Books Read in December 2022

Early Readers

I Did It!
Michael Emberly
Read for Librarian Book Group

It’s the idiom of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” but with a cute little poppet and some friends. Achievement unlocked: riding a bicycle.

Middle Grade

Invisible: A Graphic Novel
Christina Diaz Gonzalez and Gabriela Epstein
Read for Librarian Book Group

A group of middle school students are called to the principal’s office and we learn both why they were summoned and more about their lives. The story provides a very good setup and payoff.

Young Adult

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
Theodora Goss

This brings together the daughters of many famous literary scientists: Jekyll, Moreau, Frankenstein, and others. It adds in a dash of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. There is a mystery to solve, and the daughters regularly interrupt the narrative with their own commentary. These things together make for an engaging read.

Man Made Monsters
Andrea L. Rogers
Read for Librarian Book Group

Beautifully written short stories that are vaguely connected. The family tree at the beginning of the book implies more connection then there actually is. Plus, there’s another family tree that we never get into. That distracted me. The stories themselves covered a wide variety of monsters and used the Cherokee language.

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things
Maya Prasad

What a great title and a great Orcas Island setting. Unfortunately, this was probably the most boring book I’ve read in 2022. I think it’s a great example of low stakes making things not very interesting. And because there are four sisters and the book covers each of the sisters’ romances one at a time, nothing felt integrated. Once a character gets together with their intended, we hear almost nothing about them again. It felt very boringly repetitive.

Scattered Showers
Rainbow Rowell

New and republished short stories show off Rowell’s talent at summing broad concepts in a well-written sentence, and her skill with sparking dialogue. It was fun to catch up with some characters of yore. I found the premise of the story “In Waiting” to be very smart and fun.

Hell Followed Us
Andrew Joseph White
Read for Librarian Book Group

In both world building and plot machinations this did not feel like a first novel. It was also a very good story with a trans main character. I never fully hooked into it, but I look forward from reading more from this author.

Abuela, Don’t Forge Me
Rex Ogle
Read for Librarian Book Group

I found Ogle’s Free Lunch to be a cudgel of misery with writing that didn’t elevate past the terrible growing up years he described. This is a novel in verse and the shorter form is better suited for Ogle’s unfortunate upbringing. The spotlight on his grandmother is a welcome one and shows how much her love supported him.

Young Nonfiction

If You’re a Kid Like Gavin.
Gavin Grimm, Kyle Lukoff, and J Yang
Read for Librarian Book Group

Picture book story of Gavin Grimm, a trans boy who became a trans activist when his high school wouldn’t let him use the boys’ bathroom.

Concrete From the Ground Up
Larissa Theule, Steve Light
Read for Librarian Book Group

A history of a most reliable building material. The drawings were great, but the text placement was confusing.

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
Angela Joy and Janelle Washington
Read for Librarian Book Group

After covering the growing up and having a child part, this focuses on how Mamie Till-Mobley spent the rest of her life after Emmett Till’s death. I enjoyed the paper cut illustrations when it came to buildings and landscape. I found them less successful with faces.

Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration
Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki
Read for Librarian Book Group

Partridge uses photos from three different photographers, and Tamarki fleshes things out with illustrations to show what photographers were allowed to capture and what they were not. There were also primary source documents. This was an incredibly beautiful book about a shameful event we’re just starting to really talk about.

Grownup Nonfiction

The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind
Richard Restak

A blessedly brief book packed with information and strategies for strengthening your memory.

Books Read in November 2022

Picture Books

The Year We Learned to Fly
Woodson and Lopez
Read for Librarian Book Group

A book about getting through tough times that doesn’t hit you over the head with the tough times. This would probably be a good book for all ages who are feeling the weight of struggle. Great interplay of words and illustrations.

Middle Grade

Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution
Sherri Williams
Read for Librarian Book Group

A fabulous example of quality middle grade! Great writing, a big issue depicted on a personal level, the main character navigating her troubles without her parents (but not because she’s an orphan or at camp) and a lot of feeling.

My only quibble is that the kid causing all the problems didn’t really take responsibility for the harassment and abuse. This book wrapped up very quickly.

Recipe for Disaster
Aimee Lucido

An enjoyable middle-grade novel combining baking (including recipes) and exploring what it means to be Jewish.

Svetlana Chmakova

Graphic novels are great vehicles for showing those big middle-school feelings. This was a fun capsulation of awkward and confusing friendships.

