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Recent middle grade reads

One of my current reading goals is catching up on some recent middle grade releases. Here are four I’ve finished recently!

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall

Novel, Harry N. Abrams, 2015
Read 3/1/2022, print, first read

“Through stories of Lakota leader Crazy Horse, a boy learns about his heritage and himself in this American Indian Youth Literature Award-winning novel from acclaimed author Joseph Marshall III” (Storygraph) 

The story interweaves historical stories of Crazy Horse with a boy and his grandfather visiting the sites associated with his life. While I think this is a valuable book, I wished that the present day story had been developed a little more. Still a great recommendation for any reader interested in identity or Native history. 

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Novel, Henry Holt & Company, 2018
Read 3/5/2022, print, first read

“As the first students from the rural country of Shin to attend Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout and her little brother Cricket have some pretty big skates to fill. They soon find themselves in a heated competition for top ranking.” (Storygraph)

Peasprout is a delightful main character and I enjoyed her voice a lot–it’s drily funny and sometimes melodramatic in a way that felt realistic. This is the first book in a series and I’ll definitely be recommending it to kids who are looking for an exciting adventure in a fantasy setting. 

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon read by Sullivan Jones

Novel, Penguin Random House, 2018
3/11/2022, eaudio, first read

“Caleb Franklin and his big brother Bobby Gene have the whole summer for adventures in the woods behind their house in Sutton, Indiana. Caleb dreams of venturing beyond their ordinary small town, but his dad likes the family to stay close to home.

Then Caleb and Bobby Gene meet new neighbor Styx Malone. Styx is sixteen and oozes cool. He’s been lots of different places. Styx promises Caleb and Bobby Gene that together, they can pull off the Great Escalator Trade–exchanging one small thing for something better until they achieve their wildest dream. But as the trades get bigger, the brothers soon find themselves in over their heads.” (Storygraph)

Kekla Magoon is just a fantastic middle grade writer, and I loved the way she captures that time between being a child and being a teen. Caleb wants so badly to be grown up, to be free to make his own decisions, and we really see how that impacts his choices throughout the story. 

At some points it’s a tough read, but there’s a kindness and generosity to the treatment of all the characters. They’re all three dimensional and I thought this gave a real richness to the plot and the story. I appreciated the way Caleb and Bobby Gene’s relationship unfolds, and how they both react to the first challenges of their young adult lives. 

Also, the Children’s Museum shout-out was nice! 

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi

Novel, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2019
3/17/2022, eaudio, first read

“Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace’s love for all things outer space and science fiction–especially Star Wars and Star Trek. But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it’s decided she’ll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem.”

(Storygraph)

I listened to the audiobook edition of this one, which is narrated by the author! Zoboi has a really nice reading voice and it was neat to hear her interpretation of her own characters. I appreciated the depiction of Ebony-Grace’s inner life a lot, and there were also points when I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her it was going to be okay. Her slow journey to finding her own place, both in Harlem and Alabama, was challenging at times, but it was also rewarding. I loved that she doesn’t compromise on the core of who she is, but does start to see the richness and culture of her Harlem neighborhood and the other kids her age. 

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Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Novel, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2020
Read 2/4/2022, print, first read

When Ada leaves home for her freshman year at a Historically Black College, it’s the first time she’s ever been so far from her family—and the first time that she’s been able to make her own choices and to seek her place in this new world. As she stumbles deeper into the world of dance and explores her sexuality, she also begins to wrestle with her past—her mother’s struggle with addiction, her Nigerian father’s attempts to make a home for her. Ultimately, Ada discovers she needs to brush off the destiny others have chosen for her and claim full ownership of her body and her future.

Description from Storygraph

Novels in verse can be a hard format for me, but when they click, they’re magical. Every Body Looking is a great example of a novel in verse that embraced the form and that I can’t imagine being written in any other way. 

Weaving back and forth across Ada’s life, from elementary school through her exploration of her own identity and choices in her first year of college, the story allows the reader to slowly unfold the moments that influence Ada’s life and direction. 

