Saturday, February 22, 2020

Sunday Post #48/Sunday Salon #22

Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly Sunday Post link-up, and Deb at ReaderBuzz expanded Sunday Salon from a FB group to a link-up as well.

What I Read
After a dismal showing last week, I'm BACK, BABY! Well, and I also decided to actually count some of the tiny home and decluttering books I've been reading. I read eight books, five of which were nonfiction. This is a bit odd for me, but I think it's a reaction to reading so much YA spec fic in a short period of time.

Dreyer's English, recommended by Deb at Reader Buzz, is a gem. I was chortling while reading. My daughter said, "Only you would be laughing while reading a book about punctuation and grammar," but I am pretty sure that most people would be absolutely delighted by this book.

Tiny Homes on the Move: Wheels and Water
Tiny House Basics: Living the Good Life in Small Spaces
New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living
Of the dozen or more related books I've skimmed lately, these are the ones that actually pulled me in enough to read.

Talking to Strangers
I just sat by the library windows and polished this off in a couple of hours. I started out extremely skeptical of Gladwell's take on police violence, but he tied together interesting data about how most crimes take place in very small, specific areas, research on policing from a specific area of Kansas City, and how the disastrous misunderstanding that those two things are related has led to horrifyingly dangerous practices. Also interesting information on how making specific deadly means less available doesn't just shift suicide attempts to other means, but actually decreases suicide rates.

And in fiction, I read the sequel to The Hazel Wood, The Night Country, which was satisfying, Paper Valentine, which was on the "staff recommends" shelf at the library and was just the right amount of horror for me, and Spellslinger, which I didn't quite finish in time for the OBOB conversation. It is a creative and entertaining western/fantasy. It was my favorite of the week after Dreyer's English.

What I'm Reading/What's Next
I just picked up The Hand On the Wall, the final book in the Truly Devious series, so I'm super excited about that. I also just started reading Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, which should be a quick and fun read.

Three Things

  1. Today we took a bunch of clothes in to a local nonprofit resale shop that donates to homeless veterans in my city, which feels so much better than dropping them off at Goodwill. I also took a stack of books to Powell's to sell. Usually they take about 15% of my offerings and I get maybe five bucks store credit, but today they took almost half of my books and I got $33, enough to buy 6 books for my classroom. We also cleaned out kitchen drawers and cabinets and put stuff aside for the annual rummage sale the Latvian society has in April, and we're organizing our climbing boots and snowshoes (but not the camping or hiking gear) for the local mountain club's gear sale next month. Do you see a trend here?
  2. Check out our adorable sub-letter. The kid has named him Jimmy, and he appears to live under a juniper bush in our front yard. 

3. My daughter became vegetarian, then my husband went 90% vegan. Send bacon and cheese.

Monday, February 17, 2020

TTT: Juried Selection

 TTT (Top Ten Tuesday) is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl .  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 it out!

The topic this week is: ten books that most recently gave you a book hangover, but I'm going to do something else this week.

I just finished my own awards season, in which I read some dozen plus books to choose the best YA speculative fiction for round 2 of the CYBILS and to choose the high school titles for next year's Oregon Battle of the Books. They had nearly the same timeline and were decided upon in the past few days. Here are my ten favorites that were up for consideration that I had never read before, roughly in order of my preference.

  1. Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood (OBOB)\
  2. Fireborne (Cybils)
  3. Stronger, Faster, More Beautiful (Cybils) 
  4. Seraphina (OBOB)
  5. The Bone Houses (OBOB)
  6. Tash Hearts Tolstoy (OBOB)
  7. The Electric State (OBOB)
  8. Little Brother (OBOB)
  9. Aurora Rising (Cybils)
  10. Noteworthy (OBOB)

And--bonus!--here are my ten favorites that I'd already read. Nine of them are for OBOB, because they try to choose books available in paperback, which basically translates to backlist books, whereas Cybils is specifically for books published in the past year.

