The First 10 Books I reviewed for Top Ten Tuesday

It’s Tuesday!  Posting without pictures in the interests of getting this up.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. 

Top Ten Tuesday from www.ThatArtsyReaderGirl.com

Here are the first 12 books I reviewed on my blog, all the way back in February and March of 2004. I started off reviewing multiple books every post, with much shorter reviews, so these were my first four posts.  

Sunshine by Robin McKinleyI started off strong with a trio of fantasy books by authors I’m still a fan of:

Then I wanted a baby.  I bought and have since given away all of these books:

I still think fondly of Pirates! and remember that one of my good friends went to college with Suzan-Lori Parks, though I’ve not read anything else of hers:  

 

I have no memory at all of these first two books. I still dream of reading more of the Elizabeth Peters books, though – I read the first several and enjoyed them lots.  

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Queer as a Five Dollar Bill

I’d heard of Lee Wind’s blog, I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the Hell Do I Read before, but it took me a little bit to put this together with the nice guy I was chatting with at KidLitCon.  He told me a story about his publishing experience – how he’d written both a novel and a nonfiction book about the evidence he’d found that Abraham Lincoln was in love with another man.  The nonfiction book was scheduled to be published with a mainstream publisher, but was cancelled in 2016 because of the political climate. He self-published the novel, which I bought at KidLitCon (though my library also has it.)

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill by Lee WindQueer as a Five Dollar Bill by Lee Wind. I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the Hell do I Read?, 2018.
As the book opens, Wyatt is up before school, aging copies of the Emancipation Proclamation to sell in the gift shop of his family’s Civil War-themed B&B, Lincoln Slept Here, in Lincolnville, Oregon.  He’s a target at school – even though he has decoy pictures of swimsuit models in his locker and hasn’t told even his best friend that he’s Gay. When she kisses him at school to save him from the major aggressor, Jonathan, she’s sure it’s the start of something real and he is just miserable.  

Then, everyone is assigned to read a different book on Lincoln and start a blog, to be graded both on the content and the blog traffic.  Wyatt is given the book (it really exists) Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Most Intimate Friend, which contains letters between Lincoln and his best friend, letters that Wyatt is sure prove that Lincoln and Speed were in love.  Believing that someone as important and beloved as Lincoln could have been Gay is transformative for Wyatt. He writes his first blog post about it, still trying to look straight himself.  

But he didn’t predict the backlash in the town that relies on Lincoln tourism.  Everything that he hoped would be solved gets much, much worse, putting him in worse danger at school and both his parents’ incomes on the line.  When he reaches out for legal help, it comes along with Martin, a very cute boy who posts his own Gay songs online. But does Wyatt like him for himself, or just because he’s the first openly Gay boy his age he’s met? 

The traditional narrative here is interrupted with related bits of information – Wyatt’s video and blog posts for school, signs for the Lincolnville parade, transcripts of the radio and TV shows he ends up on, as well as polls, blog stats, and way his story is spreading. I’ll also note, for adults looking for books for teen, that there isn’t any content here that would be inappropriate for middle schoolers – though sexual orientation is a big issue, sexual activity is limited to a single kiss on the lips.  

This is a really solid book with well-drawn characters.  I was really rooting for Wyatt as he struggled with everything on his plate – much more than issues of whether or not to come out. As I read this, I was thinking about a post on Rachel Neumeier’s blog, referencing an article by Kelly Jenson on Book Riot – basically saying that if we consider YA a genre that adults read, we can take out many of the things that make the books work for actual teenagers.  Here, Wyatt does some pretty believably dumb teenage things, from deliberately shorting out his laptop to hide his browsing history to believing that his best friend would dump him if he came out. (I’m a little afraid here that those fears might have been justified.) I loved him all the more for it. Here’s hoping this book finds the wide audience it deserves.

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Rainy Day Reads for Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday from www.ThatArtsyReaderGirl.com

Once again, the Top 10 Tuesday topic intrigued me enough to make me ignore the pages of notes on books I’ve read waiting to be written up.  I’d been putting together a list over the course of a couple weeks. Then I read Brandy’s post, and decided to interpret this as books I would read if I didn’t have my massive pile of library books with their ever-looming due dates.  I restructured it into two parts – the first, beloved books for rereading, and the second, books from what amounts to my home TBR pile.  Thanks again to Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl for hosting Top Ten Tuesday, and to Shayna @ Clockwork Bibliotheca for coming up with this particular topic. 

