Books Read in January 2022

Picture Books

The Big Bath House
Kyo Maclear and Gracey Zhang
Read for Librarian Book Group

I, too, would like to go to the big bath house. Great illustrations. Lots of nudity, but not graphic.

Soul Food Sunday
Winston Bingham and C.G. Esperaza
Read for Librarian Book Group

I have some questions. Where are the moms? Why is the boy cooking when the men watch football? Aren’t there any other cousins? Aside from those questions, the language and illustrations are a delight, plus there is a macaroni and cheese recipe with two pounds total of four different kinds of cheese.

¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge!
Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay
Read for Librarian Book Group

Little Lobo takes his new truck to cross the bridge. It is not a quick crossing, but as with all of the ¡Vamos! books, there is much to see.

May Your Life be Deliciosa
Michael Genheart, Loris Lora
Read for Librarian Book Group

Family Christmas Eve tamale making where the grandmother explains how to make and each step is a blessing. Lots of color in the illustrations. Delightful!

A Sky-Blue Bench
Bahram Rahman & Peggy Collins
Read for Librarian Book Group

In Afghanistan, a girl with a helper leg builds a bench so she can sit comfortably in class. Good summation of ramifications of war.

The Me I Choose to Be
Natasha Anastasia Tarpley & Regis Bethencourt
Read for Librarian Book Group

Great rhymes and fun costumes.

A Walk in the Words
Hudson Talbott
Read for Librarian Book Group

A picture book in first person. What a rare thing! Talbot tells his journey of coming to terms with words.

The title is guaranteed to be confused with Bill Bryson’s book.

My City Speaks
Darren Lebeuf and Ashley Barron
Read for Librarian Book Group

Festive cut-paper collage illustrating a girl and her father in the city.

Middle Grade

Born Behind Bars
Padma Venkatraman
Read for Librarian Book Group

A low-stakes middle grade novel. Every obstacle more or less immediately is overcome with little fuss. There are a lot of Mr. Rogers’s helpers to be found in this book.

How to Find What You’re Not Looking For
Veera Hiranandani
Read for Librarian Book Group

1960s-set story of a girl who finds writing (the actual producing letters on a paper) hard. At the same time, her older sister is dating a guy on the sly.

A solid historical fiction of family and choices.

Stuntboy: In the Meantime
Jason Reynolds and Raúl the Third
Read for Librarian Book Group

Reynolds’s genus with language sparkles through this not-really-graphic-novel-not quite-novel novel.

Funny word observations and misunderstanding, great illustrations support the story as do differently sized words. I love this book!

A Kind of Spark
Elle McNicoll
Read for Librarian Book Group

Addie is navigating a classroom hostile to her autism and learning about how her Scottish town murdered witches back in the day. Is this a common subject for fourth graders in Scotland?

There’s a great parallel between treatment of witches and treatment today of people who are different, and a very villainous teacher detracting from the narrative.

Young Adult

What Beauty There Is
Cory Anderson
Read for Librarian Book Group

My teenaged self would have probably like this quite a bit. For one thing, it was set in Idaho, the state in which my teenaged self resided. I also was a fan of books about kids who are put into unfair situations.

My adult self found it overwrought. Also, I figured out a plot twist early on.

Ace of Spades
Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Read for Librarian Book Group

Starts off a kind of Gossip Girl and morphs into kind of Get Out. This was a good first novel though I think the key plot mechanism falls apart under examination. (This is also a thing I think is true of Get Out, so Àbíké-Íyímídé is in good company.) I’m interested in what she will write next.

Me (Moth)
Amber McBride
Read for Librarian Book Group

A novel in verse about Moth, a teenage girl who was the only survivor of a car accident that killed her family. She’s feeling adrift until she meets Sani. Teenage road trip books are fairly rare, due to a lot of teenagers needing parental permission for things, but this is one of the rare entries.

Humawari House
Harmony Becker

I’m not sure why this is cataloged as a ygn when the main character is 25 and she and all the other people are out of high school.

I enjoyed how the artist would switch up the art style to emphasize different words and feelings in this story of people in early adulthood living in a house in Japan.

The Passing Playbook
Isaac Fitzsimons

Spenser switched schools after receiving a death threat. At his new school he just wants to join the soccer team. There’s a nice little romance tied up in the many factors for Spenser to weigh as he decides if he will come out as trans.

The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks
Mackenzi Lee

This, the third in the series, was a bit harder to get into due to (1) the large gap since I’ve read the other two and (2) Adrian’s anxiety is a hard row to hoe.

But it picks up eventually and provides the same rollicking adventures as the other two books in the series.

Grownup Fiction

The Singer’s Gun
Emily St. John Mandel

This story of Anton’s attempts to live a normal office life was awash in interesting words and description.

Good Talk
Mira Jacob
Read for Everybody Reads

Jacob’s many conversations are illustrated with minimal graphics placed atop photos. This had the effect of pushing the storytelling back to the words, which is what I tend to spend the most time with graphic novels anyway. Very inventive technique.

The conversations run the gamut from funny to sad, and all are well worth your time.

Siri, Who am I?
Sam Tschida

A woman wakes up in the hospital with amnesia and has only her phone to help her remember who she is in this breezy read. (Also: there are footnote! [Sadly, I read this as an e-book, so the footnotes were not as fun as they might have been])

Young Nonfiction

Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield
Gail Jarrow
Read for Librarian Book Group

A big dive into the science of the medical procedures that happened to President Garfield after he was shot and what went very, very wrong. Jarrow is less interested in the mental state of Giteau, his assassin.

