Books Read in August 2023

Middle Grade

Squished: A Graphic Novel
Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter
Read for Librarian Book Group

There are still families with many children and I’m always happy to see them depicted in print. This graphic novel showed off sibling dynamics and individuality.

World Made of Glass
Ami Polonsky
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’ve been calling for more novels that discuss AIDS in the 80s and Polonsky has provided. Iris’s dad has AIDS and it’s not a thing she has shared with her friends (for good reason.)

Young Adult

A Scatter of Light
Malinda Lo

A summer spent with her grandmother before college changes Aria’s life. I really enjoyed Aria’s poor but inevitable choices rendered in sparkling prose.

NerdCrush
Alisha Emrich

This was a nice little romance set among cosplaying teenagers.

Luck of the Titanic
Stacy Lee

It took two attempts to finish this book, mostly because I wasn’t up with a sinking that is much too familiar. But most of the book is Valora and her brother rebuilding their relationship plus the conditions for people of Chinese descent and how they were treated on the Titanic and in their lives. The sinking is a small part of the story. I found the ending rather brave. This book is filled with the historical fiction details that Stacy Lee is known for.

Grownup Fiction

Crying in H Mart
Michelle Zauner

A solid memoir with a lot of talk about Korean food. It’s a mom-has-cancer book, though, so be aware.

Legends and Lattes
Travis Baldree

It’s “Let’s put on a play!” but with an Orc. And the “play” is starting a coffee shop in a town where no one has heard of coffee. Given that coffee is an acquired taste for nearly everyone, I didn’t buy that everyone loved it on first sip, but this was an entertaining book.

Grownup Fiction

The Glass Hotel
Emily St. John Mandel

It took a long while for me to figure out where this story was going, but I didn’t mind as the writing and the characters were enough.

(August vacation Little Free Library contribution No. 1)

Memorial
Bryan Washington

A good own-voices perspective with a two person narrative that didn’t bounce back and forth chapter by chapter. (Win!) The writing was spare, enough that there were no quotation marks.

(August vacation Little Free Library contribution No. 2)

Bittersweet
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

I’m likely to enjoy a summer-at-the-lake book and this one had a mystery baked in. It got rather dramatic in an unsatisfying way at the end, but overall it was a good vacation read.

(August vacation Little Free Library contribution No. 3)

The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece
Tom Hanks and illustrator Robert Sikoryak

This goes deep into the lives of the people who come together to make movies. While not the most succinct read (one of the people is the kid who grows up to write the underground comic the movie is based on) it was probably the kindest book I’ve read this year. The narrator is someone who loves people and finds their lives worth talking about.

I have a feeling this is a fantasy movie set though. Or the platonic ideal.

Grownup Nonfiction

Alright, Alright, Alright
Melissa Maerz

I loved this book! For fans of Dazed and Confused (all of whom could guess the topic from the book title) this book weaves together interviews from seemingly all the people involved in the making of Dazed and Confused, plus some people who worked with Richard Linklater before and after the movie, including people who went to high school with him.

It’s packed with a ton of interesting facts (Jason Lee was also there for filming; he was dating Marissa Ribisi at the time and went as her chaperone. Ben Affleck was tired of being cast as a bully. Filming was like summer camp for the actors and was hell for Linklater.) I especially appreciated the chapter that focused on the women in the film both how they interacted with each other and how the film shifted focus from them as filming went on. This is essential reading for Linklater fans, people interested in how movies get made, and people who still have crushes on many actors of early 90s cinema.

Personal story: In college my roommates were trying to decide which VHS tape to watch. “Let’s watch alright, alright, alright,” said one. We all knew immediately what she was talking about. And I’ve thought of that as the title every since.

Taking Stock: A Hospice Doctor’s Advice on Financial Independence, Building Wealth, and Living a Regret-Free Life
Jordan Grumet

FIRE-esque financial book from the viewpoint of a hospice doctor. Grumet suggests three different paths to follow in a way that FIRE advocates usually don’t.

Books Read in July 2023

Middle Grade

School Trip
Jerry Craft
RFLBG

The gang we were introduced to in the earlier books heads to Paris. A (frankly unbelievable) prank shuffles the teacher chaperones resulting in the students’ planned chaperones not being their chaperones. This book has good conversations about race and privilege that grow organically from the situations.

