The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

This book is going to draw a lot of comparisons to The Giver of Stars-both are set in Appalachian Kentucky and are about a woman who is a pack horse librarian, both show racism and sexism and poverty and the positive impact of this program. While I ultimately liked Giver of Stars more, I did enjoy this very much.
The titular Book Woman is named Cussy Mary and while she is not one of the most remote, poor, hill people, she is not a townsperson either. Her pa is a coal miner and there is plenty of good historical detail in here about the Company and really what an awful system it was and how they willy nilly endangered lives, tricked and murdered people, and were generally terrible and oppressive. But what was most fascinating about Cussy Mary is that she was also called Bluet because her skin was blue! And this is a historically accurate detail! I had to read the end note about the actual blue skinned people in Kentucky as soon as I started the book because I had never heard of them.  So Mary is blue and poor but she’s quite literate and loves being a librarian and helping the super poor and remote patrons on her route.
This was not a cheerful light story. In fact, a lot of it was just so grim and depressing: horrible racism, children starving to death, cruel behaviors, rape, having no autonomy as a woman.
Probably one of the most interesting things (and that I kept saying “Listen to this!”) was the juxtaposition between this remote and poverty stricken world and everything else you might suddenly remember also existed at this time. You’d be reading about someone putting groundhog brains on their baby’s gums to help with teething and suddenly realize “Downton Abbey took place years before this and people there wore fancy clothes and jewelry and dined and drove motor cars.” Or you might be taking in the house someone lives in and then someone talks about reading that great new book Brave New World. What?! First of all, I had no idea Brave New World was that old. Second, it was wild to have that (and Steinbeck and Picasso) mentioned by people who seemed illiterate. And also, you find yourself thinking that the hill people were hundreds and hundreds of years in the past and it’s jarring to realize what else is happening in that time period.
I really did love the historical detail in this story and of course it was a joy to see all the positive impact of books and the things the book women did to help out their patrons (I was especially interested in the scrapbooks.)

Roll With It by Jamie Sumner

I quite enjoyed this but simply cannot believe that in the past week I read three children’s books in a row and they all featured grandfathers with Alzheimer’s disease!

Ellie is a middle schooler with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. She really doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t especially like school. When her mom decides they will extend their visit to her parents (in Oklahoma) to the whole spring semester it means a lot of changes for Ellie. Starting a new school stinks and living in a trailer with her grandparents isn’t great simply because it is not outfitted as well as her house at home. But on the other hand, she makes actual friends, which is awesome.
What I especially liked about the story was that Ellie loves to bake and references cooks I like and talks about what she makes. I just realized I added the new category “recipes included” but in fact, no actual recipes are included. Oh well. Close enough.

Ellie is sad about her grandfather, but I wouldn’t say that is the absolutely main plot point. I look forward to recommending this to students in the fall.

Love, Unscripted by Owen Nicholls

I didn’t love this, but was very keen to find out what happened. To use an analogy suitable to the story, it felt like a movie that was just a little too long. The story is set up like a movie, with intermissions and flashbacks and I could see it in my mind like movie.  Although it’s been a long time since I have read the book or watched the film, this reminded me of High Fidelity. The main character, Nick, is crazy for films and works as a projectionist. He’s always comparing things to movies and they mean a lot to him.

Nick (can I pretend, then, that is homage to Nick Hornby?) and Ellie’s romance is either fated to be a great love story or fated to be doomed. Their amazing first night together (plenty of Before Sunrise references) is spliced into the story in different sections. It’s effective–it makes you wonder how they end up on the rocks while at the same time also helping you see Nick’s flaws right from the get go. Honestly, I found Nick a bit of an unlikable character (which he would say about himself, too.) But I still rooted for him and Ellie.

Check, Please: Book 2, Sticks and Stones by Ngozi Ukazu

First of all, let me say how satisfying it is for there to be a book and a sequel and that’s it. End of story. And each book is pretty long-2 years worth of Bitty’s college. So in this sequel Jack is playing professional hockey for an NHL team and Bitty is in his junior and senior year of college. This time a lot of focus is on Bitty and Jack revealing their relationship and can I just say how nice it was to read a story where everyone was accepting and supportive and the teams really have each other’s backs?

