Books read in September 2019

Well this is interesting. Only seven books read in September? [Pause to uncover journal where all books read are listed] Yep. Only seven.

Picture Books

Field Trip to the Moon
John Hare
Read for Librarian Book Group

A wordless picture book of a field trip gone awry with delightful consequences for one student.

Middle Grade

Stargazing
Jen Wang
Read for Librarian Book Group

Great depiction of a friendship when the parents don’t entirely approve of the friend. I also enjoyed Moon’s gasp-worthy bursts of anger, as well as her belief she came from the stars.

Young Adult

The Things She’s Seen
Ambelin & Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Read for Librarian Book Group

Very mysterious novel set in Australia with a dead girl as the main character. She’s hanging around keeping her father, a police detective, company. He’s still pretty sad she’s gone.

While she is helping him solve a case, many things unfold. There are some poem bits here and there that I found cringy, but other than that, this is a good book. It’s also quite short.

Grownup Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens

This book has wonderful descriptions of the marsh and Kya. There’s also a lot of rooting for Kya, given her terrible upbringing. I can see why so many people are reading this book.

Aside from those things, I cannot understand why they are still excited when they get to the end of the book. The dialogue is wooden, especially anytime anyone is in love. The physical descriptions of sex had me cringing. Also, the mystery is solved one way, and then resolved in a different way in the last few pages, which I did not at all find satisfying. It felt like the author finished the book and the publisher wanted a different ending, so we ended up with a “but what really happened was…” debacle.

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt

While I found the prose of this book serviceable, never have I ever worried about a character as much as I have Theo. Tartt excels at characters: Boris, Hobie, Pippa, and even minor characters are complex and compelling.

I read seven-eighths of this book in four days and then it took me another four days to get through that last little bit because I was so very worried about Theo.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Millionaire Teacher
Andrew Hallam

Hallam got to his millionaire status by implementing standard FIRE techniques (extreme frugality and index fund investing) before there even was a FIRE movement.

Here he presents nine lessons, eight of which have to do with investing.

The Effortless Sleep Method
Sasha Stephens

The author recovered from chronic insomnia and walks us through what she did to get to better sleep. She shares mistakes and makes suggestions.

I really liked what she had to say about Sleep Restriction, as I have been trying that for a few years now and find it to be the torture she describes.

Books Read in August 2019

Ah vacation reading. So much time. So many good things!

Recommended:

Picture Book: Birds of a Feather
Middle Grade: Pie in the Sky
Young Adult: Queen of the Sea, Sorry for Your Loss, Ordinary Girls
Grownup Fiction: Daisy Jones and the Six, City of Girls

Picture Books:

Daniel’s Good Day
Micha Archer
Read for Librarian Book Group

Lovely soft-focused college-like illustrations of Daniel interviewing people in the neighborhood about what makes a good day.

You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks
Evan Turk
Read for Librarian Book Group

Big illustrations of many national parks (though not Crater Lake!) and an afterward that dissuades the nefarious methods by which the parks were obtained.

The Night is Yours
Abdul-Razak Zachariah and Kenturah A. Bobo
Read for Librarian Book Group

A girl plays in a courtyard with other children. I wouldn’t mind living in that apartment building.

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds & Me
Susan L. Roth
Read for Librarian Book Group

“The differences between a bowerbird and me are fewer than you might expect.”

Great first line! Great college!

Middle Grade

Pie in the Sky
Remy Lai
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s an immigrant story, in this case, the destination for the immigrants is Australia. I loved how well this book told the story of not understanding things because of not knowing the language.

There was great brother tension, because the older brother’s language skills were not progressing as quickly as the younger brother’s. This book also integrated the text with the illustrative panels, it was a book/graphic novel hybrid (though heavier on the book).

There were many amusing details, and sad feelings, and overall, this was probably one of my favorite middle grade books this year.

Young Adult

This Time Will Be Different
Misa Sugiura
Read for Librarian Book Group

One of the things I loved about this book was that it examined some of the ramifications of the Japanese internment during WWII. The book is set in present day, but the work done by C.J.’s great-grandparents and grandparents to recover from losing everything when they were forcibly relocated is still rippling down, many generations later. I think it’s important to trace things that happened back in the day and show how they still affect the present day.

It’s also chronicles shifting friendships (one of my favorite YA novel things) and there’s a very real mother/daughter relationship with a lot of nuance. Sugiura also includes a much-debated issue in an organic way that defangs it from the drama in which it is usually encountered, instead portraying it the personal matter it is.

Overall, this was a really great read that juggled a lot of things without ever feeling issue-oriented or too unweidly. Well done.

When We Caught Fire
Anna Goodbersen

I think I put this down four times to read other books. I probably would not have finished it, but I kept running out of books I wanted to be reading.

Things it’s got going for it: Chicago right before the great fire is an interesting setting; the social climbing aspect is interesting, as is one character’s navigation of being both the servant and the best friend of another character.

Unfortunately, this book suffers from a lopsided love triangle–there was no reason for me to believe that the choice was impossible and all the drama associated with the dithering was just dumb. Plus, all the characters made repeated idiotic choices and the ending was completely unbelievable.

Inventing Victoria
Tonya Bolden

This was an old fashioned book where we see the main character struggle through a childhood in reduced circumstances (in this case the daughter of a local prostitute in the Reconstruction-era South.) Then we see fortune’s wheel turn and a new and different kind of struggle to transform herself and leave her past behind.

Overall, Essie was interesting and I enjoyed accompanying her on her journey.

Ordinary Girls
Blair Thornburg

Holy cats, this book was fun! We’ve got a sister story, we’ve got a large, rambling, moldering house story, we’ve got a quirky family story, we’ve got an outsider story and we’ve got it all packaged together with sparkling writing, and astute observations.

If you’re a Jane Austin fan this is a book for you.

Also, what a great cover!