When Impossible Happens
Jane De Suza
RFLBG

Set smack dab in the COVID lockdown, Swara has to adjust to staying in her home all the time and eventually to her grandmother’s death. But something weird is happening across the street.

Young Adult

Imogen, Obviously
Becky Albertalli

Imogen’s visit to college opens her eyes to her future life. Includes frustrating friend dynamics artfully rendered.

One Great Lie
Deb Caletti

Summer travel (Italy!) overlain with the normal problems of a young woman moving through the world. Woven through the book are chapter headings that spotlight Italian women writers of long ago, when it was even harder for women to move through the world.

Stateless
Elizabeth Wein
RFLBG

Wein balances a ton of characters for what turns out to be a flight-contest-related murder mystery. This is packed with the usual details of Wein’s excellent historical fiction.

A Long Stretch of Bad Days
Mindy McGinnis

As always, McGinnis’s small town tale packs a punch. Is there any YA author out there better a depicting small towns while ramping up the tension? I think not. This has solid good girl/wrong side of the tracks friendship and mystery.

My Flawless Life
Yvonne Woo

A bit of a Veronica Mars flavor, but less detective and more of a person who solves people’s problems. Mix in a fall from grace, a DC setting, and a mystery to solve and you’ve got a good read with sometimes clunky transitions. Plus, the brother of the main character didn’t speak until page 175, which was weird.

Grownup Fiction

The Idea of You
Robinne Lee

A May-December romance, with the woman taking the role of May! Plus a boy band! Halfway through the novel, I got tired of the expressed worry about the daughter finding out. (It’s so inconvenient when your mother starts dating your celebrity crush.) And the ending was rather abrupt. But overall, a good escapist read, albeit one that talks a lot about designer clothing.

Books Read in June 2023

Middle Grade

A First Time for Everything
Dan Santat
Read for Librarian Book Group

Santat takes us along on the trip to Europe he took in middle school. So much freedom those kids had!

Young Adult

Some Kind of Hate
Sarah Darer Littman

A very interesting premise that was bogged down by stilted dialogue and annoying omissions. Here are two: How does one make a spiked bat? How do you block security cameras? It seemed as if the author didn’t want to give us that information, but the show-don’t-tell rule still applies to things you don’t want your readers to do.

Different for Boys
Patrick Ness and Tea Bendix
Read for Librarian Book Group

A very of-the-moment book what with the self-censoring black bars across text to make a point. But also succinctly and briefly examines and explores being gay in high school.

Nigeria Jones
Ibi Zoboi

Nigeria’s grown up in “the Movement” a Black separatist household. Her mother is gone, and she’s navigating life and coming to terms with what she believes rather than what her father believes.

Saints of the Household
Ari Tison
Read for Librarian Book Group

Two brothers each give their perspective of the last semester of their senior year of high school and the aftermath of a fight. To find their way, they connect more with their Bribri (Indigenous Puerto Rica) heritage.


Warrior Girl Unearthed
Angeline Boulley
Read for Librarian Book Group

I love a main character who is an underachiever, and Perry is one such character. She also fully knows herself. That’s why learning more about NAGPRA rocks her world. This book is also a good mystery and readers will benefit if they have recently read Firekeepers Daughter.

Buffalo Flats
Martine Leavitt
Read for Librarian Book Group

Rebecca and her family are “settling” Canada in the 1890s and this book abounds with pioneer details and a sprinkling of love interests. This is a slim book that packs in a lot of detail.

I was Born for This
Alice Osman

A famous 18-year-old trio is wrapping up a word tour in London. Angel is a superfan who is finally going to meet the band. Told in alternating perspectives from Angel and Jimmy, one of the members of the band, we get a thorough examination of celebrity from both sides.

Grownup Fiction

Romantic Comedy
Curtis Sittenfeld

An engaging book that hit all my pleasure zones. So much so that I read it again immediately after finishing it. Aside from hanging out with a female writer of a sketch comedy show, I wrapped Sittenfeld’s long paragraphs and observations of subtle things around me like the warm blanket they are.

“It was a belated realization to have, but it occurred to me that perhaps this was how grownup conversations worked—not that you communication didn’t falter, but that you both made good-faith attempts to rectify things after it had.”

