I am particularly interested in books in the following categories:
- Extremely well-written YA fiction (no vampire romance or dystopia, please!)
- Diverse writers and characters portraying a range of authentic experiences
- Historical fiction
- Foodie lit or foodie memoir
- Historical mystery or forensic-based mystery
If I request a specific title, I will do my best to review it in a timely manner. I will review books outside of the above criteria at my discretion.
Thank you so much for keeping me Surrounded By Books
Every time I do the Readathon, I tell myself I’m going to go back and catch up on all the mini-challenges that have been posted while I was busy reading (or sometimes sleeping.) With less than a week to go before this year’s Readathon, I’m going to do just that:
Here’s a sampling of past challenges that caught my eye.
if I had a bookish restaurant, specifically an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, what foods would I use?
Hm! Is it cheating, to just envision the restaurant in Erica Bauermeister’s School of Essential Ingredients come to life? Or to wish that Gus of Comfort Food had a real-life restaurant and could cook for me? Because that’s more what I want, more than any of the respondents to the challenge, who were all about the Harry Potter feasts. Or to step into the culinary world of The Language of Baklava (Clearly, what I want, even more than a bookish restaurant is for it to be summer, with good tomatoes, and someone cooking for me. Mostly, someone cooking for me.)
Hoping this gets a reprise during the Readathon itself, because it’s always something I enjoy. I’ve just finished two books where I can’t picture the cast– one, because it’s a graphic novel, so I’ve already seen the characters. I just finished Conviction by Julia Dahl, a mystery that would make an excellent movie or miniseries. I didn’t see any solid mental pictures of famous people while I was into the story. I picture it more as a cast of TV actors, character actors who aren’t glossy-famous but have a career of interesting projects. Maybe get C.C.H. Pounder involved somehow, because Excuses to cast C.C.H. Pounder in Things are mostly how I make casting decisions in my head.
My current audiobook is Snuff, by Terry Pratchett, featuring Sam Vimes. My main casting idea for Sam Vimes has always been Pete Postlethwaite, leaving me just mad that he’s no longer with us. He would have been a perfect Vimes. Bollocks! Beyond him, tough to picture the right sort of person… Stephen Fry isn’t scrappy enough (though he might make a damn fine Vetinari). Emma Thompson as Sybil, probably. No! Wait! I have it! James Nesbitt as Vimes! Yes! Perfect.
Time to reel this in, as it’s getting long and I wanted this to be more of a mini-challenge survey of multiple options…
One last good one, posted by Entomology of a Bookworm, is brilliant for the end of the readathon: a way to trade book recommendations and share what you’ve read during the 24 silly hours. Not sure it makes sense to respond now, but I wanted to pay the Bookworm a compliment because it’s a great idea.
I still need to pick my books for the Readathon. Can’t wait for next weekend!
Orange: The Complete Collection Vol 1 & Vol 2
by Ichiguro Takano
Seven Seas Entertainment Inc
I’m going to review both Orange Volume 1 and 2 as one, because the story continues across the two volumes. I essentially read them as one, pausing just long enough for the hold on the second volume to come into the library.
When Naho is in high school, she gets a letter that claims to come from herself ten years in the future… It lists the events that happen in her day, and urges her to change some of them so that she won’t have regrets in the future. At first, she thinks it’s a prank, but the letter predicts events so exactly that she starts to believe.
The advice in the letter hinges on preventing the death of a newcomer to the school and to her group of friends, Kakeru, who has wrestled with depression and guilt, after his mother took her own life. The details and advice about small things like going for snacks, joining the soccer team, or the school field day, have the added weight of trying to help Kakeru have reasons to heal, maybe to move towards finding ways to be happy. So, in some scenes, it’s new friends hanging out after school, razzing each other at the field day, giddy with first crushes. But then, in some scenes, it’s grappling with some heavy themes and raw emotions. There are also flash-forwards to the high school friends as grownups, who have come together to reminisce, wishing Kakeru was still with them.
It’s an engrossing story, with characters who have a lot going on. I got hooked on just following the characters through their friendships, through their choices. Naho, intense and fiercely loyal, but sometimes stuck in her own head or shy and unsure of herself. Bubbly Azu who has a keen grasp of social dynamics. Kakeru, trying to fit in, and wrestling with tough emotions that make him want to push everyone away. Suwa, who seems like a blustering jock and kind of a smartass, but cares deeply. (Also, although the story from page one pretty keenly sets up Kakeru and Naho, I think it could also have easily set up Suwa and Kakeru pretty cleanly. I ship it.)
I’m ordinarily not an avid reader of YA romances, though the time-travel, change-the-past element made it more my style. But the way the characters engaged with each other, and the depth of feelings got me so hooked I wasn’t sure I even needed the time travel angle to be invested.
Also: it’s a Manga.
As in, a story told entirely as a graphic novel. And originally told in Japanese. Reprinted in English, but with the panels and story progressing right to left. When I was reading Volume 1 in the break room, a coworker saw where my bookmark was, and commented “so you’re just starting this?” not realizing that I was reading in reverse and almost done.
Side note: reading a story like Orange, where the point is the emotions of trying to have friendship strong enough to change the future… is kind of massively awkward to read in a staff lunchroom. It’s the kind of story I needed a hug after finishing. And it’s just pure luck (and knowing there was a second volume) that kept me from getting weepy.
It was my first time reading in a new-to-me format. It took me a couple of weeks, and several tries to get into the first installment of Orange. I kept having to remind myself to slow down, to turn pages what felt like backwards. Even tracking individual conversations in individual comic panels felt all weird and backwards, because the reading sequence goes in reverse.
But man, when I was hooked, I was hooked.
