Skip to content

Review Policy

March 15, 2012

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

– Elizabeth

Hodgepodge 8/7/17

August 7, 2017

PBS is searching for the Great American Book (BookRiot) Oh, this is going to be interesting….

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden reads about everything from redheads to wartime.  (New York Times) She admits her books “are not what you would call organized” even as they reflect her varied interests. She loves cozy mysteries. And of course, she has the best answer to “what’s the last great book you read?”

That is a difficult question because books are a little like a good meal. You enjoy it and remember it, but you are always looking forward to the next one.

This only reinforces my case of hero worship. Long may she reign.

Can Jay-Z Help Students Read James Joyce? (J-STOR)
I like this, not just for the idea of engaging with rap and hip-hop as a gateway to exploring “more traditional” poetry in English classes (which I’ve seen before in various forms, but for this quote from Jay-Z:

McKeown begins by quoting Jay Z himself: “Great rap should have all kinds of unresolved layers that you don’t necessarily figure out the first time you listen to it. Instead it plants dissonance in your head.” McKeown points out the similarities between rap and poetry: “A poet’s mission is to make words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level.”

It’s a really good reminder that there’s a whole realm of lyrics and meanings that I really don’t know, and could learn. I ‘d like to take a class on hip hop and rap lyrics myself!

Why is Winnie the Pooh called a Pooh? (MentalFloss) I’d always wondered this.

The entire thread below is a delight.

Books Read in July

July 31, 2017


  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. A ferocious novel… a hard, but important and real read. Have been recommending to teens and adults since I read it. Hoping it gets assigned in schools.
  2. Blood Alone by James R. Benn- still rereading Billy Boyle and enjoying the series
  3. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I owe this a book review. I also owe this book an apology for how long it took to get me to read it. I hated her previous book, Everything Everything… but The Sun is Also a Star was really good.
  4. Evil for Evil by James R. Benn. More Billy Boyle
  5. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingleman-Sunderberg
  6. Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen, a foodie memoir coming to grips with New Orleans, before and after Katrina. Good stuff.
  7. Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel Jose Older. This book!!!!! Read my review.
  8. Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond, a smart, fun adventure with plenty of mad science. I really enjoy this series

Graphic Novels/Manga 

  1. Children of the Sea Vol 2 by Daisuke Igarashi
  2. Children of the Sea Vol 3 by Daisuke Igarashi
  3. Goldie Vance Vol 2 by Hope Larson


Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

So a grand total of… 14 for the month.

And here it is, July going into August, and I have bought my first book of the year. To the vast surprise of… probably nobody… I have purchased a copy of Daniel Jose Older’s short story collection, Salsa Nocturna, ordered from Burton’s Bookstore, my favorite independent bookstore.

And I’m at $122 for EveryLibrary. Not too shabby.

Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall

July 26, 2017

Jacket image, Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel Jose OlderShadowhouse Fall
Daniel José Older
September 2017
(review copy from Book Expo)

It didn’t surprise me that I loved this book. Daniel José Older writes books that draw me into their magic… that make me laugh, stay up late, dream. Books that I reread, and re-listen to, just because I want to revisit the characters as much as his prose. I picked up the galley of this at Book Expo, and I’ve been saving it to read as a treat.

I was expecting a treat and it blew me away.

Shadowhouse Fall is absolutely a sequel to Shadowshaper. (And to Ghost Girl in the Corner, an excellent novella.) You need to read Shadowshaper before Shadowhouse Fall. Both to understand what’s going on in Shadowhouse Fall, and because if you haven’t read Shadowshaper, you’re missing out on a dazzling magic system and getting to know a great collection of characters: Sierra, Manny the Domino King, Tee and Izzy, Benny, Juan and Pulpo. Shadowshaper also introduces a magic system bound up in ancestry, legacy and in art.