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s a make-up/break-up relationship. So very frustrating to observe in real life, it did make for a compelling narrative. When will she learn about Laura Dean? Be strong Freddy! Be strong!

The First Part Last
Angela Johnson

One of the many awesome things about being in a book group with librarians is that they know all the books. So when I say, “I haven’t read many books about teen moms,” they are handy with this recommendation which is a short book of beautiful prose about a teen dad making the best choices he can for his daughter.

Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell
Read aloud

This was a great read aloud with a lot of tense moments. This time, I loved how much of Eleanor & Park’s relationship took place hanging out at Park’s house. It was cold outside, they didn’t have much money, and Park’s dad wouldn’t let him drive anywhere. It felt like a very authentic adolescent relationship.

Also, this book is full of large-body feelings.

How it Feels to Float
Helena Fox
Read for Librarian Book Group

An engrossing story of a teenager untethered and how she re-tethers herself. It’s set in Australia for people so interested in that setting.

Sorry For Your Loss
Jessie Ann Foley
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m a huge fan of stories featuring huge families and they are few and far between, probably because multiple siblings make for more juggling by the author, and also probably because most of us don’t come from large families anymore.

But this book focuses on the underachieving youngest member of a family of eight children. One of his brothers recently died–hence the title–and he’s trying to get through high school.

It’s also a book about finding your “thing” which is always an enjoyable thing.

Queen of the Sea
Dylan Meconis
Read for Librarian Book Group

The first chapter of this graphic novel was confusing and off-putting. Thankfully, I persisted, because after that, this story of a young girl growing up on an island populated with nuns was both delightful and a page turner.

I loved seeing how life on the island work, getting to know the nuns personally, and trying to figure out what was going to happen next. Here’s hoping for a second book.

Grownup Fiction

Daisy Jones & the Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid

I enjoy a good oral history. Vanity Fair just had a great one with the cast of the television show Veronica Mars. But if I’m reading an oral history, I already am familiar with the subject.

That’s where the magic of this book comes in. It’s an oral history of a band that never existed yet Taylor Jenkins Reid creates the entire world using just interviews. Also included: behind the scenes of becoming famous; increasing band tensions; and a third act punch I didn’t see coming but elevated the book from “damn this is good,” to “this book is friggin’ amazing!”

I’d also like to give a shout out to Karen Karen, the keyboardist who wants only to be a musician, and not a female musician.

City of Girls
Elizabeth Gilbert

The author read the first chapter to me (and the rest of the audience at Revolution Hall) and I knew I was going to like this book. I mean, I’m in for slutty showgirls in any decade, but especially the early 1940s.

It proved to be a rollicking ride. There was a bit about 7/8ths of the way through where things were a bit draggy, but then it picked back up. I enjoy a main character who is intimately familiar with her flaws and strengths and this book made for good reading.

Young Nonfiction

Moth: An Evolution Story
Isabel Thomas & Daniel Egneus
Read for Librarian Book Group

Illustrated story of the peppered moth, made famous in textbooks and used to teach about natural selection. Lovely illustrations.

Grownup Nonfiction

Atomic Habis
James Clear

When I read the Power of Habit earlier in the year, I felt a bit shortchanged, wanting more in the realm of self-help. This is book I was looking for, and is a great companion to that book.

If you are looking for a way to change yourself through many small changes, James Clear has a plan for you.

Books read in July 2019

July was a month of YA reading, and came with some excellent book-reading experiences. All hail summer reading!

Recommended

Young Adult: Internment, With the Fire on High, Birthday, We are the Perfect Girl, Like a Love Story

Young Adult

Internment
Samira Ahmed
Read for Librarian Book Group

An alternate-present distopia where all the Muslims in the US are moved to concentration camps just like the Japanese were during WWII. I found this to be a highly discusssable book, with high stakes that I gobbled up.

I correctly predicted the fate of one of the characters very early on, and I would have liked more of a wrap up, but overall, it was a great read.

Within These Lines
Stephanie Morrill

Hot on the heels of Internment, I read this book about a young couple separated by the forced relocation of people of Japanese descent during World War II. The book excelled in depicting the conditions in the internment camp.

It was also one of those historical fiction books where the characters seem to have been transported from 2019 to the early 1940’s. And there weren’t nearly enough siblings. Both the main characters were only children, somewhat of an anomaly during that time.

With the Fire on High
Elizabeth Acevdo
Read for Librarian Book Group

Man, oh man, do I love this book. I can’t recall the last YA novel I read where the main character is also a mom. And what a good mom she was!

Emoni is also a talented cook and the descriptions of her meal preparation felt like descriptions of how art is made. Ultimately, I think she was a little too perfect, but Acevdo’s writing was so good that I didn’t mind.

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc
David Elliott
Read for Librarian Book Group

The story of Joan of Arc told in different forms of verse.

I loathed all of the verse. I didn’t like how it was written, I despised the poems arranged in shapes, and I thought the guide that explained the different types of poetry within the book should have been at the beginning, not the end.

That said, it’s a short book, so the torture didn’t go on for an overly long period of time.

Birthday
Meredith Russo

It took me a bit to realize this was the same sort of set up as David Nicholl’s One Day. (Which is, of course, the same set up as Same Time Next Year, which probably has the same set up as something in Ovid I don’t know about.)

Anyway! In this case we have two best friends who share a birthday and we meet them on their 13th birthday. Morgan wants to tell his best friend Eric a secret, because if he can tell Eric, then he can tell his father, and after that maybe he can start telling the world.

The stakes are high in this novel. There is no inclusive culture in the small town where the boys live. Life is hard, and both of them are dealing with challenges–poverty, loss of parents, authoritarian parents.

Meredith Russo writes the brutal reality of kids without a support network. This is a hard book, but a good one.