  1. Internment (Cybils)
  2. The 57 Bus
  3. Darius the Great is Not Okay
  4. The Smell of Other People's Houses
  5. Far From the Tree
  6. Emma
  7. Gabi, Girl in Pieces
  8. Truly Devious
  9. Symphony for the City of the Dead
  10. I Am Alfonso Jones

70% of the new favorites are speculative fiction, including OBOB titles, but 100% of the older favorites are realistic. Interesting.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sunday Post #47/Sunday Salon #21

Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly Sunday Post link-up, and Deb at ReaderBuzz expanded Sunday Salon from a FB group to a link-up as well.

What I Read
I don't know what's going on with me right now. I have read two books--not this week, but this MONTH--and one of them was a novel in verse. Both books I started as audiobooks during my commute, and once I was into them, switched to ebooks, because that was the handiest format without having to wait. Who am I? What's happening?

At least both books were solid reads. Kwame Alexander's Swing took a MUCH darker turn than I expected. I've heard him say that when he met his wife in college, she wasn't interested, so he wrote her a love poem daily for a year, and now they've been married for decades. It sounds sweet when he says it like that, but it also sounds like someone not taking "no" for an answer, so when a character in the book takes a similar approach to wooing a girl who was his friend, I was sort of cringing. HOWEVER, -- sort of a spoiler here--while it works in the short term, in the long term she decides he's not the one, and he accepts that with good grace. In this case, it was more about him shooting his shot, as The Youth say, instead of always hiding how he felt.


The Hazel Wood is dark and creepy and  delicious. If I were a librarian in charge of displays, I'd add it to a "If you like V. E. Schwab..." display. I'll be looking for the next one soon. It was another book that subverted romantic expectations. I kind of loved that about it too.

The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood, #1)
I love this cover, but now that I've read the book, I REALLY appreciate it. 

What I'm Reading/What's Next
WHO EVEN KNOWS?!?!?  I don't think it's a slump so much as being distracted by internet and Netflix. The Winemaker and I watched The Stranger and continue to watch Schitt's Creek. He makes sad faces at me if I try to go read instead of hanging out with him in the evening.  We have also started daydreaming about Tiny Houses, and I guess we can say I have read after all, because I've been poring over a dozen books on the topic.

I have wrapped up the Cybils reading and the OBOB title selection reading, so I feel a sense of freedom. I may even read BOOKS WRITTEN FOR GROWN-UPS that aren't about tiny houses.

Three Things

  1. I already mentioned it, but CYBILS AWARDS ARE OUT. Also, I'm drinking a mocha and it seems to encourage me to use all caps. I really like Fireborne, the book we chose as the YA Spec Fic winner, though I argued for Internment for awhile too. And I'm super proud because Heroine, the book I nominated for YA contemporary, won. Ha! 
Fireborne (The Aurelian Cycle, #1) InternmentHeroine

2. I started a new semester at school with brand new students. My classes are tiny, because we just hired an additional math intervention teacher and pulled six classes of kids into math. Many of those kids would have had reading otherwise. I have mixed emotions about that. Reading is fundamental, to borrow a slogan, but the kids I do have are certainly going to benefit from the under 20 class sizes. 

3. The Winemaker and I had dinner at this noodle house last night while our kid was skating. It's not that different than Thai food, but the homemade noodles were really delicious. We rarely go out to eat, so even a casual restaurant was a nice treat for us. 

Image result for frank's noodle house portland

Monday, January 27, 2020

TTT: Cover Lover

 TTT (Top Ten Tuesday) is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl .  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 it out!

The topic this week is: COVER FREEBIE.

What fun! I definitely have some favorite styles of covers.

This is a collection I call "Black and White and Read All Over."

I haven't read Patron Saints of Nothing yet, but I do recommend all of the others. 

And these are either "Starry Starry Night" or "The Moon and Stars Above."

Again, I really liked all of these books. 

