Books Read in February 2020

Young Adult

This is My Brain in Love
I.W. Gregorio
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book gets all up in the emotions of its two protagonists. It’s also a solid love story with realistic complications. Win!

Just Patty
Jean Webster

Given that for my first 21 years, I was called Patty, I grabbed this Little Free Library find for the title. I found a delightful collection of stories about three friends attending St. Ursula’s, a progressive girls boarding school.

The book was published in 1911, and my copy was from 1911, so I got to delight in typography that has gone out of fashion (so many spaces!) and also thick paper and illustrations. I wonder if Maud Hart Lovelace was inspired by this book when she wrote her Betsy-Tacy series?

Given its age, there are surprisingly few moments to wince at. A chapter about the Irish-American family next door with oodles of children and a father that drinks too much was firmly ensconced in stereotype. And there’s another chapter where the girls dress as “gypsies” and are very mysterious. But other than that, it was teenagers being teenagers, back before they called them teenagers.

I’ll see if I can track down the other book Jean Webster wrote featuring Patty.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come
Mildred D. Taylor
Read for Librarian Book Group

Just as long as its title suggests, this meander of a story is not a young adult book. The main character is finished with college, for gosh sakes, and the book covers her 20s and 30s.

This is a (kinda) character-driven novel, but mostly it takes many asides so the author can explain who a historical figure is or give us details about a historical event. There was no reason for it to end when it did or to go on for as long as it did.

I gather that this continues the story of a character or characters in books I haven’t read. Perhaps it would have been a more satisfying read from that standpoint. As it was, this was a long slog.

Everything Sad is Untrue
Daniel Nayeri
Read for Librarian Book Group

A YA book* destined to be shelved in the wrong area and never found by the readers who need it the most, Nayeri’s tale of life in America and Iran dazzles with matter-of-fact recounting.

*Just because the narrator is twelve doesn’t mean it belongs in the middle grade section! The themes are too mature for middle grade readers! This means that most kids who do find this book won’t be old enough for it, and older teenagers will pass it by.

They Went Left
Monica Hesse
Read for Librarian Book Group

We know many stories of the people imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, but what happened after?

Zophia’s quest to find her brother sheds light on one story.

If These Wings Could Fly
Kyrie McCauley
Read for Librarian Book Group

As a resident of a town where crows have flocked, I loved how McCauley wove the birds’ appearance with the escalating abusive situation in this novel. I found the magical realism to be less successful.

It was nice to see toxic masculinity defeated by something other than toxic masculinity.

Never Look Back
Lilliam Rivera
Read for Librarian Book Group

Duel narrator retelling of a myth I’m not overly familiar with Great magical realism elements.

Legendborn
Tracy Deonn
Read for Librarian Book Group

When a fantasy novel can capture this reluctant fantasy reader, you know it was written by a gifted author. Bree’s discovery of odd things afoot at her Early College program is just the beginning of a wild ride. I’m looking forward to a big long series about her journey.

There’s a small Twilight callout that had me chuckling.

Young Nonfiction

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom.
Carole Boston Weatherford & Michele Wood
Read for Librarian Book Group

Poetry and pictures bio of the enslaved man who mailed himself to freedom.

How We Got to the Moon
John Rocco
Read for Librarian Book Group

Having lived in the long, long shadow of the baby boomers for more than four decades, I felt I had absorbed more than enough about the moon landing. But then: this book.

John Rocco looks at the cornucopia of problems the US needed to solve to get to the moon and he lays out a solution for each problem. His big picture viewpoint highlights many people behind the scenes including the seamstresses who made the parachutes that deployed after the astronauts reentered earth’s atmosphere.

Rocco uses illustrations rather than photographs, and I thought this was a brilliant decision. The illustrations convey the many small details about the bits and bobs of the infrastructure that was part of the US Space Program. Highly recommended.

The Cat I Never Named
Anna Sabic-el-Rayes with Laura L. Sullivan
Read for Librarian Book Group

Like most of the rest of the world, I didn’t pay much attention to the war happening in what we used to call the former Yugoslavia. Even though I knew two people from the area. So it is a gift to have Anna’s story of her time in the Bosnian town of Bihać during the war.

The horrors of the war are not glossed over, but they aren’t so explicit that a reader will check out. The humanity of everyone involved is shown again and again.

Catherine’s War
Julia Billet & Claire Fowel
Read for Librarian Book Group

A graphic novel about one of the many Jewish children hidden in plain sight in Vichy France.

Itzak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin
Tracy Newman & Abigail Halpin
Read for Librarian Book Group

Picture book that caused me to wonder if this is the only picture book I’ve seen depicting a child with polio.

