Books Read in February 2020

Picture Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lupita Nyong’o
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Hey Water
Antoinette Portis
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across the Bay
Carlos Aponte
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

Stop Bot!
James Young
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Middle Grade

Each Tiny Spark
Pablo Cartaya
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Lety Out Loud
Angela Cervantes
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Adult

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

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

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

Where the World Ends
Gearldine McCaughren
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

The Hand on the Wall
Maureen Johnson

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

Karol Ruth Silverstein
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Someday We Will Fly
Rachel DeWaskin
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Sick Kids in Love
Hannah Moskowitz
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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

“01 31 Books read in January 2020

Picture Books

Oge Mara
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Middle Grade

Free Lunch
Rex Ogle
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Young Adult

Look Both Ways
Jason Reynolds
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Hello Girls
Cavallaro & Henry

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

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

The Loves and Lies of Rukhsana Ali
Sabina Khan

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

White Bird
R.J. Palacio

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

Emergency Contact
H.K. Choi

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

Also: gorgeous cover.

Young Nonfiction

They Called us Enemy
George Takei
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

The Toll
Neil Shusterman

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

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

Grownup Nonfiction

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life
Tom Corley

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

Grownup Fiction

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
Kate Racculia

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

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

This Must Be the Place
Kate Racculia

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

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

Books read in November 2019

Picture Books

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

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

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

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

A Stone Sat Still
Barden Wenzel
Read for Librarian Book Group

Many different viewpoints of a stone through the ages.

Mark Teague
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Young Adult

Frankly in Love
David Yoon

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

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

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

Somewhere Only We Know
Maurene Goo

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

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

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

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

American Panda
Gloria Choo

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

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

Let it Snow
Green, Johson, Myracle

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

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

Things from the book that made it to the movie:

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

Wayward Son
Rainbow Rowell

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

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

Truly Devious
Maureen Johnson

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

The Vanishing Stair
Maureen Johnson

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

And then one waits impatiently for January.

I love the last line of this book.

Books read in October 2019

Picture Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Grade

A Place to Belong
Cynthia Kadohata
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

Very well done!

Young Adult

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph
Brandy Colbert

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

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

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

Butterfly Yellow
Thanhhà Lai
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

Patron Saints of Nothing
Randy Ribay
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Neighborhood Girls
Jessie Ann Foley

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

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

Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplin

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

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

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

Grownup Fiction

Dear Emma
Katie Heaney

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

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

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

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

The Last Thing You Surrender
Leonard Pitts, Jr.

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

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

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

Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng

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

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

The 12 Tribes of Hattie
Ayana Mathis

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

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

Young Nonfiction

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

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

Books read in September 2019

Well this is interesting. Only seven books read in September? [Pause to uncover journal where all books read are listed] Yep. Only seven.

Picture Books

Field Trip to the Moon
John Hare
Read for Librarian Book Group

A wordless picture book of a field trip gone awry with delightful consequences for one student.

Middle Grade

Jen Wang
Read for Librarian Book Group

Great depiction of a friendship when the parents don’t entirely approve of the friend. I also enjoyed Moon’s gasp-worthy bursts of anger, as well as her belief she came from the stars.

Young Adult

The Things She’s Seen
Ambelin & Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Read for Librarian Book Group

Very mysterious novel set in Australia with a dead girl as the main character. She’s hanging around keeping her father, a police detective, company. He’s still pretty sad she’s gone.

While she is helping him solve a case, many things unfold. There are some poem bits here and there that I found cringy, but other than that, this is a good book. It’s also quite short.

Grownup Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens

This book has wonderful descriptions of the marsh and Kya. There’s also a lot of rooting for Kya, given her terrible upbringing. I can see why so many people are reading this book.

Aside from those things, I cannot understand why they are still excited when they get to the end of the book. The dialogue is wooden, especially anytime anyone is in love. The physical descriptions of sex had me cringing. Also, the mystery is solved one way, and then resolved in a different way in the last few pages, which I did not at all find satisfying. It felt like the author finished the book and the publisher wanted a different ending, so we ended up with a “but what really happened was…” debacle.

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt

While I found the prose of this book serviceable, never have I ever worried about a character as much as I have Theo. Tartt excels at characters: Boris, Hobie, Pippa, and even minor characters are complex and compelling.