We are the Perfect Girl
Ariel Kaplan

It’s been quite some time since I read such a funny book. Just like in the movies, comedy doesn’t get the same respect as tragedy. It also had very gentle stakes, (no one was going to die, or be killed!) but still packed a punch.

There’s great body image stuff that will probably feel universal for most girls and women, and Kaplan expertly captures pining for a certain someone to love you, while also being convinced they never will love you.

Like a Love Story
Abdi Nazemian

AIDS. It was killing a lot of people during my formative years. And I feel like we’re in a phase of not talking about it.

Enter this book, the story of three kids in New York City. Art is out, Judy is is best friend, and Reza is the new guy at school, lately from Toronto, originally from Iran.

Through their stories, we get the horror and magic that was 1989, the danger of coming out, and the worry and hope of falling in love.

Interspersed with their stories are Art’s note cards written by Judy’s Uncle Stephen as a primer to gay life. I would have liked more of these note cards, but it was a pretty long book, already.

Young Nonfiction

Planting Stories
Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar
Read for Librarian Book Group

A beautifully illustrated story of the life of Pura Belpre, librarian, storyteller, puppeteer, and namesake of the award for outstanding works of literature by Lantinx authors and illustrators.

The illustrations are gorgeous. The text had some gaps. For instance: How long did she give up her storytelling to follow her husband around the world?

Books read in June 2019

One of my YA-zeitgeist books is on this list. Check out Dig, by A.S. King.

Picture Books

Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies
Jorge & Megan Lacera
Read for Librarian Book Group

A funny book about a zombie kid who prefers eating vegetables to eating humans; it also doubles as a nice coming out narrative.

I am Hermes
Mordicai Gerstein
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book has illustrations that pair perfectly with the text. It makes for a whimsical illustration of the life of Hermes.

Vamos, Let’s Go to the Market
Raul Gonzalez III
Read for Librarian Book Group

The pages are packed with a ton of things to look at, appealing to those kids who like to really study their picture books. There’s a great English/Spanish mix of words and the journey through the market is interesting.

Where are you from?
Yamile Saied Mendez, Jamie Kim
Read for Librarian Book Group

A long (and beautifully illustrated) answer to a question we* should probably be more aware of what we’re saying when we ask it.

*we=white people

Middle Grade

Other Words for Home
Jasmine Wanga

Read for Librarian Book Group

A slimmer novel in verse that shows us Jude’s life in Syria and then how her life changes when she comes to America.

I would have liked more details, but I enjoyed the verse. I also couldn’t remember anything about this book when it came up in book group discussion until I looked at the cover.

Young Adult

Dig
A.S. King
Read for Librarian Book Group

“Am I really up for A.S. King’s weirdness?” I asked myself as I picked up the book.

Turns out: yep! I was. It’s best to carve out a larger segment of time to get started with this book. There are many characters and many things aren’t clear as the book begins. But stick with it, and soon it will be hard to stop reading.

Most A.S. King books are uncomfortable. She seems to tap into the parts of this modern world that just aren’t right. But being uncomfortable and adrift is not an uncommon feeling in life, so perhaps A.S. King has her fingers on the pulse.

If you are a white person ages 15–107, this is your 2019 zeitgeist book.

Again, but Better
Christine Riccio

At first, I thought this book was aggressively mediocre, but I kept reading because the mild social panic was described so well. I also liked the idea of a college student realizing she’s done a terrible job making friends and trying her best to start fresh during her study abroad program.

Then the story changed and I was hooked. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat brilliant book.

Not to mention, it’s YA fiction with a 20-year-old protagonist. I’ll have to add it to my list of YA-in-college books. (Take that, agent who told me I wasn’t writing YA!)

The Afterward
E.K. Johnston
Read for Librarian Book Group

E.K. Johnston builds us a world where a group of knights, a mage and a thief have successfully completed a quest and now it’s back to the everyday. But the everyday is tough. Some of them have battle trauma, some of them have to do things to survive that become increasingly hard. Some of them are in love, and can’t be together for various reasons.

This book constantly challenged my mental pictures, and I love it for that. It’s also a fantasy book that doesn’t take place today that I was still interested in reading. Big wins! Hopefully it will get a better cover in the future.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Power of Habit
Charles Duhigg

A thorough examining of how habits rule our lives, not just on an individual level, but in companies, and in social movements.

This is more of an informational text than a self-help book. I would have liked more of a how-to on how to change habits. But I’m sure there’s a book out there for me. In the meantime, this was interesting and informative.

Nolo’s Guide to Single-Member LLCs
David M. Steingold

This is a handy guide of things to know if you are thinking about starting a single-member LLC. The information is clear, it breaks down details and there are links to free forms.

Elizabeth Gilbert at Revolution Hall

Back in the day (this particular day: the early 2000s) Powell’s Books would rent a venue for its big authors and you could see a reading for free. No longer. Now you pay money, and also get a copy of the book. This is how I’ve obtained Gilbert’s last three books.

Elizabeth Gilbert was her usual self. She was funny, wry, and admitted to drinking too much at lunch with Cheryl Strayed. She talked about the loss that had come lately to her life. In the Q&A section she was very clear about what a question was, which was very much appreciated. The woman who asked the first question, asked the most beautiful question I’ve ever heard at an author reading. The whole room took a breath simultaneously. What was the question? I do not recall. But it was a great moment at the book reading.

Gilbert also read us the first chapter of City of Girls. Which would have been enough to sell me on reading the book. Of course, I already had a copy.

Books read in May 2019

Ah, vacation reading, you let me do things like re-read a book so I can properly read the second and then the third in a series. So delightful.

Recommended

Picture books: The Undefeated
Middle grade: Genesis Begins Again
Young Adult: On the Come Up
Young Nonfiction: Biddy Madison Speaks Up

Picture books

When Spring Comes to the DMZ
Uk-Bae Lee
Read for Librarian Book Group

An odd and interesting little book about the wildlife that has flourished in Korea’s DMZ. The illustrations were not my style, but there is a lot to look at.