This book had a ton of great pictures, letters and dairy entries, newspaper clippings and illustrations. I loved the drawings from nineteenth century magazines, when they had to have artists draw everything because photography wasn’t yet nimble enough to capture scenes.

The one exception was a two-page spread with pictures of eight doctors, but only seven bios. Who was that eighth man? How did such a large error get overlooked? Sadly, this might be the one thing I remember about this book five years from now.

Revolution in our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People
Kekla Magoon
Read for Librarian Book Group

Aside from a great layout—I particularly liked the use of blue overlay on black and white photos to make them less old fashioned—this is an engaging history where the author lays out the conditions of Black people in 1960s Oakland and elsewhere. Knowing those conditions, the Black Panthers make a heck of a lot of sense. I’m hoping this will be read far and wide.

Grownup Nonfiction

Unfollow Your Passion
Terri Trespicio

Trespicio provides evidence and writing prompts to help people—probably mostly women—move in a direction that leads to a better life.

Why We Can’t Sleep
Ada Calhoun

As you might guess by the title, I read the bulk of this book in the middle of the night. On the one hand, this is an entire book about Gen X women! Gen X is so often ignored. On the other hand, I didn’t come away with a lot of hope of things getting better.

Books Read in December 2021

Picture Books

Make Meatballs Sing
Matthew Burgess, Kara Kramer
Read for Librarian Book Group

A large and colorful depiction of Sister Corita Kent’s life and art.

Best pages: I liked the gas tank pages, as I often saw that landmark when I lived in Boston.

A Boy Named Isamu
James Young
Read for Librarian Book Group

The story begins “If you are a boy named Isamu” and I am not, so it was a rough first few pages. I did like the illustrations of early twentieth century Japan.

Boogie Boogie, Y’all
C.G. Esperanza
Read for Librarian Book Group

A vibrant book, the content of which may be received at varying levels of enjoyment depending on the reader’s view of graffiti. There were some fun fold-out pages.

Zonia’s Rain Forest
Juana Martinez-Neal
Read for Librarian Book Group

Zonia hangs out in her part of the rain forest spending time with the animals. Then she feels sad because of logging. It was a bit of a bummer ending, plus, I’m pretty sure a few of those animals would eat her.

Middle Grade

Sisters of the Neversea
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Read for Librarian Book Group

An excellent example of a really great concept that I didn’t find much fun to read due to the total bummer of reality as presented.

Lots of good identity blended family stuff, though.

The Beatryce Prophecy
Kate DiCamillo, Sophie Blackall
Read for Librarian Book Group

A vague Middle Ages setting for this story of a goat, a monk, a girl, and an orphan. I don’t seem to emotionally attach to DiCamillo novels as others do, and this was no exception. I do love when middle grade fiction (and any fiction, really) has illustrations.

Also, I mentally pronounced it “Beet-rice” throughout the book.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose
Eugene Yelchin
Read for Librarian Book Group

Brief middle grade book about one boy’s life in the USSR under Stalin. Plus, Yelchin’s illustrations, which I love.

Tiny Dancer
Siena Cherson Siegel & Mark Siegel

Siena’s life as a ballet dancer in New York City in the 70s and 80s. There were a lot of great illustrations of dancers. The story was fine.

Young Adult

Full Disclosure
Camryn Garrett

An uneven first novel about an HIV positive girl navigating her first relationship.

This was fine; Camryn Garrett’s Off the Record is really great.

Blackout
Dhonielle Clayton and many others

The joy of opening a book of short stories by some of my favorite YA authors was compounded exponentially when I realized the stories were interwoven. Such fun!

A Snake Falls to Earth
Darcie Little Badger
Read for Librarian Book Group

Two stories, one set in an alternate present where Texas has good public transportation, and one set in the Reflecting World, where animals have false forms that are human. This was a very well-built world. It was also a very long book, though its length was possibly compounded by my not being the greatest lover of fantasy.

Vampires, Hearts, and Other Dead Things
Margie Fuston
Read for Librarian Book Group

The main character was singularly focused in a way that made her one dimensional in this slog of a book.

Huda F Are You?
Huda Fahmy
Read for Librarian Book Group

Fahmy reflects on her high school days of trying to fit in. This was an engaging and interesting graphic novel, and I’d love to hear more about her and her sisters’ lives.

Young Nonfiction

Fallout: Spies, Superbombs and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown
Steve Sheinkin
Read for Librarian Book Group

Sheinkin works his usual nonfiction magic to teach us about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kind of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin
Stephen Costanza
Read for Librarian Book Group

Intricate and interesting illustrations accompany the story of Scott Joplin. And there are suggested Joplin pieces to listen to in the author note.

The author note also says that Joplin’s father had left the family by the time his mother started looking to purchase a piano, but the illustrated page shows both parents searching out the piano.

Saving American Beach: The biography of African American Environmentalist Mavynee Betsch
Heidi Tylene King and Ekua Holmes
Read for Librarian Book Group

Mavynee Betsch worked awfully hard to save American Beach in Florida.

Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Brandy Colbert
Read for Librarian Book Group

Unlike Tim Madigen and Hilary Beard’s The Burning, Colbert’s book about the Tulsa Race Massacre is a broader examination of policies and factors across the US that allowed white people to murder Black people and destroy their homes and business without being punished. Her coverage of the massacre is not as blow by blow, but still very informative.