I really like the view into what happens next, after the climactic battle and big changes the first novel set up, as Sierra tries to figure out how to adapt to the new normal and get on with it. I find it so satisfying to see how she and her friends grapple with the tough task of adapting to their powers- learning, being frustrated, testing their trust and reliance on each other. I just like being around these characters. The new sense of danger and magic gets grafted onto longtime friend and family relationships, and I’m glad to have a chance to get to know more about this group, rapid-fire bantering (I wish Izzy/King Impervious were a real rapper I could listen to) and worrying and fighting and reconciling and being family, both blood and found.

Even when new forces emerge to endanger her and her friends. She’s struggling with her own changed role and powers of commanding shadow spirits, and training brand-new shadowshapers… she still has to do ordinary teenage high school things: figure out first love, make sure her mother doesn’t worry when she’s out late, navigate the tensions of high school.

Beyond building an intense, new layer of magical power plays that tests Sierra and the newly-trained shadowshapers, and showing how their relationships evolve, there’s an added ferocity to this second novel.

As I read, the action of the last few chapters had me barely breathing, barely moving… and taut with the knowledge that the scariest, most dangerous moments, weren’t magic at all… and the bravest moments of characters fighting back weren’t supernatural, either.

Older weaves magic into New York City neighborhoods and New York City neighborhoods into magic. And I believe in the characters who live there, loving and smartass and confused and doing their best, as fully as I believe in the magic. And I believe in the ordinary bravery, even more.

YA Review Throwdown: Battle of the Bands

July 5, 2017

I wound up reading books that sort of paired off with each other, which made for an interesting reading experience, even though some of the characterizations and plot points blurred a bit, and possibly invited comparisons. Possibly unfair ones. Once I had the thought, I couldn’t escape it. I read a bunch of books that paired off. And wound up in cage matches. So here we go.

Fictional Band Books

I’m cheating a little here, I admit: I’m conflating books where the teens are in fictional bands with books where the teens are fans of fictional bands. Either way, I admit that fictional bands have always been among my favorite things: I adore the movies The Commitments and Still Crazy, and I contend that the Beatles movie Help! constitutes a fictional band movie. (Because zany, improbable fake religious cult, and playing piano while skiing.) So I’m 100% here for fictional bands. None of these books had been on my radar initially. I first encountered them as part of The Hub Challenge, a reading challenge I completed with my fellow librarians. I’m very glad I did.Jacket Image, the Haters by Jesse Andrews

The Haters
by Jesse Andrews
Amulet Books
(library book)
My main thought about this book was that it captures the voice and thoughts of teenage boys perfectly. Arguing about the best bands ever- lifting up the very best, and heaping scorn upon the rest, and on anyone who admits to liking such terrible bands. Dick jokes. Thoughts about pretty girls, and hooking up with them. Impulsive, zany, laugh-out-loud crass.
Having Wes tell the story of his improbable and ludicrous escape from jazz band camp with his best friend Corey and their new, enigmatic friend (and crush) Ash, makes their crazy adventures a lot funnier. And tempers the craziness and crassness with Wes’s vulnerable moments, which I appreciated. The adventure is fun, but it’s also overwhelming and more than a little out of control, and seeing it from Wes’s perspective captures his feelings, making even the crazier moments, like the hippie musicians, more real.

Jacket image, This Song is (Not) for You by Laura NowlinThis Song is (Not) for You
by Rebecca Nowlin
(library book)
Ramona and Sam have been best friends since they met, forming a band of two and playing together. And also having secret (ish) crushes on each other, but not wanting to act on them, for fear of messing up the band or the musical partnership. Along comes Tom, the new guy, with his gadgetry and electronic music. Ramona engulfs him into the band and their friendship, saying he’s exactly what’s been missing. Sam, with his crush on Ramona, is really not sure.
I won’t spoil the particulars, but I give this novel credit for setting up a YA love triangle, and handling the characters, and the complexities of friendship and love really well. Getting the story from their alternating points of view in successive chapters makes it work. I read this really fast, and I think I might need to go back and reread it, to really appreciate how the characters negotiate their relationships. It’s more mature, and more nuanced than the average YA novel love triangle, and I give it credit.