Beloved Re-Reads

  • Kat, Incorrigible or The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart  by Stephanie Burgis
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon series by Grace Lin

  • The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Beauty or Rose Daughter or Chalice  by Robin McKinley
  • The Scorpio Races or others by Maggie StiefvaterBrown Girl Dreaming
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Books I Own and Haven’t Read

The Agency: A Spy in the House

  • The Agency series by Y.S. Lee – rescued from the library discard pile, though I read the first one when it came out.squirrelgirl1
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series by Ryan North and Erica Henderson – another series my love frequently gets friends hooked on that I haven’t read myself.  Don’t judge me!daughteroftheforest
  • Sevenwaters Series by Juliet Marillier – I rescued these from the library discard shelf and still need to get around to reading them.runawayspride&joy.jpg
  • Runaways series by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona – my love and son both really enjoy these, but I haven’t yet gotten around to reading them.  Yes, it has been over a decade. exit strategy.jpg
  • Exit Strategy by Martha Wells.  I got this for my son for Christmas, partly so I could read it too, but it’s now vanished into the depths of his room.  I may have to borrow it from the library after all. (I also have an older paperback of hers from a friend, but I don’t remember the title.)

What are your rainy day books?

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Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

I suddenly realized that though I always have an audio book going and get through quite a lot of them, I haven’t been reviewing them.  Here, have an audio book!

Undead Girl Gang by Lily AndersoUndead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson. Narrated by Rebecca Soler. Listening Library, 2018.

Mila Flores never felt like she needed any friends besides her BFF, Riley.  Mila dressed in combat boots and unabashedly called herself fat, while Riley called out anyone at their high school who was disrespectful of their Wiccan beliefs.  (I didn’t check about whether the author considers herself Wiccan, but both author and narrator are Latinx, as is Mila.) Mila herself might not have been a truly devout Wiccan so much as disenchanted with the Christianity the conservative town espouses. Then Riley is found drowned in the creek just days two of the meanest girls at school, June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth, were found hanged in the park.  Her family urges her to accept the police’s ruling of suicide – but Mila can’t. She’s sure they were all murdered, and wants to find the murderer before he strikes again. When an ancient grimoire with a spell for resurrecting the wrongfully dead appears at Mila and Riley’s hideout, she knows she has to try it, whatever the cost,even as the aging hippie owner of the town occult store, Lucky 13, warns her against it.  She’s shocked when she raises not just Riley but June and Dayton as well – and none of them can remember their deaths. Even worse for Mila, it seems like they’d rather just hang out and enjoy their extra few days of life while the spell lasts than try to figure it out. Can Mila convince them to help her in time?

Rebecca Soler has always been a solid narrator (she also did Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles), and here she does quite well with various teen voices, including Mila’s attempts at the Spanish she should know but isn’t really comfortable with. It did take a little while for this to gel into the girl gang the title promised.  But I loved Mila, so unshakable in her belief that her best friend wouldn’t have left her like that deliberately that she’s willing to put everything else in her life on the line to figure it out.  Her Wicca felt a lot like the Wicca of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a little bit of genuine Wicca blended with storybook magic for better, well, story-telling.  I loved when someone accused her of being a bruja, and she said that the brujería had been stamped out of her family generations ago – she was a straight-up New Age witch. (Not an exact quotation, as I was listening while driving.)   Though I often chafe at revenge stories, this had enough learning more about classmates she’d made assumptions about that there was a lot of self-discovery, along with the ever-present snarky humor, to balance it out.  It also had a nice twist that I did not see coming.  This is a lot of fun, with deeper themes of looking beyond the personas we all present to the world and the deep wounds of patriarchy.  

Other teen books that have reminded me of Buffy include Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.

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Pride by Ibi Zoboi

This was on my want-to-read list from the time it first came out, but it was Maureen at By Singing Light posting about it that finally pushed me into actually reading it.


pridePride by Ibi Zoboi. Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins, 2018.

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up… What those rich people don’t always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first build out of love.”

Zuri Benitez is proud of her Afro-Latinix heritage and her neighborhood, the Bushwick area of Brooklyn.  Her family is just getting ready to welcome the oldest sister, Janae, the heart of the family, back from her first year at Syracuse University.  But as she’s arriving, a new family is moving in across the street. They’ve remodeled an old house into a mini-mansion – something Zuri distrusts to start with.  When she and Janae meet the two handsome brothers, Ainsley and Darius, that are moving in, both sisters have instant reactions. Janae is attracted to Ainsley, while Zuri feels a deep distrust, especially for Darius, whose skin may be as dark as hers, but whose manners and dress just don’t fit in.

