Monday, July 30, 2018

TTT: Books That Deserved Their Hype

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, 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:

Popular Books that Lived Up to the Hype

At first I thought--well, that just means they don't really need a blog post. Then I considered that it IS interesting to see which titles work for which people. I'm sure that if we all did five books in this category and five books that we feel did NOT live up to the hype, some lists would be complete opposites. 

And then I thought--okay, let's do that!

I'm going to give you a list of the popular books I love and a (shorter) list of those I really don't. I'm identifying popular as over  100,000 reviews on Goodreads, and I'm also going to limit it to books published in the last ten years, since "hype" is really a fleeting thing.  At the end I'll run a survey to see which of my picks you do and don't agree with.  I only included books I have strong opinions on, and unless I say "series," it's just that one title that wowed or annoyed me.

Ready?  Whee!

The Hunger Games
The Fault in Our Stars
Gone Girl
Clockwork Angel
Eleanor & Park
Lunar Chronicles series
The Nightingale
Cloud Atlas
Saga series
Eleanor Olpihant is Completely Fine
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secret of the Universe
Six of Crows series
Visit from the Goon Squad
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
Girl with all the Gifts
Born a Crime
Chaos Walking series
Between Shades of Grey
Darker Shade of Magic (I love the series, but only this one cracked 100K reviews)

I'm feeling more need to explain or justify these, so I will. My list, my rules, right?

The Help--White savior complex much? Stereotypes much? Blech.
The Maze Runner--I got bored. It turns out Dashner is also a real tool, but honestly? I just didn't like the story.
Ready Player One--again, boring. As a child of the 80s, I was assured I'd love this, but, um, nothing was happening. I liked the setting though.
Allegient--for all the obvious reasons.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children--cool idea, meh execution
Shiver--I would just say Stiefvater's not my cup of tea, but Scorpio Races is my everything, so...? IDK.
The Underground Railroad--This avoided the obvious issues with The Help, being written by an #ownvoices author, but I just couldn't get into it. If you're going to write alternative history, go all out. This was just weird.
Shatter Me--I really wanted to like this one, I really, really did. But it was boring, and the insta-love annoyed the hell out of me.
Throne of Glass--I just don't get it. I tried it once, when I'd never heard of it and thought it looked interesting at the library. I tried it again, after I'd heard people raving about it. I couldn't make it past chapter 3 either time. 
The Unbecoming of Martha Dyer--The love interest was all the bad tropes rolled into one rich asshole. The mystery was dull. Just--no. 
The Summer I Turned Pretty/To All the Boys I've Loved Before--Definitely a case of it's not Jenny Han, it's me. I read a lot of YA, but every once in awhile I come across a book that makes me say, "Oh yeah, I'm not the target demographic, am I?"  I don't mean that in a condescending way either--I think Han is a legit author writing "real" books. I just...don't care about boy trouble that much, and never did.
A Gentleman in Moscow--This one fell victim to my high expectations. I know a fair amount about Russia and the USSR, and the books seemed too pat to me. 


Okay, now you get to weigh in. I put a survey together with all these titles. For each, you can tell me if you loved it or hated it. If you didn't read it, or don't feel strongly either way, there's also a middle option. There are a bunch of titles, but only the first 3 are required--from there, you can choose how many or few you want to respond to. I'll leave it up a week and give you the results next week!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

On Being an Incorrigible Mood Reader

I like to think of myself as an easy going person. If you ask me where I want to eat, and I say, "I don't care," I will not veto your suggestion, even if I'm unhappy with it--that's on me for not saying, "I don't care as long as it's not sushi."

I also do well with a certain amount of structure and routine. There's a place for my keys, and a place for my sunglasses, and the fact that I'm not sure where my new reading glasses are right now is 100% due to not yet having a place for them. I lay out my clothes the night before, I keep a shopping list on the fridge that's updated as we notice we're missing something, and I refill my prescriptions when there's a week's worth left.