At the beginning of the book, she’s very much alone, shaped by the expectations and desires of the people around her. Over the course of the story, we see her begin to take the first steps towards connecting to other people and owning her own interests and boundaries. Her developing interest in dance is beautifully written and I think will resonate with any creative young adult. 

Ada herself is a lovely character and her voice springs off the page. Iloh’s sense of rhythm and imagery really make the poetry sing and bring Ada herself to life. I also appreciated that the story is clear-sighted about the adults in her life and the impact of their choices on Ada, while not villifying any of them. Ada’s desire to connect with her mother while also knowing how their interactions are likely to end was especially powerful. 

While I did wish that the book spent a little more time on the resolution, Every Body Looking is an engaging story that deals thoughtfully with many of the questions that young adults face in terms of identity, family, and making big decisions about your life. 

Other reviews:

Joshunda Sanders at Teen Vogue

Kirkus

Candice Iloh’s website

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Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North

Novel, Orbit, 2021
Read 1/22/2022, print, first read

Image from Orbit

Ven was once a holy man, a keeper of ancient archives. It was his duty to interpret archaic texts, sorting useful knowledge from the heretical ideas of the Burning Age—a time of excess and climate disaster. For in Ven’s world, such material must be closely guarded so that the ills that led to that cataclysmic era can never be repeated.

But when the revolutionary Brotherhood approaches Ven, pressuring him to translate stolen writings that threaten everything he once held dear, his life will be turned upside down. Torn between friendship and faith, Ven must decide how far he’s willing to go to save this new world—and how much he is willing to lose.

Description from Storygraph

I haven’t read North’s earlier books, so this was my introduction to her work. Having read this one, I’m still left unsure of whether I actually liked it or not. Not all books need to be liked, I think. Some challenge the reader instead, and some go out of their way to alienate the reader. Similarly, not all books have or need an argument, a philosophical or moral through-line. 

But in the case of Notes from the Burning Age, there’s something about the seriousness of the themes and occasional archness of the narrative which made me feel that this book is one that wants to be liked and wants to put forth an argument. I’m not sure it quite does either successfully. 

Then again, maybe I’m not the best reader for this whole genre. Near future fiction is not as interesting to me as other types of speculative fiction, because the mirror of our era is often too obvious. The themes and even cultural references are more about 2021 than they are about representing another culture. Where are the references to things that haven’t happened yet? The history that comes between our time and theirs? 

This kind of setting can be done well (I do love LeGuin’s version in Always Coming Home, and Connie Willis’ historian books). Unfortunately, here it felt a bit haphazard in terms of what has survived to Ven’s age. 

At the same time, I was gripped by the plot and Ven’s almost accidental careening from one disaster to another. In some ways, he’s a rather passive main character, but the banked fires of his dedication and belief are compelling nonetheless. North pulls off an interesting sleight of hand trick with his character that I’m still thinking about. 

Other reviews
Jason Sheehan at NPR
Gary K Wolfe at Locus
Armed with A Book

More on the book
Claire North in conversation with N.K. Jemisin

Previously
Recovery Reading: Sarah Caudwell (2018)
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna (2019)

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reviews

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Novella, Tachyon Publications, 2020

Image from Tachyon Publications

Read:1/1/2022, print, first read

The Surun’ do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay. Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars.

A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.

As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.

Description from Storygraph

This is the first full length work in Lemberg’s Birdverse universe, after a number of short stories set in the world. I came to this book without any background knowledge of the earlier works, but didn’t feel that my reading experience suffered. 

On the contrary, I found a world that felt complex and natural, sprawling out beyond this singular story. I suspect that this is partly because Lemberg has been writing in this world for so long that it has acquired a sort of lived-in quality. (I was reminded a bit of Yoon Ha Lee’s Hexarchate books in this respect, since the world appears in some earlier short stories in Conservation of Shadows.)

Not to make an awful joke, but The Four Profound Weaves did indeed feel profound. The descriptions of magic are lovely, and the system wasn’t overly complicated or overly smoothed out. This is in large part a story about living within tension and complexity, and I very much liked how the magic itself echoed that. 