Curtis Sittenfeld, Romantic Comedy

Once More with Feeling
Elissa Sussman

This is a serviceable romance that unfortunately was next up after I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s book Romantic Comedy. While the main romance was served up as usual, I never got the feeling the main characters had anything to do with starring in a Broadway play. Whereas with Sittenfeld’s book, I felt like I was sitting in the writers’ room at a sketch comedy show.

Grownup Nonfiction

Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence
Ken Auletta

A deep dive into Weinstein and his various enablers. It includes his trial in New York City. Detraction: the book put a big focus on the size and condition of Weinstein’s body in a way I didn’t love. There are many gross things about Weinstein. There’s no need cast his body, which is similar to bodies of a wide variety of people—the majority of them good and kind people, as gross.

Books Read in May 2023

Picture Books

Nell Plants a Tree
Anne Wynter and Daniel Miyares
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’ve long been a fan of picture books that track the changing landscape and this book fits the bill.

Middle Grade

The Lost Year
Katherine Marsh
Read for Librarian Book Group

Set during the early days of the pandemic, this is actually the story of Matthew’s grandmother and her cousins who lived in Ukraine in the 1930s when Stalin was starving the Ukrainians.

Simon Sort of Says
Erin Bow
Read for Librarian Book Group

Simon is relived to move to a town where no one has access to the internet. (It’s a satellite thing.) He goes about making friends who aren’t going to know anything about his life before he moved to the town and that’s the way he likes it. This book was very funny, which was a pretty big tightrope to cross given the subject matter.

Young Adult

When You Wish Upon a Lantern
Gloria Cho
Read for Librarian Book Group

Liya is mourning her grandmother and spending a lot of time at her family’s Chinatown store. Things have been awkward with her friend Kai since she threw up on him when he might have been trying to kiss her. Plus Liya and Kai’s families are feuding. And the store isn’t doing so well. But Liya has a plan to fix things.

What Happened to Rachel Riley
Claire Swinarski
Read for Librarian Book Group

Anna’s new in town and she wants the topic of her school project to be finding reasons why no one at her school talks to a girl named Rachel Riley. A budding podcaster, she is stymied in her investigation by her teacher, her parents, and most of the kids in school.

Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim
Patricia Park
Read for Librarian Book Group

Alejandra Kim is the daughter of Argentinean immigrants who were themselves immigrants from Korea. She lives in Queens, but attends a fancy Manhattan prep school and she has a laser-like focus on attending an elite liberal arts school in Maine.

Chaos Theory
Nic Stone
Read for Librarian Book Group

Really good portrayal of mental health and addiction issues at the teenage level. Also, just a delight to read. Yay, Nic Stone!

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Read for Librarian Book Group

Am I the only one who was surprised when this turned into science fiction halfway through the contemporary YA novel? I guess my anti-flap-reading m.o. tripped me up. Also, the cover isn’t leaning sci-fi.

Throwback
Maureen Goo

An excellent view of the 90s through the eyes of a contemporary teen.

Books Read in April 2023

Picture Books

In Every Life
Maria Frazee
Read for Librarian Book Group

Small vignettes illustrating a concept (birth, sadness, joy, struggle) alternate with two-page spreads for minimal text and maximal noticing small details satisfaction.

This is Not My Home
Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh
Read for Librarian Book Group

Lily’s mom moves her to Taiwan so she can take care of Lily’s grandmother. Lily is not a fan. Great cross-culture comparisons and amusing illustrations.

An American Story
Kwame Alexander and Dare Coulter
Read for Librarian Book Group

A picture book of questions about how to tell the story of slavery that tells the story while asking questions. Very intriguing illustrations.

Good Morning Good Night
Anita Lobel
Get your fill of opposite adjectives in yet another New York City–centered picture book.

Very Good Hats
Emma Straub and Blanca Gómez
Read for Librarian Book Group

For many years I was prone to placing a random object on my head and declaring, “It’s a hat!” This is that action in picture book form.

Middle Grade

Not an Easy Win
Chrystal D. Giles
Read for Librarian Book Group

Lawrence is not adjusting to his new majority-white school in the town where his grandmother lives. After being expelled, he finds a job at the before and afterschool program that serves the mostly Black charter school. It is there that he learns chess.

Young Adult

The Buried and the Bound
Rochelle Hassan
Read for Librarian Book Group

A very strong first entry of an eventual trilogy about a Hedge witch in a small town in Massachusetts where things are getting a little out of control magic-wise.