I show up for work on time (cutting it awfully close, usually, but still--ON TIME) and I work whatever schedule I'm given. Block schedule with five different courses? Sure. X-schedule with an a short elective at the end of the day? I'll do my best. Six periods of one course? Seven periods and three courses? Whatever. I have my preferences, but I'll make it all work.

And yet.

I can't follow a reading plan for the life of me. Even when I keep it super loose. For example, right now I should choose my next book(s) from one of these categories:

  • The summer reading list I drew up FOR MYSELF in early June
  • Books that fit the VERY VERSATILE Pop Sugar challenge list
  • Any of the 37 books I have checked out from the library currently
  • The book my mother-in-law gave me for my birthday
  • The book my late mother's best friend wrote
  • Any of the approximately 100 books from my classroom library I stashed at my house for the summer
  • Any of the dozen professional books I want to either read or re-read
So what do I do?  Obviously, I either go to the library and get a DIFFERENT book, or I read a book and then decide I have to immediately read all the sequels, or I start flipping through a book at someone's house and then decide to see if it's on audio or ebook at the library so I can keep reading it at home. You get the picture. It's like I resent having all these great books (all but two of which I CHOSE FOR MYSELF) available and need to find something different. 

Okay, so often I choose a book from one of those many categories I already have available too, but I do so with a huge sense of doing something virtuous. "See! Here I am making good use of my resources and following my self-imposed rules!"  

It's weird. It's also why I never got into the ARC thing--I don't want to be freaking obligated to read anything. I read for fun, and deadlines and expectations make it not fun. 

Such a rebel.

Monday, July 23, 2018

TTT: Bookish Memories

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, 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: Books with Sensory Reading Memories, which ties in well with something I was thinking about anyway. See, Monday is/was my birthday (writing in advance, publishing for Tuesday), so I was pondering books throughout my life. I feel like I've talked about most of these before, but it's been awhile.

The first book I remember reading is Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss. I'd sit in the little wooden rocking chair in our family's furnace room (I honestly have no idea why I was sitting in there, but that's what I remember) and read it to myself. It was, to be clear, a LARGE furnace room in which we stored camping equipment, hung laundry on wet days, and so on.

In first grade, my teacher had a two-shelf bookshelf that ran under the windows. I remember it being a mess, with books tossed in willy nilly by six year olds who hadn't yet learned how to sit books upright. My favorite book to borrow from her was called No Flying in the House. I'd read it over and over. It had a distinctive style of illustration that was common in books I read in my childhood. I came across a copy of it a few years ago and yeah, I have no idea why I was so obsessed with it. I do remember the character being told that if you could kiss your elbow, you were a fairy. How many times do you think I tried to kiss my elbow?  (A lot.)

In third grade, our teacher read the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series to us, and I was hooked. That summer, my sister and I read The Silver Chair together on the chaise lounge in our backyard, a wooden contraption with classically seventies turquoise flowers on the pad. We'd do the dishes, then cozy up together in the sweet light of a summer evening. One night she'd read two chapters aloud to me, and the next I'd read one to her. It remains my favorite Narnia book.

Middle school was rough for me. At the beginning of sixth grade one of my long-term friends informed me I wasn't cool enough for her to continue being friends with, which gives you some sense of my place in the pecking order. (Last year, over 35 years later, she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I was initially tempted to reject it, but I figured I would never want to be judged now by the meanest things I did in my youth, so I accepted. She seems okay.)  ANYWAY, I hated eating in the cafeteria so I would inhale my food then head to the library for the rest of lunchtime. I discovered the Dragonriders of Pern series, and would check out a new book almost every day. After lunch I had science, and the cool kids at my table gave me some grudging respect for showing up daily with a different book. Like, I was still a nerd, but I was really, really good at it.

In high school, my best friend and I spent one summer reading The Accidental Tourist together. I specifically remember being at the beach one time, laying next to each other on our beach towels (because man, did we sunbathe a lot in the 80s), taking turns reading chapters to each other, discussing as we went.