If you’re looking for Baby’s First DMZ book, this is it.

The Undefeated
Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
Read for Librarian Book Group

When Kwame Alexander isn’t slaying you with his words, Kadir Nelson is slaying you with his illustrations.

Middle grade

The Moon Within
Aida Salazar
Read for librarian book group

While Are You There God, it’s me, Margaret was a seminal book when it was published, when I read it in 1985, it was already dated. There’s a whole section about buying belts to hold the pads and even though I hadn’t yet gotten my period, I suspected that wasn’t how things worked anymore. And so it came to pass that many authors stepped in and wrote more books about that time around when a girl gets her period.

Kidding! Where are all the fiction books on this topic? There should be one every decade or so to capture various menstruation trends/practices.

Enter The Moon Within, which gets a lot of stars for exploring the topic. It’s also written in verse, which will make for quick reading.

That said, I personally found the ceremonial aspect of this transition that was emphasized to be the kind of thing I distance myself from, so from that perspective, it wasn’t a book that worked for me. I did like the friendship changes and the navigating that stage where someone you like likes you back for the first time.

Genesis Begins Again
Alicia D. Williams
Read for Librarian Book Group

I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a book for kids that so thoroughly explores feelings about how dark or light one’s skin is.

Genesis has to move all the time. It’s not unusual for her to come home to find all her belongings on the street. While that’s an unfortunate situation, what really made me ache is how hard she tries to change the color of her very dark skin.

This book is set in the suburbs. Genesis’s father has moved them to a house in a school district with a lot of things she hasn’t had in her school before. One of them is a choir teacher who encourages Genesis to find her voice.

Genesis also makes friends for the first time. And yet, while those things are going on, she’s going to a lot of extremes to lighten her skin.

I loved this book, and it was hard to read. I highly recommend it. And it’s got a great cover.

Young adult

On the Come Up
Angie Thomas
Read for Librarian Book Group

This was a great book on so many levels. My notes list six different things, all with plus signs. They are: main character; rap battles; dilemma (selling out vs staying true); people interpreting your words; friendships; church

It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and then not think about it again. But Angie Thomas is so good at creating worlds that I think about different scenes, characters and situations many times after the book is done. I particularly love main character Bri, who has a lot to balance: the neighborhood legacy of her father; her desire to be a successful rapper; struggles with how she is perceived at school; worry about her mother’s health.

I particularly loved Bri’s friends and the many different ways they responded to escalating tensions at school. I also found Bri’s observations of church members to be quietly amusing. There’s also a good dose of observing how it is to be female and looking to break into the music business.

We are so lucky to have Angie Thomas. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Every Day
David Levithan

I loved Every Day when it was first published I found it inventive and interesting. It was also a great book for introducing the concept of gender fluidity.

This was a re-read so I could read this and the two companion books in sequence. On second reading, it still held up.

Another Day
David Levithan

My plan to read this right after reading Every Day turned out to be not the best plan. It’s the same story, but from Rhiannon’s point of view. I knew this, but didn’t realize that 90% of the book is exactly the same book. Because I had finished Every Day the day before, entire passages were word-for-word familiar. I could picture Levithan’s copy/paste skills increasing as he wrote this book.

There were a few things worth reading for. I recommend reading this a month or so after Every Day.

Someday
David Levithan

This is the third book in the Every Day series. (Which I notice has a .5 digital-only book called Six Days Earlier.)

My book-loving friend mentioned that she had to put this book down because it was making her too anxious. I totally get it. The character X is not a good person.

And yet! This book is great! It’s got a complex plot: A and Rhiannon; A and X; A’s usual shifting from body to body. Plus there are other characters.

I think it’s a book-length exploration of what love is, when it can’t be love as we usually see it. There’s also a lot of drama, especially for David Leviathan.

I found the ending quite satisfying and well worth getting through the portions of the book that are X’s story.

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss
Kasie West.

This was a perfectly serviceable YA romance. The main character was also a working actress, so there was that fame angle, which is always fun.

The Opposite of Always
Justin Reynolds

The first 100 pages of this book are marvelous, because Justin Reynolds knows how to write his way through a romance. [Main character] is so fun to watch while he’s working through quandaries, and his friends are very interesting. Plus, his parents are amusing. There’s even a time travel aspect hinted at.

And then. Once the time travel aspect kicks in we get shades of the same story three more times. Though there are variations, the repeat of the stories provides diminishing returns and the more pages I read, the more often I put the book down.

Still, the first 100 pages were fabulous. And my notes state: the best slog I’ve read in 2019!

There was so much to like about this book, I look forward to what Justin Reynolds can give us next.

Young nonfiction

Biddy Mason Speaks Up
Arisa White, Laura Atkins, and Laura Freeman
Read for librarian book group.

The story of Biddy Mason, who was a slave taken to California where she “spoke up” for her freedom.

I like how this series gives us the factual stuff. Words are defined on the page they are introduced and the layout is great with photos, illustrations and other supports. There’s very good back matter.

The one thing I wonder about is the alternating verse/nonfiction prose setup. While the verse is good for people who like stories told in verse, and the nonfiction is good for people who like fact-based books, I wonder if tumbling them both together might dilute the entire book?

Books read in April 2019

The thing about getting behind on your blog posts? It sometimes feels like it’s been a lifetime since you’ve read this book. If you had asked me today (June 28) when I read To Night Owl, From Dogfish, I would have said, “last year sometime, maybe?”

But apparently, I read it in April. It was great! So was Serious Moonlight, Love to Everyone, Kiss Number 8, and Let ‘er Buck!

Middle Grade

To Night Owl, From Dogfish
Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
Read for Librarian Book Group

Being a fan of epistolary fiction, I was all over these two girls’ back and forth emails as they first plotted against their fathers’ plan to send them to camp together so they could get to know each other.