The Woman All Spies Fear
Amy Butler Greenfield
Read for Librarian Book Group

Engrossing story of an early 20th century cryptoanalyst and pioneer of cryptology. Aside from engaging prose that had me reading just one more chapter, the book was a good reminder that if you have someone in your life who takes great photos—in this case, Greenfield’s husband enjoyed photography—your future biography will be the better for it.

Grownup Fiction

The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Man, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito: a Graphic Memoir
Shing Yin Khor

Shing Yin Khor takes a road trip, driving Route 66 while she reflects on her life and the life of the Mother Road.

Books Read in November 2021

Picture Books

Dino-Gro
Matt Meyers
Read for Librarian Book Group

Fun adventure for anyone who had one of those toys that expanded in water.

Best page: dino in the fish tank.

Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides
Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant

A dog and a cat head out for an adventure.

Best page: when they both spot birds in a puddle.

Inside Cat
Brendan Wenzel
Read for Librarian Book Group

Inside cat is standing in for all inside cats. I think? This book confused me.

Best page: Inside cat looking through all the different kinds of windows.

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone
Traci N. Todd and Christian Robinson
Read for Librarian Book Group

The words convey the hurt of racism and the illustrations reflect Simone’s growing power.

Best page: Nina and her dad at the piano. (And many more pages. This book was great!)

The Longest Letsgoboy
Derick Wilder & Cátia Chien
Read for Librarian Book Group

End of life from a dog’s perspective featuring invented (or dog-vented) descriptions of things and much joy. Guaranteed to have you sobbing.

Best page: My oldbones feel new.

I also love how much orange is in this book.

Strollercoaster
Matt Ringler and Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay
Read for Librarian Book Group

The feeling of riding a roller coster for kids too short to ride a roller coaster.

Best page: the tunnel.

Bright Star
Yuyi Morales
Read for Librarian Book Group

A fawn and a doe in the desert and an insight into desert life. Also some commentary about the wall.

Best pages: the two-page spread of portraits. I also enjoyed the embroidery throughout.

Wishes
Mượn Thị Văn, Victo Ngai
Read for Librarian Book Group

A unique collection of wishes surround a journey. Nicely done.

Best pages: the surprise under the cover.

I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams
Jessica Young and Rafael López
Read for Librarian Book Group

A bit rhyme-y and also creepy. Can the kid just not have their own dreams?

Nothing Fits a Dinosaur
Jonathan Forske
Read for Librarian Book Group

Getting dressed as a dinosaur is tough in this charming rhymed beginning reader.

Middle Grade

The Legend of Auntie Po
Shing Yon Khor
Read for Librarian Book Group

Why not have some new legends of the American West? Graphic novels are a perfect format for that.

The Lion of Mars
Jennifer L. Holm
Read for Librarian Book Group

Life on Mars from the perspective of 11-year-old Bell. A wonderfully imagined setting and plot.

Young Adult


I’m Not Dying with You Tonight
Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

A gripping few hours in the middle of a shooting, protest, and riot. The story’s laser focus on those few hours means we don’t get to catch up with the characters after the night in question, which fits with the theme but left me wanting more.

The Last Cuentista
Donna Barba Higuera
Read for Librarian Book Group

While I was not a fan of the author’s first novel, this was great! I found it to be an interesting story of one girl’s life after the end of planet Earth. There are many good discussions that could be had.

Off the Record
Camryn Garett

Almost Famous meets #metoo in a book about teenage journalist written by someone who was a teenage journalist. Great angles on dual relationships, living in a large body, and the ramifications of powerful men.

Like a Love Song
Gabriela Martins

Another one for the Fame category. Natalie is a big teen pop star who is ready to receive her People’s Choice Award. Until her crappy boyfriend ruins her big award. So begins Natalie’s journey to better to know herself. Plus, there’s this boyfriend scheme her publicist cooks up.

Young Nonfiction

The Other Talk: Reckoning with our White Privilege
Brendan Kiely
Read for Librarian Book Group.

Kiely tells stories from his experience as a white man and makes a persuasive case why white people need to have “the talk” with their kids just like everyone else does.

Not sure what’s going on with that cover.

What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum
Candace Fleming and Matt Cardell
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m not so much into celebrating rich people who can trample over all sorts of things to get what they want. Not to mention rich people who have the ego to dictate that no one can move your things around in your house, even a century after you’ve died.

The Genius Under the Table
Eugene Yelchin
Read for Librarian Book Group

A brief memoir of young Eugene’s life in the USSR. Filled with delightful illustrations, and I’m hoping there is more to come.

Grownup Nonfiction

The 4-Hour Chef
Timothy Ferris

A cookbook written by a guy who wasn’t interested in cooking, this had some good tips and a solid program to gain basic cooking skills. It goes off in a lot of different directions after that, but Ferris is fine with you just dipping in and out of things.

I got interested in cooking again after finding this book.

Note that the author is a huge fan of the slow carb diet.

Grownup Fiction

Witch Please
Ann Aguierre

This is one of those titles that seems to exist because its clever, not because it has much to do with the book. Still, I did grab it from a display at the library based on cover alone, so perhaps I am an example of why these types of titles exist.

For those people looking for a midwestern-set romance in a world where witches exist, this is your book.

The Viscount Who Loved Me
Julia Quinn

This follows in the footsteps of the first novel: hasty marriage and a couple not in sync. It had some phrases throughout that struck me as not of the time. I’m pretty sure that a Viscount in the early 1800s wouldn’t say “I found a block of free time.”