I read seven-eighths of this book in four days and then it took me another four days to get through that last little bit because I was so very worried about Theo.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Millionaire Teacher
Andrew Hallam

Hallam got to his millionaire status by implementing standard FIRE techniques (extreme frugality and index fund investing) before there even was a FIRE movement.

Here he presents nine lessons, eight of which have to do with investing.

The Effortless Sleep Method
Sasha Stephens

The author recovered from chronic insomnia and walks us through what she did to get to better sleep. She shares mistakes and makes suggestions.

I really liked what she had to say about Sleep Restriction, as I have been trying that for a few years now and find it to be the torture she describes.

Books Read in August 2019

Ah vacation reading. So much time. So many good things!


Picture Book: Birds of a Feather
Middle Grade: Pie in the Sky
Young Adult: Queen of the Sea, Sorry for Your Loss, Ordinary Girls
Grownup Fiction: Daisy Jones and the Six, City of Girls

Picture Books:

Daniel’s Good Day
Micha Archer
Read for Librarian Book Group

Lovely soft-focused college-like illustrations of Daniel interviewing people in the neighborhood about what makes a good day.

You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks
Evan Turk
Read for Librarian Book Group

Big illustrations of many national parks (though not Crater Lake!) and an afterward that dissuades the nefarious methods by which the parks were obtained.

The Night is Yours
Abdul-Razak Zachariah and Kenturah A. Bobo
Read for Librarian Book Group

A girl plays in a courtyard with other children. I wouldn’t mind living in that apartment building.

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds & Me
Susan L. Roth
Read for Librarian Book Group

“The differences between a bowerbird and me are fewer than you might expect.”

Great first line! Great college!

Middle Grade

Pie in the Sky
Remy Lai
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s an immigrant story, in this case, the destination for the immigrants is Australia. I loved how well this book told the story of not understanding things because of not knowing the language.

There was great brother tension, because the older brother’s language skills were not progressing as quickly as the younger brother’s. This book also integrated the text with the illustrative panels, it was a book/graphic novel hybrid (though heavier on the book).

There were many amusing details, and sad feelings, and overall, this was probably one of my favorite middle grade books this year.

Young Adult

This Time Will Be Different
Misa Sugiura
Read for Librarian Book Group

One of the things I loved about this book was that it examined some of the ramifications of the Japanese internment during WWII. The book is set in present day, but the work done by C.J.’s great-grandparents and grandparents to recover from losing everything when they were forcibly relocated is still rippling down, many generations later. I think it’s important to trace things that happened back in the day and show how they still affect the present day.

It’s also chronicles shifting friendships (one of my favorite YA novel things) and there’s a very real mother/daughter relationship with a lot of nuance. Sugiura also includes a much-debated issue in an organic way that defangs it from the drama in which it is usually encountered, instead portraying it the personal matter it is.

Overall, this was a really great read that juggled a lot of things without ever feeling issue-oriented or too unweidly. Well done.

When We Caught Fire
Anna Goodbersen

I think I put this down four times to read other books. I probably would not have finished it, but I kept running out of books I wanted to be reading.

Things it’s got going for it: Chicago right before the great fire is an interesting setting; the social climbing aspect is interesting, as is one character’s navigation of being both the servant and the best friend of another character.

Unfortunately, this book suffers from a lopsided love triangle–there was no reason for me to believe that the choice was impossible and all the drama associated with the dithering was just dumb. Plus, all the characters made repeated idiotic choices and the ending was completely unbelievable.

Inventing Victoria
Tonya Bolden

This was an old fashioned book where we see the main character struggle through a childhood in reduced circumstances (in this case the daughter of a local prostitute in the Reconstruction-era South.) Then we see fortune’s wheel turn and a new and different kind of struggle to transform herself and leave her past behind.

Overall, Essie was interesting and I enjoyed accompanying her on her journey.

Ordinary Girls
Blair Thornburg

Holy cats, this book was fun! We’ve got a sister story, we’ve got a large, rambling, moldering house story, we’ve got a quirky family story, we’ve got an outsider story and we’ve got it all packaged together with sparkling writing, and astute observations.

If you’re a Jane Austin fan this is a book for you.

Also, what a great cover!