Moreover, we see magic and its possibilities and limitations through the development of the characters, very much within their perspective and experiences–which is to say that sometimes the story and the world surprise them, and so we are surprised as well.

On the surface, the writing style seems straightforward, but there are bursts of richness and even deep lyricism. Here’s one of my favorite moments:

To weave from death, you had to listen to the dead. To know them deeply, to attend to what had been silenced, to care enough to help the dead speak again through every thread that made up the great work. 

Uiziya and nen-sasaïr are characters who have lived full lives before the story begins, which I loved. Their experiences echo each other, but they’re not the same. Lemberg explores the way identity is formed, bounded, transmuted, and celebrated in a complex interweaving of stories. I think the impression I’m left with is a sense that in the face of either/or questions, this story’s answer is: yes. 

Other reviews:
New York Journal of Books
Strange Horizons
SFRA Reviews

More information
R.B. Lemberg’s site
Tachyon Publications page

Blast from the Past
Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan (2019)
Favorite Books of 2017 (2018)
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein (2015)

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Blog Tour: The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu

About the book

If no one notices Marya Lupu, it’s likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in Illyria may possess the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread. For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy — a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself — things that threaten the precarious balance upon which their country is built.

Why I read the book

Anne Ursu has been one of my favorite middle grade writers since Breadcrumbs, and I was really excited for The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy. So I leapt on the chance to be part of the blog tour! 

My thoughts

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is a great middle grade fantasy, set in a world inspired by Eastern Europe. It’s a nice example of empowering feminist fiction for a middle grade audience, especially because of the complexity and nuance portrayed.

For me, the first quarter or so of the story was a fairly harrowing read! Poor Marya keeps trying to do what’s expected of her, but something goes wrong every time. In the end, she’s sent to Dragomir Academy for Troubled Girls. The book doesn’t shy away from the feelings of loss, isolation, and grief that Marya experiences as her home, her family, and her future are ripped away from her. 

One of the early notes I made was about the portrayal of Marya’s mother.  Her expectations for Marya drive much of her daughter’s lack of self-worth. In that sense, she’s an antagonist for much of the story, but we also see that she’s driven by genuine concern for Marya’s future. This is a world in which girls have very, very few approved choices and she knows that Marya doesn’t really fit into any of them. 

At the same time, the story counterbalances Marya’s absent father and overbearing mother with Madame Bandu, a kind neighbor who tries to offer Marya a way out in the form of an apprenticeship. Madame Bandu is an expert tapestry weaver and she teaches Marya a secret language that’s hidden in plain sight. I can’t tell you how much I loved this! So often feminist books for young girls denigrate traditionally feminine arts, such as needlework and cooking. In this case, Marya isn’t truly drawn to create tapestries and embroidery, but she respects the skill and the history of the art. 

As I read, I really felt that all of the characters and Marya’s relationship with them were considered with care and nuance. While as an adult reader, I sometimes winced at her hopeful trust that a particular character would listen to her, I also understood why she made the choices she did. And that was true, not only for Marya, but for the people around her. In larger part, this story is focused on the way that systems force people into unhappy choices, rather than blaming other girls for what they do. 

Without wanting to give away too much, I also very much liked the way that Luka, Marya’s brother, changes over the course of the story. Their relationship feels impossibly set in the roles that they’ve been assigned at first. As they break out of the mold and discover who they really are, they also have the opportunity to reach out and support each other. 

Don’t miss it! October 26 at 6 pm CT Anne Ursu will be in conversation with Kelly Barnhill, hosted by WILD RUMPUS BOOKS in Minneapolis.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Please click here for more information. 

About the Author:

Anne Ursu is the author of the acclaimed novels The Lost Girl, Breadcrumbs, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. The recipient of a McKnight Fellowship Award in Children’s Literature, Anne is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. You can visit her online at www.anneursu.com.