An Offer From a Gentleman
Julia Quinn

For the third Bridgerton novel, Quinn switches up the hurried-up marriage plot for a Cinderella-type retelling that I found interesting.

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake
Alexis Hall

The humor in this snuck on on me as I’d just finished three romances that were fine but not good and was expecting the same from this. But some parts of this book are laugh out loud funny, there’s a fun British Baking Show-like setting, and lots of interesting conversation about being a single mom.

This is a great example of a well-crafted romance.

Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Julia Quinn

Eh. Colin Bridgerton is a big jerk. Penelope could do better.

Books Read in October 2021

Two books this month with characters named Bug!

Middle Grade

Being Clem
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Read for Librarian Book Group

Clem’s father is killed in the Port Chicago disaster (an event I learned about by reading Steve Sheinkin’s book The Port Chicago 50) and we spend a few years with him and his family as they adjust. Langston, from Finding Langston shows up halfway through, and I seem to have missed a book, but that character is present too.

Too Bright to See
Kyle Lukoff
Read for Librarian Book Group

The not-scary haunted house book I read in October. (White Smoke was the scary one.)

A summer with Bug, who is mourning her dead uncle and experiencing terrible dreams. This is a compact book with a lot of feelings. Well done.

Frankie & Bug
Gayle Forman

Venice Beach in 1987. The summer that wasn’t quite to Bug’s liking, but turned out just fine. Props to Forman for including a serial killer subplot in a middle grade novel and making it not scary.

The Many Meanings of Meilan
Andrea Wang
Read for Librarian Book Group

Outrage achievement unlocked! I really felt for Meilan in this story. She’s in a tough place because of family drama. We’re there to see her adjust to her small Ohio town, so different from Boston’s Chinatown, her home since birth.

Young Adult

Firekeeper’s Daughter
Angeline Boulley
Read for Librarian Book Group

I groaned when I saw how many holds were on this book, and I groaned when I saw how long this book was and I also didn’t love the cover. Then I started reading and was all in. It was the kind of book I put off other things so I could keep reading and I was wrapped up in Daunis’s life.

This was the kind of story I was looking for with the movie Wind River. With that movie I was hoping for a story set on a reservation centered on something besides the white protagonists and written by someone with experience in the community. The Firekeeper’s Daughter’s author is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and this is grounded in a Native woman’s experience. It’s also a crackling thriller, an exploration of identity, and a romance. Boulley has a lot of irons in the fire (especially for a debut novel) but she can tell the heck out of a story.

Good Enough
Paula Yoo

Patti is doing all the things to be successful and get into Harvard/Yale/Princeton in this story of parental expectations, young people identity, music, and a huge crush.

The friend character was underdeveloped, but otherwise, it was a solid novel set during the senior year of high school.

Why We Fly
Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Aside from showing the consequences of taking direct action by kneeling during the national anthem during a high school football game when you’re a cheerleader, this also shows senior-year cracks in friendship brought about by different wants and skin color privilege/discrimination.

Provides great points for discussion about differing outcomes due to race, and has me wondering how being the girlfriend of a sports star is even a thing when everyone assumes the girlfriend is a gold digger.

Bluebird
Shannon Cameron

Cameron was a master at getting me to read just one more page in this post-WWII saga about a newly arrived immigrant to the US.

White Smoke
Tiffany D. Jackson

This took some time to get through because I had to read it during the day—it was too scary otherwise. I loved how Marigold was authentically not to be trusted by her family. It made the haunting that much more complex. Sadly, the ending was rather abrupt, but the ride getting there was tons of daytime reading fun.

The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921
Tim Madigan & Hilary Beard
Read for Librarian Book Group

A deep dive into the terrorist acts perpetuated on Black residents of Tulsa. Infuriating. Also, the ease with with it was swept under the rug was fascinating. And infuriating.

I would have liked some pictures.

Grownup Fiction

Caroline: Little House Revisited
Sarah Miller

It’s the Little House on the Prairie story from Ma’s perspective. An interesting choice, as I think that book is the most anti-Indian. It’s also the Laura Ingalls Wilder story set in the real Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life (three years old, Carrie born in Kansas), not the fictional Laura Ingalls Wilder (five years old, Carrie born in Wisconsin). So many layers!

Ma is known for not saying much, so we get to spend a lot of time in her head. There is a lot of attention paid to chores and the work it takes to make a life on the prairie. I found it interesting to see the events of Little House on the Prairie from an adult perspective.

Young Nonfiction

Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter
Veronica Chambers
Read for Librarian Book Group

This is a gorgeous and informative book that is a size I found hard to hold while reading. I enjoyed the mix of photos and text and found the chapter topics very interesting. There are fun things like a throwback protest playlist and a BLM protest playlist.

I didn’t love that the history section skipped from 1968 to 2012 with no comment.

Run: Book One
John Lewis, Andrew Ayden, L. Fury, Nate Powell
Read for Librarian Book Group

On the one hand, there were too many random names. On the other hand, there were a ton of great details I never would have learned because I haven’t gotten around to reading longer books about John Lewis or the events depicted here.

I loved learning about the use of the Black Panther, the details of the SNCC discussion that ousted John Lewis, and the description of James Meredith as “kinda strange, really.”

Because of this book, I learned about Jennifer Lawson and I’d love to see a biography of her. She sounds like she had a fascinating life.