Aside from Avery and Bett, who shine through their correspondence, we meet and get to know a lot of other people in their orbits. This book includes the fun of correspondence and the fun of summer camp. It may be my favorite book so far in 2019.

The Backstagers
James Tynion & Rian Sygh
Read for Family Book Group

The final selection of the Family Book Group year (and my tenure as the person leading the group) was this little graphic novel comic book about the people who work backstage during plays.

As established in previous reviews, graphic novels aren’t my medium and this very comic-book style of graphic novel is especially not my medium, so there was that barrier. Despite the barrier, I really enjoyed the characters and the magical backstage. In doing preparatory work for our Family Book Group meeting, I read interviews with the creators that had me liking the book even more. While I won’t be reading volumes 2 and 3, I’m really glad this series exists.

It was well received by both the kids and the adults in the Family Book Group.

Young Adult

Bloom
Kevin Panetta, Savanna Ganucheau
Read for Librarian Book Group

A graphic novel with good illustrations and a color scheme that screams pleasant beach environment. I also enjoyed seeing the variety of delicious baked goods that were featured as a part of the story.

What I didn’t love was the main character Ari, who was kind of a jerk, although appropriate enough for his age and stage in life.

Serious Moonlight
Jenn Bennett

What is it about Jenn Bennett that makes me want to start reading her books from the beginning right after I finish the last page? She’s got great characters, for one. And her conundrums are spot on, and never manufactured drama.

In this book, Birdie is an overly sheltered (home schooled by her religious grandmother from the age of 10 when her mother abruptly died) girl from Bainbridge Island who is starting her first job as a night clerk at at Seattle hotel. She’s a mystery enthusiast, hoping her new job will bring some sort of a case her way.

There is a mystery for her to solve, but there’s also Daniel, the guy she met at the Moonlight Diner.

Bennett excels at the tentativeness of first love, and also witty repartee and amusing situations. There was even a gasp or two by me as the story unfolded.

Slight quibbles: I found it hard to believe that someone who grew up for 18 years in Seattle and the Seattle metro area would not have been well-acquainted with sushi, especially with that freewheeling Aunt Mona in her life. And even if she wasn’t familiar with sushi, the fact that Birdie didn’t know that Japanese culture is a shoes-off culture struck me as very weird. Plus, with all that June Gloom, would those apricots would have ripened as early as they did?

We Set the Dark on Fire
Tehlor Kay Mejia
Read for Librarian Book Group

When I set down a book mid-read for a different book, it’s not a great sign. When I read that new book twice in a row, it’s a very bad sign.

Nothing really worked for me with this book. The pacing was off. It took until mid-book for things to really get going and I was 10 pages out from the ending wondering how in the heck things were going to wrap up.

I never really believed the world. You can put a rambling myth at the beginning of a story, but that doesn’t mean I will believe it.

Things developed in ways that were not at all surprising and I could tell the parts in the book where I was supposed to feel tense, but my feelings never moved past boredom.

Love to Everyone
Hilary McKay
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book has the best first page I’ve read in a very long time. It’s the kind of first page so good at drawing me in that I was moved to post it on Instagram. It’s the kind of dreamy writing that immediately reminded me of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, a favorite book from my childhood.

From that first page, it’s a book chock full of details of the pre-World War I time period and characters so vivid I wouldn’t be surprised if they stopped by for tea.

It does not have the standard sort of plot that I’ve grown used to, rather it follows Clarry from her early childhood to her early adulthood. That left me feeling the book dragged through the middle. However, the other very good things propped me up and the book overall left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

P.S. I have just discovered that the British title of this book is The Skylarks’ War. Man, those Brits get all the good stuff. That’s a much better title!

Kiss Number 8
Coleen A.F. Venable & Ellen T. Crenshaw
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book does a great job capturing the adolescent rage I think we all felt during our adolescence. And I felt the frustration right along with Amanda because the lack of clarity provided by her parents was maddening.

That lack of clarity adds a nice layer of mystery. There are also friendship expectations and identity stuff. Also, it’s set in 2004, so there might be some nostalgia details baked in for readers of a certain age.

In short, great story, great drawings, really great book.

Young nonfition

Titanosaur
Jose Luis Carballido
Read for Librarian Book Group

I was unclear about a few details (What year was this? Was the gaucho on the first page also the landowner?) and that was distracting. However, it’s a pretty cool dinosaur book. I liked the combination of illustrations and photos from the dig.

Let ‘er Buck
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & Gordon C. James
Read for Librarian Book Group

I loved this picture book of history of George Fletcher who did not win the 1911 Pendelton Roundup even though he probably would have, had he not been a black man.

This book not only has an excellent voice for its subject matter, but also has incredible illustrations, all of which I would be glad to have on the walls of my imaginary high desert cabin.

There’s also great back matter that is frank about how hard it was to verify information, plus a selected bibliography.

Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits
Cynthia Lord, John Bald and Hazel Mitchell
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m not a person who is interested in rabbits as pets, but boy did I like this book, which combines photographs and illustrations to teach us both about the specific bunnies that Cynthia Lord was fostering and also about pet rabbit information in general.

There’s a good afterward discussing things to think about before you adopt a bunny.

Alex Gino at the North Portland Library

Thanks to the Multnomah County Library’s commitment to bringing authors of children’s literature to local audiences, I got to see Alex Gino, author of George and You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P. at the North Portland Library. Gino is non-binary and uses the pronouns they, them, and their.

Things I learned:

Alex prefers to refer to their book George as Melissa’s Story, because George is a name that Melissa would prefer to never hear again. This had me wondering at the process to pick the book’s title.

There were many questions from the audience, which we submitted on index cards. The audience was at least half young people which might be the cause of Alex’s encouragement to write down questions that begin with something besides “what.” (Although my question What is your favorite part about being an author? also began with “what” so perhaps we all needed that encouragement.)