Ride On
Faith Erin Hicks

Horse girls! I have a soft spot for them. Norrie is full of bluster and outrage. Victoria is new at the stables after experiencing a loss.

Young Adult

Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix
Anna-Marie McLemore
Read for Librarian Book Group

I enjoyed this retelling of the Great Gatsby recast with trans young men as Nick and Jay as well as the overlay of Latina culture. McLemore is very good at writing romantic feelings. Lots of good squishy stuff there. I did wonder at having the main trio be 17, 18, and 19 years old. It strained credibility.

Azar on Fire
Olivia Abtahi

One of my reading peccadillos is that I find books that include song lyrics to be cringeworthy experiences, especially songs that are made up for the book. Every time I read them, I feel a profound embarrassment for the author. It’s often like reading poetry written by young teenagers.

So this book, with copious lyrics, was a struggle.

It was also a long and rambling book, but by ignoring the lyrics, I enjoyed it. The main character is a freshman in high school and I don’t come across that grade level often in YA. She’s finding her voice (quite literally, she’s got something wrong with her vocal chords). And she’s making new friends.

The Getaway
Lamar Giles

Great worldbuilding and a solid amount of time showing us the supposed utopia before spinning into the reality. This is a horror novel and it’s the kind based on documented human action that makes it that much more horrible. I had to switch to daylight reading.

The cover is very evocative, but I don’t think it matches the story.

The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School
Sonora Reyes
Read for Librarian Book Group

This rambles in a not-terrible way. I enjoyed Yamilet’s story of figuring out how her new school is going to work and how to come out and live as a lesbian, both at school and at home.

My Nest of Silence
Matt Faulkner
Read for Librarian Book Group

A story in two parts. The strong story is the graphic novel portion that gives readers the real story of what’s happening to Mak as he serves in Europe during World War II. His letters home don’t tell the entire story. The prose part of the book focuses on Mak’s 10-year-old sister Mari who is stuck in Manaznar. That story focuses on how the camp and the war affect Mari’s mental health, a welcome angle of the relocation. The writing was a little too dependent on exclamation points for my taste.

Katharine McGee

For completists, this novella will provide insight. People looking to pass the time will also find it adequate. It doesn’t break any new ground.

Grownup Fiction

Book Lovers
Emily Henry

Henry does a great job subverting the classic small-town romance story by centering on the big city career-minded female who is usually the villain. I also enjoy her attention to detail at the sentence level.

The Bad Muslim Discount
Syed M. Masood

Two immigrants, Anvar and Safwa, make their way to the US from Pakistan and Iraq, respectively, at different ages and points in their lives. Their paths cross in San Francisco. This book is lacking the zany characters and humor of Masood’s YA novels, but it remains a compelling story.

Grownup Nonfiction

You Are a Badass
Jen Sincero

Sincero is of the love-yourself, tap-into-the-universe-and-it-will-provide ilk. Aside from advice on those fronts, she’s got a solid list of recommended books at the end.

Young Nonfiction

Unequal: A Story of America
Michael Eric Dyson and Marc Favreau
Read for Librarian Book Group

The authors provide chapter after chapter illustrating how racism is baked into the United States. There are many contemporary examples to illustrated that we’ve not left racism in the past. Most chapters focus on one individual to illustrated a theme, and there is a good mix of female and male and famous and less or not famous. I appreciated the spotlight on racism in the northern states, but did wonder why the racist acts and policies of western states were not included in the mix.

Books Read in August 2022

Picture Books

The Notebook Keeper
Briseno & Mora
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Middle Grade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answers in the Pages
David Levithan
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Young Adult

Sway with Me
Syed M. Masood

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

Zyla and Kai
Kristana Forest

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

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet
Jen Ferguson

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

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

The Honeys
Ryan La Sala

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

Grownup Fiction

Ryan McIlvain

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

Andrew Sean Greer

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

Mika in Real Life
Emiko Jean

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

The Second Season
Emily Adrien

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

Young Nonfiction

Queer Ducks
Eliot Schrefer
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Grownup Nonfiction

Heart Rate Training
Roy Benson, Declan Connolly

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

How to Draw Almost Every Day
Chika Miyata

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

Books Read in June 2022

Picture Books

Matthew Forsythe
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Gigi and Ojiji
Melissa Iway
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Middle Grade

The Last Mapmaker
Christina Soontornvat
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

The Summer of June
Jamie Summer
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Young Adult

Vinyl Moon
Mahogany L. Brown
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

Also, the cover!

