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
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.
X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos
To say I came into reading this with high expectations is an understatement. I wanted the book to come at least close to faithful to the characters and the show I loved in high school and college. Which is something that even the TV series itself hasn’t always done. (Don’t get me started on the recent reboot. Or the first movie. Seriously. Don’t. Not unless you want shouting, waving of arms, and possibly swearing.) And I also wanted it to be a good book, a good story in its own right. Like I said, high expectations.
A story about Fox Mulder’s teenage years had a lot to live up to. It needed to be faithful and true to the Mulder of my TV screen, working in his basement, searching for the Truth, wanting to Believe, still grieving the loss of his sister. And the story not only had to be faithful to what I loved about the (early seasons of) the series, but also cover enough new ground to be a good story, rather than a regurgitation of fanservice and tropes.
Like I said, high expectations.
This book met and exceeded my expectations. Starting in Mulder’s senior year of college, when he’s moving to D.C. to try to reconnect to his workaholic Dad. The loss of his sister, Samantha, is still raw, although five years have passed, since she was kidnapped on a night he was supposed to be watching her in their house. He has insomnia, and obsessions with things like reading about serial killers, and learning all the stats, ever, about the New York Knicks. He has a photographic memory.
He has exactly two friends: Phoebe, a girl back home who might be something more than a friend. And Gary, a new friend in DC, who goes by Gimble, his D&D name.
The spooky, ritualistic murder of young kids in the DC area stirs up Mulder’s raw memories of losing his sister, and also the beginnings of his interest in crimes and the criminal mind. More than anything, he wants to stop another family from experiencing the loss that his family did. He’s quickly obsessed.
It’s maybe not perfect: the number of reminders that Mulder is insomniac and grieving his sister started to scan as repetitive, verging on didactic. And yes, all the characterizations, even the original characters, leaned pretty heavily on tropes: Mulder’s remote and grumpy father, his levelheaded friend Phoebe and his geeky friend Gimble, felt a bit paint-by-numbers.
But, you know what? I’m okay with it.
The progress towards getting the crime solved moves with the right kind of suspense and spooky mood, fusing government conspiracy with gruesome and macabre elements, just like some of my favorite X-Files episodes.
Reading this makes me wish Kami Garcia had been brought on board to write X-Files episodes. I’d definitely read more of her vision of the X-Files, whether she sticks with envisioning young Mulder, or moves the series forward.
As you can see from recent reading roundups, my reading has skewed towards teen and young adult novels of late. This is partly a response to a career move (dream job!!!!) into the public library sphere, as a Young Adult Specialist. But, I’ll be honest: novels focusing on the world of teens, even with all the stress of high school and coming of age are a relief from the day-to-day of being a grownup and dealing with news and bills. And, with the intro running the risk of being longer than the reviews that follow, let’s get down to it.
These are all books from the library. Where I work. “Bringing work home with me” is a pretty sweet deal these days.
Edited by Ellen Oh
Crown Books for Young Readers 2017
As soon as I heard that We Need Diverse Books was on board to do this anthology, I knew I was going to love it. And, I did. I’d heard of all the authors, and had several of their books enthusiastically on my TBR pile. But, I hadn’t read anything by any of them. (Not even Walter Dean Myers! I know! A major gap in my education.) I zoomed through reading the stories so fast, and so happily, that some of them blurred together, I admit. But, on going back to remind myself of the stories, and one poem in this anthology, at a more measured, less book-devouring pace, I find a lot to like in each story. It’s a good way to get to know authors I hadn’t encountered before. Standouts include “How to Transform an Everyday Hoop Court Into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” by Matt de la Peña, “The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn” by Kelly J. Baptist and “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents,” written by Kwame Alexander, but really, I enjoyed all the stories and would read more by all of the authors.
Show and Prove
by Sofia Quintero
Knopf Books for Yong Readers, 2015
Set in the South Bronx in 1983,Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega tell the story in alternating chapters: summer camp rivalry, breakdancing, first love, trying to keep their friendship alive, though Smiles has a scholarship to a fancy private school and Nike feels left behind. Money is tight, for them and for their families, and you can see where things like crack and the AIDS epidemic, and war in the Middle East have an impact on their ordinary lives. It’s a good account of the ordinariness of teenage boys, while also being grounded in the time and place… and I have to say, I’m more than a bit weirded out by a story that took place during years I was alive being called “historical fiction.” Eesh! But it is, in the sense of capturing a time and place that’s changed since. If not for my librarian life, I might not have read this. But I’m glad I did, even if parts of it basically gutted me. As I neared the end, I stayed up well past my bedtime, hoping things would work out for the characters, and not be heartbreaking. When I finished the book, I needed a hug. Make of that what you will.
