Books Read in June 2023

Middle Grade

A First Time for Everything
Dan Santat
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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Great word choices backed with dreamy and clear illustrations. Casts a bossy older sister in a different light.

Big Dreams, Small Fish
Paula Cohen
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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Very pretty two-color illustrations. Kind of existential, like most Batchelder awards.

Nana, Nenek, and Nina
Liza Ferneyhough
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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
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A fish makes friends with a wave in this I Can Read! comic.

Middle Grade

Frizzy
Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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Few words and simple illustrations depict the seed cycle.

Endlessly Ever After
Laurel Snyder and Dan Santat
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

Books Read in August 2022

Picture Books

The Notebook Keeper
Briseno & Mora
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Noemi and her mother take a long walk to get to the U.S. and while waiting at the border, they meet the notebook keeper. This book is made more compelling in that it’s based on an actual notebook and the keeper duties that were passed along.

Middle Grade

In the Key of Us
Mariama J. Lockington
Read for Librarian Book Group

Camp story! Duel-narrator that works well. The perspective shifts week by week over the course of the four-week camp. A solid middle grade growth story.

I hated (hated, hated, HATED!) the poetry interludes from the camp’s point of view. So cringe-y.


A Duet for Home
Karina Yan Glaser
Read for Librarian Book Group

Hang out in a family shelter that is helping people move to secured housing. Unfortunately, the mayor has an idea of how to fix homelessness and it’s not great for the residents.

Given that one of the gubernatorial candidates in my state is running on a platform to make unhoused people accountable (whatever that means), this was depressingly relevant.

Answers in the Pages
David Levithan
Read for Librarian Book Group

I had trouble connecting to this book at first. Beginning with three different stories was a heavy lift. But I settled in and was rewarded by a good look at late-elementary-school censorship. There’s been a trend of YA authors writing middle grade. Often their characters seem older than their age—more YA than middle grade, if you will. This book also followed that trend.

Young Adult

Sway with Me
Syed M. Masood

I love Masood so much! Arsalan is a believably quirky character and it’s fun to go along in his journey to somewhat normal teenager. Grief and growth with a Pakistani family. I also though the ending was realistic and hopeful.

Zyla and Kai
Kristana Forest

I don’t often come across teen romances where the male part of the equation is the one who falls in love with love. This book expertly captures complex feelings about love experienced while one is also a teenager.

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet
Jen Ferguson

The page I was on when I realized this novel is set in Canada: 38.

I’ve always thought that the summer after high school and before college is a great time for a YA novel and this story proved me right. Working in the family ice cream stand, worrying about bio-dads, readjusting to an old friend back in town. Plus a bunch of other things. There’s a lot going on in this book and it’s all well balanced. Plus a First Nations character! And I learned that perhaps moving to Canada would not solve all my problems. Though I probably wouldn’t bankrupt myself due to healthcare.

The Honeys
Ryan La Sala

A fantastical summer camp story that explores issues of gender identity. I really felt the pull to be part of a hive (though perhaps not the one in this story). Really great endpapers.

Grownup Fiction

Elders
Ryan McIlvain

Come along with two Mormon elders on their mission in Brazil. McIlvain provides great descriptions of the day to day of a mission and the mental state of the two missionaries. I found the crisis point at the end to be rather cliched.

Less
Andrew Sean Greer

A short book that follows Arthur Less, kinda failed author, as he travels around the world to escape his ex-boyfriend’s wedding ceremony. This was an amusing (much quiet chuckling on my part) and an enjoyable read.

Mika in Real Life
Emiko Jean

Mika is a loveable drifting thirtysomething until her daughter—the one raised by adoptive parents—pops back up in her life. Aside from being amusing and getting the Portland details right, this puts a microscope on the hurt that adoption can cause.

The Second Season
Emily Adrien

The mark of an excellent writer is one who draws me in and keeps me reading even about subject I do not care about. (In this case, NBA broadcasting.) Seeing Ruth at a crossroad in her life was engrossing, and I felt the usual rage I feel when women have trouble doing the things they love because the thing they love is supposedly just for men.

Young Nonfiction

Queer Ducks
Eliot Schrefer
Read for Librarian Book Group

Schrefer carefully lays out many examples of animals who don’t hue to the heterosexual norm. There’s also a really great unpacking of how societal norms shape what we see in science.

Action: How Movies Began
Meaghan Mccarthy
Read for Librarian Book Group

McCarty’s picture book about movies starts chronologically and then jumps all over the place.