25184383Kill the Boy Band
by Goldy Moldovsky
This is a zany, over-the-top, dark comedy about a fictional boy band, fandom and fangirls. It captures the sense of being a teenage fangirl so well that I swear it back memories of what it was like to be obsessed with the Beatles (I was old school) and to have fan friends (before the Internet, believe it or not). And sometimes the dark absurdity was funny in a satirical sort of way that worked for me. As I read, I kept wondering how long the Tumblr fandom slang that is so much part of the dialogue would stay relevant enough to be comprehended by readers, even a year from now…. This level of dark comedy isn’t my preference to read but stayed with enough focus on the characters and friendships that it mostly served the plot in useful ways. And yes, this was a ludicrous, fantasy-fueled romp of a story. But there were just enough moments of emotional truth to temper the silliness. So I liked it.

And the Winner is…

Having set up this juxtaposition between three YA books that center around fictional bands… I think they don’t have as much in common as I set them up to do. At least, not all three. And that’s a matter of tone. The archness, and the sarcastic comedy of The Haters and Kill The Boy Band gel together, and I could see both books appealing to the same reader really easily, because the tone matches so well. Although, maybe the readership would divide along boy and girl lines, because of how heavily each leans on the tropes of band guys, and fangirls.

This Song is (Not) For You stands apart, because it’s more honest, and more earnest. And because it fills a need for more YA that handles complex friendships, and figuring stuff out that isn’t just “OMG True Love One and Only.” To an extent, the small, honest moments in the other two books serve the same, badly-needed function, but the whole of the story of This Song is (Not) For You focuses on that complexity, so I’m going to give it the win.

Books Read in June 2017

July 4, 2017

Someday, I’ll blog something other than the monthly book list….


  1. How to Capture an Invisible Cat by Paul Tobin. A middle-grade novel that has been kicking around on my shelves for a while. Can’t argue with the title, but I’m not sure I’m on board for the level of boy-genius man-splaining that went on in the book.
  2. Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz. This retelling of the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler works, even if you haven’t seen the musical. If you have seen it, descriptions of Alex as a ginger-haired young man will throw you off. As I understand it, the author’s curiosity about historical research was piqued by the musical.
  3. *Beast by Brie Spangler. I’m always here for a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and this one was especially interesting in its twists.
  4. *Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. the last book in the Hub challenge… and that’s all I can say about it. meh, YA romance. Not sure why it made the award list.
  5. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon an utterly charming YA romance that I’ve had kicking around on my Kindle as an e-galley for ages. Glad I finally read it.

Graphic Novels

  1. Runaways Vol 1: Pride and Joy by Brian K. Vaughan. A library patron tipped me off to these comics, and I’m enjoying them
  2. Princeless, Vol. 4: Be Yourself by Jeremy Whitley. This series stays strong.
  3. Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson. Excellent all-ages graphic novel.
  4. Rivers of London: Body Work by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and Lee Sullivan.Good story, but that’s not how I pictured Peter Grant.
  5. Rivers of London: Night Witch by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and Lee Sullivan. Again, I enjoy the story and characters, except Peter Grant looks more like Generic Comic Guy than the Peter Grant I’ve gotten to know from reading and listening to the series.
  6. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Like I’m the Only Squirrel in the World  by Ryan North
  7. Lumberjanes Vol 6: Sink or Swim by Noelle Stevenson
  8. Children of the Sea Vol 1  by Daisuke Igarashi
  9.  Runaways Vol. 2: Teenage Wasteland by Brian K. Vaughan
  10. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol 2.: Cosmic Cooties by Amy Reeder


  1. Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch, read by Kobna Hobrook Smith.
  2.  Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch, read by Kobna Holbrook-Smith. So good! I might be enjoying these as audiobooks more than the original print novels.

Five novels? A new low? But I’ve made up for it with quite a graphic novel binge… A grand total of 17 books consumed… which is about on target for me.