I liked the colors.

Books Read in January 2021

Picture Books

A Pig, a Fox and a Fox
Jonathan Fenske
Read for Librarian Book Group

Fox tries to play jokes on pig, but is thwarted at every turn in this rhyming beginning reader.

Don’t Worry Little Crab
Chris Haughton
Read for Librarian Book Group

I mean, I feel like Very Big Crab wasn’t really respecting Little’s Crab’s boundaries, but the illustrations were great.

This Old Dog
Martha Brockenrough and Gabriel Alborozo
Read for Librarian Book Group

An old dog/young child story that headed in a different direction than I thought it would.

What About Worms?
Ryan T. Higgins
Read for Librarian Book Group

The tiger is afraid of worms in this early reader. Very fun illustrations.

The Magical Yet
Angela DiTerlizzi and Lorena Álvarez
Read for Librarian Book Group (maybe?)

Beautifully illustrated book about the thing you aren’t quite yet.

Middle Grade

The Magic Fish
Trung Le Nguyen
Read for Librarian Book Group

A graphic novel that takes the fairy tale retelling trend in a different direction. It also shows a mother/son relationship and what coming out looked like in the 90s.

Young Adult

American Royals
Katherine McGee

This book breaks my first book series rule: each book in the series should have an ending! If I’m going to read w hole book, especially one with a long list of holds on the sequel, I need that book to tie everything up.

The idea of a monarchy in the United States of America was profoundly disturbing to me. I have enough trouble with fiscal policies that allow the generational transfer of large amounts of money, not to mention policies that mean the US has as many billionaires as it does.

That said, this was interesting book with characters I got invested in.

p.s. George Washington had no direct descendants so I’m interested in why they were still called the House of Washington. I don’t understand how those monarchical houses get named.

p.p.s. Someone asked this question on Goodreads and the author answered it: In the world of American Royals, the succession goes through GW’s nephew George Steptoe Washington, son of Washington’s younger brother Samuel. (George Steptoe Washington had three older siblings but none of them lived long enough to become king–in real life they all died before GW’s death in 1799). George Steptoe Washington, aka King George II in the world of American Royals, was a fascinating character in real life! He eloped with Lucy Payne (Dolly Madison’s sister!) when she was 15 and he was 22. Their families were originally outraged but later reconciled. So of course, in the world of American Royals she became Queen Lucy!

Black Girl Unlimited
Echo Brown
Read for Librarian Book Group

Required reading both for the down-on-the-ground perspective and for the interesting way of putting together a story. This one will stick with me.

It Sounded Better in my Head
Nina Kenwood
Read for Librarian Book Group

A relationship anxiety tour de force!

Natalie was an immediately relatable character and due to the ebook format I wasn’t prepared for it to be over.

This was also a book that caused several loud chuckles. Kenwood is great at low-key humor.

The Black Kids
Christina Hammonds Reed

Really astute (and amusing) observations of a well-off L.A. Black girl during the Rodney King Riot in the 1990s.

I read this first as a short story in One Teen Story and I’m looking forward to more of Christina Hammonds Reed’s work.

Clap When You Land
Elizabeth Acevedo
Read for Librarian Book Group

Two girls, one in New York City and one in the Dominican Republic, are both affected by a plane crash.

I have my novel-in-verse favorite authors and Acevedo is one.

Getting the Girl
Susan Juby

A mystery that hasn’t aged well. Guys who are “into the ladies,” even severely inexperienced ones, feel kind of ick now.

Still, with Juby’s sparking prose there were redeeming things about this book.

Admission
Julie Buxbaum

The college cheating scandal exposed by Operations Varsity Blues was my big schadenfreude story of 2019. The obsession with “the best” college! The willingness to call your child, already the product of an expensive private education, too dumb to get in via normal channels! The nerve!, as Julie Buxbaum said in her afterward.

This is the story of a not-book-smart teenager who finds herself one of the many children of rich people who found out that their acceptance letter didn’t arrive due to their efforts alone. Told in now/then chapters we see Chloe pick through her responsibility, her parents efforts, and how she feels about the aftermath. This was engrossing fiction.

You Know I’m No Good
Jessie Anne Foley

Bad girl! Out of control! Expensive rehab place!

Plus Foley’s usual astute characterization and writing.

Darius the Great Deserves Better
Adir K. Khorram
Read for Librarian Book Group

Darius is back and, while his life has improved, a lot of the daily life things still require negotiation. I love a good in-depth novel about emerging male sexuality and Darius’s categorization of things is amusing. This was really well done.

As with the first book, man has Khorram missed the mark with Portland high school names.