The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets
Sara Miller

The title says it all. Miller’s usual excellence is on display. And if she want to carve out a niche as highlighting adults exploiting children for their own gain, she’s got a lot of stories to choose from.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians, but Were Afraid to Ask
Anton Treuer
Read for Librarian Book Group

A handy question-and-answer format that provides a lot of information about Indians. I found it to be very interesting reading.

Books Read in September 2021

Young Adult

Any Way the Wind Blows
Rainbow Rowell

This is the #1 book published in 2021 that gets a certain Queen stuck in my head. Rowell does a great job putting roadblocks in the Simon/Baz relationship over three books, yet still has me rooting for them. We’re back in England for this book, and our heroes are trying to find their way in the early adult years.

Of the three, I think the second one is my favorite, mostly for the American road trip flavor. But it has been a while since I read the first.

Fly Girls: Lux, the New Girl
Ashley Woodfolk

Very, very, very short book that might be great for reluctant readers. It was short enough that it felt like only part of a story and it will be interesting to see what the other three volumes bring.

As with all of Woodfolk’s stories, great emotion!

Fly Girls: Micah: The Good Girl
Ashley Woodfolk

Micah tries to meet her parents’ expectations regarding church and god as she balances those expectations with her own desires and thoughts.

This book relies heavily on ellipses and those are a punctuation mark that I find rob a story of rich details.

Fly Girls: Noelle: The Mean Girl
Ashley Woodfolk

As you might imagine, Noelle’s meanness comes from a place.

While I’m all for short, accessible YA stories, it seems the price of the book would be slimmed down to reflect its smaller size.

Fly Girls: Tobyn: The It Girl
Ashley Woodfolk

Oddly, the library had hard copies of the first three of this series and only an ebook for the fourth. The fourth book tells Tobyn’s story and wraps up all three of the other fly girls. And now we have finished the short saga.

I’m hoping for a longer book from Woodfolk next.

Watch Us Rise
Reneé Watson & Ellen Hagan

While things happen in this novel, there’s not a ton of tension—which isn’t a criticism, sometimes its nice to float along through a school year. I also enjoyed the differing views of what the administrators and teachers of a social justice–focused high school saw as justice, vs. the protagonists’ view of fairness and justice.

Instructions for Dancing
Nicola Yoon

Just a big of magic—the ability to see how couples’ relationships end—and sad feelings about divorce drive this sort-of ballroom dance book. I say sort of because we start strong with ballroom, then wander away from ballroom for the middle chunk of the book before returning for the end.

I was all in for the romance.

Young Nonfiction

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers
Don Brown
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m used to Don Brown’s books using a laser-like focus to draw attention to a big event. This felt much more diffused. Maybe it’s an event that is just too complex?

Wonder Women of Science
Tiera Fletcher and Ginger Rue
Read for Librarian Book Group

Great things: a wide variety of women scientists working today; profiles include information about their work and their lives.

Not so great: very unpolished and informal writing style including ellipses misused and parentheses and brackets deployed much more often than they should be; sometimes details were stretched to make a point in a way that felt disingenuous, like with the whole “invisible car” discussion; I would have preferred some captions on the photos that were included.

It ended up being a hate read, which was disappointing, because I really liked the concept.

Grownup Nonfiction

History vs. Women
Anita Sarkeesian and Ebony Adams

Sarkeesian and Adams find a host of important women you might never have heard of and give you short biographies about their lives. Each one has a beautiful pencil illustration.

Grownup Fiction

The Visible Man
Chuck Klosterman

Klosterman weaves a gripping tale of a counselor treating a man who can render himself invisible. Uncomfortable feelings abound. I’m curious how counselors who read this book might feel about its protagonist.

The Library Book
Susan Orlean

Orlean’s powers of observation, research, and description bring to life the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library. The book also includes a history of the library along with daily life in the central library.

I listened to the first few chapters during a car trip before switching to a printed copy. I’m glad Orlean was there to read me the chapter of the library’s fire because I don’t think I would have made it through the chronology. So many things lost.

Great Find: Your Family Centers

This was sitting in a free box outside the antique store in Kenton and I grabbed it based on a quick flip and some pages that had to do with building things. The bulk of the book, though, rambles on about each center in a home.

I guessed the date nearly correctly (was one year off) based on this photo, especially the blue and white checkerboard coach and the way the plants were hanging. What year do you think this was published?

More clues. Velveteen couch! Also that blouse and hair combo.

How about this breakfast bar setup? I feel like a yellow version of that dishwasher was in my life at one time.

What about this entertaining space?

Did you guess 1981? You guessed correctly!

Books Read in August 2021

Picture Books

The Old Boat
Jarrett and Jerome Pumphery
Read for Librarian Book Group

An old boat shows us relationships with people and the ocean. Very fun generational through line.

The Museum of Everything
Lynne Rae Perkins
Read for Librarian Book Group

I had a lot of uncanny valley-type feelings—is that an illustration or does it actually exist? This left me uncomfortable, but also intrigued. But mostly uncomfortable.

The concept was so very good, a five-star concept, especially the Museum of Hiding Things page and the Museum of Shadows. But the uncanny valley feelings outweighed the concept. I might page through it again and see if my feelings have changed.

Itty Bitty Kitty Corn
Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
Read for Librarian Book Group

Despite the Statler and Waldorfing by Parakeet and Gecko, Kitty thinks she might be a unicorn in this sparkly pink and purple book.