I spent a semester in Denmark in college, and it was definitely the best part of the entire college experience for me. I stayed at a "folk high school," which is sort of a community college and sort of a hippie commune. I was enamoured with the wide window sills and outward opening windows so typical of Europe, and I sat in mine while I read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. It was racy, and it was by a topical author, and the language was so beautiful I consciously slowed my reading down to make the book last longer.

My senior year in college, I took a course on Russian literature in translation. It was a freshman level course that wasn't required for anyone's major, and the professor did a lot to create engaging and non-traditional avenues for us to explore these Serious Works of Literature. (For A Hero for Our Time, we were to reflect in any form BUT an essay, resulting in collages, a rubber band duel, and a puppet show, as I recall.) He told us that we were reading War and Peace instead of Anna Karenina this year because he was "tired of teaching a novel in which the heroine throws herself in front of a train and her lover just gets a toothache." We read W&P in chunks, and after each chunk we were required to write a 15 word summary. No more, no less. I remember house sitting for one of my bosses (I had a work study job in the library all four years), and curling up with a blanket on a cold Vermont winter night, focused first on the novel, then on finding just the right words to zero in on the most significant aspects of each section.

The River Why will always have a special place in my heart, but my sensory memory from David James Duncan is when I first read The Brothers K, his follow-up novel.  I had graduated from college and was living at home with my parents for six months before going to Latvia to teach. There's a scene in which the mom freaks out and basically calls her son Satan, and when I read it, I started crying so hard I had to put the book down and collapse on my bed until I could pull myself together. For the record, my mom never called me Satan, but there was something about the juxtaposition of the person you love and trust so much losing herself in blind anger that really hit a nerve.

The books I remember most from my time in Latvia are the ones I studied from. Someone gave me a booklet of 1001 words in English, Russian, and Latvian. When I started learning a word, I put a pencil dot next to it, and when I'd mastered it in my everyday use, I'd go over the dot with a pen. A Latvian American acquaintance of my dad's had loaned me his copy of Teach Yourself Latvian. It was a medium blue hardback, small, with his name and phone number inscribed on the inside cover. I see that there's a 2009 edition available now, but since this was 1993, I must have had the 1966 first edition. At first it was over my head, but when I returned to Latvia for a two year stint with Peace Corps, I was able to make better use of it. I also had a small but fat brown Latvian-English dictionary that got a lot of use.

Since I can't find a picture of the dictionaries, here's a shot of us with our Latvian friends on Midsummer.

Back in Oregon for my thirties, I got a teaching job in a small town and rented the top half of a cute older home. My family gave me a bike, and I would ride it on errands around town. One day I crashed and got road burn so bad that I had to go to urgent care and get gravel picked out of my arm. It hurt, and the bandage made the hot summer even worse. I lay on my bed with a box fan in the window, listening to The Hero and the Crown on cassette--"Books on tape". I closed my eyes, and the heat of the room and the throbbing of my arm just made it easier to imagine myself in the desert of Damar.

I started reading Harry Potter in that apartment too, at the advice of my older niece, then in middle school. Many years later, when Deathly Hallows came out, I borrowed a copy from my friend Kristi, who'd bought it on release day and plowed through it immediately, and took it on a trip with me. My family was up at the mountain for a few days, and my younger niece (then in college) was also reading it. We sat side by side on the porch, soaking in the views and reaching the end of an era together.

This was staged. My dad told us to look like we were checking to see if they were the same.

Sometime between book one and book seven, I got married, and a few years after that we went back to Latvia for another year. This time we were in the city, and I joined an English language library. It was small and idiosyncratic, and I ended up reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time, mostly because it was there and looked like it would take longer than a day. I was transfixed from the opening and kept saying to my husband, "No WONDER this guy is famous! I had no IDEA he wrote like this!"