There was a question about navigating the world as a non-binary person and they said that it is hard, but it used to be harder, namely because there wasn’t a term. They were 19 before they found the term genderqueer.

Their next book Rick is coming in 2020 and they wrote it as a companion book to Melissa’s Story. They cited the reason that they did not write a sequel to Melissa’s Story is that for a book to happen, plot would have to happen and that means that bad things would have to happen to Melissa. They are not about having bad things happen to Melissa. Instead, Rick is a story investigating what it means to be so unsure of yourself that you hang out with the bully.

When asked about Melissa’s Story becoming an OBOB Book (Oregon Battle of the Books) they said that they grew up in a world where being queer on purpose around children wasn’t a thing. There were certainly people who were queer around children, but they had to hide that part of them. For their book to be recognized as literature is phenomenal and it gives them hope that things are moving in a good direction.

This led to a story of the signing event that happened on Sunday in Canby, Oregon. Apparently there were 250 people in attendance. The person sitting next to me was in attendance for the Canby signing and said that attendance was so high because Melissa’s Story was excluded from Canby’s OBOB tournament and the Canby Mayor rejected a proclamation honoring International Transgender Day of Visibility. So people of Canby made themselves visible in support of the author.

They ended their talk by saying that they believed that books saved lives and what their hope is for Melissa’s Story is that someday a trans woman will be walking late at night and someone coming toward her might be a very big guy, who is also drunk, and who recognizes this person as trans. And instead of doing what happens to so many trans people now–harassment or assault–that person will think of Melissa and just walk on by and everyone will get home safe.

Books read in March 2019

14 books read this month, thanks to a vacation at the start of the month. And 13 of the books I really liked. I remain thankful that assignment reading (Librarian Book Group, Family Book Group) is so darn enjoyable.

Recommended

Picture books: When Angels Sing: The Story of Carlos Santana
Middle grade: all of them
Young adult: both of them
Grownup fiction: all of them
Young nonfiction: both of them
Grownup nonfiction: yes, that too.

Picture Books

All of a Kind Family Hanukkah
Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky
Read for Librarian Book Group

I adored the All of a Kind Family books when I was a child, so I was excited to see this book pop up in the Youth Media Awards.

And then I was underwhelmed, perhaps because my expectations were too high. I didn’t feel that this picture book captured all that was delightful about the All of a Kind Family, and I didn’t love the illustrations.

It might be a nice as a Hanukkah intro, though I’m not Jewish, so can’t say for sure.

When Angels Sing: The Story of Carlos Santana
Author

A short biography of Carlos Santana with gorgeous illustrations. The illustrations are made even better by the fact that they incorporate the year. Brilliant!

Middle Grade

You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P.
Alex Gino

A middle grade novel about how to be a white person and a good ally, both for members of the Deaf community and people of color. Very short and nicely done.

A Crack in the Sea
Author
Read for Family Book Group

A great blend of fantasy and historical fiction as well as a work that highlights sibling relationship and slavery. Though I wondered about the use of modern words (kids) in a world that hadn’t had contact with our world since the late 18th century. The author’s note at the end added important context to the story.

I sat on this review until after Family Book Group so I could report what everyone thought. Alas, the three children in the group read, at the most, half of the book. One of them stopped reading after the first page because he thought he had read the book in third grade. But he had not.

The adults liked the book. Mostly.

New Kid
Jerry Craft
Read for Librarian Book Group

In this graphic novel, Jordan is starting at a new school where most people aren’t the same race or class as him. In bright, clear drawings we see Jordon deal with microaggressions, joining sports teams, and making new friends who have his back.

I did notice at one point that spring sports were not required and then at a later point they were required.

The Book of Boy
Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s 1350 and the plague has killed one-third of the people in Europe. In France, our main character, Boy, is content to tend the goats on his master’s estate, and avoid rocks thrown at him by Ox, who taunts Boy for his hunchback.

Enter a pilgrim on the search for relics. Boy is compelled by Cook to go with him, so he can pray for her soul. So begins our adventure which leads to surprises for both Boy and the pilgrim. The book includes lovely line drawings at the beginning of chapters.

I felt the ending was a bit hurried and convenient, but until that point, I greatly enjoyed following Boy on his journey.

Young Adult

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
Ben Phillippe
Read for Liberian Book Group

I loved Norris as a hapless Canadian teen set adrift in his new home of Austin, Texas and I loved the chapter headers. This was a low-key amusing book, in that it was never actually laugh-out-loud funny, but was instead a steady heh-heh (though not in a Beavis & Butt-Head way) type of funny.

It did, however, need one more editing pass. There were several times sentences didn’t make sense and there were errors. At one point there is a reference to the father of a set of twins. Later, it was stated the twins had two mothers.

Field Notes on Love
Jennifer E. Smith

Hugo, one of the Surrey Six, a locally famous set of sextuplets, was going to go on a train trip across the US with his girlfriend, before heading off to the local college with his five siblings. He’d rather go elsewhere, but the six are a package deal, and it’s one way to get a free education.

But then his girlfriend breaks up with him before they can leave. She encourages him to go on the trip and he plans to. But there’s one problem. The tickets are in her name, and aren’t refundable. So Hugo advertises for anyone with the same name and he gets Mae, who is heading off to college and working through her disappointment at not being accepted into film school.

And thus we are off on a cross-country train trip with stops in major cities. This was a breezy contemporary romance that offered an evening’s worth of entertainment.

Grownup Fiction

Crazy Rich Asians
Kevin Kwan

I ran out of fiction before my vacation ended, plus my flight home was delayed, so the Tucson Airport got $16.99 of my money (plus a bit more for M&Ms) and I got to read the book version of a movie I watched last summer.