Sometimes I ignore books with ugly covers, and when someone convinces me to read them and they're actually great, I am all the more frustrated with their bad cover. We've been watching a lot of Schitt's Creek lately, so I call these "Ew, David."

Basically, I don't like orange or murky. Good books though! 

To cleanse my palate, here are just some covers I adore that don't fit in the above categories. They have sort of an art deco vibe. Or maybe it's the birds? 

I haven't read The Merciful Crow--it doesn't have great reviews. Love all the others, of course.

Do you have a favorite book cover? Mine might be Marcello in the Real World. Or Six of Crows. Or Aristotle and Dante. Or...

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Post #46/Sunday Salon #20

Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly Sunday Post link-up, and Deb at ReaderBuzz expanded Sunday Salon from a FB group to a link-up as well.

What I Read: 6 books 

So I can't really say much about any of them, given that they're in the process of being judged or evaluated, but they were all good in their own ways. I LOVE Thirteen Doorways. So much. Early contender for favorite read of 2020.

What I'm Reading/What's Next
Currently reading:

  • Enchantee  (for OBOB 2020 consideration)
  • Here Lies Daniel Tate (because I LOVE the "false heir" trope)
  • The Valiant  (for OBOB 2020 consideration)
and my daughter and I listened to about 1/2 of Internment while on a car trip last weekend. It's a re-read for me, but I'm hoping she'll want to get back to it again.

I am so overwhelmed by books I really want to read. I need to get through this "awards season" and then light a blazing path through everything else I want to get to.

Three Things

  • My daughter had a synchronized skating competition near Seattle last weekend, and we went up and stayed at my sister's house, mostly so we could see her cat, who is The Most Perfect Cat Ever. 
  •  I might be joining an adult book club, so that's exciting.
  • Yesterday I made myself an extremely healthy fruit salad with wheat germ, and then I made rice krispy treats. #Balance.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

On Kindness

*WARNING* This is not a post about books in any way, shape or form. But it's something I had to write and want to share publicly. Feel free to skip it. My sisters gave me permission to share it here, and I probably have the details wrong about the diabetic stuff one of them needs, but the point still remains. 

Several days after my mom died, my dad asked me to go into town and get a copy of the state and local papers so he could see her obituary. It was a cold and damp day in January. My car was in the driveway; my parents' car was in the garage, and multiple rain jackets hung in the coat closet, but for some reason, I set out in the drizzle on foot wearing only a light jacket without a hood. My decision making skills were at an all-time low. Between the two of us, we couldn't even figure out what a reasonable amount of money would be to buy two newspapers, although we did realize I'd need coins. I simply loaded up my pockets from the cigar box my dad had kept his change in my entire life and set out.

The drizzle quickly changed to rain, then to what even we Oregonians will admit is a downpour. By the time I reached the main street of their tiny town, I was drenched. I stood shivering in front of the newspaper boxes and jammed coins into them with fumbling fingers. As I tucked the newspapers inside my jacket to keep them from disintegrating before I got back, I peered into the window of the storefront I was standing by. It was a coffee shop. A warm drink sounded good, and a break from the rain sounded even better, so I went in.

I stood there, dripping on the counter, trying to count change and match my total against the menu board posted above. "What would you like?" asked the man behind the counter, politely ignoring the water cascading off every part of my face, hair and body onto his clean floor and counter.

"I think I have enough here for a medium cup of coffee," I replied, still trying to get the numbers to stay straight in my head long enough to differentiate between the amount needed for a small or a medium.

"That's not what I asked," he answered. At this, I looked up. "What would you like?"

I'd like to say I protested enough to be polite, but I suspect I simply answered directly. "A large latte."

"That's the perfect amount then," he told me, scooping my coins up and turning to make my drink.