One the same mountain porch where we'd read Harry Potter, I was reading to my kids six summers ago, on our first family trip after our kids came home to us. Their English was nearly non-existent, but they loved being read to anyway. I read them a childhood favorite, Blueberries for Sal, with my name inscribed in my late mother's handwriting on the inside cover. The next day someone was putting nuts into a container and my son piped up, "Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk!" and we both laughed with delight at his apropos literary quotation.

For a decade or more, my friend Victoria has been saying to me, "You've read Pillars of the Earth, right?" and then being surprised and dismayed when I tell her no. A couple of years ago, when I was just getting the hang of borrowing audiobooks digitally from the library, I decided to finally rectify the situation. It is a heckuva big book, and I have a half hour commute, so I was listening to that puppy for months. I still am reminded of the story by points along the route. "This freeway exit is where Tom and Ellen first met."

This morning, I was the first person in my household up. I made myself a cup of coffee, and because the bowls were all dirty, poured some cereal into a big blue mug, topping it with raspberries and blueberries, I sat on the rocker on our back deck in the morning sun, finishing up Little and Lion.

Tomorrow I will be 49. I could have chosen a dozen different books to trace my reading life, which is to say, my life. I figure I am over halfway through my time here, and I will miss so many books by the end, but at least I know I will never run out of great books to read.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review: Chris Crutcher Does It Again with "Loser's Bracket"

Loser's Bracket by Chris Crutcher

Published 2018 by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins)

250 pages, contemporary YA.

How do I love Chris Crutcher? Let me count the ways. There's his foul mouthed, big hearted FB rants about the state of the country and the role of old white guys like himself. There's the humor that slides into even his darkest books. There's the way his work is all rooted firmly in eastern Washington/northern Idaho, just like he is. There's the way he populates that territory with diversity, and is honest about how challenging it is to live in the rural west if you don't look and act like a cowboy. There's his willingness to tell it like it is instead of how it should be. There's the way every single one of his protagonists is a high school athlete--no superstar future pro, but a dedicated, talented, hardworking team member. 

There are books like this, that make you care so deeply about the characters, that show teenagers grappling with real life issues. Smart kids who are trying to grow up right, but don't have all the answers yet. Kids from crappy families who find their own mentors and support systems. As an adoptive mom, I was so in awe of the way he shows us all the reasons why Annie should cut her losses and count herself lucky to never see her bio family again, yet makes us understand why she's unwilling to do so. This is also one of those rare YA novels in which there's not a hint of romance, which is so refreshing. Annie has other shit to deal with, thank you very much. 

There's a certain over-the-top quality to this book that might drive some people nuts, but I trust Crutcher enough that I just went with it. His books are gritty (though it just now occurs to me this was the rare cuss-free Crutcher novel), but they're also somehow mythical in scope. 

I may have a tiny bit of a crush on Walter, and I'd like to kick Pop Howard in the teeth. Or possibly an easier-to-reach place.  And yes, I had to finish it by the pool. 

5/5 stars

Friday, July 20, 2018

Mini Reviews: A Mixed Bag Indeed

This is basically me not wanting to neglect the blog any longer, so I'm self-plagiarizing several shorter reviews I wrote on Goodreads recently. We have one schmaltzy "chapter book," a collection of literary short stories, a mid-century nonfiction classic, and a picture book. A virtual smorgasbord of literary forms. Enjoy!

Ellie's Story by W. Bruce Cameron

I read this to a small class of reluctant readers, all boys, after they'd voted on it.  The voting had been highly contentious, but by the end of the first chapter, they were all completely quiet and focused on the story.  They chuckled at the bits where Ellie's narration reveals her doggish-ness.  They shouted out predictions about what might happen.  They remained anxious about Jacob even when he was off-screen for a big chunk of the book.

The illustrations, I felt, were overly cartoonish.  Not having read A Dog's Purpose,we were simply confused by the dreams Ellie had, which I guess referred to a previous incarnation--given that there was no other mention of that concept, that could have been dropped.

