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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

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When Dimple Met Rishi Book Talk

October 11, 2017

Below is the text for the book talk I did for When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.

Librarians and teachers, please feel free to use this in whole, or in part, as text or presentation. If you do, please drop me a line in the comments and tell me where you used it because I’m curious.

Cover image, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

When Rishi met Dimple, he said “Hello, my future wife!”

When Dimple met Rishi, she threw her iced coffee at him, because, Hel-LO, crazy person?

… Maybe Rishi should have introduced himself first.

Here’s how Rishi sees things. He’s going to a six-week program to learn about coding, but, more importantly, he’ll have a chance to learn about Dimple Shah, the girl his parents and her parents have picked for him to marry. It’s a way to honor his Indian heritage and look forward into the future.

 

Here’s how Dimple sees things: She’s going to Insomnia Con, an amazing program to fulfill her dreams of learning about coding and working in tech. More importantly… no, there is nothing more important than that. All Dimple has ever wanted was to work with coding, and Insomnia Con, headed by tech mogul Jenny Lind is her chance to get started.

Dimple’s parents never told her about Rishi. Marriage to an Ideal Indian Husband? The idea makes her cringe. And the idea that her parents have set her up with this Rishi Patel… well, that makes Dimple furious!

Yep! Dimple’s furious! About the arranged marriage thing, and about working with Rishi. She’s not sure whether they’re going to make the killer app of her dreams… or wind up killing each other. She and Rishi have nothing in common: He’s easygoing and she’s ready to fight for her beliefs. Indian family traditions make him feel connected and her feel trapped.

But here’s the thing. Rishi’s really easy to talk to. He gets what it’s like to grow up with strict Indian parents… Even though he clearly has a crush on her, he’s willing to put that aside, and put everything into helping her win Insomnia Con.

Here’s the thing: Dimple can’t stop staring at his mouth, and wondering what it might be like to kiss.

Dimple and Rishi have nothing in common.

Dimple and Rishi have more in common than they think.

 

Books Read in September

October 9, 2017

The real end of summer, but I managed to sneak a few more long weekends away, amid a lot of training at the library and the start of having a different group of kids in the library.

Books and E-Books

  1. Invictus by Ryan Graudin. A fun time-travel caper with a found-family ship’s crew, and some excellent twists I didn’t see coming. Also, lots of gelato and a red panda. For reasons.
  2. Caroline: Little House Revisited by Sarah Miller. A prequel to the Little House on the Prairie books, that awed me by showing just how much work and strain Ma (Caroline) had to go through to make the memories Laura Ingalls Wilder turned into children’s stories.
  3. Home by Nnedi Okorafor. Technically, a novella, but… Fascinating science fiction, raising good questions about culture and science and humanity. Plus lovely writing.
  4. Falling Up by Shel Silverstein. Can’t believe I never read this collection of Shel Silverstein poems before now!
  5. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. A reread, in preparation for giving a booktalk presentation as part of my librarian training.
  6. A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King. Picking up this Sherlock Holmes series where I left off. It was all right, but I’m not sure I’m going to continue voraciously.
  7. The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch. I held off as long as I could, and now there are no more new Peter Grant novels to read. Woe is me!
  8. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed. This was a hell of a powerful book. I want to get it into as many teen readers’ hands as I can.
  9. Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg. Meh. I was looking forward to these tales of old New York, but disjointed narrative and, eh.
  10. The Pants Project by Cat Clarke. Charming book for young teens.
  11. Since You Asked by Maureen Goo. I really liked this. For the narrator’s snark and for how she talked about growing up with a Korean family.

Audiobooks

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett – one of the wizard ones, as read by Stephen Briggs, whose narration I really like.

Graphic Novels and Comics

  1. Unicorn vs. Goblins by Dana Simpson. Another fun Phoebe and Her Unicorn adventure. Made me giggle.
  2. All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. A coming-of-age comic set around a Ren Faire! Good stuff!

Okay, so 11 books, one audiobook finished, and two graphic novels. So, 15, total. Which brings us to 149 for the grand total, which is exciting, as it means that I’m going to exceed the most books I’ve ever read in a Goodreads challenge… at some point in October.

I just checked, and I’m pretty sure I blew through 2016’s yearly total somewhere in July. That’s intense!