I’ve finished the Hub Challenge (one of three colleagues to do so, I believe. Go me!)

But here’s the big news. Last month’s total was 85. Adding 17 means:

I’ve broken 100! So over $100 is getting donated to EveryLibrary.

Actually, thanks to forgetting to log a handful of graphic novels (whoops!) for the year, as of June, I’m closer to $107 and still reading.

Anyone wanna bet on whether I get to 200/$200 for the year?

Books Read in May 2017

June 6, 2017

Yes, I know it’s June 6th. I wanted to give you some space after all my Book Expo blither.

A strong reading month. Even if I was abysmal at blogging and reviewing. Asterisks for Hub Challenge books.

  1. *Dream on, Amber by Emma Shevah  (charming!)
  2. Caraval by Stephanie Garber (wanted to love but hated it)
  3. *The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash (Great fun!)
  4. Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal
  5. The Queen’s Accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal
  6. *Girl Mans Up by M.E. Girard
  7. Geekerella by Ashley Poston
  8. *Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine by Ibtisam Barakat. Lovely and I’m glad I read this memoir.
  9. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (odd but good YA)
  10. The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
  11. *This Song is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin. Fictional band, also thoughtful characterization.
  12. First Wave (Billy Boyle #2) by James R. Benn. Reread.
  13. Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson. will give this to a few teens in my library and will probably see it on summer reading lists.
  14. Devil’s Advocate by John Mabery. X-Files YA from Scully’s perspective. I gave up on this but circled back and trudged through. Feh.
  15. *Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Graphic Novels

  1. *Filmish by Edward Ross (more masters’ theses should be explained in graphic novel form!)
  2. *Plutona by Jeff Lemire (WTF even was this?)
  3. Space Battle Lunchtime: Lights, Camera, Snacktion! by Natalie Riess. Fun, and I want the sequel now!
  4. Giant Days #4 by John Allison
  5. *Paper Girls Vol 1 by Brian K. Vaughn


Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, gorgeous audiobook production. read by Anika Noni Rose.

For a total of 20 books!

Which brings my total for the year to 85 books. And $89 in the kitty for EveryLibrary.

9 more for the Hub Challenge. I’m almost done with the requisite 25 books, with just under a month to go.

When the Moon Was Ours may still be in my top spot for the year, but Balcony on the Moon comes close. In both cases, it’s for the lovely, lyrical prose. I can see others who read one liking the other.

Book Haul from BEA 2017

June 2, 2017

This is a lot of books. Let’s see just how many.

I’ve got them in four lists, and four piles… Split into Teens and Older and Teens and Younger, and then subdivided into books I’m excited about, and books that I was curious about enough to grab (the books that happened to me.) We’ll see, as I read, if the categories hold.

Teen and Older: Eager to Read

  1. Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older. I have two copies. Because he signed one! And I want to keep it safe and lovely forever. Also, he let me take a picture with him today. Swoon! Ahem.
  2. The Devouring by James R. Benn. The latest Billy Boyle. Alas, the author was not in attendance at BEA, or you’d have two pictures of me grinning like a big goofball next to favorite authors. But! I have the book!
  3. Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy.
  4. Null States by Malka Older (guess whose sister she is? Talented family! Need to track down Infomocracy as this is a sequel)
  5. Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds (Miles!!! Morales!!! by Jason Reynolds!!!!)
  6. Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
  7. Dear Martin by Nic Stone (will probably make me cry)
  8. The Usual Santas, a Soho Christmas anthology. Includes stories by James Benn and other goodies.
  9. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
  10. Sourdough by Robin Sloan. Sentient sourdough plays matchmaker.
  11. Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely. Future Wild West.
  12. Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen. Diverse fantasy.
  13. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
  14. Whichwood by Tahreh Mafi
  15. Slider by Pete Hautman
  16. The New Brooklyn by Kay S. Hymowitz
  17. Soonish by Kelly and Jack Weinersmith
  18. The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente
  19. Invictus by Ryan Graudin
  20. Real American by Julie Lythcott-Haims (will make me cry, I’m sure)
  21. As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti (a mythical town where everyone gets one wish)
  22. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
  23. Warcross by Marie Lu
  24. Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
  25. Lies Jane Austen Told Me by Julie Wright
  26. Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller (a prequel! Neat!)
  27. Radium Girls by Kate Moore (nonfiction)
  28. Glow by Megan E. Bryant (historical fiction)
  29. The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy. (Yeah, it’s for the title.)
  30. The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again by Catharina Ingleman-Sundberg (which reminds me to read the prequel, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, which I have on my Kindle awaiting review. Whoops!)