Grownup Nonfiction

Heart Rate Training
Roy Benson, Declan Connolly

The authors walk the reader through heart rate information and then set out training programs for a variety of exercise modules.

How to Draw Almost Every Day
Chika Miyata

I enjoyed how the author broke down each thing to be drawn into simple lines, and I found it fun to draw a long with the day’s lesson. The items to draw were somewhat random for me. They were based on what the author had been doing, but I didn’t have those same connections. I also found that the not-drawing of “almost every day” kept falling on days when I wanted to draw. Overall, this was an enjoyable quick (mostly) daily activity.

Books Read in June 2022

Picture Books

Mina
Matthew Forsythe
Read for Librarian Book Group

Mina the mouse’s father brings home things. One day, he brings home a squirrel. But maybe it isn’t a squirrel?

Bathe the Cat
Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts
Read for Librarian Book Group

A familiar situation to many: frantically cleaning the house before guests arrive. This leads to many funny mix-ups.

Gigi and Ojiji
Melissa Iway
Read for Librarian Book Group

Gigi looks forward to her grandfather moving from Japan to the US and into her family home. There are some unmet expectations that make the transition a little bumpy, but make for a good story.

Where is Bina Bear?
Mike Curato
Read for Librarian Book Group

Tiny can’t find Bina Bear during her big party. That’s because Bina Bear has some inventive hiding places. But also, why are there no other guests? How early did Bina Bear come to this party?

Middle Grade

The Last Mapmaker
Christina Soontornvat
Read for Librarian Book Group

Soontornvat weaves a rollercoaster story about a girl from the preverbal wrong side of the tracks making her way in the world. This hits all the adventure markers and has the plus of being set in a world where ships move about by sail power, and women are equal to men.

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk
Mari Lowe
Read for Librarian Book Group

Solid middle grade with a bit of mystery. I don’t run across many children’s books set in modern Orthodox Jewish households, so this was a nice change of pace. There’s a glossary at the back for anyone who might need to brush up on some terms.

The Summer of June
Jamie Summer
Read for Librarian Book Group

The book opens in the aftermath of June dramatically shaving her head. She did this to curb her tendency to pick at her hair when she is nervous. In this brief book, Jane finds ways to control her anxiety.

Young Adult

Vinyl Moon
Mahogany L. Brown
Read for Librarian Book Group

A compact story of Angel’s first few months in Brooklyn, where she moved to live with her uncle after a bad boyfriend and subpar mother experience. Very brief chapters and a sprinkling of poetry provide rich details about characters and emotion.

Nothing Burns as Bright as You
Ashley Woodfolk
Read for Librarian Book Group

A novel in verse that perfectly captures the highs and lows of a first love that isn’t really good for either person in the relationship, but feels so very good to both at the time.

Also, the cover!

Always Jane
Jenn Bennett

I’m torn between thinking two teenagers coming together because of a traumatic event is a sign that they haven’t healed from the event, or whether it means they are meant to be. Regardless, Bennett works her usual magic with two people in love. The story makes a nice turn partway through, and it was interesting to see what life is like in service, in this case as the personal assistant to the daughter of a music producer (who might also be the bio dad.)

African Town
Irene Lathan and Charles Waters
Read for Librarian Book Group

A novel in verse about two interesting historical things: the last ship to enter the U.S. carrying enslaved people (It was long after the ban on importing people was passed) and the lives those people built once they were brought here.

Gallant
V.E. Schwab

This is a spooky book that feels like a back-in-the-day gothic novel, but takes place today. From the orphanage-like opening, this was very fun.

See You Yesterday
Rachel Lynn Solmon

For people who have not see the film Palm Springs this is a delightful time loop story set at the beginning of freshman year of college. For people who have seen Palm Springs this story will sound very familiar right down to a plot turn.

Radio Silence
Alice Oseman

I enjoyed this because the author did a great job putting us in the shoes of the narrator. I wasn’t really sure what was going on with that guy that lived across the street. She also kept us from knowing what happened to his sister in a way I found realistic. I also enjoyed the “Welcome to Night Vale”-type setting.

Young Nonfiction

Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond & Daniel Minter
Read for Librarian Book Group

For a long time, it was tough to dye things blue. I learned this and other facts in this engaging picture book.

Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of Slavery in America
Selene Castrovilla and E. B. Lewis
Read for Librarian Book Group

Who knew that the path of emancipation started with a self-liberated man hiding in the woods and a major general writing a letter? You will, if you read this picture book.

