An Un-Calibrated Centrifuge

My dad once said to me, "You give a lot of books three stars." I do.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

I cannot find this book on booklikes, and I'm not bothered enough to add it since it's a DNF.

 

It seems like a great book and everyone should give it a try. I loved the regulars at the motel and really hope that their relationship with the Tangs is explored in a meaningful way.

 

I had to quit reading because I was anticipating all the ways Mia's family was going to be taken advantage of in the book and it was making me really anxious (like Little Fires Everywhere or Fuzzy Mud levels of anxiety). So I stopped reading.

 

Goodbye, Things

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism - Fumio Sasaki

I am not a minimalist at all. You know Howl's bedroom from Howl's Moving Castle? That's more my aesthetic. But I like reading about people who make minimalism work for them. I don't remember the book that well, but the impression I have is that minimalism made Sasaki happy, and he wants to share that with people (but not in a pushy, obnoxious, holier-than-thou type of way). 

The World According to Mister Rogers

The World According to Mister Rogers - Fred Rogers

I'm pretty sure I checked this out because I had seen the trailer for Won't You Be My Neighbor (which was also good and really informative). This felt like a good book to read this year. It's encouraging, it's hopeful, it's a reminder that not everything is terrible and that people are good. I've used the word good too much, so I'll stop here. 

Circe

Circe - Madeline Miller

I had to check this out several times before I finally finished it. Madeline Miller has a way of writing that makes me forget I'm reading. Circe is really beautiful prose without becoming too much. This one just never got as compelling as The Song of Achilles (hence the multiple check outs to finish it... I'm still bitter we never got bestseller copies of this so it took me even longer to finish because I had to keep putting it on hold). 

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book One

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book 1 - Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:

 

Queen Shuri has vanished, and T’Challa returns home to a people on the edge of revolt and the threat of war from the neighboring country Niganda.

 

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet is not the easiest entry point to T’Challa’s story. Knowledge from the film assuaged some confusion, but there were still moments where I felt I was missing out because of my lack of knowledge. Since this is the first book in an ongoing series, there's a lot of set up but very little resolution.

 

The most striking aspect of the book is that, with the exception of one character, every single character in the book is Black. And the best aspect of the book is those characters. Black Panther is populated with complex characters, including several strong, active, remarkable women. In the book, there are clear protagonists and antagonists but there is a much less clear divide between the “good guys” and “bad guys.” T’Challa is the hero of the story, a story which opens with him assailing his own people. Aneka is removed from the Dora Milaje and punished for breaking a law even though her actions were morally right. These moral ambiguities create tension that drive the story forward.

 

Black Panther is not a book to pick up and read on a whim. It demands readers’ attention and concentration, and rewards it well. When I finished I wished I had Book Two in hand because I need to know what will happen next.

The Best We Could Do

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir - Thi Bui

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:

 

The Best We Could Do tells the story of Thi Bui’s family from their lives in Vietnam to their time as refugees in Malaysia to their resettling in the United States all framed by the story of Bui’s journey into motherhood. The result is both a specific, personal reflection of the author’s own family and a larger, more universal search for identity and belonging.

 

Bui utilizes one single color throughout the entire story. The red she chooses moves between seeming harsh, angry, and dangerous to soft, warm and welcoming. Sometimes it floods the entire page while at other times it is very contained, highlighting one specific moment, one person, one element on the page or in the panel.

 

In the book, Bui searches for the truth of her parents and their lives and only has their stories to guide her. There are many interesting uses of panels and the gutter throughout the book. The more innovative pages seem to be emphasizing the fact that these are impressions rather than literal interpretations of the past. An inanimate hand reaches across the gutter ominously. A boat drifts into a panel from an undefined place. Family memories are layered over images of war, unrest, and change occurring in Vietnam.

 

Even though The Best We Could Do was only published last year (2017), I can see it securing a spot in the graphic novel canon and being read for many years to come.

March: Book One

March (Book One) - Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, John Robert Lewis

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:

 

Alternating between Barack Obama’s inauguration day and defining moments in John Lewis’s past, March: Book One tells the story of Lewis’s childhood and his involvement with the American Civil Rights movement concentrating on the nonviolent sit-in protests in Nashville. The book occasionally draws in moments from the larger Civil Rights movement to give context to Lewis’s story and actions.

 

The artwork is very striking. The black and white images stand out starkly on the page with intermittent black gutters adding a particularly dramatic flair to the book. One of the images on page 24 is particularly noteworthy. In it Lewis says it’s bad luck to put an even numbered egg under a setting hen. The egg in his hand in the panel is number 13. This seems like a cue to pay attention. Things are not necessarily as they appear. A chicken’s egg labeled 13 does not bring bad luck. An approach of passive resistance can incite huge change.  

 

The interweaving of the two storylines draws the civil rights movement into the present. It is easy to feel removed from the time of segregation when in reality we are less than a generation removed from those times. March: Book One is as relevant, and hopefully as inspiring, today as Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was to Lewis in the 1960s. It would make a great addition to any graphic novel collection.

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief - Wendelin Van Draanen

tl;dr: Good middle grade mystery. Characters you'll like. Sammy is a girl.

 

I read this at the same time I was reading Lincoln Jones, and I couldn't understand how Sammy Keyes was so good and Lincoln Jones was so bad (that's a lie... I know why, it's just disappointing). I never read Sammy Keyes before because I thought Sammy was a boy. One of our children's librarians assured me that Sammy is a girl and that I had to read these books.