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s a make-up/break-up relationship. So very frustrating to observe in real life, it did make for a compelling narrative. When will she learn about Laura Dean? Be strong Freddy! Be strong!

The First Part Last
Angela Johnson

One of the many awesome things about being in a book group with librarians is that they know all the books. So when I say, “I haven’t read many books about teen moms,” they are handy with this recommendation which is a short book of beautiful prose about a teen dad making the best choices he can for his daughter.

Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell
Read aloud

This was a great read aloud with a lot of tense moments. This time, I loved how much of Eleanor & Park’s relationship took place hanging out at Park’s house. It was cold outside, they didn’t have much money, and Park’s dad wouldn’t let him drive anywhere. It felt like a very authentic adolescent relationship.

Also, this book is full of large-body feelings.

How it Feels to Float
Helena Fox
Read for Librarian Book Group

An engrossing story of a teenager untethered and how she re-tethers herself. It’s set in Australia for people so interested in that setting.

Sorry For Your Loss
Jessie Ann Foley
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m a huge fan of stories featuring huge families and they are few and far between, probably because multiple siblings make for more juggling by the author, and also probably because most of us don’t come from large families anymore.

But this book focuses on the underachieving youngest member of a family of eight children. One of his brothers recently died–hence the title–and he’s trying to get through high school.

It’s also a book about finding your “thing” which is always an enjoyable thing.

Queen of the Sea
Dylan Meconis
Read for Librarian Book Group

The first chapter of this graphic novel was confusing and off-putting. Thankfully, I persisted, because after that, this story of a young girl growing up on an island populated with nuns was both delightful and a page turner.

I loved seeing how life on the island work, getting to know the nuns personally, and trying to figure out what was going to happen next. Here’s hoping for a second book.

Grownup Fiction

Daisy Jones & the Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid

I enjoy a good oral history. Vanity Fair just had a great one with the cast of the television show Veronica Mars. But if I’m reading an oral history, I already am familiar with the subject.

That’s where the magic of this book comes in. It’s an oral history of a band that never existed yet Taylor Jenkins Reid creates the entire world using just interviews. Also included: behind the scenes of becoming famous; increasing band tensions; and a third act punch I didn’t see coming but elevated the book from “damn this is good,” to “this book is friggin’ amazing!”

I’d also like to give a shout out to Karen Karen, the keyboardist who wants only to be a musician, and not a female musician.

City of Girls
Elizabeth Gilbert

The author read the first chapter to me (and the rest of the audience at Revolution Hall) and I knew I was going to like this book. I mean, I’m in for slutty showgirls in any decade, but especially the early 1940s.

It proved to be a rollicking ride. There was a bit about 7/8ths of the way through where things were a bit draggy, but then it picked back up. I enjoy a main character who is intimately familiar with her flaws and strengths and this book made for good reading.

Young Nonfiction

Moth: An Evolution Story
Isabel Thomas & Daniel Egneus
Read for Librarian Book Group

Illustrated story of the peppered moth, made famous in textbooks and used to teach about natural selection. Lovely illustrations.

Grownup Nonfiction

Atomic Habis
James Clear

When I read the Power of Habit earlier in the year, I felt a bit shortchanged, wanting more in the realm of self-help. This is book I was looking for, and is a great companion to that book.

If you are looking for a way to change yourself through many small changes, James Clear has a plan for you.

Books read in July 2019

July was a month of YA reading, and came with some excellent book-reading experiences. All hail summer reading!


Young Adult: Internment, With the Fire on High, Birthday, We are the Perfect Girl, Like a Love Story

Young Adult

Samira Ahmed
Read for Librarian Book Group

An alternate-present distopia where all the Muslims in the US are moved to concentration camps just like the Japanese were during WWII. I found this to be a highly discusssable book, with high stakes that I gobbled up.

I correctly predicted the fate of one of the characters very early on, and I would have liked more of a wrap up, but overall, it was a great read.

Within These Lines
Stephanie Morrill

Hot on the heels of Internment, I read this book about a young couple separated by the forced relocation of people of Japanese descent during World War II. The book excelled in depicting the conditions in the internment camp.

It was also one of those historical fiction books where the characters seem to have been transported from 2019 to the early 1940’s. And there weren’t nearly enough siblings. Both the main characters were only children, somewhat of an anomaly during that time.