Now that I’ve zoomed through reading both volumes (I meant to get cleaning done, really I did, but like I said, hooked) I’m curious to see what the reading experience would be like if I flipped it over, or how individual pages would fare, if read in my accustomed/default direction of text. Especially given the way the future and the past are so ingrained in the way the story plays out.
Will I go on to read other manga? I’m not sure. I’ve picked up and put down a couple, in my quest to make sure I read manga. I’ve wanted to make sure I read what the teens in the library love. I’m invested in the characters, and the emotions that went on here, so I would be open to a story that had some emotional and character complexity. Any suggestions?
The end of March zoomed past me, and here it is, the 7th of April and I’m just now getting to writing up the books I read in March.
Starting this month, I’m participating in the Hub Reading Challenge by Young Adult Library Services of the American Library Association. YALSA has pulled together a list of award-winning and noteworthy books for teens, and my library system has created a challenge to read 25 books from the list by June. Titles marked with an asterisk are my books toward the challenge.
Print Books (E-Books and Paper)
- The Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson
- Agent of Chaos by Kami Garcia
- If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
- Con Academy by Joe Schrieber
- The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
- Midnight Taxi Tango by Daniel José Older
- Battle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older
- Panda Pants by Jacqueline Davies (read aloud for Library Story Time, to great acclaim by babies and toddlers)
- *Scythe by Neal Shusterman
- *Ada Lovelace, the Poet of Science by Diane Stanley
- The Truth About Forever* by Sarah Dessen
- Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey
- Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
*Black Panther #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
So, that’s 15 books finished for the month, bringing the grand total raised for EveryLibrary to $47 and it looks like I’ve read 4 for the Hub Challenge in March.
And just about every book I read this month was a library book, except for Midnight Taxi Tango, which I own.
Making a note here to write about the two books I didn’t finish this month: The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro and Devil’s Advocate by John Maberry. Both are sequels I’d been eager to read, but they didn’t live up to the first volume in either case. Blah.
Been on a Daniel José Older reading kick, ever since I realized Battle Hill Bolero had come out, and I hadn’t even started Midnight Taxi Tango, which I bought on my Kindle last year. Last year, man! (This is the problem with an e-reader… a book can get buried kicking around on your Kindle, while you get all distracted by new library e-book and paper book holds! Or maybe that’s just me.)
With Battle Hill Bolero next in line, I zoomed through Midnight Taxi Tango, enjoying getting back into Carlos’s world of ghosts, the dubious and scheming Council, gruesome monsters, and a narrative voice that’s both profane and lovely in its reverence for the realness of Brooklyn neighborhoods’ history. Thanks to a nicely timed snow day, I even got to finish Midnight Taxi Tango, more or less in a day. It may have been slightly Wednesday by the time I actually turned the last page… Good books at night are why morning coffee exists.
So I’m heading home on March 16th, eve of St. Patrick’s day, and some kind of rogue genetic memory reasserts itself: I want to bake Irish Soda Bread.
The guy working in the grocery store had no idea why they were out of buttermilk, just that people had been coming in and asking for it all day. So I went to the fancy grocery store I hate that place: the aisles are a labyrinth and I get cornered in the gluten-free pasta somewhere behind the kale chips and can’t find my way to anything I actually need. But, miraculously, they had buttermilk.
All of these digressions are to say that I spent this evening baking Irish Soda Bread and grooving along to Salsa Celtica, looking forward to getting back into the Bone Street Rumba world, to see how the final showdown of ghosts battling in Brooklyn was going to go down.
Wishing I could hear some of the music Older describes: his teen rap sensation King Impervious spitting out raunchy rap takedowns, Culebra, the thrash-metal-salsa band, or the wistful-sounding Spanish verses that show up as epigrams to lead into Bone Street Rumba books.
Tonight, as I bake soda bread, Salsa Celtica makes excellent music, to fit together the soda bread mood and the reading Daniel José Older mood. Here, listen to this!
The Bear and the Nightingale
Penguin Random House
Review copy via NetGalley, in exchange for honest, if much-belated, review)
I took forever to read this. Which is not at all an indictment of the book’s quality.
I enjoyed it any time I picked it up. The way that the story moves in and out of Russian folklore, with stories nesting within stories, lends itself beautifully to stopping and savoring. I would pick it up, read and enjoy the imagery, the lyrical language, the tensions between the old gods and myths and the encroaching Christian religion… and then I would set it down. At times, for weeks, even months, while I zoomed through other books.
All of this lends itself rather nicely to savoring a lovely set of interwoven tales based on Russian folklore.
And definitely lends itself less well to writing a timely review of a book I received an advance copy of through NetGalley. Whoops.
I enjoyed this book and its stories on a number of levels. Lovely language, lush images that I could picture easily… the myth-infused atmosphere of the household and remote Russian village. Even the complex family relationships: a beloved first wife, mourned after her death, a second wife devoted to the new Christian religion and frightened by the mythic elements of the home tradition, children who grow up and want to choose their own paths, and a father who wants peace and prosperity for all his household, even if those choices take his children far away, and into roles he wouldn’t have hoped for them. The most interesting aspect might have been the tensions between folklore and encroaching Christianity, personified by the priest and by the mythical nature spirits who became characters in their own right.
The rich sense of atmosphere, wintry and magical, was part of what kept me reading this in tiny bites. At first, I thought I didn’t want to start it before winter got really properly wintry… I delved into reading a nice, cozy stretch right around Christmas, and that was perfect. It’s a good book to have in the lead-up to the winter holidays.
And then winter got cold and, well, wintry, and I set the book aside for more escapist reads. Only to decide that icy rain and snow were a perfect accompaniment for reading about magic and old Russian gods of winter and icy palaces. I finished the last half of the book today, while on a snow day.And it worked wonderfully.
I enjoyed savoring this book, and I think you will too.