BLOG TOUR STOPS

October 12 A Nerdy Bibliophile in Wanderlust

                     Unleashing Readers

October 13 Read Wonder

October 14 Nerdy Book Club

October 15 A Library Mama

October 16 Maria’s Mélange

October 17 By Singing Light

October 18 Bluestocking Thinking

October 20 Insatiable Readers

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What I read: week 7

My mom was visiting last week, which was lovely! And I’m starting grad school on Monday (all registered for my first classes in a MLIS program). So all in all, I’m in a bit of a transition phase. We’ll see how much non-academic reading I get done in the near future; I will be sure to keep you all apprised. Anyway, if I disappear for long stretches, that’s why. On to the books!

Stephanie Burgis mentioned Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver as a good Golden-Age-style mystery. Since that’s basically catnip to me, I decided to check it out. It was a pretty solid mystery, though maybe not to the level of Christie. If you’ve liked, say, the Dandy Gilver books or Jacqueline Winspear, I suspect this would be up your alley. I do have the second book checked out on Overdrive as we speak! [read for the first time 8/12]

When I asked for graphic novel recommendations recently, Jenny instantly told me in no uncertain terms to read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. She was very correct; I loved Valero-O’Connell’s art, and Tamaki’s story was a lovely, slightly melancholy look at teenage love and friendships and identity. Realizing that someone can be charismatic and beautiful and also not at all the right person for you is such an important, fraught moment. (I also kept reading the title as Laura Dern instead of Laura Dean.) [read for the first time 8/13]

Still rereading the Vorkosigan books! While I wasn’t over the moon about the first few, Brothers in Arms marks the place in the series where L.M.B. really hits her stride in terms of characterization, etc. I find that the introduction of Mark brings a whole new energy to the plot and series. It’s the next book that’s called Mirror Dance, but Brothers in Arms contains a ton of mirroring in both literal and figurative ways. (Interestingly, my Reading Notes post for this one isn’t nearly as on board with it. This is why I like to reread books–I have a different reaction almost every time!) [reread 8/14]

I wanted a good middle grade fantasy and Caroline Carlson’s newest, The Door at the End of the World, was pretty satisfying. It’s a bit Diana Wynne Jones in that there are lots of worlds and travel between them, but the tone is a bit more sedate and tense than I typically associate with DWJ. I liked the characters quite a bit, and would certainly recommend it for young readers who want a bit of thoughtful action-based fantasy. [read for the first time 8/17]

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#stackingthestories round up

Forestofglory, who I follow on Twitter and generally enjoy a lot, created a short fiction reading challenge for July. I’ve been meaning to get back into SFF short fiction for ages now, and jumped on the challenge as a way of making that leap. I’m very glad I did! I didn’t reach my maybe-lofty goal of 31 short fiction pieces read in July, but it was still very worthwhile and I have a renewed commitment to making sure I read short fiction in the future. Since Twitter is an ephemeral medium, I wanted to collect the short reviews I posted there. The titles with an asterisk before them were personal favorites.

“it me, ur smol” by A. Merc Rustad: I am a bit so-so on this one. It’s a cute idea, and the internet speak read as accurate. As a piece of flash fiction it’s fine, but the gesture towards activism felt hollow in such a short story.

“Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” by Aliette de Bodard: Packs a lot into a setup that initially looks simple (it isn’t). I liked the way the narratives were woven together, but never quite connected with the emotion the way I wanted to. (This is true beyond this piece: stories about grief are tough because how can the reader care about the loss of someone who we only meet in absence?)

* “The Dragon that Flew Out of the Sun” by Aliette de Bodard: Stories, memory, and the complexity of truth. Loved this one. (Also curious to reread “Three Cups of Grief” having now read a story that centered me more in the universe)

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape” by Alix E. Harrow: I like it; it makes me uneasy. Liking – Harrow clearly knows libraries well enough to give it a real flavor. I loved the details of the displays in particular. Uneasy – my instant twitchiness about fictional librarians; I don’t quite believe that stories save us anymore; the kid in the story never felt like a real person in his own right. (Maybe I should say stories in & of themselves? I don’t know. At other points in my life, I would have vehemently disagreed with my current feeling) Added all together, this is a good example of a story that I like individually but which fits into a pattern I find troubling.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt: Feels very of-this-moment in a number of ways; it’s…fine, but overall a little on the nose for my personal taste.