With the Fire on High
Elizabeth Acevdo
Read for Librarian Book Group

Man, oh man, do I love this book. I can’t recall the last YA novel I read where the main character is also a mom. And what a good mom she was!

Emoni is also a talented cook and the descriptions of her meal preparation felt like descriptions of how art is made. Ultimately, I think she was a little too perfect, but Acevdo’s writing was so good that I didn’t mind.

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc
David Elliott
Read for Librarian Book Group

The story of Joan of Arc told in different forms of verse.

I loathed all of the verse. I didn’t like how it was written, I despised the poems arranged in shapes, and I thought the guide that explained the different types of poetry within the book should have been at the beginning, not the end.

That said, it’s a short book, so the torture didn’t go on for an overly long period of time.

Meredith Russo

It took me a bit to realize this was the same sort of set up as David Nicholl’s One Day. (Which is, of course, the same set up as Same Time Next Year, which probably has the same set up as something in Ovid I don’t know about.)

Anyway! In this case we have two best friends who share a birthday and we meet them on their 13th birthday. Morgan wants to tell his best friend Eric a secret, because if he can tell Eric, then he can tell his father, and after that maybe he can start telling the world.

The stakes are high in this novel. There is no inclusive culture in the small town where the boys live. Life is hard, and both of them are dealing with challenges–poverty, loss of parents, authoritarian parents.

Meredith Russo writes the brutal reality of kids without a support network. This is a hard book, but a good one.

We are the Perfect Girl
Ariel Kaplan

It’s been quite some time since I read such a funny book. Just like in the movies, comedy doesn’t get the same respect as tragedy. It also had very gentle stakes, (no one was going to die, or be killed!) but still packed a punch.

There’s great body image stuff that will probably feel universal for most girls and women, and Kaplan expertly captures pining for a certain someone to love you, while also being convinced they never will love you.

Like a Love Story
Abdi Nazemian

AIDS. It was killing a lot of people during my formative years. And I feel like we’re in a phase of not talking about it.

Enter this book, the story of three kids in New York City. Art is out, Judy is is best friend, and Reza is the new guy at school, lately from Toronto, originally from Iran.

Through their stories, we get the horror and magic that was 1989, the danger of coming out, and the worry and hope of falling in love.

Interspersed with their stories are Art’s note cards written by Judy’s Uncle Stephen as a primer to gay life. I would have liked more of these note cards, but it was a pretty long book, already.

Young Nonfiction

Planting Stories
Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar
Read for Librarian Book Group

A beautifully illustrated story of the life of Pura Belpre, librarian, storyteller, puppeteer, and namesake of the award for outstanding works of literature by Lantinx authors and illustrators.

The illustrations are gorgeous. The text had some gaps. For instance: How long did she give up her storytelling to follow her husband around the world?

Books read in June 2019

One of my YA-zeitgeist books is on this list. Check out Dig, by A.S. King.

Picture Books

Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies
Jorge & Megan Lacera
Read for Librarian Book Group

A funny book about a zombie kid who prefers eating vegetables to eating humans; it also doubles as a nice coming out narrative.

I am Hermes
Mordicai Gerstein
Read for Librarian Book Group

This book has illustrations that pair perfectly with the text. It makes for a whimsical illustration of the life of Hermes.

Vamos, Let’s Go to the Market
Raul Gonzalez III
Read for Librarian Book Group

The pages are packed with a ton of things to look at, appealing to those kids who like to really study their picture books. There’s a great English/Spanish mix of words and the journey through the market is interesting.

Where are you from?
Yamile Saied Mendez, Jamie Kim
Read for Librarian Book Group

A long (and beautifully illustrated) answer to a question we* should probably be more aware of what we’re saying when we ask it.

*we=white people

Middle Grade

Other Words for Home
Jasmine Wanga

Read for Librarian Book Group

A slimmer novel in verse that shows us Jude’s life in Syria and then how her life changes when she comes to America.

I would have liked more details, but I enjoyed the verse. I also couldn’t remember anything about this book when it came up in book group discussion until I looked at the cover.

Young Adult

A.S. King
Read for Librarian Book Group

“Am I really up for A.S. King’s weirdness?” I asked myself as I picked up the book.