I was too numb to burst into tears, but nine years later, I still mist up every time I think of that moment. This man had no idea my mom had just died. Despite my state of confusion and damp, I was still clearly a middle class, middle aged white lady, not someone down on their luck and unable to afford a latte. There was no reason for him to extend me any particular kindness. But he did. I sat in the café with my latte, and read the obituary I had written with so much love in my grieving heart. When I finished my drink, I folded up the papers and tucked them back into my jacket. It wasn't raining as hard on the way back to my parents' house, now just my dad's house. When I told him the story, he did cry, but then, he cried so easily the last few years of his life, all masculine reticence gone in the aftermath of mini strokes that rewired him emotionally. But for a few moment, they were tears of gratitude. That someone would extend such grace. That the world wasn't a completely shit show in every way. That even without my mom, we wouldn't always be left to fend for ourselves.

Nine years later, nearly to the day, I'm standing helplessly in the middle of Costco while my sister, hunched against a giant box of shampoo, sobs into her hands. She just found out that the diabetic pump that she needs costs over $800 even here. Someone had told her Costco had a much better price, and she'd gotten her hopes up enough to ask me to take her in to check. She is what's sometimes known as a Type III diabetic: someone who developed diabetes as an adult, but who is insulin dependent no matter what "lifestyle changes" she makes. Her blood sugar has always fluctuated wildly, seemingly unaffected by her food and exercise. She'd never been able to afford a pump--hell, her insurance wouldn't even cover the difference between needles and the more efficient pen for her twice daily shots--but when she developed macular degeneration and her doctor told her she had to get her blood sugar under control to save her eyesight, she had splurged on the machine.

At the time, she thought the thousand dollar charge was part of her deductible, and that when she needed her three month replacements, insurance would cover it. But it turns out that her insurance will never pay for the pump, since it's more expensive than taking insulin manually. Even though the time she was using the pump was the first time in over fifteen years she'd started to get a handle on her highs and lows, even though her optometrist told her her eye condition had stabilized during that period and could start to recover if she continued to control her diabetes better. The Costco pharmacist had tried to help her problem solve--"Can you call the company directly?" Tried that. "Can your doctor prescribe it?" Already did; insurance company doesn't care. "What if you called the company-?"

"NOBODY CARES. I know it's not your fault, but NOBODY WILL HELP ME."  She made it a few steps away from the pharmacy window before sagging against the shampoo display in agony.

What if some good Samaritan passing by had decided that instead of paying coffee for the person behind them in the Starbucks line, instead of buying the milk for the family in front of them at the grocery store whose wallet was forgotten at home, they were going to do The Most Outstanding Random Act of Kindness Ever and bought my sister's diabetic pump for her? Wouldn't that have been amazing?

Except it wouldn't have addressed the problem. Even for her, it would have only given her a three month solution, and it would have done nothing for every single other person in a similar situation. My other sister is in chemo right now, and without insurance, it would cost $57,000 PER SESSION. When she told me this, I looked at her anxiously for a moment, and she said, "Yes, that's three zeros," because everyone knows I sometimes say "seventy five hundred" instead of "seven hundred and fifty" or "seventy five thousand." She has insurance, good insurance, so her company told the hospital they capped that treatment at $37,000 per session, then the insurance paid $34,000 per session, so my sister only has to pay $3,000. Per session. For six sessions. $18,000 out of pocket. With good insurance, not the crappy kind our other sister has.

Do you have $18,000 stashed away that you could pay a hospital if you were diagnosed with breast cancer tomorrow? I sure as hell don't.

What do these two stories have to do with each other? I've been reading a lot lately about kindness, and what it means to be kind versus to be nice, and whether kindness is a privileged buzzword that lets people avoid real responsibility for each other. Is it more important to be kind on an individual level, or do we sometimes have to be unkind in order to push forward real change? If person X says something racist, and person Y calls them on it, do we really give a rat's ass that person Y was unkind about it? Or do we worry more about the society that let person X develop and say something harmful to others in the first place?

I'm with my friend and mentor Beth Woolsey on this. It's both/and, not either/or. The kindness of the man in the coffeeshop will always stay with me, and keeps me ever mindful that we don't know what others are going through. It wasn't a meaningless gesture. That very human and personal gesture helped me with a human and individual burden.