 

She was right (of course). I've only read the first so far, but it was really good. I liked the characters and the mystery kept me guessing. I won a copy at our Lincoln Jones book club, got it signed and passed it on to the eleven-year-old. No word yet on whether she liked it or not. I think if she reads it she will like it, but she might have moved on from mysteries.

 

Storytime: One time in the last hour of work (8p-9p) a kid came in looking for Sammy Keyes (for school I think?). I showed them the book and they were really thankful and super nice, but I couldn't stop wondering if the kid also had to read the book that night. They seemed really desperate.

SPOILER ALERT!

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore - Kim Fu

This review contains some light spoilers (maybe?).

 

I saw this book being recommended on instagram. I'm on vacation but at the end of the semester, so I've really fallen out of reading for pleasure (it's difficult to want to read anything after reading 200 pages for class). This seemed like a quick read, so I picked it up.

 

I'm torn on how to rate this book. The writing is very good and kept me reading. It reminded me a lot of Celeste Ng's books. I finished in about two days. But the story itself ended up being rather unsatisfying in the end.

 

The book alternates between the past and the present, but the two timelines felt so disjointed that I wonder why the author didn't just concentrate on one or the other. The girls in the past and the girls in the present (with a few exceptions) felt like entirely different characters. Poor Andee seemed to have no character and isn't even the hero of her own section her younger sister is (though because she is so boring up until then, I found the start of her section incredibly confusing and had to keep reminding myself which kid had been at camp...).

 

The girls in the past also don't read like kids. I wish they had been aged up a bit. I think their characters and actions would have made more sense for 12/13 year olds than for 9-11 year olds.

 

In all, I think this book is best enjoyed the way I read it: quickly and with no idea what you're getting yourself into.

SPOILER ALERT!

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts - Gennifer Choldenko

Some light spoilers follow. 

 

Interesting concept bogged down by too many characters and too many storylines. 

 

Choldenko (I thought this author's name was Cholden for the longest time because our spine labels only carry the first 7 of an author's surname) was unconvincing writing as a boy. I think the book suffers from being limited to Moose's perspective alone. I didn't really understand his relationship with his mother until his father spells it out at one point. And what as the deal with Piper? I felt like I was getting whiplash trying to figure out if Moose liked her or not (and ultimately it's a moot point, so why include it at all? He seemed to like Scout about the same as Piper and I preferred that relationship). 

 

The historical fiction aspect was also a big miss for me. I only really knew it was the 1930s because the book kept telling me and because they were living on Alcatraz. 

 

Almost every aspect seems to exist to service the plot, which was too fractured for me to really get into it. I wish the story were more streamlined, characters were better developed, and the conflicts made more explicit. One of the main conflicts is so vague I think that made it more sinister than Choldenko intended. However, I also think this is something only adults would worry about and that the lack of details will be fine for kids reading the books (they'll either pick up on it or they won't). 

 

 I will admit to getting chills at the ending. I really bought into the mythos of Al Capone on Alcatraz. That aspect of the book was effective. But that part of the book is gone so quickly and then the whole thing is over, it's hard to say that it felt that satisfying. I'd be interested to see where the sequels go, but I'll probably just Google the books rather than reading them. 

 

ETA: There is a scene at the end of the book between Moose and the warden that I did really like. Moose thinks how the warden tells him that Moose is almost a man and needs to act like it, but the warden treats Moose like a child. That to me is the 12-year-old feeling. That weird transitional period of life. I wanted more of that. 

Saga Vol. 9

Saga Volume 9 - Fiona Staples, Brian K. Vaughan

Wow. Nope. (But, like, in a good way?)

Educated

Educated - Tara Westover

This book was in intense read. The family gets into so many car crashes for people who don't have insurance! I had to resort to skimming several times because Westover does not sugarcoat the more grotesque aspects of what happened to her and her family. But the parts that I could read are very compelling. I'm close in age to the author which also made for an interesting reading experience (I think we were living in England at the same time...). 

Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy is a book I always knew about and never read. For no reason in particular that I can remember (other than perhaps no one recommended it or gave it to me). This make me sad now because I missed out on many years of enjoying Harriet and her story. It definitely holds up to the test of time. Great coming-of-age book. 

A Tale Dark and Grimm

A Tale Dark & Grimm - Adam Gidwitz

My coworker (again, the one with the best taste) recommended this book to me. 

 

Let me take this moment to say that I didn't really enjoy a Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. He was always going on about how their lives were so terrible, but I just thought they're not dead, they're still together, much worse things could be happening to them... It just never felt like he really delivered on the promise that the Baudelaires' lives were so horrible. 

 

I had no such problems with A Tale Dark and Grimm. It does exactly what it says on the tin. One of the best fractured fairy tales I've read. 

The Thing about Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish - Ali Benjamin

My coworker (who has the best taste) recommended this book to me telling me it would make me cry (I appreciated the warning so I didn't end up reading it on desk). It absolutely made me cry. It also gave me that feeling that the best children's books do, that twelve-year-old feeling that's both joyful and painful. After reading it I immediately wanted to reread all of Sharon Creech's best stuff (but didn't have time because of school and stuff). 

The Little book of Hygge

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well - Meik Wiking

I don't remember much about this book other than liking the illustrations and wishing (just the tiniest bit) that I still lived somewhere where it snows in the winter. My first introduction to hygge (other than an episode of QI possibly?), and I don't think it was a bad one.