A solid three stars from me, an enthusiastic five stars from my students, so we'll call it four stars.

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

These short stories were strangely compelling. Assuming the author is giving her characters
backgrounds like hers, I'm guessing she graduated from a private east coast college in 1994 after attending public school in the midwest. I graduated from a private east coast college in 1991 after attending public school in the west, so there were certain attitudes and memories that really rang a bell. A lot of her characters (and these short stories hinge on characterization more than plot) walk a fine line between likable and appalling.

Three stars, but a few stories reached towards 4 or 5.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote



Truman Capote sure can write. Much like my experience finally picking up Grapes of Wrath in my 30s, I was blown away by the economical yet forceful prose. I can't imagine how much work went into this book. The extensive research is seamlessly blended into terrific storytelling.

I am not a fan of true crime, but I've always heard this book praised, and true crime is a category in this year's Popsugar reading challenge, so I figured I'd give it a try. It was easier to read than I'd imagined; I think mainly because it doesn't make any attempts at the victims' POV during the actual crime. The 1950s language also offers a layer of distance. Not that I could be detached--it's a horrifying crime and the mental state of the murderers is fascinating and repugnant.  The only other true crime books I've read are Anne Rule's Ted Bundy story--and she's shall we say not the literary stylist Capote is--and David Cullen's Columbine--also well researched, but more ponderous in its attempt to make meaning. I find myself wondering about Capote's stake in all this--what compelled him into what must have been years of obsessive research and writing?

Highly recommended. Deserves its status. Five stars, of course.

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho

Holy sh*t.  This book packed an unexpected punch.

At my elementary school in the 1970s, there were two families of "boat people" as we rather callously called them. My husband worked with a man who remembers being boarded by pirates and robbed of all possessions during his family's ordeal. Another friend's husband isn't clear as to how old he is, and his family was going through such a long journey through various countries' refugee camps during the time he was born and his birth went unrecorded. So it's not like this story was a surprise to me. But--it becomes so visceral, told from the point of view of the child himself.

And obviously, the way it resonates for today--the sheer desperation it would take a family with children to flee their home, risking their life for the chance of survival. And it breaks my heart, the relief they had upon being rescued by the American aircraft carrier, because we are no longer that place of refuge and welcome.

Five stars, owing also to the extensive collection of actual photos and maps at the back of the book, proving this is no allegory or composite.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Draw Me Your Life: Memoirs in Graphic Novel Format

I figure I'm preaching to the choir, but two things to keep in mind:

1. Graphic Novels are a format, not a genre. Any genre can be created in the graphic novel format.
2. Graphic Novels are real books.

Now that we have that out of the way, there are some amazing cartoonists who have shared their life story in graphic novel format. There are also writers who have worked with artists to create illustrated versions of their autobiographies. Graphic Novel Memoirs (because "graphic memoirs" sounds like memoirs that include lots of sex and violence) are a strong subset of the memoir genre and of the graphic novel format. I've really enjoyed these literal glimpses into some fascinating lives.

As I did with last week's TTT, I've picked out the titles that have the fewest reviews on Goodreads, hoping to garner some more attention for these hidden treasures. Below that, I'll include a list of all the others I can think of as well. I'm also including covers for each one, so you get a sense of the art style. If a title is asterisked *** it's a particular favorite.

Ten Terrific Graphic Novel Memoirs With Fewer Than 3,500 Reviews on Goodreads

*** Rendez-Vous in Phoenix by Tony Sandoval
Sandoval focuses in this book on his attempts to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. in order to join his American girlfriend. It's a short book with almost a picture book set-up, but it's not a kids' story. 

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look at High School by Lisa Wilde (my Goodreads review here)
Wilde teaches at an academy for at-risk kids in New York City. This hits close enough to home that I looked at it with a critical eye, but it's an interesting story and interesting format.

*** Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution by Julia Alekseyeva
Two for the price of one! Alekseyeva is sharing the story of her grandmother's life in Soviet Russia, and how her life as an immigrant to the US, reflects her grandma's. This era and area are of great interest to me in general.

*** Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir by Tom Hart
I always say how much I like going into books blind. Well, this was the exception. Rosalie was Hart's daughter who died at age two. It's a beautiful meditation on grief and loss, but only you can decide if you really want to read a book about the aftermath of a toddler's death. Not for everyone.

***Lighter than My Shadow by Katie Green (my review on Goodreads here)
Green's tale of anorexia, compounded by her abuse by a so-called healer, is pretty tough going too. My 12 year old liked it a lot though, although she admitted to skimming over the skeevy stuff.

The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames
Honestly, I don't really remember this one, but I gave it three stars, so I enjoyed it.

***Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
I knew Brosgol's work from Anya's Ghost, which has been popular in my classroom for years. You might know her work from Leave Me Alone!, which was nominated for a Caldecott last year. Instead of fantasy, though, her latest is this fantastic memoir of her time at a Russian Heritage summer camp. I mentioned my thing about Russia already, and I loved the summer camp I attended, so I was completely delighted by this one.

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel
Okay, I don't remember a lot about this one either, but Cherson Siegel was a Puerto Rican emigre to NYC, so it's definitely a nice diverse, own voices read.

The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley
Gownley uses a graphic novel to tell the story of how he became a cartoonist. (The "dumbest idea" is when his friend suggests he use that doodling he constantly does to impress a girl.)

*** The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos
Mark Long's dad was a Houston area reporter who befriended a local professor in the 1960s. Long is white, the friend, black. It's an interesting look at the civil rights movement in a specific locale, and shows how personal experience can change people's minds better than any rhetoric ever will.

Some More Magnificent Graphic Novel Memoirs For Your Consideration

  • ***Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier are probably the most famous graphic novels for young people in existence, and for good reason. They are so engaging that many students don't even realize they're not fiction.
  • ***Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi might be the first graphic novel memoir I read, and I was hooked. 
  • ***Something New by Lucy Knisley. I first read her food memoir, Relish, but I prefer this story of her wedding and all the many thoughts she had about sexism, the patriarchy, love, commercialization, and catering.
  • March Vol. 1-3 by John Lewis is the famed US Representative from Georgia's memoir of his early days as a Civil Rights activist.
  • My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf is possibly the only book I've read without rating. It's about his memories of the guy who would become the most famous cannibal in modern history. Fascinating, but...ew.
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale is a book I think most middle schoolers (and former middle schoolers) will be able to relate to. How do you find good friends? What does it mean when friendships end?
  • *** Marbles, Mania, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney is pretty  much what it says--an honest look at mental illness over time.
  • Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash is about Thrash's coming out to herself and then to others while at a summer camp for Very Proper Southern Young Ladies.
  • *** Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast was a definite case of right book, right time for me. As she shared the end of her parents' lives, it made me sob and it made me cackle with glee.
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is "a family tragicomic" that has somehow been adapted into a musical. 
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson covers a childhood of abuse, his first love, and his grappling with faith.
  • *** Tomboy by Liz Prince is a great look at gender binary.
  • *** Stitches by David Small is a disturbing story of a dysfunctional family.
  • *** Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is technically an illustrated memoir, not a graphic novel memoir. But it's awesome, and it has pictures. Terrible pictures, but that's part of the point. 
  • *** Little White Duck by Na Liu is about her childhood in post-Maoist China
  • Drawing From Memory by Allen Say tells how he risked it all for his art.
  • *** Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. George is one of those crazy family stories that make you glad memoirs exist so we can find out about them.
  • *** Maus 1 and 2 by Art Spiegelman might not quite belong here--it's ostensibly about mice, and it's main focus is biographical, not autobiographical. But nobody's ever thought it was actually a talking-animals book, and Spiegelman does reflect a lot on how his father's experience during the Holocaust has influenced his own life.
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell isn't about superhero bunnies either. Bell shares what it was like growing up deaf.