Books Read in August

September 3, 2017

August included the end of Summer Reading at the Library (yahoo!) and a few precious and lovely days of vacation with family (and books.) So let’s see where we are:

Print/E-Books

  1. Code Girls: The Untold Story of the Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy. This one isn’t due out til the middle of September, but put it on your list. It’s really solid, well-researched history, with a good balance between personal stories and larger contexts. Loved it!
  2. Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood. A Phryne Fisher mystery. Fast/comfort read.
  3. Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood. See above.
  4. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Fascinating science fiction, suspense and worldcraft built into a tiny novella. I didn’t want the pages to stop turning and have it be over.
  5. Secret Sisters by Joyce Calloway. I was super excited about this historical novel when I heard about it at BEA, but the reality was… kind of a tedious read that seemed to take ages. Meh.
  6. Dead Light March by Daniel Jose Older. An excellent novella that fits in between Shadowshaper and Shadowhouse Fall
  7. Lockdown by Laurie R. King. Intense story of a school shooting, told from multiple perspectives.

Audiobooks

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

Graphic Novels

  1. Archie, Vol 1.: The New Riverdale by Mark Waid. I like this version, a good update.
  2. Unicorn on a Roll by Dana Simpson. Phoebe & Her Unicorn
  3. Razzle -Dazzle Unicorn by Dana Simpson. Ditto
  4. Unicorn Crossing by Dana Simpson. Ditto. These comics are charming and they make me smile.

So… 7 books, 1 audiobook and a paltry 4 comics?

Whew! a total of 12 books for the month! For me, that’s like a reading slump!!! But, that still adds $12 to the tally for EveryLibrary for the year and takes us to $134. Not too shabby.

 

YA Review Throwdown 8/22/17

August 22, 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.

Small Town Preachers’ Kids With Big Questions About Sexuality

Cover image for Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin BrownGeorgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit 
by Jaye Robin Brown
HarperTeen
(Library Book)
Joanna has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and moves the family from Atlanta to a small, conservative town, he asks Jo to keep her sexuality a secret and pass for straight. Which gets even more difficult, once Jo meets her friend’s sister, Mary Carlson… who might be interested in Jo, too.
This was a fun read. I liked the supporting cast of Jo’s friends at school. And I was really interested in how central her faith was, both in her own narrative and thoughts, and in her relationship with her father. She’s secure in her relationship to God, which I think might be a rarity in teen novels in general, and possibly especially so for teen novels where they’re wrangling about sexuality and identity. I like how religion was handled here. but I’ve read scifi with less contrived, more plausible plot devices than “pass as straight, and I’ll give you a teen show on my christian radio station” “Okay, Dad!” Or… maybe that’s my own city bias showing? At best, the odd plot setup is a way to rehash a coming-out storyline, and I think the book world needs more stories where teen characters have claimed their identity as GLBTQIA, and are going on with the teen business of first loves and self discovery.  In any case: odd setup, but a fun, worthwhile book I’d rec to teens.

Jacket image of Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney StevensDress Codes for Small Towns
by Courtney S Stephens
Billie and her group of friends are a close-knit group, calling themselves The Hexagon, some of whom have deep, longtime roots in their small town home, and others who are relative newcomers. I loved getting to know the whole crew of them: Billie, Mash, Davey, Woods, Fifty, and Janie Lee. Billie’s the preacher’s daughter, definitely a tomboy, definitely an artist who likes to do big sculptures. (I want to see the Daily Sit, her couch made of layers of newspaper papier mache, in real life). All her life, she’s had trouble fitting into the mold of people’s expectations… and the fact that the first scene is her and her friends accidentally almost burning down the Church Youth Center tells you a lot about the shenanigans she and her friends get into. Billie, and to an extent, Davey and some of the other characters figuring out who they are, and who and how they’re experiencing first love, is just part of how the characters are figuring things out. They’re also trying to save the town’s heritage, in the form of the Corn Dolly festival. And trying to restore their goodwill by doing community service to atone for the accidental fire. And going to a costume contest at a science fiction convention. And sitting around being very funny and giving each other grief, like good friends.
My one quibble with this book is the way the story kept jumping into things like text messages, and Davey’s perspective and emails to tell his story. Those moments helped move events along, but felt abrupt and off balance in the whole.
Even though there are elements of romance, I absolutely love the found-family sense of the Hexagon’s friendship. And I love the fact that it tackles the complexity, and fluidity of love and identity, as Billie defies real labels to just be her own self.

Winner: Dress Codes for Small Towns, though I really do appreciate the discussion of faith in Georgia Peaches. In fact, I read both of these books in May, and have been wanting to have Dress Codes on my library shelf, to hand to teens and adults who like YA lit.

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

Print/E-Books

  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

Audiobooks

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
Levine/Scholastic
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.