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bookish posts monthly book list reviews

October 2018 books

A Scholar of Magics Caroline Stevermer 10.31

Fake Blood Whitney Gardner 10.28

Border Kapka Kassapova 10.27 [review]

Exit Strategy Martha Wells 10.26

Jade City Fonda Lee 10.23 [review]

Summer Bird Blue Akemi Dawn Bowman 10.21 [review]

Capsized! Patricia Sutton 10.18 [review]

Monstrous Regiment of Women Laurie Russell King 10.17

Drum Roll Please Lisa Jenn Bigelow 10.14

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice Laurie Russell King 10.13

The Wild Dead Carrie Vaughn

Midnight Robber Nalo Hopkinson 10.12

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea Lynn Rae Perkins 10.12

Spinning Silver Naomi Novik 10.9

She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah) Ann Hood 10.9

The Lost Scroll: The Book of Kings Sarah Prineas 10.4

 

Total books read: 16

Total rereads: 1

Favorites:

  • Spinning Silver
  • Midnight Robber
  • Drum Roll Please
  • Border
  • Exit Strategy

Weekly reading roundups:

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bookish posts reviews

Capsized! by Patricia Sutton

Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster by Patricia Sutton (Chicago Review Press, July 2018) is a children’s non-fiction book about a largely forgotten disaster–the capsizing of a passenger-laden steamboat in the Chicago River in 1915. It’s a fairly slim book with a fair number of contemporary photos of both the people and the actual events of the capsizing. Sutton’s author’s note indicates that she has been fascinated with the story for a long time and I’d say this book shows how much research she has done to uncover eyewitness accounts and reports.

I thought that I picked Capsized!  up because I had challenged myself a while back to try to read (or at least attempt) the middle grade books from the Publisher’s Weekly best books of summer 2018 list. But it turns out, it’s not on that list! It did receive a Kirkus star, so I may have seen the review there and thought it looked interesting.

The SS Eastland story is one I think I was vaguely familiar with but certainly didn’t know much about. And oh wow, this is a tough one! The details of the disaster are pretty much horrifying. It’s one of those examples of how a bunch of small mistakes can build up to a situation that goes really, really awry. So the first part of the book is full of a sense of impending doom since you know what’s about to happen and all the people in the book are blithely getting ready for a company picnic.

Part of what’s so devastating is the fact that most of the victims were from a very close-knit community who lived in neighborhoods around the Western Electric factory where they or their families worked. Towards the end of the book, Sutton mentions that on one street there was not a single house without mourning ribbons on the door. The narrative follows a couple of families, giving a sense of how they fit into the overall picture of Western Electric employees and families, through their part in the disaster, and wrapping up with what happened to them later. The inclusion of photographs from the capsizing and the aftermath strengthen the power of the text nicely.

The book does an excellent job of painting the background picture: the history of the SS Eastland, the immigrant communities that many of the workers were part of, the pressure from the management of Western Electric to attend the picnic. That being said, I felt that the bulk of the book focused on the lead-up to the accident, and I wished that a little more time had been spent on what happened afterwards, although since Sutton notes that war news replaced the reporting on the capsizing almost immediately this may be partly an issue with the historical record.

Overall, this is a powerful and devastating read that I would recommend for grades 5+. Hand this one to anyone who loves reading about forgotten history or disasters, especially the kids who are into the Titanic and ready to branch out.

__________________

Previously, on By Singing Light:
Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow (2013)
Libraries and Life Preservers (2014)
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (2015)
Joan Aiken Reading Notes: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (2016)

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bookish posts monthly book list

August 2018 books

This was a pretty good month for books! I didn’t love everything equally, but I did have a couple of really strong reads and that’s always nice. I’m hoping to finish up the Steerswoman series in September and keep reading the Astreiant books. Just as a reminder, I always post each book I finish on Instagram, so if you’d like to stay up to date on what I’m most currently reading, head over there.

Summer of Salt Katrina Leno 8.31

Point of Hopes Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett 8.29

The Bookshop on the Corner Jenny Colgan 8.27

Sideways Stories from Wayside School Louis Sachar 8.26

The Lost Steersman Rosemary Kirstein 8.25

A College of Magics Caroline Stevermer (reread) 8.20

The Kiss Quotient Helen Hoang 8.18 [review]

Monday’s Not Coming Tiffany Jackson 8.18

Last Shot DJ Older 8.18 [review]

Recipes for Love and Murder Sally Andrews 8.17

Where the Watermelons Grow Cindy Baldwin 8.13 [review]