It Only Happens in the Movies
Holly Bourne

As someone who loves romantic comedies while also giving them a lot of side eye, Bourne’s book hit the spot. Early relationships provide a lot of learning opportunities, and that is the case in this novel.

While the journey is great, the ending was so good I gave Boyfriend Matt a complete rundown of the plot, just so I could say, “See! This book was amazing!” He agreed. The afterward includes a list of 10 movie that made the author who she is today.

Young Nonfiction

All Thirteen
Christina Soontrnvat
Read for Librarian Book Group

This is the way nonfiction should be written! Using clear prose backed with great photos and illustrations, we get an up-close look at the rescue of the soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand.

Grownup Nonfiction

Happy Money: Understand and Heal Your Relationship with Money
Ken Honda

Another woo-woo finance book. This provides suggestions for shedding your money baggage and making all your money happy money.

More Cookbook Winnowing

Welcome, blurry photo. I did not factor blurry photos into my middle age experience.

More cookbook winnowing! The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook might have been the first cookbook I ever bought. And the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book was instrumental in teaching me how to make a loaf of whole wheat break.

As with the other pile, I’ve grabbed my favorites. Now it’s time to send the cookbooks off to Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood.

An Author Teenage Me Loved

Jude Deveraux was one of the romance novelists I cut my teeth on in the 80s. I suspect I haven’t read this book (it was published in 2002) but I enjoyed how finding this book in a Little Free Library reminded me of that time in my life.

Also, I looked up Deveraux on Wikipedia and discovered that her eight-year-old son was killed in 2005 and that a psychic stole all her money. That’s not a happy ending for a romance writer.

Books read in October 2020

Picture Books

Hike
Pete Oswald
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m so-so on hiking, but Pete Oswald’s drawings of a parent and child hiking compel me to find some landscapes for a day in the woods.

Middle Grade

When Stars are Scattered
Omar Mohamed & Victoria Jamieson
Read for Librarian Book Group

Spend years in a refugee camp with Omar and his brother.

This story completely drives home life as a refugee and includes a wonderful author’s note at the end.

A Gathering of Days
Joan W. Bos

As a Newbery and National Book Award winner in 1980, I was surprised to find I hadn’t read this as a child as I enjoyed diary formats and “olden days” material.

I loved the detail in this book and that the old-timey people were full of humor.

Trowbridge Road
Marcella Pixley
Read for Librarian Book Group

On the one hand, the writing in this is gorgeous. On the other hand, the drama is turned up so high I found myself sighing when it was time to read. There’s a lot of crying in this book. Like crying done by the characters. They cry all the time. It makes sense for what’s going on, but after a point it felt like a crutch. Plus there’s child abuse, plus mental illness, plus ramifications of a fatal illness.

Young Adult

Smash It
Francina Simone

Liv is not the outgoing one in her trio of friends. When she decides to change things up she makes a list. That list leads to many new experiences for Liv.

I loved how this book explored fluctuations in friendship and navigating crushes and milestone experiences. Liv was a great character and she for sure goes on a journey.

Stay Gold
Tobley McSmith
Read for Librarian Book Group

Ninety percent of this book was a solid story of Pony’s life at a new high school and Georgia’s questioning her cheerleader lifestyle/image.

The last 10% is a poorly written conclusion to the story. It begins at an After-School-Special level and goes downhill from there. Hopefully, future novels from McSmith will be stellar throughout.

King and the Dragonflies
Kacen Callender
Read for Librarian Book Group

Set in swampy, steamy, Louisiana, King and the Dragonflies is King’s story of a time of mourning and transition. He’s coming to terms with his older brother’s sudden death while also negotiating friendships and parent expectations.

Another Brooklyn
Jacqueline Woodson

The dedication: “For Bushwick (1970–1990) In memory.” And this is a great example of Woodson’s economy with language. We know that the place that was during that time is gone, but that we are going to get to experience it.

Woodson’s novel about four friends in Brooklyn is a picture of a neighborhood and a time. As usual with Woodson, the language is beautiful.

Dragon Hoops
Gene Luen Yang
Read for Librarian Book Group

Like Gene Luen Yang at the start of this book, I don’t care about basketball. Unlike Gene Luen Yang, by the time the book ended I still didn’t care about basketball. I really enjoyed the bits of basketball history (Invented by a Canadian! First woman to dunk!) but I found the notes more interesting than the story itself.

Young Nonfiction

Lifting as We Climb
Evette Dionne
Read for Librarian Book Group

An easy-to-digest history of the work Black women did to get the vote. There are many examples of how they kept working even as they were being thwarted by white women. (And all men.)