Best pages: the endpapers give us a few more Kitty, Gecko, and Parakeet stories.

Watercress
Andrea Wang, Jason Chin
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Chin’s perfect illustrations highlight a childhood memory of when one event lead to a bigger story.

Best page: From the depths of the trunk, they unearth a brown paper bag, rusty scissors, and a longing for China.

Keeping the City Going
Brian Floca
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A great time capsule of the quarantine, this also has an illustration style that complements the subject.

Best page: the spread of delivery trucks. So much detail!

Middle Grade

The Girl From the Sea
Molly Knox Ostertag
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Graphic novel about falling in love and coming out set on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia. Fans of the Secret of Roan Inish will like this. (And vice versa! Don’t miss out on the Secret of Roan Inish!)

Young Adult

Slingshot
Mercedes Helnwein

A debut novel that I bet has been being written for more than a decade, give its length. It does a thing I hate, which is to have a modern teenager listen only to the music of someone born in 1979 (as the author was.) Very few teenagers listen exclusively to the music of a previous generation, but you wouldn’t know that from some YA novels.

However! The book makes up for this by really diving in on the teenage feelings of anger and obstinance and oh-my-god-I-love-him!

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone
Rachel Lynn Soloman

Twin sisters undergo genetic testing when they turn eighteen to see if they have the gene that will lead them down the same path their mother is living: Huntington’s disease.

Lots of complex sibling feelings!

A Sitting in St. James
Rita Williams-Garcia
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My ire for publishers that shelve novels in the YA section just because their authors have written middle grade and YA in the past continues. The character that this story revolves around is an octogenarian! This is adult fiction through and thorough and should be read by a wide swath of the population. By designating it YA, a bunch of people will never find it.

I thought a lot about Gone with the Wind when reading this. Like most white people living in the twentieth century, I went right along with the depictions of the enslaved people in that book. Williams-Garcia moves the focus of her plantation novel to include the many people who keep the plantation going, though white characters are included.

Raping enslaved girls and women (and some boys and men) is a basic fact of this book. While it’s mentioned in passing, the resulting children make for very complicated emotion and politics in this novel. (Another thing Gone With the Wind tra-la-la’d right past.)

And all that is to say, this is a long, gripping, incredibly rewarding book that gives a full picture of plantation life in Louisiana right before the Civil War. Nearing the end, I hoped for a sequel. How would everyone’s life change with the coming war? But alas, it looks like this is a one-off. Williams-Garcia includes an epilogue summing up the characters’ lives.

Concrete Rose
Angie Thomas

Readers of The Hate U Give will know Maverick as Star’s father. But back in the 90s, he was a teenager figuring things out. Aside from getting to spend time with Big Mav, there is a lot of wondering what it means to be a man. Good stuff!

Curses
Lish McBride

A large cast—thankfully McBride includes a cast of characters in the front—tell a new version of Beauty and the Beast. Solid fairy tale setting with interesting magical things.

Young Nonfiction

Secrets of the Sea
Griffith & Stone
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Learn about a nineteenth century pioneering marine biologist. I found some details were confusing. Though she looked much younger, the back matter made it clear that Jeanne Power was in her late thirties at the time most of the illustrations depict.

Delicious!
Julie Larios & Julie Paschkis (sp)
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Very short poems about different kinds of street food from around the world. The illustrations were as fun as the poems. I would have liked the back matter to be consistent when explaining the foods.

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry
Paula Yoo
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A deep dive into Vincent Chin’s 1982 murder. Yoo’s description of the murder is gripping and she does a great job showing how the crime unified the Asian-American communities. I wish the captions to the pictures did not spoil what was coming in the chapter.

In the Shadow of the Moon
Amy Cherrix
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This book begins with a letter from the author arguing that readers should read this book because the subject is still important. It kind of comes off as begging, though I’m sure to children born after the year 2000, the early space program is a very old bit of history.

Cherrix provides us with great details and shows us the differences between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.’s space programs. The book illustrates how having a focused goal and money to back it up leads to success.

Violet & Daisy
Sarah Miller
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Miller provides a ton of details about Violet & Daisy, the famous (in the early 20th century) conjoined twins. We follow them from birth to death. Pictures were abundant and details were mostly fully explained (there was a very quick mention of one of the twins having a child that was given up for adoption.)

Grownup Fiction

The Other Miss Bridgerton
Julia Quinn

How to make a kidnapping okay and the kidnapper (a privateer) worth falling for? This book answers that question.

(p.s. Kidnapping is never okay.)

Arcadia
Lauren Goff

I thought I hadn’t read this, though reading the first paragraph reminded me I had. However, I enjoyed it enough the first time, I kept reading and was rewarded with Goff’s excellent descriptions of life on a hippie commune.

The last part is the weakest, but it does, in 2012, center part of that section in the future where it is 2018 and a severe flu is causing problems. It’s quite fun to compare and contrast. Also to realize what was being described in 2012 sounded pretty bad. We had no idea what we were in for.

Books Read in July 2021

Picture Books

Fox at Night
Corey R. Tabor
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Fox finds a lot of things scary. In the meantime, readers get to guess what things are are scaring Fox.

Tag Team
Raúl the Third, Elaine Bly
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El Toro and La Oink Oink get (as my father would say: you don’t have to, you get to!) to clean up the Caliseo after their big match. This is all thanks to Mal Burro and Peeky Pequeño who have skipped out on their obligations. This book was mostly written in English, with Spanish written in purple. Sometimes the English or Spanish was repeated, sometimes phrases were used alone.