Infandous
Elena K. Arnold

For most of this book, I wondered what exactly the thrust of the narrative was. Though I was interested in the life of Sephora, the Venice Beach daughter of a young mom. Then I figured out what exactly the thrust of the novel was, and it became that much more intriguing.

Overturned
Lamar Giles

Nikki’s parents own a Las Vegas hotel, though her dad’s not been so much an owner as a person wrongly convicted who is sitting in prison. While he’s there, Nikki and her mother have been keeping the hotel going. She thinks that her dad’s exoneration will improve her life, but alas, complications ensue.

This is packed with so many Vegas insider details that I wondered about Mr. Giles’s research.

Young Nonfiction

Just Jerry
Jerry Pinkney
Read for Librarian Book Group

Pinkney’s memoir features his unfished sketches, plus a narrative of his childhood on East Earlham Street in Philadelphia. I liked the concept of featuring unfished sketches more than I liked the result.


We go Way Back
Idan Ben-Barak,
Read for Librarian Book Group

A very accessible—even for science-averse me—exploration of what life is and how it got started. Colorful illustrations help.

Grownup Nonfiction

It’s Not About the Money: A Proven Path to Building Wealth and Living the Rich Life You Deserve
Scarlett Cochran

I’ve read a lot of personal finance books and this one is different. Cochran’s chapter on the true core principles of money was spot on, as was the chapter about money capacity. The book includes life planning and a practical path to get there, and she also has a different view of credit than many personal finance books do.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Isabel Wilkerson

Wilkerson wrote The Warmth of Other Suns and will always have a shiny place in my heart because of it. Caste is her examination of the caste system in the U.S. of A. and she makes compelling points both from interactions on the personal level to policy decisions that still sideline Black people.

Books Read in February 2023

Picture Books

From the Tops of Trees
Kao Kalia Yang and Rachel Wada
Read for Librarian Book Group

A young girl wonders what life outside of her refugee camp in Thailand looks like. Her father climbs a tree with her to show her.

Really great under-cover picture!

Me and the Boss
Michelle Edwards and April Harrison
Read for Librarian Book Group

Great word choices backed with dreamy and clear illustrations. Casts a bossy older sister in a different light.

Big Dreams, Small Fish
Paula Cohen
Read for Librarian Book Group

1930’s story of a girl who saw a way to improve her family’s sales methods for gefilte fish.

The Coquíes Still Sing: A Story of Home, Hope, and Rebuilding
Karina Nicole Gonzalez, Krystal Quiles
Read for Librarian Book Group

Before and aftermath of a hurricane on one girl’s house in Puerto Rico. There were a few confusing pages in the middle.

Kapaemahu
Daniel Sousa, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson
Read for Librarian Book Group

Hawaiian story of four healers who transferred their powers to sacred stones and what happened to those stones after that. Also includes mahu—third-gender identity.

The Talk
Alicia D. Williams, Briana Mukodiri Uchendu
Read for Librarian Book Group

A boy shows readers where he lives and plays as we watch him grow up. His family feels sad as he passes his growth markers because all too soon he will be old enough for the talk. (And he’s not very old when the talk happens.)

Phenomenal AOC
Anika Aldamuy Denise and Loris Lora
Read for Librarian Book Group

Brief picture book biography of Sandy Ocasio-Cortez. Very bright vibrant illustrations match AOC’s style

Still Dreaming/Seguimos Soñando
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, Magdalena Mora, and Luis Humberto Crosthwaite
Read for Librarian Book Group

A family packs up and leaves the only place they mother and daughter have known in this tale of repatriation in the 1930s.

Magic: Once Upon a Faraway Land
Mirelle Ortega
Read for Librarian Book Group

A visit to the author’s hometown of Vera Cruz and the magic that is there.

A Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexihcah Word Painters
Duncan Tonatiuh
Read for Librarian Book Group

A young girl explains to her brother how her parents make the books that track her culture. Plus an intro into the history of codices.

Where Wonder Grows
Xelena González and Adriana M. Garcia
Read for Librarian Book Group

I like the idea of a secret garden being used to explore rock collections. The illustrations are grand.

João by a Thread
Roger Mello and Daniel Hahn
Read for Librarian Book Group

Very pretty two-color illustrations. Kind of existential, like most Batchelder awards.