* “She Commands Me & I Obey” (parts 1 &2) by Ann Leckie: Look, I can’t be objective here, because I love Leckie’s writing and I love Breq and it’s so interesting to see Breq from an outsider’s pov–what seems familiar & what doesn’t. This story is pretty gruesome in a lot of ways, but it also feels real? And I appreciate that we see no system is without flaws/imbalances/etc. It’s also neat to get a sense of Breq’s weird charisma in another setting. (My notes for this one just say, “BREQ”)

* “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander: I love everything about this, from the fairy tale structure to the descriptions.

“Owl vs the Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger: I’m struggling with how to evaluate this story because I bounced off of it pretty hard. But I don’t know if I have the cultural tools to evaluate it. I don’t have any big critical arguments against it, it just wasn’t for me at this moment and I’m not sure why.

“Anyway: Angie” by DJ Older: Very horrifying, tense, and atmospheric. I love the way Older uses language to evoke mood and Reza’s emotions in this one. CW: violence & mentions of sexual assault

* “Abandonware” by Genevieve Valentine:  I would say I’m a genuine Genevieve Valentine fangirl, but I hadn’t read this story before. I’m still not quite sure of my reaction but I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it yesterday. There are some REALLY CREEPY elements/moments.

“Werewolf Loves Mermaid” by Heather Lindsley: This is light and funny and sweet, and sometimes that’s what you need.

“The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig: Ahhhh, another creepy one. It’s short but atmospheric, and quite effective.

* “Tomorrow Is Waiting” by Holli Mintzer: Awww, I really liked this one! I like stories about AI, generally speaking, and this was a sweet/interesting take. Does it ever explain anything? nope! am I okay with that? Yep!

* “The Light Brigade” by Kameron Hurley: Confession: this is the first Hurley story I’ve ever actually read and wow! It’s brutal, but also beautiful and more hopeful than I expected?

“The Counsellor Crow” by Karen Lord: I like the way the world unfolds in this story, in a way that is kind of breathtaking, but the ending felt abrupt to me!

“There are Two Pools You May Drink From” by Kerry-Lee Powell: I didn’t particularly like this one, which may be a personal reaction to the way abuse is treated here. Also a repeated use of “Oriental” as a descriptive term? I don’t know, there was just nothing that felt engaging to me or convinced me the characters were real.

“A Dozen Frogs, A Bakery, and a Thing that Didn’t Happen” by Laura Pearlman: AHHHHH this is pretty fun. To be clear, I don’t endorse the solution here. But I don’t *not* endorse either.

“Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell: Eerie and thoughtful; I loved the sense of claustrophobic in-turning of the family. (I mean, loved from a technical pov. It creeped me out a lot as a reader.)

* “Solder and Seam” by Maria Dahvana Headley:  A story that rewards rereading; I wasn’t sure what was happening at first and liked it a lot more once I figured it out. I also appreciate the Patrick O’Brian reference.

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What I read: week 6

Phew! I did manage to read a lot more last week than the week before.

Last year, I really loved the first Aru Shah book by Roshani Chokshi. While I found Aru Shah and the Song of Death to be very delightful, it also felt overly long–my major complaint with the Rick Riordan Presents books so far. The story adds in a few new characters and shades in the world of the Pandevas a bit. This aspect was my favorite, maybe unsurprisingly as I generally love how a second book in a series can really deepen the world that was set up in the first one. I’m definitely here for the next book, though I hope there’s a little more Boo and a little less questing. [read for the first time 8/3]

I found The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling engaging; in particular, the combination of a very, very character-driven story and a real respect for the limits of technology made for a slightly different slant on a scifi story. Though I suppose Suzanne Palmer’s Finder might also fit in that category. Anyway, you know how that division between “soft” scifi and “hard” scifi is largely rubbish and used to devalue books written by women? Yeah. This story is all about Gyre and Em, but it also takes the mechanics of the situation very seriously. If you’re a reader who likes a bunch of action and plot, this isn’t necessarily one I’d recommend. If you’re a reader who likes an atmospheric and tense story that’s largely about trust and grit, read on.