Turns out: yep! I was. It’s best to carve out a larger segment of time to get started with this book. There are many characters and many things aren’t clear as the book begins. But stick with it, and soon it will be hard to stop reading.

Most A.S. King books are uncomfortable. She seems to tap into the parts of this modern world that just aren’t right. But being uncomfortable and adrift is not an uncommon feeling in life, so perhaps A.S. King has her fingers on the pulse.

If you are a white person ages 15–107, this is your 2019 zeitgeist book.

Again, but Better
Christine Riccio

At first, I thought this book was aggressively mediocre, but I kept reading because the mild social panic was described so well. I also liked the idea of a college student realizing she’s done a terrible job making friends and trying her best to start fresh during her study abroad program.

Then the story changed and I was hooked. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat brilliant book.

Not to mention, it’s YA fiction with a 20-year-old protagonist. I’ll have to add it to my list of YA-in-college books. (Take that, agent who told me I wasn’t writing YA!)

The Afterward
E.K. Johnston
Read for Librarian Book Group

E.K. Johnston builds us a world where a group of knights, a mage and a thief have successfully completed a quest and now it’s back to the everyday. But the everyday is tough. Some of them have battle trauma, some of them have to do things to survive that become increasingly hard. Some of them are in love, and can’t be together for various reasons.

This book constantly challenged my mental pictures, and I love it for that. It’s also a fantasy book that doesn’t take place today that I was still interested in reading. Big wins! Hopefully it will get a better cover in the future.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Power of Habit
Charles Duhigg

A thorough examining of how habits rule our lives, not just on an individual level, but in companies, and in social movements.

This is more of an informational text than a self-help book. I would have liked more of a how-to on how to change habits. But I’m sure there’s a book out there for me. In the meantime, this was interesting and informative.

Nolo’s Guide to Single-Member LLCs
David M. Steingold

This is a handy guide of things to know if you are thinking about starting a single-member LLC. The information is clear, it breaks down details and there are links to free forms.

Elizabeth Gilbert at Revolution Hall

Back in the day (this particular day: the early 2000s) Powell’s Books would rent a venue for its big authors and you could see a reading for free. No longer. Now you pay money, and also get a copy of the book. This is how I’ve obtained Gilbert’s last three books.

Elizabeth Gilbert was her usual self. She was funny, wry, and admitted to drinking too much at lunch with Cheryl Strayed. She talked about the loss that had come lately to her life. In the Q&A section she was very clear about what a question was, which was very much appreciated. The woman who asked the first question, asked the most beautiful question I’ve ever heard at an author reading. The whole room took a breath simultaneously. What was the question? I do not recall. But it was a great moment at the book reading.

Gilbert also read us the first chapter of City of Girls. Which would have been enough to sell me on reading the book. Of course, I already had a copy.

Books read in May 2019

Ah, vacation reading, you let me do things like re-read a book so I can properly read the second and then the third in a series. So delightful.


Picture books: The Undefeated
Middle grade: Genesis Begins Again
Young Adult: On the Come Up
Young Nonfiction: Biddy Madison Speaks Up

Picture books

When Spring Comes to the DMZ
Uk-Bae Lee
Read for Librarian Book Group

An odd and interesting little book about the wildlife that has flourished in Korea’s DMZ. The illustrations were not my style, but there is a lot to look at.

If you’re looking for Baby’s First DMZ book, this is it.

The Undefeated
Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
Read for Librarian Book Group

When Kwame Alexander isn’t slaying you with his words, Kadir Nelson is slaying you with his illustrations.

Middle grade

The Moon Within
Aida Salazar
Read for librarian book group

While Are You There God, it’s me, Margaret was a seminal book when it was published, when I read it in 1985, it was already dated. There’s a whole section about buying belts to hold the pads and even though I hadn’t yet gotten my period, I suspected that wasn’t how things worked anymore. And so it came to pass that many authors stepped in and wrote more books about that time around when a girl gets her period.

Kidding! Where are all the fiction books on this topic? There should be one every decade or so to capture various menstruation trends/practices.

Enter The Moon Within, which gets a lot of stars for exploring the topic. It’s also written in verse, which will make for quick reading.