Grownup Nonfiction

Run Towards the Danger
Sarah Polley

I’ve been missing Polley both as an actor and as a director. So I was happy to read these six essays.

Grownup Fiction

A Little Too Familiar
Lish McBride

It was fun to see McBride’s considerable talent with YA fantasy settings and characters applied to an adult romance.

Books Read in May 2022

Early Reader

Cornbread and Poppy
Matthew Cordell
Read for Librarian Book Group

A version of the grasshopper and the ant, which is a fable I’m not fond of. I liked the illustrations.

Sir Ladybug
Corey R. Taylor
Read for Librarian Book Group

Who knew the inside of a snail shell was so luxurious?

I had some trouble with this book (and with Cornbread and Poppy) where animals who eat animals say they don’t eat the animals they really do eat. Animals eat animals. Otherwise they starve.

Middle Grade

The Aquanaut
Dan Santat
Read for Librarian Book Group

Key points of the story are told through pictures, which meant I missed them the first time through. (Graphic novel fail!) For the more picture attuned this is a good an interesting story of friendship and loss with fantastical elements.

A Comb of Wishes
Lisa Stringfellow
Read for Librarian Book Group

At the end of page 2 I thought, “Eh, this probably isn’t for me.”

At the end of page 12, I was all in. This is an excellent contemporary fantasy with storytelling, mermaids, a conundrum I couldn’t figure out how was going to be solved and an ending where all the various LEGO blocks of detail Stringfellow has been scattering snap into place.

This was some masterful storytelling! More, please.

Jennifer Chan is not Alone
Tae Keller
Read for Librarian Book Group

Keller has a laser focus on the discomfort and anxiety that comes with middle school. This story’s bullying incident and the pattern of bullying that came before are seen through the perpetrators, which was a smart move. This is also a book where I could see the various parts of the story dropping into place as we reached the climax.

Anne of West Philly
Ivy Noelle Weir and Myisha Haynes

A retelling that captures the Anne essence. Haynes’s illustrations are full of interesting detail.

Young Adult

Ironhead, or Once a Young Lady
Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book is a bit deliberately paced at the beginning, but picks up eventually. There were tons of fun historical fiction details from the height of Napoleon’s reign. This was very much a female character written by a man, though.

The Red Palace
June Hur
Read for Librarian Book Group

Here’s a nice little mystery set in 18th century Korea. I bet you haven’t read one of those lately. Aside for the insight into the Korean palace of bygone days, I also was fascinated at how different the mores were. So much gallivanting around by our unmarried female protagonist.

Anatomy: A Love Story
Dana Schwartz
Read for Librarian Book Group

The dazzling cover art mirrors the novel. It’s very well executed and eye catching, but it doesn’t fully relate to the story.

The novel has all the markers of a tale well told, but when the ending comes, it’s hurried and not well-earned. The line between historical fiction and fantasy needs to be better (and earlier) developed.

Family of Liars
E. Lockheart

This story doesn’t pack nearly the punch that the We Were Liars did, but it’s hard to be that devastating two times in a row. It was good to head back to Sinclair territory and hear about another generation of liars.

Year on Fire
Julie Bauxbaum

This book has four narrators and it’s told in third person. Both of those things are rare for YA, so this was a fun departure. The voices of the four narrators were distinct, which was also a treat.

Aside from that, this is a solid story about appearances not always being what they seem. Plus some fun observations about “yeah, no” and “no, yeah” speech patterns.

Tell Me Three Things
Julie Buxbaum

When her father remarries after meeting a woman in a dead-spouse grief support group, Jesse finds herself living in Los Angeles instead of her home base of Chicago. An anonymous friend offers to show her the ropes—but only via email and chat.

Solid characterization of learning the ropes in a new place.

Gideon Green in Black & White
Katie Henry
Read for Librarian Book Group

Gideon Green has a small life where noir films from the 40s keep him company. He’s a has-been kid detective and his social life has been on a downslide since middle school. But the reappearance of a dame (actually his former friend Lily), a new case, plus a job copy editing his high school paper opens up new worlds.

A very fun mystery that uses noir as a springboard.

Grownup Fiction

The Rose Code
Kate Quinn

At 600+ pages, this appears to be a tome. But Quinn keeps the pace up and her three main characters are engaging. For those interested in Bletchley Park during WWII, this book is tops.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work
Seth Godin

Many short bits of writing about developing your creative work.