Teens and Older: Why Not?

  1. Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green (a graphic memoir about an eating disorder. Hoping this will be useful to help library patrons.)
  2. Under Water by Casey Barrett. Former Olympic Swimmer writes murder mystery with former-Olympian-turned-PI. Hmm
  3. All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry. Possibly too dystopian for me
  4. Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabhattin Ali
  5. A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan (multigenerational fantasy)
  6. From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty (also wrote Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which I didn’t love)
  7. Be True to Me by Adele Griffin. YA set in the 70’s
  8. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (I have a specific library patron in mind who made me curious to read this)
  9. The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (re the title)
  10. Berserker by Emmy Laybourne (Nordic fantasy YA)
  11. Supernormal: The Untold Story of Resilience by Meg Jay. (Nonfiction, self-help)
  12. Koh-i-Noor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand (nonfiction)
  13. The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow (suspense I bet Dad will like)
  14. World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech by Franklin Foer. (The nice book marketer promised this was solution-oriented, otherwise it’s nightmare fodder)
  15. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. (Historical fiction about Lizzie Borden.)
  16. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (novel in verse)
  17. The Book of Pearl by Timothée de Fombelle (not sure if this could skew younger)
  18. Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller. Start of a series.
  19. Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
  20. World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews
  21. Blood and Ink by Stephen Davies (the teen daughter of a librarian in Timbuktu meets a soldier from a sect of Al-Qaeda. Really not sure about this one.)
  22. The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin (historical fiction on early Hollywood)
  23. Unforgivable Love by Sophfronia Scott. Compared to Dangerous Liaisons and set in the South. Not sure about this one.
  24. Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta. I literally have no memory of this book. I think it jumped into my bag.

Teen and Younger: Eager To Read

  1. The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
  2. Auma’s Long Run by  Eucabeth A. Odhiambo
  3. The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill (looks utterly charming)
  4. Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag
  5. Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt
  6. The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris.
  7. Wonderling by Mira Bartok
  8. The Not So Secret Society- Daley/Crafts/Clark/Bruni (graphic novel)
  9. Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race by Chris Grabenstein (part of a series that also looks generally promising)
  10. They Didn’t Teach This in Worm School by Simone Lia (looks good for the Wimpy Kid crowd)
  11. The Giant Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill (just for the title)

Teens and Younger: Why Not?

  1. The Whisper in the Stone by Kamila Benko. Start of a series.
  2. Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins
  3. Laugh Out Loud by James Patterson (yes, that James Patterson.)
  4. Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend. Start of a series

Oh wow, that is a lot of books in two days.

I also scooped up some mysteries and nonfiction for Dad, the new Zadie Smith for Mom, and a couple books I think Aunt Ruthanne will like. (Prairies are involved)IMG_1064.JPG

I tried to pile the younger and older Enthusiastic books on top of one another, but the book tower got wobbly.

41 books, total, are in the Enthusiastic pile, and 28 books made it home with me under dubious circumstances. (Not counting the books that are going to be gifts to others.)

69 books! Good grief!

Please ignore the books you can see behind these stacks, lurking in the shadows. Please do not ask what year’s Book Expo brought them into my life. Please do not ask me where I am going to put these 69 lovely new books, or the other titles I requested in the heady frenzy of the Book Speed Dating. And again, do not ask me about the library books I have out.

Also, Lisa: I am not buried under books.