Nana, Nenek, and Nina
Liza Ferneyhough
Read for Librarian Book Group

Nina has two grandmas, and we get to see how they are similar and different. I loved both the concept and the illustrations of this book a lot . Unfortunately, the text layout was super confusing for me, a seasoned reader, and I think not ideal for beginning readers.

Early Readers

Fish and Wave
Sergio Ruzzier
Read for Librarian Book Group

A fish makes friends with a wave in this I Can Read! comic.

Middle Grade

Frizzy
Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra
Read for Librarian Book Group

Marlene’s family and classmates have clear ideas of what her hair should look like, and it’s not what her hair looks like without a lot of intervention. I really felt Marlene’s pain and was glad we got to go on a journey so she didn’t stay stuck in that hair realm she was in.

The Real Riley Mayes
Rachel Elliott

Riley isn’t a fan of fifth grade and I can relate. So many things are not going well and Riley is super exuberant and fairly distractible, so that doesn’t help. Hang out with her and see if she can turn her fifth grade year around.

Troublemaker
John Cho and Sarah Suk
Read for Librarian Book Group

Jordan’s mother and father own a liquor store in Koreatown in Los Angeles, and it’s April 28, 1992. When his dad goes to board up the store because of the riots, Jordan tries to make up for a bad thing he did by bringing a gun to his father.

Honestly Elliott
Gillian McDunn
Read for Librarian Book Group

Elliott loves cooking (NOT baking!) and idolizes a bombastic TV chef. His father and stepmom are having a baby and big changes are afoot. Plus, there’s a big sixth grade project that is made more challenging because of ADHD.

This comes with a recipe for pie, and I’m here to say the gluten-free crust burnt to a crisp. After that, I made the pie with a regular crust. It was odd but good. I would have bought some from Elliott. Though probably more for the kid factor than the taste.

Different: A Story of the Spanish Civil War
Mónica Montañés, Eva Sánchez Gómez, and translated by Lawrence Schimel
Read for Librarian Book Group

A brother and sister report on their time during the Spanish Civil War. I found the language somewhat stilted, possibly because this is a translation.

Tumble
Celia C. Perez
Read for Librarian Book Group

This had one plot too many and was much longer than it needed to be. But I enjoyed the explanation of missing bio dads, the New Mexico setting and the fun look at wrestling.

Young Adult

Eight Nights of Flirting
Hannah Reynolds
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s a Nantucket-set, big family, winter break romance with a side of “tell me more about that box.” Shara likes Isaac, but feels like she needs flirting lessons from the boy next door, Tyler. And how did that wooden box come to be hidden under the floorboards in the attic?

Scout’s Honor
Lily Anderson
Read for Librarian Book Group

In Prudence’s world, the Ladybirds are helpful scouts who do service for their communities. They also slay (though banish is the preferred term) interdimensional monsters who feed on sadness, anger, and anxiety.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and this makes for a somewhat heavy lift at the beginning. But Prudence’s story of the summer she went back to the Ladybirds to train new scouts and was able to banish her own personal demons is unique and interesting.

Reggie and Delilah’s Year of Falling
Elise Bryant

Despite what CW teen dramas would have you think, a goodly number of teenagers aren’t immediately stripping off their clothing to have sex because many of them are still navigating the many uncomfortable feelings that come with being a teenager.

Here is a book where Reggie and Delilah spend a lot of time not getting together because of self-doubt, worries about how they present themselves to others, and how they build a sense self in the world. This was a quite satisfying journey and didn’t sag in the middle as many books that span a year do.

Breathe and County Back from Ten
Natalia Sylvester
Read for Librarian Book Group

A book about that mermaid attraction in Florida I’ve been interested in for years. But not that mermaid attraction, exactly. Verónica has hip dysplasia and it has scarred her in all ways. Swimming is the place where she feels most herself.

Grownup Fiction

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama
Alison Bechdel

(Goodreads has just reminded me that I read this book in 2012. I didn’t like it so much then. I like it better now.)

Bechdel examines her relationship with her mother and loops in psychoanalyst Winnicott plus her own relationships with her therapists. Nicely done!

Fun Home
Alison Bechdel

It was good to revisit Bechdel’s memoir. She captures the many factions of a person.

Young Nonfiction

Strong
Kearney and Rooswood
Read for Librarian Book Group

Rod’s being a strong man. But is he bringing his full self?

Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion
Shannon Stocker and Devon Holzwarth
Read for Librarian Book Group

After going deaf as a young girl, an audiologist told Evelyn she would never play an instrument. But she did! Words help us understand how Evelyn listens. I would have like to have a picture of Evelyn.

Grownup Nonfiction

Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do
Eve Rodsky

Rodsky proposes a thorough system to shift couples from one person being the captain of all obligations, tasks, and duties leaving the other person to “help.” Is it a complex system? Yes. Is that what’s needed to keep—let’s just say it: women—from wilting under the strain? Probably. Rodsky carefully walks readers through all aspects of the Fair Play game and provides scripts for discussing division of duties with a spouse. The book focuses mainly on couples with children, but the system can be adapted to couples without children.

Books Read in January 2023

Picture books

A Seed Grows
Antoinette Portis
Read for Librarian Book Group

Few words and simple illustrations depict the seed cycle.

Endlessly Ever After
Laurel Snyder and Dan Santat
Read for Librarian Book Group

A bevy of fairy tales in one book. Aside from being a choose your own adventure, it also had a very fun rhyme scheme.

A River’s Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn
Patricia Newman and Natasha Donovan
Read for Librarian Book Group

Explores the birth and death of the dams on the Elwha river. Includes some good life cycles including salmon, and the dams themselves. Illustrations were technical and flowery—something that is hard to pull off.

Polar Bear
Candace Fleming, Eric Rohman
Read for Librarian Book Group

Hang out with a polar bear and her cubs during the cubs’ first year of life.

Love in the Library
Tokuda Hall Imama
Read for Librarian Book Group

Minidoka is the camp where the subjects of the book are incarcerated during World War II, and Tama is the camp librarian. I wasn’t sure if the picture book audience would be interested in a story of two people falling in love, but librarians have told me they are. The illustrations really compliment the time period.

Young Adult

Wake the Bones
Elizabeth Kilcoyne
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s already a good book, what with the Kentucky-based tobacco farm setting and a local girl who dropped out of college and is interested in taxidermy. But then there’s all this weird stuff that makes it even better. Plus, the writing is outstanding. Such a great start to 2023 reading.

We Deserve Monuments
Jas Hammonds

A good take on the dying grandmother story. When her family moves to her mother’s hometown to take care of Avery’s dying grandmother, she learns more about her mother and why her grandmother has been so angry.

How to Excavate a Heart
Jake Maia Arlow

Figuring out how much time to allot to a relationship is tough! This is a good exploration of that learning curve. Plus, a DC setting and an internship.

Nine Liars
Maureen Johnson

Stevie and the crew head to London to visit David and learn stuff. (It is an official school visit.) As is known to happen, Stevie is soon embroiled in a mystery. Johnson gets to write her manor mystery and provides an abrupt ending that begins the long wait for the next book.

Once Upon a Quinceañera
Monica Gomez-Hira (add to list)s

Carmen needs a summer internship to get her diploma, and working as a Dreams Come True Disney character also means getting hired for her cousin’s quinceañera. But her family has been estranged since Carmen’s own quinceañera was cancelled.

Aside from quinceañera details, there are a lot of feelings about family in this book. Nicely done.

Hope and Other Punchlines
Julie Buxbaum

I haven’t read many 9/11 YA novels. It’s possible that they were written before I started reading a lot of YA? I liked this exploration of being a face of 9/11 (as a one-year-old) and still being recognized fifteen years later. The back and forth narration is shared with a boy whose father died in the 9/11 attacks.

What to Say Next
Julie Buxbaum

Kat’s mourning her father, dead in a car accident. David has autism and is working hard to survive high school. This engaging book is about how their friendship develops.

I’m not the biggest fan of two main characters narrating, but Buxbaum does it well.

Young Nonfiction

The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs
Chana Stiefel and Susan Gal
Read for Librarian Book Group

The story of a woman who chronicled the losses of the Holocaust by putting together a monument to the town where she was born using the photos people sent to relatives.

Tree Hole Homes
Melissa Stewart, Amy Hevron
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book has the same problem The Universe in You did, but not quite to the same extent. The main story pulls the reader from page to page, and doesn’t pause to let the reader take in the extra facts. It was very difficult for me, as an adult reader, to make my way through this book.