This is Your Brain on Stereotypes
Tanay Lloyd Kyi & Drew Shannon
Read for Librarian Book Group

An excellent intro into science and unconscious bias with illustrations that strike the right balance of serious and fun. The use of the phrase “write a test” rather than “take a test” on page 42 had me checking the author bios to discover that this is a Canadian book. I think that phrasing will confuse children from the USA, but other than that potential wrinkle, this was a great book.

Grownup Nonfiction

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions
Johann Hari

Thanks to Goodreads, I get to keep an eye on my friend Jan’s reading habits, even though she moved away years ago. This was a recent read by her that caught my eye and I’m glad I found my way to it.

Johann Hari experienced depression throughout his life and treated it for years with antidepressants. After 13 years, he started looking into the conventional wisdom that brain chemistry is the cause of depression. Turns out, not so much.

Hari outlines nine lost connections and seven ways to reconnect that might help people grappling with depression or the blues.

Grownup Fiction

The Lager Queen of Minnesota
J. Ryan Stradal

Not the LARGER Queen of Minnesota, as I kept reading the title, but LAGER. As in beer. Edith is an amazing character and I loved this series of interlocking stories about Edith, her sister, and her granddaughter.

If we were a country of Ediths, we’d all be better for it.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
V.E. Schwab

Yeesh. This book went on for much too long. I mean sure, Addie has been alive for 300+ years, but the pacing is such that we seem to be experiencing each year. When I finally sloshed to the end, I found an unsatisfying conclusion. And thanks to the e-reader, I know that’s eight hours of my life I won’t get back.

Ghost Wall
Sarah Moss

I found this novel to be unpleasant because of the subject matter, but do appreciate the author’s use of words in an economical way. Abusive fathers can be a third rail for me, but the language in this book managed to overcome.

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
Anna North

This manages to be a book I liked quite a bit while also intensely disliking the title character. Possibly it was the interview format that hooked me. At any rate, I loved how real these characters felt and it was great to get a glimpse of a memorable time in their lives.

Books Read in September 2020

Picture Books

Baloney and Friends
Greg Pizzoli
Read for Librarian Book Group

Three short tales for young readers about Baloney and friends. Plus three comics, plus instructions of how to draw Baloney and his friends.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
Suzanne Slade

A picture book about Gwendolyn Brooks’ early life and her career as a poet. The words and illustrations combine to convey how her neighborhood shaped her poetry. I read this on a tiny screen, and lost some detail, alas.

Up on Bob
Mary Sullivan

Bob, a dachshund has a job. It’s hard work, but he’s happy to do it.

I laughed and laughed, as will anyone with pets who like to arrange their surroundings just so.

Middle Grade

Brave Like That
Lindsay Stoddard
Read for Librarian Book Group

Let’s deal with the not-great first. There was a glaring date typo (In 1789 there were no banks to rob in Northfield Minnesota as the town was founded in 1855) plus everything in town was within walking distance. I’ve lived in a town smaller than Northfield and while things were close by, not everything was that close.

But one of the weirdest thing about this story was the reaction to the woman who joined the fire station. One of the firefighters could not wrap his head around the thought of a woman fire fighter so much so that I wondered if this book was set in the 1970s. It was not. While I understand that there is probably still pushback to women serving as firefighters, in 2020 the idea that there are women firefighters is not a foreign one.

Aside from those things, I really liked this novel. It’s great at depicting the churning emotions on tap when a child doesn’t love the thing a parent loves. There was a ton of nuanced and complicated emotion in this novel.

Fighting Words
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Read for Librarian Book Group

Amazing main character alert! Della is plainspoken and funny and will pull you right into her story of life in the foster care system Which so far is better than life before foster care.

I loved her foster mother who embodied that matter-of-fact caretaking vibe. There were also some really great post-trauma sequences.

Young Adult

Not Your #Lovestory
Sonia Hartel

Great setup. An aspiring YouTuber who deconstructs romantic comedies finds herself unwittingly cast onto a viral social media romance that didn’t happen. Solid stakes and great depiction of life lived on the edge of poverty.

Up to this Pointe
Jennifer Longo

What do ballet and Antarctica have in common? In this case, the two have Harper in common. She’s one of three teenagers picked to spend the winter in Antarctica after her ballet career—the one thing she’s been working towards for years—never gets off the ground.

Alternating timelines tell the tale of now and then.

This is My America
Kim Johnson
Read for Librarian Book Group

Amazing, and a great example of why we need diverse books. The whole time I was reading I wondering how many amazing stories we’d missed all that time because of #publishingsowhite. (It still is, but books like these are finally starting to be published regularly.)