That said, I personally found the ceremonial aspect of this transition that was emphasized to be the kind of thing I distance myself from, so from that perspective, it wasn’t a book that worked for me. I did like the friendship changes and the navigating that stage where someone you like likes you back for the first time.

Genesis Begins Again
Alicia D. Williams
Read for Librarian Book Group

I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a book for kids that so thoroughly explores feelings about how dark or light one’s skin is.

Genesis has to move all the time. It’s not unusual for her to come home to find all her belongings on the street. While that’s an unfortunate situation, what really made me ache is how hard she tries to change the color of her very dark skin.

This book is set in the suburbs. Genesis’s father has moved them to a house in a school district with a lot of things she hasn’t had in her school before. One of them is a choir teacher who encourages Genesis to find her voice.

Genesis also makes friends for the first time. And yet, while those things are going on, she’s going to a lot of extremes to lighten her skin.

I loved this book, and it was hard to read. I highly recommend it. And it’s got a great cover.

Young adult

On the Come Up
Angie Thomas
Read for Librarian Book Group

This was a great book on so many levels. My notes list six different things, all with plus signs. They are: main character; rap battles; dilemma (selling out vs staying true); people interpreting your words; friendships; church

It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and then not think about it again. But Angie Thomas is so good at creating worlds that I think about different scenes, characters and situations many times after the book is done. I particularly love main character Bri, who has a lot to balance: the neighborhood legacy of her father; her desire to be a successful rapper; struggles with how she is perceived at school; worry about her mother’s health.

I particularly loved Bri’s friends and the many different ways they responded to escalating tensions at school. I also found Bri’s observations of church members to be quietly amusing. There’s also a good dose of observing how it is to be female and looking to break into the music business.

We are so lucky to have Angie Thomas. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Every Day
David Levithan

I loved Every Day when it was first published I found it inventive and interesting. It was also a great book for introducing the concept of gender fluidity.

This was a re-read so I could read this and the two companion books in sequence. On second reading, it still held up.

Another Day
David Levithan

My plan to read this right after reading Every Day turned out to be not the best plan. It’s the same story, but from Rhiannon’s point of view. I knew this, but didn’t realize that 90% of the book is exactly the same book. Because I had finished Every Day the day before, entire passages were word-for-word familiar. I could picture Levithan’s copy/paste skills increasing as he wrote this book.

There were a few things worth reading for. I recommend reading this a month or so after Every Day.

David Levithan

This is the third book in the Every Day series. (Which I notice has a .5 digital-only book called Six Days Earlier.)

My book-loving friend mentioned that she had to put this book down because it was making her too anxious. I totally get it. The character X is not a good person.

And yet! This book is great! It’s got a complex plot: A and Rhiannon; A and X; A’s usual shifting from body to body. Plus there are other characters.

I think it’s a book-length exploration of what love is, when it can’t be love as we usually see it. There’s also a lot of drama, especially for David Leviathan.

I found the ending quite satisfying and well worth getting through the portions of the book that are X’s story.

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss
Kasie West.

This was a perfectly serviceable YA romance. The main character was also a working actress, so there was that fame angle, which is always fun.

The Opposite of Always
Justin Reynolds

The first 100 pages of this book are marvelous, because Justin Reynolds knows how to write his way through a romance. [Main character] is so fun to watch while he’s working through quandaries, and his friends are very interesting. Plus, his parents are amusing. There’s even a time travel aspect hinted at.

And then. Once the time travel aspect kicks in we get shades of the same story three more times. Though there are variations, the repeat of the stories provides diminishing returns and the more pages I read, the more often I put the book down.

Still, the first 100 pages were fabulous. And my notes state: the best slog I’ve read in 2019!

There was so much to like about this book, I look forward to what Justin Reynolds can give us next.

Young nonfiction

Biddy Mason Speaks Up
Arisa White, Laura Atkins, and Laura Freeman
Read for librarian book group.

The story of Biddy Mason, who was a slave taken to California where she “spoke up” for her freedom.

I like how this series gives us the factual stuff. Words are defined on the page they are introduced and the layout is great with photos, illustrations and other supports. There’s very good back matter.

The one thing I wonder about is the alternating verse/nonfiction prose setup. While the verse is good for people who like stories told in verse, and the nonfiction is good for people who like fact-based books, I wonder if tumbling them both together might dilute the entire book?