I’m glad I read this book because it cleared up a lot of questions I had about the relationship in the movie. They were the kind of questions that had me wondering why I should be rooting for this couple. Thanks to the more time/more words situation of being a book, things made more sense.

Also, this book has footnotes! I love footnotes, and welcome them in all books. They cleared up some questions I had about words in the text and put in context what was going on. They helped a lot with grounding me in a world I’m unfamiliar with.

I also loved the large quantity of characters and how I didn’t have trouble keeping everyone straight–though I did spend a lot of time referring to the handy family tree in the front.

On the negative side, there was a lot more head hopping in this book than I’ve seen in some time. It was jarring to be in one character’s head in one paragraph and then in someone else’s in the next.

While I enjoyed this book, I did find that about the three-quarters mark the materialism had me feeling slightly ill.

I’m still not convinced Rachel and Nick are the ones for each other, but I had a good time reading their story.

Atonement
Ian McEwan

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, but it was the kind of movie that is seared into my brain.

Based on that searing, I can say that this is the rare book/movie combination where you can pick your preferred medium and enjoy. The movie manages to get across exactly what the book is saying and doesn’t add or subtract from its source.

This is a heartbreaking story, made more so by the remote voice that is telling the tale.

It’s hard and beautiful and I recommend a read, a watch, or both. (I mean, if you watch it, you get to see that amazing dress, so there’s that in the movie’s favor.)

And, in news to me, apparently I read this book 11 years ago. And liked both the book and the movie then too!

The Witch Elm
Tana French

First off, a question. The tree in the book is referred to as a Wytch Elm. Is the title word “witch” instead of “wytch” Americanized for US reader’s benefit, or is it purposeful and a clue to the story?

I loved the main character, Toby, a golden boy who really had no idea that everyone’s life wasn’t as easy as his until there was a sudden turn of events. He seemed a perfect pick for the times we are a living in.

The turn that Toby takes isn’t the last as this story loops around several times tying up some things and bursting open others. This is a complex story with complex characters. I think Tana’s French’s greatest gift is how she wraps you up in her world.

Young Nonfiction

Baby Elephant Joins the Herd
American Museum of Natural History
Read for Librarian Book Group

Good book of facts about baby elephants which also includes a lot of pictures of baby elephants, which is awesome!

Bloom Boom!
April Pulley Sayre
Read for Librarian Book Group


A gorgeous picture book of blooms from different areas across the US. I appreciated the rhyme scheme which switched things up at just the right moment. Also the back matter gave me the names of all the flowers. It was also nice that desert blooms were featured so prominently.

Grownup Nonfiction

A World Without Whom
Emmy J. Favilla

Written by the global copy cheif of BuzzFeed this is a breezy meditation on how language should be depicted on the internet. As a descriptivist, I was down for Ms. Favilla’s various pronouncements and I especially appreciated the chapter: “How not to be a jerk: writing about sensitive topics” and also her tracking the loss of meaning of lol (aka LOL, aka Laughing Out Loud) from it’s origins in the early internet era to today’s proliferation and loss of meaning.

There’s also a handy “terms you should know” section, a helpful section on headlines (now that we’re free of space constraints, just what should that headline be?) and many paragraphs of practical advice such as this:

To that end, let’s talk a little about a language trend I’d be negligent to ignore: everything eventually becoming one word. The AP Stylebook is a fantastic resource for very many things, and I realize BuzzFeed’s job listings explicitly request “no haters” but holy crud—it took until 2011 for APS to say sayonara to the hyphen in email. Wut? Way, way back in the ’90s—when people were more likely to ask Jeeves than ask GoogleWierd’s style guide boldly asserted, “We know from experience that new terms often start as two words, then become hyphenated, and end up as one word. Go there now.” Descriptivists for the win! Go forth, young internetters, and close up those words (unless, you know, they look weird).

Books read in February 2019

It was a month of reading to catch up to the Youth Media Award winners and I found a few gems. Nothing was really terrible.

Recommended

Middle Grade: Finding Langston
Young Adult: A Heart in a Body in the World, I Claudia

Picture Books

Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop
Alice Faye Duncan
Read for Librarian Book Group

A historical fiction picture book that covers the Memphis sanitation strike of 1964, which also happened to be the cause that Martin Luther King, Jr. was supporting just before he was assassinated.

I was confused while reading this book because at the beginning it says the story is based on a real girl who was at the strike. The main character in the story is a daughter of a sanitation worker. But the woman thanked in the afterward was the daughter of a minister. This threw me into disequilibrium if the book was fiction or nonfiction and ultimately left me feeling very so-so.

Middle Grade

All’s Faire in Middle School
Victoria Jamieson
Read for Family Book Group

This book retained its charm on second reading. Impy is still muddling through middle school as best she can. Her family is still dealing with her muddling as best they can. There is still a lot of fun Renaissance Faire stuff.

As to discussion, the two middle schoolers in the room who had read the book were lukewarm. The three adults (myself included) really loved it.

Finding Langston
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Read for Librarian Book Group

I need to make a Goodreads shelf for very short books that tell a lot of story in their tiny number of pages. This is one of those books. Finding Langston takes place after World War II in Chicago. Langston and his father have moved north from Alabama trying to escape both the restrictive Jim Crow conditions and their grief over the death of Langston’s mother.

Langston feels out of place in Chicago, he has no friends, and his father is too sad and tired to fill in for his missing mother. But one day, Langston finds a library, and that sets him on the path to finding the charms of Chicago.

Young Adult

I, Claudia
Mary McCoy
Read for Librarian Book Group

The 1934 book I, Claudius was hanging about in the ether during my formative years. Possibly because there was a TV miniseries in 1976. I had no idea what the story was, but something about the title stuck with me.

Enter I, Claudia, the tale of Claudia McCarthy, daughter of an internet-wealthy family and a reluctant student at Imperial Day Academy, the elite Los Angeles private school unique for its Honor Code, enforced by an eight-member student-led Honor Council, a body with no faculty oversight.