Black Panther Long Live the King 8.13

Rogue Protocol Martha Wells 8.10

Cafe by the Sea Jenny Colgan 8.9

Starless Jacqueline Carey 8.7 [review]

Valley Girls Sarah Nicole Lemon 8.1 [review]

 

Total books read: 15

Total rereads: 1

 

Favorites:

  • Valley Girls
  • Cafe by the Sea
  • Rogue Protocol
  • Monday’s Not Coming
  • Point of Hopes
  • Summer of Salt
Categories
bookish posts reviews

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

I’ve been trying to keep up with some middle grade books beyond the fantasy I gravitate towards, which is the reason I picked this one up. Having finished it, I have very mixed thoughts.  There are some aspects that are great, some aspects that didn’t work as well for me personally, and one big thing that I have some real issues with and think is potentially harmful.

Where the Watermelons Grow is contemporary and…mostly realistic (more on that in a sec).  It’s the story of Della Kelly, the summer she’s 12, when a drought hits her area of North Carolina and her world falls apart. Her daddy’s farm isn’t growing well because of the drought, her baby sister is a whirlwind, and her mother is showing signs that her schizophrenia is returning as it has twice before. Della decides that rather than let her family disintegrate, she has to do something to fix it.

There’s also a small town, Della’s best friend Arden who moved from up North, and a spinster lady with magical honey that can cure anything. Except Della’s Mamma.

So, there’s a lot happening in this book and I’m not sure it all worked together very well. On the positive side, Baldwin nails the feeling that a lot of kids have when there is something really big and scary going on in their adults’ lives: I must have caused this somehow. It’s my fault and my responsibility to fix. Della becomes increasingly scattered over the course of the book as she tries different ways to cure her mother, once and for all.  I certainly recognized it from when I was young, and I appreciated seeing it in a story for 11-12-year-olds. It’s an age when you’re starting to understand hard things but when you often don’t have the ability to process them adequately without some help.

I didn’t love the magical realism aspect, which didn’t feel integrated into the story as fully as I would have wished. And none of the minor characters seemed to have any life beyond Della and her perspective–which is fine if that’s a authorial choice. I’m not sure it was here. Baldwin seemed to be reaching for the “quirky Southern town” theme we’ve seen in some other middle grade recently. These aren’t ever my favorite books, but here the quirkiness felt undercut by the seriousness of the rest of the story, neither quite leavening it with humor or working to reinforce it.

However, the biggest problem that I have is the portrayal of Della’s mother. I struggled with this, because I absolutely think that a story about a child whose parent has a mental illness can be helpful and vital. I really liked This Is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky, for instance. This can be a really tough thing to grow up with and experience, especially when our society is still so far from real understanding or support for people with mental illnesses. And middle grade is a perfect time to address this.

But–but–I really struggled throughout this story with how Suzanne, Della’s mom, is shown. I acknowledge that this story is entirely through Della’s eyes, and that we’re meant to read along and grow with her.  I also acknowledge that the book very explicitly supports medication for mental illnesses, and tries to break down some of the stigmas of hospitalization.

That being said, Della over and over says that she wants a “normal mother,” and she wants to cure her mom. That’s understandable from a kid’s perspective, but it still stung to read. What’s worse, for me, is that both Della and her father express exasperation with her mother, feeling how much of a burden she is to them. I think we’re meant to sympathize with Della’s father as he is struggling to raise two kids and keep the farm going in the middle of a drought. But to me all of his interactions came across as patronizing or outright unkind towards his wife. And the idea that people with mental illnesses are burdens to their loved ones is very much a real life issue that’s incredibly hurtful. I disliked seeing it perpetuated here without much interrogation.

It’s also unfortunate that Suzanne has absolutely no personality aside from her mental illnesses. (While Della talks about schizophrenia by name several times, it also sounds like Suzanne has another OCD-like disorder which is not specifically named.) Towards the very end of the book, she sings once and Della says she’s always loved her mother’s voice, but that thread isn’t present anywhere else in the book. We know almost nothing about her likes or dislikes, who she essentially is as a person. She exists almost entirely as a negative force, her illness the antagonist that’s keeping Della from being happy, “normal,” like her friend Arden. She is explained over and over by Della’s father, but we never get to see her explain herself. Part of this is due to the tight focus of the book, which starts when she is already experiencing more symptoms, but part of it is also due to a lack of characterization which keeps her from ever being seen as a real person.

I also kept wondering as I was reading what this book is saying to kids who have mental illnesses. If you are 12 and have anxiety, if you are 13 and have depression, how would it feel to see the only character with a mental illness be shown in such a relentlessly negative light? How would it feel to see that your pain is a burden?