This is a mystery, a chronicle of the family of an innocent man on death row, plus it deals with police brutality and knowing your rights. There’s also a love triangle and a crackerjack plot!

Flamer
Mike Curato
Read for Librarian Book Group

Flamer is a graphic novel about summer camp that is full of adolescent boy things in a way that drives home how hard it is to be an adolescent boy. The color scheme captures that camp and campfire feel.

It also brought back memories of the racist chorus of Boom Chick a Boom we used to say (sing?) at Girl Scouts in elementary school. I’m glad that that one didn’t resurface. We totally did the Valley Girl one, though. I’m glad to see it’s still around.

The Beauty that Remains
Ashley Woodfolk

This was an ambitious first book. Three main characters, each mourning the death of a friend, sister or ex-boyfriend. All three characters have friends who are tangentially connected, and it was a lot of people to keep track of.

If you are up for the challenge, there’s great stuff about loss and also music.

All Our Worst Ideas
Vickey Skinner

This would have been a serviceable YA romance, except for the lack of attention to a legion of details. As they piled up, my annoyance increased.

A record shop in Kansas City that is open until 11pm on weeknights and does enough business to employ three people all the way until closing? A rear ending that causes the driver to break his arm, but only does a little damage to the bumper? A character who never attended homecoming, even though she had a boyfriend during at least one homecoming? Just how big is this stockroom and why is there so much to do back there that it can fill a full shift? Someone can get a zero on a test and still make valedictorian?

Not to mention that one of the characters is a total asshat whose activities never seem to be fully reckoned with.

This was a shoddy effort that left me feeling angry.

Today Tonight Tomorrow
Rachel Lynn Solomon
Read for Librarian Book Group???

This was the second book in a row where the main character MUST be the valedictorian.

I liked this treasure hunt/adventure story, and enjoyed that it was pro romance novel. It was predictable from the first page and I also found the acrimony of the two leads to be off putting for the first part of the book. That part was a bit of a slog.

But this is a very fun Seattle book and would pair nicely with I am Princess X by Cherie Priest.

(A fun thing! I couldn’t remember the Princess X book title, so I googled “ya book seattle comics mystery missing friend” and the book was the second search result! I love when the search engines work!)

Blood Moon
Lucy Cuthew

2020, the year when books about menstruation really started flowing through the publishing pipeline.

This novel in verse covers a friendship hitting a rocky point plus that thing that half the population experiences, but is not often talked about. There’s also internet harassment!

While the bones of the story were good, the book’s resolution mirrored exactly an episode of Glee and I wonder if the author subconsciously absorbed that plot point, or if it was one of the things that springs forth from the culture.

We Regret to Inform You
Ariel Kaplan

Mischa has worked hard for four years and her mother has sacrificed a lot to send her to a fancy private school. Now it’s time for all of that to pay off as the college acceptances roll in. But they don’t.

When she’s rejected from every school she applied to, including the safety school where the average student’s SAT score is half of hers, Mischa is bereft, which turns to anger, which turns to asking questions.

I love Kaplan’s books. Her characters are so immediate!

Grendel’s Guide to Love
Ariel Kaplan

Tommy lives in a quiet neighborhood full of retired old ladies who pay him to mow their lawns. It’s summer and all is fine until loud parties start up next door.

Among other things I liked about this book was the depiction of an abusive sibling relationship (I can think of only one other YA book that depicts this not-uncommon situation) and the organic way the parents were absent.

This is also somehow related to the Beowulf story, but I haven’t read enough of the classics to have caught that connection.

More Than Just a Pretty Face
Syed M. Masood
Read for Librarian Book Group

What a delightful character! Danyal is fully conscious of who he is (pretty, loves to cook, good guy) and who he isn’t (smart, diligent student). This was a funny book, that also had me thinking differently about arranged marriages.

It’s worth the price of admission just for Danyal’s conversation with the library employee.

How to Save a Life
Sara Zarr

Jill is trying to get through life after her father’s sudden death. Things get harder when her mother invites Mandy, a pregnant teenager, to live with them so she can adopt Mandy’s baby after it is born.

There are a lot of feelings in this book, expressed in that great Sara Zarr way. Also, I could not for the life of me figure out how the story was going to end. This made for a singular experience.

Of note. This was in the to-read pile for a few library borrowing cycles. This meant that for many weeks I caught a glimpse of it which queued up The Fray’s song “How to Save a Life.” I’m not opposed to that song, but it was nice when the book returned to the library, thus ending the auto play in my brain.