My sister's insurance nightmare is certainly personal as well, but it's also societal, and we can't rely on personal gestures to fix a societal problem. Healthcare can't rely on GoFundMe campaigns. One sister has the luck of being in a family that earns enough money to save quite a bit. Another made the painful decision to dig into her small retirement fund now in order to be sure she lives long enough to retire. Other people all around us don't even have that option, and they lose their homes to medical debt, or they simply die needless deaths. It's not remotely acceptable, and yet we accept it.  This is not a problem that can be fixed by kindness.

But kindness still matters.

Monday, January 13, 2020

TTT: Great Books With Few Reviews

 TTT (Top Ten Tuesday) is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl .  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 it out!

The topic this week is: most anticipated books of early 2020. But I'm still in a review and reflect mode, so instead I'm bringing you Ten Books I Really Liked Last Year That Have Under a Thousand Reviews on Goodreads.  Not as catchy, but equally important, right? These are the books that got a 4 or 5 star rating from me in 2019, as found when I organize my "Read" shelf on Goodreads in reverse order of number of ratings.  I didn't bother listing those I'd already listed in previous Best Of lists this month, so I could feature some new titles. 

1. Dodger Boy 40 ratings
I would be more surprised that this sweet MG novel about a Canadian tween and the American draft dodger she befriends hasn't gotten more love, but it has a cover that looks like a kid drew it in crayon because their teacher made them. 
Dodger Boy

2. One Lie Too Many . 48 ratings
This solid teen thriller is about a girl who agrees to pretend to have psychic powers in order to "rescue" a girl who has been "kidnapped." Then people start to die. Great for fans of Karen McManus and Justine Larbalestier.

One Lie Too Many

3. Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man  157 ratings
I read this for Cybils judging last year, and was very impressed (and educated) by this biography. 

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man

4. Oddity 208 ratings
My classroom was matched with author Sarah Cannon through #KidsNeedBooks. It seemed only polite to read her book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Think Night Vale for middle grade readers. 

5. Barely Missing Everything 311 ratings
This is a tough YA #ownvoices story about a kid named Juan who's trying to make it through high school and out of his small town Texas life.
Barely Missing Everything

6. Run, Hide, Fight Back 324 ratings
April Henry is a mainstay in my classroom. Kids love her books. She's a local author and a friendly presence on Twitter, her books are quick reads, so I've read pretty much all of them. This one, the story of a group of disparate teens thrown together when a shopping mall is attacked by (domestic) terrorists, is second only to her Girl Stolen in my mind.
Run, Hide, Fight Back

7. Scary Stories for Young Foxes 346 ratings
I adored this creepy yet whimsical story-within-a-story. When Mother Fox cautions her kits that they are far too young to listen to the Old Fox in the cave tell her scary stories, of course they dash off when she's not looking to listen. The stories gradually come together into one overarching story. The foxes make very sympathetic characters, and the dangers they face are pretty intense.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

8. Grand Theft Horse 424 reviews
A fascinating, nonfiction graphic novel about a woman in LA, the author/illustrator's cousin, who stole a horse in order to save its life.

Grand Theft Horse

9. Spin 458 ratings
This is another one where I just don't understand why it has so few ratings. Lamar Giles is great, and the world definitely needs more #ownvoices books that aren't "struggle books." This is a straight up excellent mystery, and while it matters that the characters are black, it isn't about that. It makes great use of the "enemies forced to work together" trope too.

10. Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens 640 ratings
This is a truly excellent anthology that covers a range of genres and styles as well as a wide range of disabilities. It also has a super cool cover.

Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens

Friday, January 10, 2020

Best of 2019

I already posted about my favorites of the decade, but that left out many of the best books I read in 2019. Here, then, are my favorites from the past year. (Because that's really what I mean by "best.") Some of these were obvious choices; others were tough and I could easily have made a different choice. But yes, these are all books I loved this year.