This isn’t exactly a bad book, and I’d be curious to read whatever Baldwin writes next. Showing kids who are struggling with feeling the weight of the world that it’s not always their fault, that they’re allowed to seek help from trusted adults, and that they’re allowed to be upset is a good thing. But because of the depiction of mental illness and the way Della’s mom is never given her own voice, I don’t think I could recommend it.

Books I do recommend:
When I Find Her by Sara Polsky (upper middle-grade/YA)
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire LeGrand (middle-grade)
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (YA)
__________________
Previously on By Singing Light:
“On the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope”: why I love Galadriel (2016)
Patricia McKillip Reading Notes: The Book of Atrix Wolfe (2015)
Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols (2013)

Categories
bookish posts monthly book list

July 2018 books

Most Wanted Rae Carson 7.26

Dread Nation Justina Ireland 7.22

Always Never Yours Emily Wibberley and Austen Siegemund-Broka 7.22

By Your Side Kasie West 7.12

Listen to Your Heart Kasie West 7.10

Front Desk Kelly Yang 7.10

All Summer Long Hope Larson 7.10

The Girl with the Red Balloon Katherine Locke 7.9

Unicorn Rescue Society: The Creature of the Pines Adam Gidwitz 7.6

Puddin’ Julie Murphy 7.2

The Beauty That Remains Ashley Woodfolk 7.2

 

Total books read: 11
Total rereads: 0

Favorites:

  • The Girl with the Red Balloon
  • All Summer Long
  • Front Desk
  • Listen To Your Heart
Categories
bookish posts monthly book list

June 2018 books

I read quite a bit in June. For one thing, we weren’t moving, and for another, we’re doing a staff Summer Reading at work this year and it’s bringing out my competitive side. 

Jolly Foul Play Robin Stevens (reread) 6.29

Snow & Rose Emily Winfield Martin 6.25

Beasts Made of Night Tochi Onyebuchi 6.25

Wild Beauty Anna-Marie McLemore 6.24

From Twinkle With Love Sandhya Menon 6.23

Akata Warrior  Nnedi Okorafor 6.23

The Black Tides of Heaven JY Yang 6.21

Cuckoo Song Frances Hardinge (reread) 6.18

The Way You Make Me Feel Maurene Goo 6.18

The War I Finally Won Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 6.15

Furyborn Claire LeGrand 6.14

An Enchantment of Ravens Margaret Rogerson 6.11

No Time to Spare Ursula K Le Guin 6.9

The Jewel & Her Lapidary Fran Wilde 6.8

Enchantress from the Stars Sylvia Engdahl 6.5

Some Kind of Courage Dan Gemeinhart 6.5

Wolf Star Tanita Lee 6.5

Tell the Wolves I’m Home Carol Rifka Brunt 6.2

The Saturdays Elizabeth Enright (reread) 6.2

Tess of the Road Rachel Hartman 6.2

 

Total books read: 20
Total rereads: 3 (The Saturdays, Cuckoo Song, Jolly Foul Play)

Favorites:

  • Tess of the Road
  • Furyborn
  • The War I Finally Won
  • From Twinkle With Love
  • Wild Beauty
  • Jolly Foul Play
Categories
bookish posts reviews

Becca Fair and Foul by Deirdre Baker

It’s always fun to come across a book that makes you wonder if the author took a look in one of your old diaries. Becca Fair and Foul by Deirdre Baker is one of those books. I picked it up from our new book shelf at work, attracted by the cover, and was hooked by the first page. It seems that there’s a first book, Becca at Sea, which I haven’t read.

At any rate, this book takes place over one summer on an island in Canada (I believe near Vancouver? I was a bit muzzy as to geography), where Becca and her cousins have come to stay with their grandmother. Her friend Jane is there too, and she and Jane decide to put on a Shakespeare play (with the unwilling help of cousins) to raise money to buy a better sailboat than the one they currently have access to.

As a kid, this would have been absolutely catnip to me. I loved sailing and boats, and my siblings and I often spent part of the summer at our grandparents’ house by the sea, with our cousin. (Not, alas, on an island.) I read just about every nautical-themed book I could get my hands on and, though my exposure to Shakespeare was probably limited to Lamb’s Tales From, I would have sympathized deeply with the desire to put on a play.

As an adult reader, all the old nostalgic love for those things is there. But I also admire the way that Baker takes what on the surface is a rather adventurey story and makes it a vehicle for exploring Becca’s very late elementary/early middle school experience of life. This is the summer when she notices and is hurt by the death of the animals around her, even though it’s a natural part of life. The summer when her aunts are hurting and there’s nothing anyone can do to truly fix it. It’s not a morbid or a sad book, but it does go a lot deeper than the initial premise suggests, allowing the lovely descriptions of the island and funny moments with the other inhabitants to exist alongside Aunt Meg’s pain over her stillbirth and the burial of the bear.