Grownup Fiction

Ooona Out of Order
Margarita Montimore

I love books that play with time, so this one was a winner. It was fun to jump between years of Oona’s life. It was so enjoyable that at one point I felt sad I wouldn’t be able to read all of Oona’s years.

I also appreciated the realistic depiction of a character’s body changing over time. Most of us do not stay the same weight year after year, decade after decade.

Young Nonfiction

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots
Michael Rex
Read for Librarian Book Group

Solid intro into the concept of facts and opinions, with very engaging robots explaining the difference.

Title-wise I didn’t feel like the “vs.” attached to “Robots” in the title is accurate. The robots were used to show the difference between facts and opinions. They weren’t in opposition to either facts or opinions.

Grownup Nonfiction

Love Money Money Loves You
Sarah McCrum

Incredibly woo woo book about how to talk about and interact with money. It’s one of those books where my attitude is, why not? Can’t hurt.

Books Read in August 2020

Young Adult Fiction

Who’s That Girl
Blair Thornburgh

Nattie has a crush on a boy, but no real relationship with him. Then he writes a song about her and the song becomes a hit. Nattie feels both weird and flattered.

This was a predictable novel, but with an interesting angle on feelings about being an object.

Our Wayward Fate
Gloria Cho

What a great main character! What a great collection of microaggressions! What a great parent-child disconnect! What a great swoony romance! What a great plot conundrum!

Unscripted
Nicole Kronzer
Read for Librarian Book Group

I read this fast because Kronzer did such a good job illustrating sexual harassment and sexual assault (complete with gaslighting!)

This makes this book sound heavy, and it was in places, but it’s also about a girl who loves improv and who is thrilled to attend a famous improv camp. Books where we get to sink into what the main character loves are always wonderful.

I had a few questions about where the adults were, but Kronzer made it work.

I’ve only seen mixed-gender improv groups and this book really opened my eyes to potential bro-y issues with that form of comedy.

Far from Normal
Becky Wallace

High schooler interning in the city for the summer. Great Chicago vibes and fun romance.

My Eyes Are Up Here
Laura Zimmerman
Read for Librarian Book Group

A thorough examination of the perils of having very large breasts as a teenager. It’s also a very funny book.

Public service announcement: A properly fitted bra will change everything! Find your nearest fitting expert and experience the wonder that is a well-fitting bra!

Burn
Patrick Ness
Read for Librarian Book Group

There was a distinct Story of Owen vibe in this book (though it lacked the Canadian details) where dragons are hired out to do work like clearing fields.

It’s 1957 and most of the action takes place on a farm in Washington state But Patrick Ness likes to throw a monkey wrench into his plot, so don’t settle in too early.

Not So Pure & Simple
Lamar Giles
Read for Librarian Book Group

Del has a longstanding crush on Kiera and that crush combined with daydreaming during church leads him to take a Purity Pledge. This book is funny while also doing a deep dive into emerging male sexuality.

Freshmen
Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
Little Free Library Insomnia Read

A duel-narrator novel about freshman year from the perspective of two students who went to the same high school. Or whatever the equivalent of high school is called in Britain.

I was confused about some things because I’m not familiar with the British secondary education system. For example, there seemed to be pressure to find a place to live off campus second year, but there also seemed to be second year people living in the dorms?

This book also disabused me of my notion that British undergrads drink less than those the in the US because the drinking age is younger.

Overall, I loved how much this book felt like a true freshman year experience.

You Should See Me in a Crown
Leah Johnson
Read for Librarian Book Group

I didn’t buy the world that was created here, one of a cutthroat world of Prom King and Queen backed by a $10K scholarship for the winners. I also wasn’t really clear on the town. It seemed to be a small town, and a wealthy town, and a town very close to Chicago?

But the world did its job setting up the impossible scenario for our hero as she stepped out of her comfort zone to chase that scholarship.

It was also a good book to show how race and LGBTQIA+ issues affect life, even if they aren’t the forefront of the story.

Grownup Fiction

Searching For Caleb
Anne Tyler
A Little Free Library Insomnia Read.

Read in the wee hours of the night whilst waiting to fall back asleep and provided to me by the magic of the Little Free Libraries.

Justine and her grandfather are on the search for Caleb, her grandfather’s lost brother.

While depictions of the Black servants are representative of the 1970s publication date (read: cringe-y) this is otherwise a book full of Anne Tyler things: interesting families, rich characterization, odd situations, and a kind of sad ending that maybe passes for happy.

I read a lot of Anne Tyler in the 90s and wasn’t sure if I had read this novel. It wasn’t sounding familiar until I got to the part with a character who always whistled the song “St. James Infirmary.” And I had read it! In the 90s I would have had to track down that song at the library or a record store. But now I’m listening to a version on YouTube.

