through and we get the gift of her poems.

It’s also a good reminder to not write off abused and neglected children.

Fun fact: she gave herself the name Nikki.

American Girls
Alison Umminger

A re-read because I was in the mood for a subplot about hanging out on set with twin TV stars and because I love Alison Umminger’s writing so much!

I actually went looking to read her next book, but found she hasn’t yet published one. Hopefully something good is coming soon.

The Fountains of Silence
Ruta Sepetys
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This time, Ruta Sepetys takes us to 1950s Spain, where Franco is the dictator. We get the story of David, who is from a wealthy Texas oil family, visiting Madrid with his family, and Ana, who works at the Madrid hotel where David is staying.

As always, Sepetys’s fiction is engrossing and all encompassing, and I felt like I was living in the steamy Madrid summer every time I picked up the book.

Like many people, I only have the barest hint of understanding of what Spain was like under Franco, so this book filled in a lot of gaps. Learning and a good story. That’s what makes Ruta Sepetys so great!

Young Nonfiction

The Women Who Caught the Babies
Eloise Greenfield & Daniel Minter
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Some information about African American midwives kicks off the book followed by short poems with gorgeous illustrations.

The photos from the informative first part are from a publicly available documentary that looks interesting.

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace
Ashley Bryan
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Ashley Bryan served in World War II with the 502nd Port Battalion which was a part of a Company C, comprised of all Blacks. He still has his letters home, and the sketches and drawings he made during the war.

Together, his memories of the war, the drawings and the sketches, and photographs tell his story of war, which included storming the beach on D-Day.

This is a great first-person account of World War II and should not be missed.

Grownup Nonfiction

Being Mortal
Atul Gawande

Most of us will experience declines in our health and well being before we die. Dr. Gawande thinks we should start talking about this. I agree.

This is a book that is engaging, both in subject matter and in writing style. Let’s start talking about end of life stuff more often. Start today.

Make Time
Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

I’m a focused, productive person who likes to see how much more I can focus and be productive. I can see this method would work well for scattered people who would like to become more focused.

The section called Energy was a great addition. It’s always good to be reminded that we’re not just bodies to carry around our brains.

Books read in November 2019

Picture Books

Wait, Rest, Pause
Marcie Flinchum Atkins
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A picture book about dormancy in plants and animals. The book is illustrated with photos, some of them, like the cover photo, stunning. It also provides simple explanations for different animals slowing down before dormancy using words (wiggle, awake, feast, fly) to show action.

16 Words: William Carlos Williams and the Red Wheelbarrow
Lisa Rogers and Chuck Groenink
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How did William Carlos Williams’ famous poem come to be? Lisa Rogers imagines and Chuck Groenink illustrates.

A Stone Sat Still
Barden Wenzel
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Many different viewpoints of a stone through the ages.

Mark Teague
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Amusing wordless picture book about a baby bird who falls from the nest and is encouraged by its parent to do what the title says. There’s a bit of back talk from the baby bird. Parents will probably relate.

Going Down Home with Daddy
Kelly Starling Lyons and Daniel Minter
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Beautiful prose and illustrations illuminate a trip home for a family reunion.

Young Adult

Frankly in Love
David Yoon

This book’s strength is also its weakness: it’s very much like real life. And real life, as we know, meanders a bit and is boring in places.

I kept putting this book down, and also picking it back up because there was enough to keep me going. I was rewarded with a full arc of Frank Li and his muddling through.

Also, I was totally on board with the plan to have a fake relationship and thus enjoyed the unraveling of said plan.

Somewhere Only We Know
Maurene Goo

In this era of consent culture, it is not okay for the male romantic lead to know that “Fern” was actually Lucky, a K-Pop star on the brink of next-level fame. The fact that he did know and didn’t reveal had me uncomfortable for the entire book.

It wrapped up okay in the end, but when 80% of the story is a relationship built on a lie, I can’t go for the Happily Ever After.

This also hinges a plot point on someone not having a lock on their phone. Who are these people with no locks on their smartphones? They seem only to exist in books.

p.s. Also, the title kept me with an endless loop of: so why don’t we go/somewhere only we know/somewhere only we know/somewhere only weeeeee knoooooow.

American Panda
Gloria Choo

Mae is premed at MIT following the path her parents have set for her: become a doctor, which is the best job. One problem. She has a germ thing.

I loved Mae and her terrible conundrum. How does one balance parents who love them and want the best for them and also pushes them in a direction that just isn’t going to work?

Let it Snow
Green, Johson, Myracle

Whilst watching the Netflix film adaptation I had the thought: “Most of this does not seem familiar to me.”

So, I read the book again and I give you this list.

Things from the book that made it to the movie:

  • Train
  • Snowstorm
  • Cheerleaders
  • Waffle House
  • Tobin and the Duke and friendship
  • The pig

Wayward Son
Rainbow Rowell

Wayward Son continues the story past the Happily Ever After. What happens after the big battle? In Baz, Penny, and Simon’s case, it involves a road trip across the USA.

This provides an excellent opportunity for gentle ribbing of American culture, which is quite funny. There’s an added bonus of an examination of a relationship that isn’t going very well.

Truly Devious
Maureen Johnson

This was a re-read in preparation for the release of the third book in January 2020. It remains an excellent piece of double mystery and both the Truly Devious murder in the past and the current-day death of a student are interesting and curious. I also really enjoy Stevie Bell as a main character. She’s awkward, and prickly, and very true to life.

The Vanishing Stair
Maureen Johnson

Sometimes, when one is re-reading the first two books to prepare for the release of the third, one reads the first book and it is so good that one must immediately purchase the ebook, even though one has the book on hold at the library and it was read earlier in the year.

