Book Return is Open

It’s been a long time since I could return books to the library. We’ve been stockpiling them in the house since March. It’s good to send them back and I look forward to getting more hardcopy books soon.

The book return on the back side of the building, however, is not open. I assume that’s for ease of processing. All returned books sit for a few days before being checked in.

Books Read in May 2020

Middle Grade

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

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

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

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

Young Adult

I Kissed Alice
Anna Birch

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

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

The How and the Why
Cynthia Hand

Boise! Letters!

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

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

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

This Light Between Us
Andrew Fukuda

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

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

Goodbye From Nowhere
Sara Zarr

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

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

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

Not Another Love Song
Olivia Wildenstein

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

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

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

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

Be Not Far From Me
Mindy McGinnis

Man vs. Nature! But with a teenage girl!

The Friend Scheme
Cale Deitrich

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

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

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

The Blackbird Girls
Anne Blankman
Read for Librarian Book Group

Chernobyl with a sprinkling of WWII.

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

Most Likely
Sarah Watson

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

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

Tigers Not Daughters
Samantha Mabry
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Grownup Fiction

The Secrets She Keeps
Deb Caletti

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

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

He’s Gone
Deb Caletti

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

I enjoyed piecing the story together as it unfolded.

Young Nonfiction

The (Other) F Word
Edited by Angie Manfredi

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

Grownup Nonfiction

The Big Leap
Gay Hendricks

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

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

Books Read in April 2020

Middle Grade

P.S. I Miss You
Jen Petro-Roy

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

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

Young Adult

By the Book
Amanda Sellet

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

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

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

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

Now That I’ve Found You
Kristina Forest

On the plus side: Famous!

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

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

Almost American Girl
Robin Ha
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

This is All Your Fault
Aminah Mae Safi

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

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

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

Not the Girls You’re Looking For
Amirah Mae Safi

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

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

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

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

99 Days
Katie Cotugo

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

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

Last Chance Summer
Shanon Klare

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

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

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

Virtually Yours
Sarvenaz Tash

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

What I Carry
Jennifer Longo

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

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

Tell Me How You Really Feel
Aminah Mae Safi

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

Grownup Fiction

Call Me By Your Name
André Aciman

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

Young People’s Nonfiction

The Fire Never Goes Out
Noelle Stevenson

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

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

Grownup Nonfiction

Manuscript Makeover
Elizabeth Lyon

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

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel
Jessica Brody

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

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

Books Read in March 2020

Picture Books

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

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

The Book Hog
Greg Pizzoli
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Flett
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Grade

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

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

I’m Ok
Patti Kim
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Prairie Lotus
Linda Sue Park
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

I’d love a sequel.

Kat Leyh
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Young Adult

Hearts Unbroken
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Apple in the Middle
Dawn Quigley
Read for Librarian Book Group

Reasons this book needs a copyeditor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Hood
Elana K. Arnold

Things I never see in books:

  • Discussions of menstruation
  • Women fending off attackers

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

Everything changes.

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

Every Other Weekend
Abigail Johnson

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

Nicely done!

When the Stars Lead to You
Ronni Davis

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

The Voting Booth
Brandy Colbert

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

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

Grownup Fiction

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital
Lorrie Moore

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

Young Nonfiction

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

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

Books Read in February 2020

Picture Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lupita Nyong’o
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Hey Water
Antoinette Portis
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across the Bay
Carlos Aponte
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

Stop Bot!
James Young
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Middle Grade

Each Tiny Spark
Pablo Cartaya
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Lety Out Loud
Angela Cervantes
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree
Paola Peretti
Read for Librarian Book Group

A slim book about a girl losing her sight written by a woman who was a girl losing her sight. It was a slow, repetitive build, but I was completely emotionally invested by the end.

The Other Half of Happy
Rebecca Balcáreal
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Young Adult

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
Junauda Petrus
Read for Librarian Book Group

The story of Audre, a girl banished from Trinidad for loving another girl. She lands in Minneapolis where she reconnects with Mabel, a childhood acquaintance.

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

Where the World Ends
Gearldine McCaughren
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

The Hand on the Wall
Maureen Johnson

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

Karol Ruth Silverstein
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Someday We Will Fly
Rachel DeWaskin
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Sick Kids in Love
Hannah Moskowitz
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

Surviving the City
Tasha Soillett & Natasha Donvan
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Young Nonfiction

The Great Nijinsky: God of Dance
Lynn Curlee
Read for Librarian Book Group

A brief history of the famous that dancer that includes just the right amount of detail and which also normalizes same-sex relationships in a way I find to be very good.

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

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

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

Books read in January 2020

Picture Books

Oge Mara
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Middle Grade

Free Lunch
Rex Ogle
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Young Adult

Look Both Ways
Jason Reynolds
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Hello Girls
Cavallaro & Henry

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

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

The Loves and Lies of Rukhsana Ali
Sabina Khan

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

White Bird
R.J. Palacio

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

Emergency Contact
H.K. Choi

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

Also: gorgeous cover.

Young Nonfiction

They Called us Enemy
George Takei
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

The Toll
Neil Shusterman

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

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

Grownup Nonfiction

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life
Tom Corley

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

Grownup Fiction

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
Kate Racculia

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

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

This Must Be the Place
Kate Racculia

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

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

Books read in November 2019

Picture Books

Wait, Rest, Pause
Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

16 Words: William Carlos Williams and the Red Wheelbarrow
Lisa Rogers and Chuck Groenink
Read for Librarian Book Group

How did William Carlos Williams’ famous poem come to be? Lisa Rogers imagines and Chuck Groenink illustrates.

A Stone Sat Still
Barden Wenzel
Read for Librarian Book Group

Many different viewpoints of a stone through the ages.

Mark Teague
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Going Down Home with Daddy
Kelly Starling Lyons and Daniel Minter
Read for Librarian Book Group

Beautiful prose and illustrations illuminate a trip home for a family reunion.

Young Adult

Frankly in Love
David Yoon

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

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

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

Somewhere Only We Know
Maurene Goo

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

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

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

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

American Panda
Gloria Choo

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

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

Let it Snow
Green, Johson, Myracle

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

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

Things from the book that made it to the movie:

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

Wayward Son
Rainbow Rowell

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

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

Truly Devious
Maureen Johnson

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

The Vanishing Stair
Maureen Johnson

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

And then one waits impatiently for January.

I love the last line of this book.

Books read in October 2019

Picture Books

Tallulah the Tooth Fairy
Dr. Tamara Pizzoli & Federico Fabini
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown
Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacobs
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Middle Grade

A Place to Belong
Cynthia Kadohata
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Best Friends
Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Very well done!

Young Adult

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph
Brandy Colbert

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

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

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

Butterfly Yellow
Thanhhà Lai
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

Patron Saints of Nothing
Randy Ribay
Read for Librarian Book Group

How many books have I read with Filipino main characters? I suspect it’s close to zero, which is the number that Jay, the main character in this book, has read.

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

Neighborhood Girls
Jessie Ann Foley

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

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

Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplin

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

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

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

Grownup Fiction

Dear Emma
Katie Heaney

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

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

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

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

The Last Thing You Surrender
Leonard Pitts, Jr.

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

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

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

Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng

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

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

The 12 Tribes of Hattie
Ayana Mathis

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

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

Young Nonfiction

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

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

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

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!


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.