Manhattan Beach
Jennifer Egan

What a full picture of life in the 1930s and 1940s! I loved the different characters we followed through eight or so years. This was a book that took me a long time to read because I liked to read it in bits and put it down.

Young Nonfiction

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh
Candace Fleming
Read for Librarian Book Group

Fleming uses her usual engaging manner to take us through Lindbergh’s life. While Americans are given the basics about his ocean crossing, sometimes taught about his son’s kidnapping, and might be taught about his America First proclivities, there are so many other things you didn’t know about Charles Lindbergh.

Mostly, those things are disturbing.

Grownup Nonfiction

The 12-week Year
Moran & Lennington

Toss out your annual goals and change over to a twelve-week year to get more focus and get more done. The authors lay out a plan for your success.

Little Free Library: Recommending a Book

As part of my morning walks that have replaced morning swims, I’ve been making the rounds of the Little Free Libraries near me. There are about six that are easy to swing by regularly. I drop off books, see if anything has appeared I want to read, and tidy the shelves.

This book has been in this Little Free Library since March. I’ve read it, it’s the second of a multi-book series about a family living in California that begins with the San Francisco earthquake. I read the series in the 90s and really enjoyed it. The last book is memorable because there was a major typo near the end that had a character dying three weeks before the book killed her off.

Clearly the book’s presentation wasn’t turning any heads, so I wrote up a recommendation, added it to the book, and set the book front and center when I tidied.

Reporting from the future, I can tell you that even with my recommendation this book sat around for a few more months before it disappeared.

If you are interested in reading the series, the first book is called The Immigrants. I’ve just looked at the original cover of that book, and it has a similar style of cover, but with a half-naked woman among the mix. Apparently (and perhaps because of that?) The Immigrants was adapted into a miniseries in 1978.

Books Read in July 2020

Picture Books

An Ordinary Day
Elena K. Arnold
Read for Librarian Book Group

One street, two kids playing, two houses, two visitors, and Magnificent the Crow continuing her declarations about everything. This is how picture books are done!

My Best Friend
Julie Fogliano & Jillian Tamaki
Read for Librarian Book Group

There are poeple who don’t mind all lowercase text, but I am not one of them. Especially in picture books.

Outweighing my the lack of punctuation are the great illustrations. I loved the panel of turning leaves into skeleton hands.

The Paper Kingdom
Elena Ku Rhee & Pascal Campion
Read for Librarian Book Group

Daniel’s parents are night janitors. One night he must accompany them to work. Gorgeous illustrations and a story about people who often don’t get to tell their stories.

Snail Crossing
Cory R. Tabor
Read for Librarian Book Group

Snail is cabbage bound and nothing will get in his way. Or so he thinks.

This book is funny.

Chapter Books

Planet Omar, Accidental Trouble Magnet
Zanib Mian & Nasaya Maffaridik
Read for Librarian Book Group

The style of big illustrated words among normal text took some getting used to, but I enjoyed this hybrid graphic novel format. Maybe we can call it text with extra pop?

The experiences with the neighbor felt spot on. The book was called “The Muslims” in Britain. I hope books like this will help the US move through the stage of giving suspicious glances to our Muslim neighbors.

Young Adult

Girl Unframed
Deb Caletti
Read for Librarian Book Group

There have been a smattering of books in the past few years touching on the point when a girl’s body starts attracting the attention of the general public—that changeover from being a girl to being an object.

This book is about that, and is more complicated than most because Sydney’s mother is a fading actress known for her body. Thanks to Caletti’s talent this book is full of uncomfortable (yet so familiar) situations, some fine art analysis, and a good love story.

Go with the Flow
Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann
Read for Librarian Book Group

Four friends work to change their high school’s practice of not stocking the feminine hygiene dispensers as well as to talk more about periods. The graphic novel’s color palette is marvelous and there are good observations about differing needs among friends.

Six Feet Over It
Jennifer Longo

While we can all agree that abusive parents are terrible, I also find parents who check out of their parental duties to be harmful to the health of children and adolescents. Two such parents populate this novel.

I’m always interested in the stories of teenagers who take on adult responsibilities too early as Leigh has. She’s been put to work selling grave sites at the cemetery her father has purchased on a whim. The Pre-Need people are okay. The At-Need Customers are a lot for a fifteen-year-old to take on. She’s also mourning the loss of her town, her friend, and keeping all of this all under wraps because of her older sister’s illness.

Calling My Name
Liara Tamani

Sometimes books aren’t anchored around a plot, but move through a period of a character’s life. This is the story of Taja from about age eleven to eighteen. It’s about faith and changed beliefs and love and finding what’s good for you, rather than what you should do.