Always Jane
Jenn Bennett

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

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

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

V.E. Schwab

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

See You Yesterday
Rachel Lynn Solmon

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

Radio Silence
Alice Oseman

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

Young Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

Grownup Nonfiction

Run Towards the Danger
Sarah Polley

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

Grownup Fiction

A Little Too Familiar
Lish McBride

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

Books Read in May 2022

Early Reader

Cornbread and Poppy
Matthew Cordell
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

Sir Ladybug
Corey R. Taylor
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

Middle Grade

The Aquanaut
Dan Santat
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

A Comb of Wishes
Lisa Stringfellow
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

This was some masterful storytelling! More, please.

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

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

Anne of West Philly
Ivy Noelle Weir and Myisha Haynes

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

Young Adult

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

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

The Red Palace
June Hur
Read for Librarian Book Group

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

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

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

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

Family of Liars
E. Lockheart

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

Year on Fire
Julie Bauxbaum

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

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

Tell Me Three Things
Julie Buxbaum

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

Solid characterization of learning the ropes in a new place.

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

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

A very fun mystery that uses noir as a springboard.

Grownup Fiction

The Rose Code
Kate Quinn

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

Grownup Nonfiction

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work
Seth Godin

Many short bits of writing about developing your creative work.

Books Read in April 2022

Middle Grade

A Song Called Home
Sara Zarr

If Lou’s mother’s life was a book, it would be a romance novel, and if that were the case, this book would pick up just as Lou’s mom got her Happily Ever After. Lou’s mom has a new husband and Lou has a new stepfather, a new school, and a new house. She’s been shaped by the years her alcoholic father was around and she’s being shaped by the fact that he’s not around anymore.

More so with most books, I felt every bit of Lou’s feelings. Where they came from, where they lived in her, how long they lingered. This is a long book for a middle grade novel, and it is one I think adults shouldn’t pass by.

Sort of Super
Eric Gapster
Read for Librarian Book Group

There’s a lot to like in this middle grade graphic novel about a kid just getting used to his superpowers. He’s got a smart younger sister who is fun too.

Young Adult

August and Everything After
Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

A summer at the beach—the version where the main character is escaping something. I loved the way this book captured getting wrapped up in making music in a way that solves the problem. There was also a great plot about loving a person whose life circumstances provide roadblocks to the relationship. This felt like a very honest book, and I like that.

All My Rage
Sabaa Tahir
Read for Librarian Book Group

Perfect. Worth the long wait.

Ain’t Burned All the Bright
Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffith
Read for Librarian Book Group

A poem that is richly illustrated. This book reminds me of the book of one drawing for every page in Moby Dick.

From a book reading perspective, this book is heavy enough that it was hard to hold, even for the brief read.

With You All the Way
Cynthia Hand

A middle child of three sisters story. One of my favorite things. Also a favorite: the quest to lose one’s virginity. Plus, it’s set in Hawaii.

My Contrary Mary
Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

The usual fun setup of historical figures, fantasy elements, and sprawling romance. Characters from an earlier book make an appearance, which is always enjoyable.

Kiss and Tell
Adib Khorram

Hunter is part of a boy band and the only gay member. When his ex-boyfriend posts information about their sex life, Hunter’s life gets more complicated.

Told from Hunter’s point of view, and through a collection of online articles, scripts from videos, and emails between the band’s handlers, this is an excellent meditation about the pressure we put people who are young and also famous.

One of the things I’m hoping that will come out of this period of social media culture are realistic expectations of famous people. This book is a step in that direction.

Grownup Fiction

We Ride Upon Sticks
Quan Barry

This starts out strong, what with the collective narration by a girls field hockey team, the evocative 1989 setting, and the strong narration. (Not to mention that one girl’s claw—the curled big bags that were popular at the time—is a regular contributor to the story)

But it lost steam around the midpoint. Perhaps a deep dive into 11 different players made it sloggy, or perhaps the evocative 1989 setting turned into one too many references. By the time when we got to the in-the-future wrap-up chapter, I was thoroughly annoyed that every single one of the team was either very successful (as in rich) and/or famous.

Still, such a strong start! Perhaps you will like it more than me.

Grownup Nonfiction

The War of Art
Steven Pressfield

Pressfield offers a way to think about creativity. He outlines the resistance and charts a path to get yourself through.

Books Read in March 2022

Picture books

Nigel and the Moon
Antwan Eady and Gracey Zhang
Read for Librarian Book Group

Nigel dreams of a bright and varied future, but he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing those dreams in the daytime

Middle Grade

Almost Flying
Jake Maia Arlow
Read for Librarian Book Group

Feelings about rollercoasters are great for expressing feelings about a father’s sudden relationship, feelings about friendship, and feelings about crushes.