And then one waits impatiently for January.

I love the last line of this book.

Books read in October 2019

Picture Books

Tallulah the Tooth Fairy
Dr. Tamara Pizzoli & Federico Fabini
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Tallulah is a different kind of tooth fairy and we find out about her life in this iconic picture book that I think has much too many big words. Kids will go for the pictures. Adults will go for the concept.

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown
Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacobs
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Of note: at the point of reading, the name Margaret Wise Brown meant nothing to me. If I had to guess, it was going to be someone who fought for civil rights in the 1950s. That guess was wrong. I also didn’t know that Margaret Wise Brown wrote The Important Book which would have added to a good base understanding of the structure of this book.

An odd little picture book about the author of Goodnight Moon and other stories. The books establishes Margaret Wise Brown’s uniqueness and also made me quite curious about Anne Carroll Moore, the librarian at the New York Public Library who served as a gatekeeper of children’s books.

Soft illustrations conjure a bygone era. I would have liked more back matter, especially cause of death.

Middle Grade

A Place to Belong
Cynthia Kadohata
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Hanako—an American citizen—moves with her family to Japan after spending several years in a concentration camp (the US called them “relocation centers” or “internment camps”) during World War II.

In Japan, she find grandparents who adore her and her brother and she tries to make her way in this new land. Filled with a lot of visual detail and intermittently illustrated with black and white drawings by Julia Kuo, this is a great novel of starting over when that seems like the best of a bunch of bad choices.

Best Friends
Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
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A graphic novel that examines the anxiety and pitfalls of sixth-grade friendships and also the role of girls in the world. It includes good mid-80s details and some good scenes of Lagoon, the amusement park outside of Salt Lake City. It’s also got a pretty awesome fantasy story as written by a very young author, but expertly illustrated.

Very well done!

Young Adult

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph
Brandy Colbert

Brandy Colbert again writes a wonderful novel. In this one, Birdie, a good girl, stretches her wings as she comes of age.

As always, Colbert manages to balance friendships, love interests, parental expectations and her main character’s own interests and wonderings during a summer in Chicago.

How she does this in a brief 325 pager and so regularly is beyond me. If you haven’t checked out her stuff, now’s the time.

Butterfly Yellow
Thanhhà Lai
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It’s 1981, and Hằ ng has recently arrived in the US. She’s looking for her brother who was lost in one of the last airlifts out of Vietnam at the end of the war.

She sets out on her first day in the country and finds Lee Roy, a recent high school graduate and son of college professors, who wants more than anything to be a real rodeo-riding Cowboy. Together the unlikely pair spend a summer figuring out the world as it is presented to them.

Hằ ng’s English words rendered in Viennese words made for hard reading. Though I liked the idea, in practice I mostly skipped over them and hoped that Lee Roy was going to do some summing up.

Also, this book has a scene with flirting via diagramming sentences, which I LOVED.

Patron Saints of Nothing
Randy Ribay
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How many books have I read with Filipino main characters? I suspect it’s close to zero, which is the number that Jay, the main character in this book, has read.

This is a great chronicle of travel to a homeland you’ve never really known. There are current events (President Duterte ) that affect the plot. There’s a lot of loss and sadness, which is always good to explore when boys are main characters.

Neighborhood Girls
Jessie Ann Foley

This book is about female friendship when friends are used as armor, rather than people you deeply care about. There’s also really great Catholic girls’ school stuff and some good commentary about tattoos.

Jessie Ann Foley writes books I want to keep reading, even after they are done.

Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplin

Looking for a zany road trip book? Cool. You might like this. Second question. How do you feel about abortion?

Aside from the complex policies, opinions, and feelings about the big A, this book touches on how we present ourselves to the world, friendships, and actual relationships vs. how people see them.

This was an enjoyable, breezy read. For those of you who like to have the book read before the movie appears, act now. They’ve already cast it.

Grownup Fiction

Dear Emma
Katie Heaney

A detailed chronicle of Harriet, the anonymous writer of Dear Emma, her college newspaper’s advice column, and how she reacts to being ghosted. Depicts a college life of procrastination, not much studying, and is a great portrait of friendships new and old. Also a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma.

State of the Union: A Marriage in 10 Parts
Nick Hornby

Ten very brief vignettes of a couple as they meet up in a bar before heading to couple’s therapy.

I continually ran into the problem of not understanding who was talking. Other than that, it was interesting to see the evolution of the marriage.

The Last Thing You Surrender
Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Another great entry into the (extremely large) WWII canon, this one follows several characters from Mobile, Alabama as they do their part to help the war effort.

This novel fully examines the effects Jim Crow had on characters both white and black with many memorable scenes ranging from horrifying to small moments.

I had no idea that one of my favorite newspaper columnist also writes novels and I will look out for his other books.

Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng

Ng’s portrait of two families living in her hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio was exactly the kind of novel I like.

Without using too many words, Ng builds her story on the friendship between Moody—a life-long resident whose family has lived in Shaker Heights for generations—and Pearl, a newcomer. From this friendship we see all that is good about the suburb and how that goodness can have drawbacks.

The 12 Tribes of Hattie
Ayana Mathis

I think my lack of connection to this book comes from the stories being disconnected from each other. I never could see how the family was all together. Even a family tree at the beginning would have helped.

This is one of those books that I only finished because I had nothing else to read.

Young Nonfiction

The Brave Cyclist
Amalia Hoffman, Chiara Fedele
Read for Librarian Book Group

A picture book story of Gino Bartali, a Tour de France winner who used his bicycling skills during WWII to smuggle papers to help Jewish people establish new identities. I appreciate Fedele’s dedication to capturing Bartali’s prominent nose.