This says on the cover that it’s a Pride and Prejudice remix, and it is.  The major characters are all here, including younger sisters Marisol and twins Layla and Kayla, as well as Zuri’s best friend and a romantic rival.  Mrs. Benitez is notably a much more sympathetic character than Mrs. Bennett in the original, doing her best with a family of seven in a tiny apartment, and famous for feeding the neighborhood with her excellent cooking.  And just as Vodoun played an important role in Zoboi’s American Street, an apartment neighbor, Madrina, follows the traditional religion and leads ceremonies in the basement, a spiritual practice that is key to Zuri’s character arc.  

But while this starts with Pride and Prejudice, Pride goes beyond to look at the roles of class and money and the social forces in modern America, backed by strong and sympathetic characters.  I am in awe of Zoboi’s skill following the plot and the basic characters from the original so closely, while making them authentic characters of today, with very modern concerns and deep love for the neighborhood and the people who live there.  Sometimes, there are books that work so well that I just don’t feel like I’m able to do them justice with my reviews, and this was one of those cases.  Just go read it if you haven’t, and share your thoughts if you have.  

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KidLitCon 2019 – Saturday

Saturday

This is part two of my notes on KidLitCon 2019 in Providence.  You can take a look at my notes on Friday if you missed them.  There were so many good sessions and I really wished I could have gone to them all!

Keynote – Varian Johnson – If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It

VarianJohnsonKidLitCon

Varian Johnson at KidLitCon 2019

Varian Johnson is the award-winning author of many books for kids and teens.  I’ve read the four most recent, including last year’s Coretta Scott King honor book, The Parker Inheritance. He was coming straight off another trip and getting sick, but did his best anyway, giving writing tips based on his career, as well as sharing his social media philosophy.  This boils down to “You don’t always have to share your opinion.  Think about who you might be silencing.”  Other gems include

  • Give yourself a chance
  • Do the work
  • Set a schedule
  • Show up even when the muse doesn’t
  • Have a support group
  • Find the thing that ignites your passion

Continue reading

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KidLitCon 2019 – Friday

KidLitCon Providence 2019
Reaching Readers

Thank you very much to my library for sending me to KidLitCon in Providence on March 22 and 23, 2019.  KidLitCon is a tiny conference organized by book bloggers, which does a great job of connecting gatekeepers like librarians and bloggers with authors and illustrators to talk about the big issues that concern all of us.  This was my third KidLitCon, and I would not have been able to attend without the support of the Library. Thank you also to Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library and her team for organizing the conference and letting me be part of it.

It turns out that I like to take lots of notes, so I’m splitting my thoughts up into two posts.

Here are some pictures of beautiful Providence:

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The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles

Thank you so much to Versify for sending me an ARC of this book to review! The book was officially published April 2.

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles, illustrated by Dapo AdeolaThe Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles, illustrated by Dapo Adeola. Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.

It’s the last day of summer.  Otto is determined to have one last grand adventure with his cousin Sheed, even if Sheed would rather sleep in.  After all, the Legendary Alston Boys have a reputation to keep up, and similarly aged twin sisters the Epic Ellisons have earned one more key to the city than the boys have. Something strange is almost always happening in their county.  Sure enough, the boys run across a man in a suit and top hat with an old-fashioned camera who promises to make the last day of summer last forever. This goes about as well as the reader might expect – time is stopped, with everyone but the Otto and Sheed unable to move but aware of what’s going on.  Another strange person appears – this one a cool-looking time traveler with dreadlocks – who offers to help them. They also meet many interesting characters who are personifications of various times of day – the Golden Hours, Bed Time, Father Time, Witching Hour and so on.

This is Lamar Giles’s middle grade debut, though he’s written many popular teen thrillers, including Fake ID. This book is illustrated in an appealing cartoon style and filled with high-speed and high-stakes but still often slapstick adventure. it felt like a longer and more fleshed-out Phineas and Ferb, though there was a darker twist at the end that caught me off guard. Otto and Sheed were engaging and distinct characters, though I’d hope for more of the Epic Ellisons in a future book – they were literally frozen for most of this one.  The Last Last-Day-of-Summer was a little more thriller-like than I prefer, but as I’ve mentioned before, my tastes tend to run more to character than fast-moving plots, and most kids (including my own) disagree with me on this.  I will happily put this book in the hands of kids looking for diverse protagonists or just a fun, fast-paced adventure.