Story of a Girl
Sara Zarr

Zarr is great at capturing dysfunctional family life as with Deanna, who was caught by her father at age 13 having sex with her older brother’s friend. She’s had the label of school slut ever since, and her father still can’t look at her, three years later.

What was interesting was the day-to-day of living with that label. Deanna has plans for escape, but they depend on her job and her older brother.

This was a good read that ended abruptly.

Sweethearts
Sara Zarr

Oh man, the food feelings! No book has ever captured them as well as this one.

Also, if food feelings aren’t your thing (or you have no idea what I’m talking about) there’s a great friendship that starts in elementary school but is cut off abruptly.

As always with Zarr, the parents just aren’t quite plugged in.

What We Lost
Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr’s examination of imperfect parents continues with Samara’s dad, a pastor who has no time for his wife and child. Plus, her mom’s in rehab.

When an acquaintance goes missing and is believed to be lost, Sam feels lost. There are a lot of good levels of uncomfortable in this book.

The Best Laid Plans
Cameron Lund

I love a punny title and this one is a winner! I also love books about virginity and its loss. I didn’t love that I predicted every plot turn of this novel.

Being Toffee
Sarah Crosson

In this novel in verse, Allison runs away and ends up living with Marla, a woman living with dementia, who thinks Allison is Toffee, a woman from her growing-up years.

It was unsatisfying to not find out more about Marla’s life and who Toffee was, but this was probably realistic.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye
Cynthia Hand

Oh suicide. How your effects ripple through the world.

Lex is finishing her senior year and still grieving her brother’s death. Cynthia Hand hits all the feelings.

Between this and the How and the Why, I’m completely on board with anything Cynthia Hand writes. (I was already on board for her collaboration that has resulted in the Janey books.)

Since You Asked
Maureen Goo

Spend a year with Holly Kim, copyeditor of her school’s newspaper. The September-to-June format threw off my three-act pacing feel, and I found it had some miscues at some points.

But for hanging out with a sophomore girl find her way, it’s a solid book.

Grownup Fiction

Standard Deviation
Katherine Heining

We take the temperature of a marriage that’s perhaps in its middle age. Graham is pondering his role as father to Matthew, husband to Audra and ex-husband to Elspeth.

This was one of the most amusing books I’ve read in a long time, thanks to Graham’s observations of his wife’s verbal vomit and his musings about life.

I came by this novel because I emailed the library asking for reading suggestions. I told them 10 grownup fiction books I’d liked over the last few years and within a day I got a list of books that were on the shelves at my library and suited to my tastes. If you haven’t taken advantage of your local library’s wealth of knowledge, please do not hesitate to contact them.

Young People’s Nonfiction

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera
Candice Fleming & Eric Rohman

We travel with Apis as she is born and carries out her honeybee duties.

Gorgeous illustrations and an engaging narrative. Note that the back matter encourages people to “..write your congressman and senators…” I was surprised this gender-specific and inaccurate description of someone serving in the US Congress made it through the various rounds of editing. Currently, there are 101 women and 4 territorial representatives serving.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Middle Finger Project
Ash Ambrige

Ash wants you to find your thing and she will tell you how she did it, and made tons of money.

This was inspiring and GREAT unemployment/pandemic reading.

If you are starting your creative business and you want more Ash, she has a 25-day email series that is top-notch and free.

Books Read in June 2020

Middle Grade

Coo
Kaela Noel
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tornado Brain
Cat Patrick
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Efrén Divided
Ernesto Cisneros
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Wink
Rob Harrell
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Young Adult

We Didn’t Ask for This
Adi Alsaid

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

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

Heroine
Mindy McGinnis

Mickey knows where she belongs: playing softball.

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

Another eminently readable novel from Mindy McGinnis!

The Afterlife of Holly Chase
Cynthia Hand

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

When You Were Everything
Ashley Woodfolk
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heartstopper Vol 1
Alice Oseman
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Maureen Goo

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

The State of Us
Shaun David Hutchinson

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

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

Just Breathe
Cammie McGovern

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

McGovern writes really good internal feelings.

Solitaire
Alice Oseman

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

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

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

Save the Date
Morgan Matson

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

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

Grownup Fiction

No Judgments
Meg Cabot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normal People
Sally Rooney

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

Which made for a unpleasant reading experience.

Young Nonfiction

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

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

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

Jane Against the World
Karen Blumenthal
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Grownup Nonfiction

Because Internet
Gretchen McCulloch
Read for Northwest Editors Guild Book Group

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

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

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

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