Claudia speaks with a stutter and her legs are two different lengths, and these two things combined mean she is content to be an observer and a cataloger; she calls herself a historian. She plans to get through her time at Imperial Day making as few waves as she can.

But when her older sister Maisie, a junior at Imperial Day, brings Claudia along when her friend group before high school begins, a fortune teller tells Claudia that her plans to get through Imperial Day aren’t going to come to pass.

And so begins our story of power and corruption. It’s a story that would most likely come off as cheesy if television ever got its hands on it. But in book form, Claudia’s reluctant journey to power is thoroughly engrossing.

It’s been a bit of a dry spell of late on the can’t-put-them-down books. Thank goodness for the Printz awards, or I never would have found this.

Sadie
Courtney Summers
Read for Librarian Book Group

This goes down in my particular reading history as the first book to use a podcast to fuel the narrative. I liked this aspect as many of my weekend hours are spent listening to podcasts. I also didn’t like it because it made me realize that podcasts have a certain style, and that ruined the investigative journalism magic of podcasts for me.

This is also the second of two books in a row where the main character is someone who sometimes stutters.

Sadie is a tough girl who has lived a tough life. She’s incredibly likable in her unlikableness. She’s also missing. We get to hear about her from the people who know her. That’s what the podcast device is for. We also get to know her through Sadie herself, as podcast segments alternate with Sadie’s life.

This podcast/what happened thing manages to work, rather than seeming repetitive.

I’m ambivalent about the ending and hoping that enough people at Librarian Book Group will have read this book to have a decent discussion.

The Vanishing Stair
Maureen Johnson

The exquisite torture of starting a trilogy when book one has just been released is that it’s going to be a very long wait to get to the end. Luckily, this is Maureen Johnson we’re talking here, and she shares none of, say, George R. R. Martin’s proclivities. Book one, Truly Devious arrived in January of 2018 and it was so good that I read it twice in a row. Book two (this review) also appeared on schedule, so I know that by January 2020 I will reach the conclusion.

Seconds in a trilogy can be placeholders (Back to the Future II) or they can be the story that makes the series work (The Empire Strikes Back). This was the latter, not the former. We’re back at Ellingham Academy. Astute readers will note that Truly Devious ended with Stevie leaving Ellingham, and I’ll leave it to you to discover how she makes it back to school.

It’s not long after the first book ends, and though Stevie is told to let the Truly Devious mystery go, she is who she is, and she’s got new clues and there’s no way she’s not finding out more.

We get a few new characters and a few more clues. I’m enjoying the complexity of this mystery and trust it’s going to continue to unfold in a satisfying way in book three. I also enjoyed the writing in this book, adding several passages to my Goodreads quote page.

For people who would find a cliffhanger ending with no resolution for months torture, I would advise you to hold off reading book two. January 2020 will be here before you know it.

Darius the Great is Not Okay
Adib Khorram
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book brought the term “fractional Persians” into my realm of knowing, and for that I salute it. I loved the perspective of an American-born fractional Persian visiting Iran for the first time and how Darius struggled with how much he was a part of his extended family’s life when he only saw them through a computer screen.

I also appreciated the author’s attempt to cover run-of-the-mill depression, the kind that isn’t bad enough to put you out of commission, but is bad enough to keep you from fully feeling things.

This book wandered and was very easy to put down. It was character driven and full of characters not quite effervescent enough for me to want to keep reading. I did though. I read the whole thing.

Was there a very subtle gay subplot? I was never really clear if Darius was also dealing with coming out, on top of everything else.

Five Feet Apart
Lippencolt et.al.

I read a book during my ’80s childhood about a girl with cystic fibrosis (the name had not yet been shortened to CF). A google search isn’t coughing up the name, but the story made an impression on me. At the time, it was a big deal for people with CF to make it to 16 years old, and things seem to have improved tiny bit in the intervening decades.

In this book about CF, Stella Grant chronicles her CF journey via a YouTube channel, and has developed an app to help CF patients manage their treatment. She’s missing her senior class trip to Cabo because she needs to kick her illness, which means a month in the hospital.

Will is also in the hospital, and he’s just marking time until his 18th birthday when he can check himself out and be done trying to beat the disease.

It’s a great setup for a sick-lit romance, except that CF patients are at high risk for cross infecting each other and must stay six feet apart at all times.

This was a fine book for cluing me in about what CF looks like in the current decade. The story was serviceable, as were the characters. We shall see if the movie version is more dazzling.

A Heart in a Body in the World
Deb Caletti
Read for Librarian Book Group

Just as The Hate U Give was my zeitgeist book for 2017, so is this the 2019 zeitgeist YA book. (It’s early, but I’m feeling confident.)

It’s the tale of Annabelle who, in lieu of her last few months of high school, is running from Seattle to Washington, D.C. Something is driving her to keep running, and it takes a long time for the “what” to come into focus for the readers. In the meantime, we get the present-day story of the run and memories from her past.

This book does something I rarely see. It highlights the uncomfortable space women live in when a man’s interest isn’t welcome. How to juggle that, “thanks, but no thanks” sentiment while also not hurting feelings is something I struggled with as an adolescent.(Unsuccessfully–I tended to get mean.) I think it’s still something we don’t prepare teenagers for.

So you should read this book. For the zeitgeist-ness of it, for the feelings of not liking the liking, and because the writing is so very good:

“Fear is exhausting, and so is a run like the one she just did. But something else loosens and relaxes her, too. It’s the way the sheets are at first cold and then warm, and it’s the way they smell a little smoky, like camping, a sent that represents both freedom and safety. It’s the way that she has been tucked into her enclosed little bunk-cave. Just outside of it, there are two people completely at ease and satisfied with where they are. So she drifts off and sleeps hard.”