The illustration style worked better for this book than for The Tidepool Waits, a previous effort of Hevron.

The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey
Jason Chin
Read for Librarian Book Group

As always, Chin’s illustrations are incredible. But the structure of the words in this book was frustrating. The ellipses pull readers along to the next page, but there were still many things to read on the current page. In a small font. It made for a very stressful reading experience.

Grownup Fiction

One True Loves
Taylor Jenkins Reed

I enjoyed the back and forth as we learn how Emma ended up with a fiancée and a husband and reflecting about how our lives change as we age.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength
Allison Bechdel

Bechdel explores how exercise came into her life (she’s just old enough to remember life before fitness became ubiquitous) and how it both helped and numbed her through life and life’s passages. She also connects us to how Romantic poets and Transcendentalists used exercise in their lives to support their art.

Books Read in December 2022

Early Readers

I Did It!
Michael Emberly
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s the idiom of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” but with a cute little poppet and some friends. Achievement unlocked: riding a bicycle.

Middle Grade

Invisible: A Graphic Novel
Christina Diaz Gonzalez and Gabriela Epstein
Read for Librarian Book Group

A group of middle school students are called to the principal’s office and we learn both why they were summoned and more about their lives. The story provides a very good setup and payoff.

Young Adult

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
Theodora Goss

This brings together the daughters of many famous literary scientists: Jekyll, Moreau, Frankenstein, and others. It adds in a dash of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. There is a mystery to solve, and the daughters regularly interrupt the narrative with their own commentary. These things together make for an engaging read.

Man Made Monsters
Andrea L. Rogers
Read for Librarian Book Group

Beautifully written short stories that are vaguely connected. The family tree at the beginning of the book implies more connection then there actually is. Plus, there’s another family tree that we never get into. That distracted me. The stories themselves covered a wide variety of monsters and used the Cherokee language.

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things
Maya Prasad

What a great title and a great Orcas Island setting. Unfortunately, this was probably the most boring book I’ve read in 2022. I think it’s a great example of low stakes making things not very interesting. And because there are four sisters and the book covers each of the sisters’ romances one at a time, nothing felt integrated. Once a character gets together with their intended, we hear almost nothing about them again. It felt very boringly repetitive.

Scattered Showers
Rainbow Rowell

New and republished short stories show off Rowell’s talent at summing broad concepts in a well-written sentence, and her skill with sparking dialogue. It was fun to catch up with some characters of yore. I found the premise of the story “In Waiting” to be very smart and fun.

Hell Followed Us
Andrew Joseph White
Read for Librarian Book Group

In both world building and plot machinations this did not feel like a first novel. It was also a very good story with a trans main character. I never fully hooked into it, but I look forward from reading more from this author.

Abuela, Don’t Forge Me
Rex Ogle
Read for Librarian Book Group

I found Ogle’s Free Lunch to be a cudgel of misery with writing that didn’t elevate past the terrible growing up years he described. This is a novel in verse and the shorter form is better suited for Ogle’s unfortunate upbringing. The spotlight on his grandmother is a welcome one and shows how much her love supported him.

Young Nonfiction

If You’re a Kid Like Gavin.
Gavin Grimm, Kyle Lukoff, and J Yang
Read for Librarian Book Group

Picture book story of Gavin Grimm, a trans boy who became a trans activist when his high school wouldn’t let him use the boys’ bathroom.

Concrete From the Ground Up
Larissa Theule, Steve Light
Read for Librarian Book Group

A history of a most reliable building material. The drawings were great, but the text placement was confusing.

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
Angela Joy and Janelle Washington
Read for Librarian Book Group

After covering the growing up and having a child part, this focuses on how Mamie Till-Mobley spent the rest of her life after Emmett Till’s death. I enjoyed the paper cut illustrations when it came to buildings and landscape. I found them less successful with faces.

Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration
Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki
Read for Librarian Book Group

Partridge uses photos from three different photographers, and Tamarki fleshes things out with illustrations to show what photographers were allowed to capture and what they were not. There were also primary source documents. This was an incredibly beautiful book about a shameful event we’re just starting to really talk about.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind
Richard Restak

A blessedly brief book packed with information and strategies for strengthening your memory.