At the same time, the relationship between the two women was–look, I don’t think anyone in this story is getting a lot of points for emotional healthiness. The shifting landscape of Gyre and Em’s time together is by turns gripping and troubling. I found the end hopeful, and yet I don’t know if I exactly what that hope to be fulfilled. If anyone has read this and wants to talk spoilers with me, please do. [read for the first time 8/5]

The latest book in the great E.L. Konigsburg reread, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, proved to be slightly less exciting than I had remembered. I’m not sure whether I’m just over books about monarchs, or if this just hit me at a bad moment. I don’t think it’s Konigsburg at her strongest, though. From the B’Nai Bagels to Claudia, she’s at her best when she shows this marvelous insight into childhood, and here that’s totally absent. [reread, 8/5]

Bone Black by bell hooks has been on my TBR list for quite some time, but I finally got around to reading it. I’m so glad I did; it’s now on the list of my favorite memoirs. I love the way hooks uses memory as a shifting perspective and a way to return to images and moments again and again. Of course much of the book is centered around Black girlhood, and it’s framed within a tradition of Black women writers. There are other moments that felt more universal to the experience of growing up as a girl, and I appreciated those as well. I shared a few quotes on Twitter just after reading; this is one I can definitely see returning to in the future. [read for the first time 8/6]

I read Restart by Gordon Korman for a work book club, and I have to admit that I doubt I would have finished it just under my own steam. The themes and ideas here are interesting: what do you do when you have a chance at a fresh start? Can someone ever really change? But the treatment of those themes didn’t take into account any big systemic things like racism, sexism, and so on. And the sentence level writing was often clunky and repetitive. Restart is a 2019-2020 Young Hoosier Book Award nominee so clearly other readers have valued it more than I did. [read for the first time 8/8]

I don’t remember exactly why I decided to read Sincerely, Harriet by Sarah W. Searle. I’m glad I did, as it’s a thoughtful graphic novel with an intimate look at invisible disabilities. I appreciated the way the story draws connections with older generations and experiences. It is a sad story though, in many ways, and I wasn’t quite expecting that tone going in. While it wraps up nicely in the end and I’m glad I read it, I wish I had known that going in. [read for the first time 8/8]

 

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What I read: weeks 3 & 4

I love a good middle grade graphic novel and that’s exactly why I picked up Kayla Miller’s Camp. The focus here is squarely on friendship and the strains camp can put on two best friends who rely on each other. It’s fine; I liked the way Miller tests the limits of friendship without letting it break, and the way one person in a relationship may need more space than the other. But I was a little disappointed that it was so white and straight, and in general I just wanted a little bit more. [read for the first time 7/15]

At this point I don’t quite know how many times I’ve read Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. It’s still a book I turn to when I want something that I know will be both healing and challenging. I loved the finale of Breq’s story, and especially the ending. There’s one line a little over halfway through the book that always makes me cry and the last chapter is one of my favorites, even if it’s also an emotional whallop. [reread 7/17]

I also reread a childhood favorite, Pepper & Salt by Howard Pyle. It’s a slightly unusual set of fairytales and in fact Pyle wrote them himself rather than collecting them. While there are some images and attitudes that aren’t okay with me, I did enjoy revisiting these stories. There’s an underlying pattern to a lot of fairy tales that I realized has really stuck with me over the years. [reread 7/18]

My friend Sophie recommended Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe and I’m glad that I read it. While it’s not quite comprehensive, focusing fairly narrowly on a few people who were majorly involved in the political landscape of the Troubles, I appreciated the look at a time of history that I didn’t previously understand very well. Keefe is a good non-fiction writer and does not indulge in my pet peeve (constant speculating about what people might have seen). His sympathies are fairly clear and he’s making a case for the guilt of a particular person, but he also treats the people he writes about with sympathy. [read for the first time 7/19]