I was mostly annoyed that El Toro and La Oink Oink cleaned the Caliseo.

Training Day
Raúl the Third, Elaine Bly
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El Toro isn’t up for training until Kooky Dooky finds a way to motivate him.

Middle Grade

Finding Junie Kim
Ellen Oh
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I had a goodly amount of whiplash as the book flipped back and forth between Junie’s story of a depressive episode and her grandparents’ time in Korea during the Korean war. But ultimately enjoyed details of all the stories.

Korean War books are few. Authors need to get on that, STAT!

Young Adult

The Box in the Woods
Maureen Johnson

We reunite with Stevie and it’s the summer after she’s solved the Ellingham mystery. She’s back at home and experiencing the comedown that is normal life. (I felt her deli-ham-slicing pain.) Luckily, she is whisked off to a summer camp where she is supposed to solve a 1978 murder of four teenagers.

Props to Maureen Johnson for the fun tech bro details and the many period details about the mystery.

I really love this series.

Aetherbound
E.K. Johnston

The versatile Johnston tackles sci-fi with the story of Pendt, who grows up on her family’s space cruiser. She’s the runt of her family and her life is shaped because of that.

Johnston is great at writing books that stick with me.

This is Not a Love Scene
S.C. Megale

Maeve is a powerhouse who knows how to get things done—including the student film she’s directing. This is an interesting and engaging #OwnVoices story about being a teenager. And also living with muscular dystrophy.

Our Year of Maybe
Rachel Lynn Soloman

Best friends Sophie and Peter have been close since they were children. But when Sophie gives Peter one of her kidneys, his world opens up and their friendship changes.

An excellent exploration of how relationships are formed and the personal growth that comes when they flex.

Goodbye Perfect
Sara Barnard

What happens when your best friend runs off with her boyfriend? Sara Barnard plumbs the emotions of friendship. I’m excited to read more from her.

Along for the Ride
Sarah Dessen

Auden is saddled with terrible parents (they are currently winning the 2021 award for worst fictional parents who are not physically or psychologically abusive) and keeps to her studies and herself. When she flees to her father’s house, she spends the summer meeting her new sister, learning that people are complex, and that bicycles are freedom.

This is Sarah Dessen at her best.

The Truth Is
NoNieqa Ramos

There was a dark cloud over this book. That dark cloud was instantly recognizable when I finished reading and realized Ramos also wrote the Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary. Enjoyable and hard, that book was.

In this book, Verdad has boxed herself off and is lonely after her friend dies. But when she meets Danny her relationship with her mother goes south and her friendship world opens up. So many uncomfortable feelings!

Destination Anywhere
Sara Barnard

Payton takes a desperation flight from her home in Great Britain to Canada because it’s the only way she can think of to escape her parents’ insistence she attend school. Her attempts at travel are guided by a bunch of tourists she meets. As she gains confidence, we learn more about her lonely life and what happened the previous year.

Barnard goes hard into heavy feelings, and just as hard into the joys and miseries of of travel and forming friendships.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder
Sara Barnard

The U.S. of A. doesn’t tend to turn out a lot of selective mute children (we trend toward the depressed or the ADHD diagnosis) but Steffi (a Brit, not an American) has been working to overcome her selective mute diagnosis for years. When she’s paired up with Rhys because he uses British Sign Language and she has some passable BSL skills, her world changes.

I was interested in the way BSL was depicted in bold in the novel and wondered how someone fluent in BSL would feel about that. I think the author did it to show Steffi’s progress mastering the language, but I’m curious how others felt.

Young Nonfiction

The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art
Cynthia Levinson, Evan Turk
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I think the art was supposed to make a point about the subject’s style, but I found it messy and off-putting.

Sunrise Summer
Swason and Behr
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Spend the summer in Alaska, fishing for salmon on a small, family-owned piece of land. There were many interesting details and great back matter.

Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Jeff Gottesfeld and Matt Tavares
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Who are the people who guard the tomb of the unknown solider and why do they serve? There are a lot of great close-up details and expansive views in this picture book.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Anthropocene Reviewed
John Green

I’m a bit of a John Green completionist (Vlogbrothers, Dear Hank & John, novels, the Anthropocene Reviewed podcast) so I’d heard Green reading versions of many of these essays on his podcasts. I appreciate the podcast version more, but the essays are fine in print form.

By the way, I’m writing this review while listening to a YouTube livestream from February where Green was autographing one part of the 250,000 first printing pages. I preordered, so I got a signed copy. It was a green signature, and the pen was clearly on the downslope. I gave my John Green autograph 2 stars.

Grownup Fiction

The Duke and I
Julia Quinn

A day at the beach and I had finished my book. What to do, what to do? Instead of downloading another ebook, I wandered into Seaside’s Beach Books and found a perfect beach companion.

Lady Whistledown—an excellent device for delivering backstory! And who doesn’t love a big family, romance between wealthy people, and the Regency period? Well, maybe not you, but I’m a fan.

I’m excited to see if I can beat the next season of Bridgerton and finish all eight of this series.

Kindling the Moon
Jenn Bennett

Bennett’s debut novel featured pacing that didn’t quite crackle along, but this urban fantasy had all the sexy romance markers.

