Monday, January 16, 2017

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check them out!

The topic this week is Underrated Gems You've Read Recently.   This should be super interesting, and definitely one of those weeks when we won't all be talking about the same books!

Here's my method:  I sorted my Goodreads "read" shelf by number of ratings, lowest to highest.  Then I scrolled through that, looking for any books I'd read in 2016.  If it had a rating of four or five stars, it made this list.  I kept going until I had ten books.  SCIENCE!  Or is that math?

Facts of Life: Stories by Gary Soto
83 ratings
Gary Soto is no longer the only Mexican American YA/MG author.  Now we also have Matt de la Peña, Meg Medina, and, um, okay we actually still have quite a ways to go.  I don't love every story in this book--Soto does a lot of slice-of-life stuff that can feel frustratingly unresolved--but I think it's right up there with his best work.

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw
120 ratings
Sakado and the Thousand Paper Cranes was published in 1977.  That's 40 years ago.  Now there is a Hiroshima story for the 21st century.  I loved that the author, who based her story on her mother's life, took the time to establish the "before" era as well, so you fully understand the magnitude of loss, and so you see the relatable humanity of all involved.

We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart by Walter Dean Myers with art by Christopher Myers
143 ratings
This is a gorgeous picture book that uses free verse poetry and colorful paintings to tell our country's long history of messing things up and striving for our ideals.  Tons of Americans of color are featured in the artwork, both those we all know and those we should.

12 Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali by Charles R. Smith
156 ratings
While We are America consists of one long poem, this picture book has twelve separate poems that illustrate points in the life of Cassius Clay as he grows up and becomes Muhammad Ali.

Home at Last by Vera B. Williams
177 ratings
Another picture book, this one resonates so strongly with me as an adoptive mom.  The story of two men who adopt a little boy and DON'T DO EVERYTHING PERFECTLY EVEN THOUGH THEY TOTALLY LOVE HIM hits many a nerve.  Plus, you have to love the fact that this book involves two dads but it absolutely not about "Timmy Has Two Daddies"--it's just who they are, not a plot point.

My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson
189 ratings
I'm starting to notice that almost all of these books are in untraditional formats.  In this one, poet Marilyn Nelson uses historical records of a place in NYC called Seneca Village to create a multiple points of view story of a time and place that ended when the area was razed to make room for Central Park.  Who knew? Not me.  Novels in verse can get you right into the characters' heads, but can struggle to convey the world they walk through.  Nelson solves this by offering stage directions, as if it's a series of monologues.

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
270 ratings
I keep raving about this series, which satirizes fairy tales with glee.  Anything that combines feminism with a sense of humor AND a gripping story line is a winner.

Play me Backwards by Adam Selzer
272 ratings
Snarky and gleefully inappropriate, this book that I went into without any expectations made me laugh out loud several times.  These slacker stoner kids are not role models (especially the one who might actually be Satan), but they are funny all the same.

We Know it was You by Maggie Thrash
281 ratings
If you've read Thrash's graphic novel/memoir Honor Girl, you will be in no way prepared for this extremely strange, extremely enjoyable YA mystery.  (You'll also be relieved to know the story does have a resolution, or at least as much of one as the first in a planned series can be expected to.)

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton an 
632 ratings
Pokiak-Fenton worked with her daughter-in-law, author Jordan-Fenton to write this memoir of her experience as an Inuit child attending the white boarding school run by nuns.  Young Margaret didn't understand why her parents were so worried about her leaving her home and culture, and had no idea what she was getting herself into.  On the other hand, the nuns had no idea who they were fucking with.

Three picture books, two memoirs of a previous generation, a short story collection, a novel in verse, a graphic novel, and a couple of weird novels.  I guess these hidden gems are all untraditional.  So branch out!  Give one a try!

I can't wait to see what lists you all have put together too.


Top Fives with the Kid

The internet works in mysterious ways.

Recently I got a comment from a heretofore unknown person, Olivia at Books in Blankets.  It was a nice comment, so I drifted over to her blog to browse.  I liked what I saw, and fell down one of those "let me now stalk this blog's archives" rabbit holes.  She wrote a post awhile back about her five favorite books, the ones she'd keep if she was only allowed five books for the rest of her life, which thankfully is a hypothetical situation.

I mean, can you imagine?

Anyway, this ended up starting a game for my ten year old and me last night after dinner.  We picked our top five in several categories.  Then, at her insistence, we had to pick our number one.  SO HARD.  But also just for fun, so I tried to not get too obsessive about getting the "right" answers.

And now, highly influenced by Olivia's post, I'm sharing our choices with you.  Feel free to play along in the comments!  (Thanks, Olivia!)

The kid's picks:

  • Burmese Mountain Dog 
  • German Shepherd
  • Corgi
  • Siberian Husky
  • Pomeranian
My picks:
  • Siberian Husky 
  • Newfoundland (I would've chosen Burmese Mtn. dog too, but wanted variety)
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
    My beautiful Tilly Jane.  You can't tell from here, but she had one brown and one blue eye.  And she was so FLUFFY!
I grew up with a Scottie, and we added a Husky when I was in 8th grade.  The Winemaker has terrible allergies--and winemakers need to be able to use their sense of smell--so my poor kids aren't able to have cats and dog.  So all of this is highly theoretical, and based 99% on the dog's looks.  Her number one choice was Pomeranian "because I couldn't decide between Huskies and Corgis!" and mine was a Husky.  

The kid's picks:
  • Polar bear
  • leopard
  • white tiger
  • harp seal
  • African elephant ("Which is different from an Asian elephant, Mom.")
My picks:
  • caribou
  • grey wolf
  • Siberian tiger
  • sea otter
  • blue whale
What can I say?  We're mammal fans.  Her top choice was the white tiger, but she whispered her answer so her stuffed leopard wouldn't be offended.  I went with wolves.