Monday, July 9, 2018

TTT: Best So Far in 2018

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, 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:


There are 29 books I've given 5 stars to so far this year, so I'm going to share with you my top three, then the remaining seven will be those with the fewest ratings/reviews on Goodreads, because they need the love. Do you really need me telling you that Hunger Games and Turtles All the Way Down are worth a look? I'm working on a post about graphic novels, so I didn't add any more after my top three.

1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I love this book about a woman who's dealt with early trauma by shutting herself off completely from the world. It's hilarious and sad and affirming and just one of those books. It's the only one I've rated "all the stars" so far this year.

2. I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina. This is the one I picked for my "everybody should be reading it this summer" book. Timely, grounded in history, emotional. Plus it's an #ownvoices graphic novel. 

3. There There by Tommy Orange. One of those books that provoked so many thoughts, I actually broke down and wrote a review

4. Murder on the Red River by Marcie Rendon (160 reviews) An atmospheric study of character, time and place more than an actual murder mystery. Have I ever read a Native American woman protagonist that wasn't written by Louise Erdrich before?

5. Steel Seraglio by Mike, Linda, and Louise Carey (609 reviews) Yes, this was written by parents and their daughter. Yes, it's the most amazing feminist middle Eastern fantasy epic you've never heard of.

6. The Wicker King by Kay Ancrum (1,058 reviews) This is a physically beautiful book but more importantly (coughIlluminaeFilescough) it's a great and unusual story. It's about love and mental illness and bad decisions and loyalty.

7. The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis (1,284 reviews) It's Australian. It has three narrators, all of whom were best friends, in their own way, with a guy who just died. I have a group of four friends that centers around one of us, and it's taken us nearly 40 years to develop parallel friendships, so I get it.

8. Rebound by Kwame Alexander (2,610 reviews) This is a prequel to his Newbery award winning novel in verse, The Crossover. I'd recommend reading that one first, even though it's chronologically later. Knowing the events of the future make this book even more poignant. I love the 80s flavor of this one.

9. Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali (2,805 reviews) This one made me cry. In a good way.

10. Nest by Esther Ehrlich (3,047) The rare middle grade novel that pulls no punches. Again, I like the '70s setting, even though it reminds me more of the east coast novels I read than of my west coast childhood. 

Wow, what an ORANGE list, and I'm not just talking about the author of There There. Given that it's my least favorite color, you can rest assured I'm recommending books based on their content, not their covers. I hope you discover some new titles, or get the push to read one you've been considering, from this group. 

Wendy's Library List

I walked into the library this morning just in time to see someone pick up a book from my display. I very uncreepily followed her over to where she was checking out books in order to determine which book she'd chosen. It was Rocket Boys, one of those nonfiction titles I avoid because I'm convinced it will be dull, only to become absolutely smitten with when I give it a try.

I promised you a list, and I'm going to over-deliver, trust me on that. First, here's a link to the full 149 item list I generated, alphabetical by author's last name (where applicable).

But 149 items is a lot to slog through, especially without context, so I'm going to share some more data here.



  • stud finder
  • bocce ball set
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince DVD
  • mini heart silicone mold cake pan
  • Room with a View DVD
  • Waiting to Exhale DVD

Yes, these are all things I've checked out from the library. And yes, I only added movies that were book adaptations. I would have also included the GoPro my son borrowed once for filming skateboarding life, or the ice cream maker we try to get once a year, but they both have dozens of holds, so I didn't want to try to mess with that. 


Clearly, I mostly like funny picture books and ones with messages of love.


You can tell a lot about my non-book hobbies and interest from this list. Also, that I prefer my poetry free verse, narrative, and direct.


  • Ursula K. LeGuin (who totally would have been on here more if they'd had more of her books here)
  • David James Duncan
  • Jason Reynolds