Ghost Girl in the Corner
Daniel Jose Older
Arthur A. Levine Books 2017
This novella is a sequel of sorts to Shadowshaper. And I loved it as much as I loved Shadowshaper. You definitely need to have read that first to get this, as it works with the characters and magic established there. And you should read Shadowshaper anyway, because it’s glorious. This is a satisfying sort of coda/companion, focusing on the story of Tee and Izzy, two girls who show up as peripheral characters in Sierra’s story. I appreciated getting to know both girls, getting inside their heads, and seeing them try to figure out their relationship.In addition to being a beautifully described supernatural urban fantasy, this is a great take on two girls trying to be together, to navigate being in love with each other. I like how that’s handled, its ordinariness and being true to the particulars of the characters, rather than having their sexuality be An Issue. It’s more important to the story to have them learning how to communicate with each other, how to solve the supernatural mystery, how to be good friends and partners to each other as their interests diverge. Good stuff.
Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship
Random House, 2015
This is the story of modern treasure hunters using everything they know about deep sea diving, shipwreck salvage, technology and history to search for the shipwreck of the Golden Fleece, sunk in the 17th century, the ship legendary pirate captain, Joseph Bannister. Bannister was legendary for his piratical exploits, especially since he was a law-abiding and prosperous British merchant, before turning pirate at the age of 30 or 40-something. And then proceeding to do things to stick it to the British navy, including stealing his own ship. This is also the story of what led two men to become treasure hunters, and to keep up the search for Joseph Bannister, despite it being a long process that led to setbacks like strained relationships, financial near-ruin, dead ends, and nearly lost hope.
This is exactly the sort of nonfiction I most enjoy: explaining a completely unfamiliar knowledge base in an intriguing way, with aspects of history, science, and personal biography woven together, and well-paced with suspense that kept me reading. It had exactly the right mix of Bannister’s history, with the two treasure hunters’ backstory breaking up the tempo of the search for the Golden Fleece. Given how the search unfolded with dead ends and frustrations, it was probably even more important to pull together the different threads and time frames, in a way that regulated the pacing nicely.
This book is also a fun look at pirate life and culture, more generally, sorting out the myth from the historical record. Drinking, wenching and pillaging aplenty, and living large in the pirate town of Port Royal. Trading great insults like “I come from hell and I’ll carry you there presently!” or “Damn your blood.” Yes, they taught parrots to talk, and used wood or hooks as prosthetics for severed limbs. Walking the plank, not so much.
What this book is not, is the book that my friend Russ recommended to me a few weeks ago. Russ recommended The Pirate Hunter, by Richard Zacks. Russ praised how well-researched and engrossing the book was, how easily he could picture the pirate’s life, nonfiction reading like an adventure novel. All about a more famous pirate, Captain Kidd.
I read the wrong pirate book by mistake. Whoops.
But I think it turned out to be an excellent mistake.
Books (paper and e-books)
- Remnants of Trust by Elizabeth Bonesteel
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
- Lies, Damned Lies and History by Jodi Taylor
- I am Princess X by Cherie Priest (which is sort of also a graphic novel)
- The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon and Dean Hale
- A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
- After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
- Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (anthology. Very good!)
- Ghost Girl in the Corner by Daniel Jose Older (So very good!)
- Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero
- The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis
- Princeless Vol 2: Get Over Yourself by Jeremy Whitley
- Goldie Vance Vol. 1 by Hope Larson
- Ms. Marvel: Civil War by G. Willow Wilson
- Miles Morales: Ultimate Spiderman Ultimate Collection Vol 1. by Brian Michael Bendis
- The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks
- Miles Morales: Ultimate Spiderman Ultimate Collection Vol 2. by Brian Michael Bendis
It looks like I’m keeping up a trend of reading one book I own, and taking everything else out from the library. Which is good, in the not-buying books sense, but less so, measured against the goal to catch up on reading books I own… and e-galleys I should be reading and reviewing. Still, going to call it a win, in terms of exploring library resources.
The prevalence of African American writers and characters in this month’s reading was… sort of intentional, but only sort of. Book displays and discussions of African American history and characters abounded in real and virtual library spaces. And I also just picked up novels and graphic novels that looked like good stories. I’m hoping to do my best to read attentively and diversely throughout the year.
I’d been meaning to read Jacqueline Woodson, and I’ll definitely seek out more by her. Also, I’m game for any Miles Morales comics I can get my hands on! And more graphic novel nonfiction, in a similar vein to The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks. I like the idea of nonfiction and other narratives told in panels and art.
For those keeping score, this means I’ve now read a total of 32 books. And $32 is going in the lunchbox for EveryLibrary.