  • bald eagle
  • red tailed hawk
  • chickadee
  • barn owl
  • downy woodpecker
  • kestrel falcon
  • snowy owl (Hedwig!)
  • chickadee
  • pileated woodpecker
  • stork
Top choices were the hawk and stork.  I so loved seeing actual storks and their gigantic nests when I was living in the Baltics.


  • Harry Potter series
  • The Princess Bride
  • a recording of the Nutcracker ballet
  • The Lion King
  • Zootopia
  • Up
  • The Princess Bride
  • Life is Beautiful
  • Lord of the Rings (since apparently we can choose series)
  • The Sound of Music (which I kind of have to sing along with)
We watched Princess Bride together recently and have been quoting it right and left, so we both chose that for our current fave.


  • trillium
  • daisy
  • water lily
  • rose
  • bluebell
  • trillium
  • Gerbera daisy
  • Indian paintbrush (how's THAT for an insensitive name?  Love the flower though.)
  • lupine
  • calla lily
Her favorite is the water lily, which I did not know.  Mine is the trillium, which she did know, give that it's her middle name.  


And now for the good stuff!  She insisted we separate our books into two categories, because she wanted to be sure we had a cookbook, but didn't want to give up any fiction for it.  Also, she declared series to be acceptable as one answer, then chose all the long series she could think of.  I held myself to a higher standard.  Ahem*.

  • a book about wolves
  • a book about Lithuania
  • a book about animal care
  • How to Cook Everything
  • grandma's gigantic National Geographic atlas 
She settled on the atlas as her number one choice (which is so cool, I think), and I'd have to hang on to the recipes.  


And--grand finale--
Her list
My list
That was super hard, of course, because we were both thinking about length and complexity as much as "did I love this book?"  If you don't have many books, you want them each to be meaty.  For a more complete look at my favorites you can either click on the "Falconer's Favorites" page above, or check out my "100 Books I Could Survive On" shelf on Goodreads.  I should go in and do some ruthless curation of that--I don't think I've updated it in a couple of years, and there might be some bumping required.  

* Okay, if I HAD allowed myself to pick series, I think I'd have:
  • Reginald Hill's Pascoe and Dalziel series, with 24 progressively better mysteries total
  • Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series, with only three books, but so inventive and moving!
  • Neal Shusterman's Unwind series is one of those trilogies that expanded to five books, HURRAH!
  • L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, because as much as I love HP, Anne was my childhood series
  • Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series, because even when the recurring characters piss me off, the mysteries are so much more than mysteries. Plus Barbara Havers is my alter-ego.  I would love to not give a fuck as spectacularly as she does.  

Play "top five" with YOUR family!  I think our topic choices say as much about us as the items selected.  What categories would you include?  What are some of your top fives?  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

None of the Above: Exploring Intersex and Loving Yourself

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

Published 2015 by Harper Collins

328 pages, contemporary realistic fiction.

I read this and am posting this review on the final day of the Dumbledore's Army Read-a-Thon.  I don't write many reviews (such a rebel book blogger!), but you get POINTS for reviewing, and there's nothing like a little competition to motive a person.

And this is a review-worthy book, for sure.

We first meet our narrator, Kristin, on a run with her boyfriend Sam.  She's athletic, affectionate, and popular without being snobby.  Her mother died of cancer years ago, and she and her father work around the pain as they look after each other.  Her two best friends are girls she's known since birth, a Queen Bee type and the sweet smoother-over who keeps everyone happy.   That job becomes necessary when Kristin wins homecoming queen, something they'd all assumed her bitchy friend was a shoo-in for.

The book quickly veers into "This for sure needs to be on the PG-13 shelf" territory when she and her boyfriend decide to go all the way, but the experience is so painful that they end up stopping.  She then, in perhaps the least believable part of the book, takes herself to a clinic to meet with an OB-GYN.  I wish I believed that most 17 year old girls would make that logical choice, but somehow I think there'd be a lot more dithering, embarrassment, and denial before she got there.  Maybe a college student would march over to Campus Health, but I think a middle class girl like Kristin wouldn't think "women's clinic!" the second her first sexual experience didn't live up to expectations.

BUT it's important that she do so, because the bulk of the book hinges on what happens next.  It is discovered that Kristin is intersex--born without any external male organs, but also without any internal female organs.  The medical and social explaining that happen next fit very naturally into the story, as Kristin, of course, knows nothing about her newly discovered situation and has a ton of questions.

The author is an MD, so I feel confident the information presented is accurate.  While not an #ownvoices narrative, she also clearly has done lots of research and interviews.  In her note at the end, she says she even had Kristin make some medical decisions that she, the doctor, disagrees with, but that seemed consistent with the character and her situation.

I found the rest of the book, in which Kristin struggles to first understand and accept her new reality, and then to figure out how to live in a world in which her personal medical history has been leaked to her entire high school, to be well told and believable.  There's a nice balance between people who support her (like her dad, a much more solid presence than many YA parents) and those who revile her, including some she thought she could rely on.  There's a tacked on romance that did very little for me, but most of the focus is on Kristin's own growth and learning.

"One day I would find my own place," she thinks as she starts gathering her courage to participate in life again.  "I wouldn't run there, though, because it didn't exist yet; I had to build it myself, out of forgiveness, truth, and terrifying gestures of friendship." (pg. 305)  This quote illuminates the way this book, while offering representation to a fairly unknown and misunderstood group, also is very relatable to anyone who's ever had to, well, grow up.  We all have to build our own place.

4/5 stars