Books Read in June 2021

Picture Books

We Wait for the Sun
Dovey Johnson Roundtree, Katie McCabe, Raissa Figueroa
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A moment from Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s childhood beautifully illustrated by Raissa Figueroa

The One Thing You’d Save
Linda Sue Park & Rober Sae-Heng
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A collection of poems written in Sijo—a Korean style—about a class assignment of the one thing students would save from a fire.

I often struggled to follow who was speaking.

Mornings with Monet
Barb Rosenstock and Mary GrandPré
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Learn how Monet painted a series of paintings of the Seine in this very interesting picture book that also gives the flavor of a Monet painting.

Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit!
Lorna Scobie
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An only-child rabbit gets a bevy of new siblings an must adjust. It took a turn at the end that I wasn’t expecting.

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued
Peter Sis
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Yet another story of the Holocaust. It’s interesting, but gets swallowed up by odd page layouts.

The Lost Package
Richard Ho & Jessica Lanan
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The kind of picture book I adore. Spare words, and tons of details to go back and find. The author’s note tells of his personal appreciation of USPS.

Hello, Rain
Maclear, Chris Turnham
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A lot of great description of rain paired with whimsical illustrations.

We Become Jaguars
Eggars, White
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A boy and his grandmother become jaguars and explore the land around them. Packed with visual delights. Also this sentence: “She laughed like great thunder and I laughed like lesser thunder and we jaguared on.”

Jump at the Sun
Alicia D. Williams and Jacqueline Alcántara
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Picture book biography of Zora Neale Hurston. Great leaping illustrations complement the text.

Middle Grade

The Sea in Winter
Christine Day
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The stakes were low, but middle grade readers who are separated from the thing they love due to injury might feel differently about this story of a girl nursing a knee injury that is keeping her from dancing. It’s also a good chronicle of taking things out on your family.

This book was at the bottom of the to-read pile for a long time because the cover was conveying that this story was set in perhaps Norway, and there would be fairies and ogres and many magical things. Imagine my surprise when I started to read and found out it was a contemporary middle grade set in Seattle and Olympic National Park.

Unsettled
Reem Faruqi
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In this novel in verse, a Pakistani girl comes to the US with her family and finds her new life is improved by swimming.

Pity Party
Kathleen Lane
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This book is chock full-o-fun! Quizzes, short (some very short) stories, ads. All very tongue-in-cheek and aimed at middle school kids feeling awkward.

Young Adult

Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Malinda Lo
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The core of the book, Lily’s story of finding the Telegraph Club and falling in love, is strong and rich with period details.

There’s some backstory that felt like it bogged down the narrative, which is too bad because this is otherwise a solid historical fiction.

That Summer
Sarah Dessen

This is a little clunky, pacing-wise, but does a great job at really drilling into those teenage feelings that happen when everything goes wrong and you are the cause of a large portion of it.

Some things are grounded in the 90s, when this book was written, and best left there. I winced at a description of a minor character: he was as whipped as any man can be.

The Seventh Raven
David Elliott
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Here’s the deal. For about 80% of novels in verse, I think the story would be better served if the author undid their free verse, made them into sentences, added additional sentences to make paragraphs, and then had themselves a novel.

But a small portion of novels in verse I can appreciate, like this one. Elliott uses poetic forms which gave me something to chew on as I read this story of a family of boys transformed into ravens to save their newborn sister.

What We Left Behind
Robin Talley

The fate of happy high school couples as they head off to college is well-known. Usually it’s not a happy ending for the couple. But this sad outcome does provide a lot of plot.

This happy couple also has complicating factors due to genderqueer processing. The book does a great job of exploring the many wedges that are driven between a couple as they head off to college, plus it might be handy to read for older people who are curious about these young people and their discussions of pronouns and gender exploration. It’s also from 2016, so some things might be out of date.

Note that this has a lot of one-star reviews on Goodreads written by people who have problems with how the genderqueer identity was explored.

Lies We Tell Ourselves
Robin Talley

Alternating perspectives of two girls. One is integrating a high school and one is the daughter of the publisher of the town paper who is anti-integration. I had some interesting feelings re: whose story this was to tell. It also got me thinking about some assumptions I have about people who did integrate all-white high schools.

We Are Inevitable
Gayle Forman

I like that Forman has built a YA career with a bunch of books that tell the stories of young people who have graduated high school.

And so it goes with this story of a guy who is going down with the particular sinking ship of a local bookstore run by his family.

The Lady Rogue
Jenn Bennett

Jen Bennett’s excellent skilz of romance-telling take a back seat for a story set in Romania in the 1930s and a particular cursed ring.

It was very fun to see Bennet flex her historical fiction muscles. I haven’t seen them in play since she switched over to YA. Also, I’ve visited the region, so I enjoyed the travel.

Someone Like You
Sarah Dessen

I read this after reading Dessen’s That Summer because the two books were adapted into a movie. Because of that, when I started reading this book, I was supremely confused because nothing about the two books overlapped. Once I let go of my expectations, I found a story that summed up the emotional highs and lows of one of my own high school relationships. Well done!

The movie, by the way, picks parts from each book and combines them. By doing so, a lot of the feelings are lost and we’re left with a middling teen movie.

Grownup Fiction

The Ex Talk
Rachel Lynn Soloman

Well this is fun! Why are there not more romances set at public radio stations?

Shay (to be honest, not my favorite name) is stuck in a stuck-in-life-phase and new reporter Dominic rubs her the wrong way. But when she has a chance to host a local call-in show, she grabs it, even if it means partnering up with Dominic.