While I do admire the depth that the story reaches, and the handling of the various sadder moments in a way that felt just right for a sensitive tween reader, I do want to mention that the story at the same time feels limited. Everyone is white, and one of Becca’s aunts is a doctor with an AIDs center in Africa. Ultimately, Jane and Becca decide to give the proceeds of their play to this aunt, for her research and to help save the grandmothers and children there. In that sense it feels like a very old-fashioned book, and not in a good way. I really wished that this storyline had at least been counterbalanced with the presence of some people of color on the island or in the main story itself, or with someone more mature than the kids providing some pushback to the white saviorism there.

So, ultimately this is one that I personally really enjoyed both on a nostalgic level and  as an adult reader–there are some really funny scenes, some really heartbreaking ones, and a keen description of both the nature world and Becca’s growing awareness of life. But I also had some reservations about it, so I’m not entirely sure who I’d recommend this book to. All the same, if you also love anything set by the sea, or quiet books about growing up, this might be a great fit.

Other reviews of Becca Fair and Foul:
Kirkus 
Kristin Butcher
A Year in Books

Previously on By Singing Light:
The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar (2017)
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard (2016)
Diana Wynne Jones reading notes: Howl’s Moving Castle (2015)
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (2014)

 

Categories
bookish posts monthly book list

May 2018 books

This was a light reading month for me, mostly because we were moving! (Therefore, also a light posting month here.) 

Ms. Marvel: Damage Per Second G. Willow Wilson 5.25

Goldie Vance vol. 3 Hope Larson 5.25

Becca Fair and Foul Deirdre Baker 5.25

The Only Harmless Great Thing B. Bolander 5.13

Sunny Jason Reynolds 5.13

Artificial Condition (Murderbot 2) Martha Wells 5.12

Mighty Jack Ben Hatke 5.6

A Traveller in Time Alison Uttley 5.5

The Boxcar Children Gertrude Chandler Warner (reread) 5.4

 

Total books read: 9
Total rereads: 1 (The Boxcar Children, which was for work)

Favorites:

  • Sunny
  • Becca Fair and Foul
  • Artificial Condition
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing
  • Goldie Vance
  • Ms. Marvel

(Okay, yes that’s basically all of them; I REGRET NOTHING.)

 

 

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book lists bookish posts

Chapter books about art heists and mysteries

Recently I noticed something intriguing–the number of chapter books that feature mysteries about arts. Heists, thefts, and other strange situations apparently attract kids who are the only ones who can solve them! Of course, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is perhaps the classic, but there are lots more! Here is a selection if, like me, you find this kind of storyline catnip.

The Art of the Swap by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Masterpiece by Elise Broach
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne
The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
London Art Chase by Natalie Grant
The Mystery of the Mona Lisa, France by Elizabeth Singer Hunt
Hannah West, Sleuth in Training by Linda Johns
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The Mystery of the Martello Tower by Jennifer Lanthier
Manhunt by Kate Messner
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
The Sweetest Heist in History by Octavia Spencer
Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells

Categories
bookish posts monthly book list Orthodoxy

April 2018 reading

 

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Seanan McGuire 4.28
Blood Road Amanda McCrina 4.28
Aru Shah and the End of Time Roshani Chokshi 4.28
New Shoes Sara Varon 4.28
Be Prepared Vera Brosgol 4.26
Becoming Madeleine by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy 4.21
Binti: Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor 4.20
Hamster Princess: Whiskerella by Ursula Vernon 4.19
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison 4.19 (reread)
White Road of the Moon Rachel Neumeier 4.16
Shadowhouse Fall Daniel J Older 4.15
Step Aside Pops Kate Beacon 4.9
Hark a Vagrant Kate Beaton 4.9
Emperor of Mars Patrick Samphire 4.7
Acquiring the Mind of Christ Arch. Sergius Bowyer 4.6
Rise of the Jumbies Tracey Baptiste 4.6
Bird Angela Johnson 4.2
Cobalt Squadron Elizabeth Wein 4.1

Total books read: 18
Total rereads: 3 (The Goblin Emperor, Step Aside Pops, Hark a Vagrant)

Favorites:

  • Cobalt Squadron
  • Rise of the Jumbies
  • Whiskerella
  • The Night Masquerade
  • Becoming Madeleine
  • Be Prepared