However, I feel like the main character was transported from the 1980s to a contemporary setting. Surely Long Island would have had enough gay people that she would have vocabulary to pull from.

Those Kids From Fawn Creek
Erin Entrada Kelly
Read for Librarian Book Group

Erin Entrada Kelly is great at diving into feelings and writing solid middle grade books, and this is no exception. I admired how she juggled her many characters in a small town and how their lives were upended when a new girl appears one day.

Young Adult

Somewhere Between Bitter & Sweet
Laekan Zea Kemp
Read for Librarian Book Group

Pen and Xander’s life transitions are worthy of your time.

Kara Bietz

The building blocks of the plot have to make sense for the whole thing to work. I didn’t believe that a teenage pregnancy in a small town would escape anyone’s notice for three years, even if the teenager and her family left town before anyone could find out. There’s this thing called social media.

I further didn’t believe that one person and one person only (the captain of the football team) would be in charge of thinking up the senior prank. Thus, this didn’t hold together for me.

The Last Words We Said
Leah Scheier
Read for Librarian Book Group

A rather dramatic first page is then followed by an interesting premise involving a boyfriend who is visible to the main character and no one else. It’s also an interesting window into Orthodox Jewish culture, for anyone who might be standing outside that particular house.

A.L. Graziadei

Icebreaker is a very fun hockey story about the two potential Number 1 draft picks and their first year at college together. I always appreciate when athletes get to step outside their golden boy boxes and we can see the warts and all. In this case, the warts are depression and anxiety.

Battle of the Bands
Lauren Gibaldi and Eric Smith, editors.

Interwoven stories for the win! I love this new (to me, at least) trend in short stories. All stories relate to a high school battle of the bands contest. I like how some of the stories varied the angle of their focus away from the battle itself. We didn’t hear from all the bands on the roster, and that worked for me.

E Lockhart and Manuel Preitano
Read for Librarian Book Group

This graphic novel about a new superhero came off as too comic-bookey for this particular reader. The story was good, though, and the illustrations were solid, just not a thing for me.

We Were Liars
E. Lockheart

A reread in anticipation of the prequal. Knowing the ending lessens the punch significantly, but there are still things to look for.

Bend in the Road
Sara Biren

A son of a famous musician (and famous in his own right) escapes to the family farm. There, things proceed about how you might think in this two-narrator romance. I found the number of names hard to navigate at the beginning of the novel. You might want to make a list.

Candace Buford

Russell is hoping football will get him out of his small Louisiana town, but systematic racism and a few racists in particular are making it hard. This book a great illustration of the corners that people can be backed into.

Mariko Tamaki
Read for Librarian Book Group

A short book full of sparkling sentences like this one:

Mark Walker had terrible handwriting. Each letter crawled, gasping for breath, across the page to the end of every raggedly disjointed sentence.

This is a bit of a mystery with the murdered kid acting as one narrator and a random girl as the other. It’s full of a lot of adolescent feelings.

Young Nonfiction

Brave Face
Shaun David Hutchinson

This memoir gets across one point very well: that when the only depictions of a segment of population (in this case gay men) is very narrow and you don’t fit those narrow constraints it makes it difficult to accept that one might be a part of that group. The author makes this point again and again throughout the book.

While he describes that topic extensively, he doesn’t dig deep in other areas and I was left with a lot of questions.

Really great cover art.

Because Claudette
Tracey Baptiste and Tonya Engel
Read for Librarian Book Group

Using a framework of “Because…” we learn the story of a teenager who didn’t give up her seat on the bus before Rosa Parks took her historic sit. The “Because…” framework falls down at times in a distracting way.

Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Mara Rockliff and R. Gregory Christine
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A picture book bio of a woman who used what skills she had to help the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That skill was cooking! I loved the centering of an “ordinary” person’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.

Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler
Ibi Zoboi
Read for Librarian Book Group

Poems, quotes from Octavia Butler, and prose combine into a brief biography. Having all three of those things grouped around particular subjects made the prose parts seem especially repetitive, alas.

Grownup Nonfiction

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley
John Carryrou

A milestone-by-milestone book about Elizabeth Holmes’s journey from 19-year-old college dropout to billionaire tech person to disgraced CEO. It was fascinating to see the way money is thrown around in Silicon Valley.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.