Books Read in November 2022

Picture Books

The Year We Learned to Fly
Woodson and Lopez
Read for Librarian Book Group

A book about getting through tough times that doesn’t hit you over the head with the tough times. This would probably be a good book for all ages who are feeling the weight of struggle. Great interplay of words and illustrations.

Middle Grade

Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution
Sherri Williams
Read for Librarian Book Group

A fabulous example of quality middle grade! Great writing, a big issue depicted on a personal level, the main character navigating her troubles without her parents (but not because she’s an orphan or at camp) and a lot of feeling.

My only quibble is that the kid causing all the problems didn’t really take responsibility for the harassment and abuse. This book wrapped up very quickly.

Recipe for Disaster
Aimee Lucido

An enjoyable middle-grade novel combining baking (including recipes) and exploring what it means to be Jewish.

Enemies
Svetlana Chmakova

Graphic novels are great vehicles for showing those big middle-school feelings. This was a fun capsulation of awkward and confusing friendships.

Ride On
Faith Erin Hicks

Horse girls! I have a soft spot for them. Norrie is full of bluster and outrage. Victoria is new at the stables after experiencing a loss.

Young Adult

Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix
Anna-Marie McLemore
Read for Librarian Book Group

I enjoyed this retelling of the Great Gatsby recast with trans young men as Nick and Jay as well as the overlay of Latina culture. McLemore is very good at writing romantic feelings. Lots of good squishy stuff there. I did wonder at having the main trio be 17, 18, and 19 years old. It strained credibility.

Azar on Fire
Olivia Abtahi

One of my reading peccadillos is that I find books that include song lyrics to be cringeworthy experiences, especially songs that are made up for the book. Every time I read them, I feel a profound embarrassment for the author. It’s often like reading poetry written by young teenagers.

So this book, with copious lyrics, was a struggle.

It was also a long and rambling book, but by ignoring the lyrics, I enjoyed it. The main character is a freshman in high school and I don’t come across that grade level often in YA. She’s finding her voice (quite literally, she’s got something wrong with her vocal chords). And she’s making new friends.

The Getaway
Lamar Giles

Great worldbuilding and a solid amount of time showing us the supposed utopia before spinning into the reality. This is a horror novel and it’s the kind based on documented human action that makes it that much more horrible. I had to switch to daylight reading.

The cover is very evocative, but I don’t think it matches the story.

The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School
Sonora Reyes
Read for Librarian Book Group

This rambles in a not-terrible way. I enjoyed Yamilet’s story of figuring out how her new school is going to work and how to come out and live as a lesbian, both at school and at home.

My Nest of Silence
Matt Faulkner
Read for Librarian Book Group

A story in two parts. The strong story is the graphic novel portion that gives readers the real story of what’s happening to Mak as he serves in Europe during World War II. His letters home don’t tell the entire story. The prose part of the book focuses on Mak’s 10-year-old sister Mari who is stuck in Manaznar. That story focuses on how the camp and the war affect Mari’s mental health, a welcome angle of the relocation. The writing was a little too dependent on exclamation points for my taste.

Inheritance
Katharine McGee

For completists, this novella will provide insight. People looking to pass the time will also find it adequate. It doesn’t break any new ground.

Grownup Fiction

Book Lovers
Emily Henry

Henry does a great job subverting the classic small-town romance story by centering on the big city career-minded female who is usually the villain. I also enjoy her attention to detail at the sentence level.

The Bad Muslim Discount
Syed M. Masood

Two immigrants, Anvar and Safwa, make their way to the US from Pakistan and Iraq, respectively, at different ages and points in their lives. Their paths cross in San Francisco. This book is lacking the zany characters and humor of Masood’s YA novels, but it remains a compelling story.

Grownup Nonfiction

You Are a Badass
Jen Sincero

Sincero is of the love-yourself, tap-into-the-universe-and-it-will-provide ilk. Aside from advice on those fronts, she’s got a solid list of recommended books at the end.

Young Nonfiction

Unequal: A Story of America
Michael Eric Dyson and Marc Favreau
Read for Librarian Book Group

The authors provide chapter after chapter illustrating how racism is baked into the United States. There are many contemporary examples to illustrated that we’ve not left racism in the past. Most chapters focus on one individual to illustrated a theme, and there is a good mix of female and male and famous and less or not famous. I appreciated the spotlight on racism in the northern states, but did wonder why the racist acts and policies of western states were not included in the mix.