I decided to reread all of the Vorkosigan books, and Cetaganda was next up. It’s not my favorite; there’s an awkwardness to the underlying gender themes that doesn’t quite escape Bujold’s attempts to give the Cetagandan women some power. But there’s some nice Miles & Ivan stuff here, and I always enjoy that. [reread 7/22]

Jerry Craft’s New Kid has been recommended a lot recently, and I understand why. It’s a thoughtful look at one kid’s experience as a young Black boy in a private school. The micro- and macro-aggressions that Jordan and the other Black students and teachers experience are counterbalanced by the bonds he forms with a few other students. The art wasn’t my favorite style ever, but it’s in service to the story and I appreciated the touches of humor it added. [read for the first time 7/24]

I wanted to read something light on a Friday and Sarah Zettel’s A Taste of the Nightlife seemed like it would fit that bill. Urban fantasy about a chef who cooks for vampires, what’s not to like? It was fine for that mood, although I don’t know that I’ll read any more of the series. [read for the first time 7/25]

I liked Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince last year but just now got around to reading The Wicked King. Like the first book, I’d say this is a frothy, sharp story. It’s not doing anything particularly original plot-wise, but I enjoy Black’s fairyland here. [read for the first time 7/28]

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bookish posts reviews

What I read: week 2

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray is the kind of contemporary story I don’t necessarily gravitate towards instinctively. But I’m glad I read this one. It’s a look at the echoes and cycles of family history and wounds. And that sounds bleak, but ultimately I liked the way the characters are trying to change in very different ways. [read for the first time 7/7/19]

The Konigsburg Summer proceeds with About the B’Nai Bagels. This one is mostly light and funny, admittedly with some not great stuff about Playboy/Playgirl and weight. But the ending!!! I’ve noticed that Kongisburg’s books tend to hit a point where everything just comes together and this one is A Lot emotionally. I just reread it and teared up a little bit. Konigsburg portrays the world and inner life of preteens in a way that’s so immediately recognizable and wry and lovely. [read for the first time 7/9/19]

I liked quite a bit of Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez, one of the recent books from the Rick Riordan imprint. It’s funny, and sad, and Hernandez does some interesting things with the idea of family. It also features a spunky girl reporter, a trope which will always be catnip for me.  I remain unconvinced about a couple aspects of the ending, though! If you’ve read this one, please tell me all your thoughts. [read for the first time 7/9/19]

[redacted] by [redacted] Careless talk costs lives. [reread, 7/10/19]

I’ve loved Franny Billingsley’s Chime whole-heartedly ever since I first read it (and continue to be very sad about the cover art situation–I know exactly how I’d design a cover if only I were a graphic artist!). Recently my friend Ally told me that there’s an audiobook version available and I am here to highly recommend it. The narration is perfect, the accents are great without being overdone, and it added a whole new level to a story I already love. This is one of my heart-books, for sure. Briony Larkin, treading new brain paths. [audiobook, reread, 7/10/19]

I’ve read a few of K.J. Charles’ books before and liked them — I’m always a sucker for a British mystery which should come as no surprise to any of you. And her books are generally atmospheric and character-driven (even if I do have significant reservations about women writing m/m romance). I’d heard good things about Any Old Diamonds and decided to check it out. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for me–the beginning did, but there’s a twist partway through that changed the whole landscape of the book and I never quite felt like it was adequately dealt with. [read for the first time 7/11/19]

I’ve been in a scifi mood lately, and Suzanne Palmer’s Finder looked like a neat take on interplanetary scifi. I found the beginning a bit slow, but that changed as the story picked up. It’s one that starts off with a simple character and premise and then shades in the world and conflict around them. I appreciated a lot of the storytelling choices that Palmer made and am curious to see what happens in subsequent books. [read for the first time 7/13/19]