Kids looking for more crazy adventures could also read Oddity by Sarah Cannon or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

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Where the Heart Is and Still a Work in Progress by Jo Knowles

Kidlitcon happened!  Providence was beautiful!  I plan to pull together my notes from that soon, but for now, a couple of books by the wonderful Jo Knowles, who was on my panel called “You Can’t Say That in Middle Grade”, along with Ann Braden, Paula Chase, Barbara Dee, and Varian Johnson.  

This is Jo’s new book, coming out in April, and which I read from an ARC that her publicist kindly sent me.

Where The Heart Is final coverWhere the Heart Is by Jo Knowles.  Candlewick, April 2019.
Rachel has just turned 13, and it’s turning out to be a really tough year.  (I remember 13 being very tough myself.) She got “engaged” to her best friend, Micah, when they were six, and though it sent off happy sparkly feelings at the time, it no longer does.  He’s definitely interested in her romantically, and she just doesn’t feel that way about him, and maybe not any boy. Her parents are fighting about money more and more often, and there’s less and less food in the kitchen.  It’s also hard to be stuck with second-hand clothes, including being the only middle school girl at the beach in a one-piece bathing suit. Despite all these tough things, there’s plenty of humor from her little sister, Ivy, as well as from Rachel’s job taking care of the animals on the hobby farm next door, especially the pig, Lucy, who knocks her down every time Rachel tries to feed her.  Looking at all of Rachel’s life, and including normal friendship problems as well as the very serious financial crisis her family is in helped the book rise above the crisis to be a story of personal growth and love.

Jo’s previous book was just released in paperback, though I read my library’s hardcover.

Still a Work in Progress by Jo KnowlesStill a Work in Progress by Jo Knowles. Candlewick, 2016.
Seventh grade Noah is just trying to deal with life at school – stinky bathrooms, do any girls like him, and how will his trio of best friends hold together when one of them starts dating?  Everyone adores his older sister, Emma, but he is afraid even to notice that she’s just pushing her food around on her plate, terrified that the Thing They Don’t Talk About might be happening again.  Art is the only thing that’s keeping him sane, along with keeping the hairless school cat safe. But suddenly the rest of life at school – especially the morning meetings to discuss the comments in the suggestion box – seem completely pointless.  Chapter titles are taken from the suggestion box discussion, including things like “Please Stop Standing on the Toilet Seats” and “Sequined Camouflage Is Not Appropriate at School.” This book looks at the hard work of carrying on with life when someone you love is having serious problems, with characters and an ending that hit the sweet spot in the middle between grim and rainbow unicorns.  

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The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Here’s another author from my Kidlitcon panel, which I’m posting from the airport on my way to Providence!

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann BradenThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. Sky Pony Press, 2018.
Seventh grader Zoey mostly keeps her head down on the bus and at school.  At home, she takes care of her three younger siblings while her mother works at a waitress at the pizza parlor.  It’s her job to keep the kids out of the way her mother’s boyfriend Lenny and his father, who spends the day in his recliner smoking and watching angry news.  She doesn’t have time for homework, and she feels it’s better not to raise expectations by doing it.

This resolve cracks when an especially kind teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, gives her the assignment to write about what animal she’d want to be.  Doing this assignment leads Ms. R., herself a first generation college graduate, to convince Zoey to join the debate club, even though this involves making alternate arrangements for care for her younger siblings. This in turn starts Zoey on a path towards being able to label and combat some of the toxic behavior happening at home.  

Meanwhile, her friend from the trailer park Silas is given a hard time by other kids on the bus for enjoying hunting, while her best friend Fuschia is dealing with an extremely unreliable mother.  This sensitive book deals with a wide array of topics, ranging from attitudes about the rural poor to common ground talk about guns, domestic abuse, recognizing gaslighting, and the power of working together. That could feel like too much crammed into one book, but they all felt like issues that a kid in Zoey’s situation would really be dealing with. I was rooting for her all the way, and hope for more books from Ms. Braden.  

Also on this panel are Paula Chase, author of So Done; Barbara Dee, author of Star Crossed and the upcoming Maybe He Just Like You, among many others; Varian Johnson with The Parker Inheritance; and Jo Knowles with the upcoming Where the Heart Is.

 

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