Lots of fun, lots of baking, and a super touching ending. I loved it!

Just like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

Another book I put off and read it in a day and just loved it. Much like Merci Suarez it a. made me tear up and b. had a grandfather with Alzheimer’s. This book is another good example of why I became a children’s librarian and always like children’s books best–in the first few chapters alone I immediately got on Robinson’s side and hated the bully kid and was so mad at the the teachers and administration for completely ignoring what was going on.
I do think it was slightly trite that the terrible bully had such a big family problem, but it definitely helped to get the point across that people have things going on in their own lives that you might not know about.

I really liked the guidance counselor a lot. In general, all the adults were so warm and loving. The family history and racism are so mysterious/vague that I have to wonder if, as a child, they might have gone over my head.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Here’s another book to file under the “why did I wait so long to read this? There’s a reason it won an award-it’s fantastic!”  I suppose, like a lot of good books, there’s nothing amazing sounding about it. I wasn’t dying to read it. I got myself to read it by picking it for my faculty book club and honestly, one I started I couldn’t stop. (In other good news, I got my reading mojo back!) Really, I read this most of the day Saturday.
Merci lives in a little house right in the middle of two other little identical houses and all together her whole family lives there: her mother and father and older brother, Roli; her grandmother and grandfather; her aunt and her little twin cousins.  They live in Florida and Merci and Roli both attend a private school on scholarship.  6th grader Merci feels pressure from her parents to make sure she’s an extra valuable student to the school. There are some mean girls at school but in one of the most mature and frank understandings at the end of the novel, they acknowledge that sometimes you just don’t like everyone or some people as much as other people.  There were a lot of threads here that were all woven together nicely: school, friendships, some boys and girls beginning to feel different about boy/girl friendships, family, family expectations, and her grandfather’s failing memory. [It was pure coincidence that I read two books this weekend and both featured grandfathers with Alzheimer’s disease.]
The whole story just felt so real to me. I loved it.

Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe by Josh Allen

A perfect book to give to kids who want spooky! Or, a perfect book for adults like me who don’t really like to be scared. The weirdness is reminiscent of David Lubar, but I have to say I much preferred these. There’s certainly a lot of similarity in the stories in this collection -in general you can tell what bad things might happen and there’s a lot of revenge. Despite that I think this is a great collection for kids. I’m pretty sure this is a book I would have enjoyed reading over and over, and as for me I can see a few stories I might like to read aloud to my classes. They are just right for being spooky and creepy but not terrifying or violent.  I especially liked “The Vanishers” and the classic Devil story.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Another First Second terrific book, this time shining a light on women who were the first in space.  I had never heard of Mary Cleave before and now I think she must be the most brilliant person out there and also “how on earth did she fit in all those careers in her lifetime?!” Before she even joined NASA she had multiple degrees in different scientific fields. This is part Mary’s story, part a little bit Space Race, part the first female Russian cosmonaut, and part women in NASA.
My favorite part was the section describing Mary’s first time in space. Although I have no desire to go up into outer space (um, it seems likely I wouldn’t be chosen) she sure made it sound absolutely amazing and breathtaking.
There is a lot of scientific text in here and presumably it’s all accurate. I wouldn’t know because it was so scientific I had to basically just take in a block of text and say “science blah blah” and move on to the next text.

Very interesting.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

This book is totally Chocolat + Maeve Binchy + Sarah Addison Allen.  I loved this. Three sisters who escaped Iran during the revolution escaped to London. After 7 years there they moved to a tiny village in Ireland to open a cafe. The village is populated with stock characters-a huge bully who dominates the whole town, a drunk with a fascinating past, mischievous bordering on criminal boys, a nosy gossip, etc. The sisters are scandalously foreign and the bully immediately wants to get rid of them. The racism is completely awful, but as I read I was confident that this story would end happily and he would get his.

Marjan, the oldest, has a gift for cooking and recipes are sprinkled throughout. And there is a thread of magical realism, which I loved. Her recipes have a special effect on people. Another sister’s intoxicating scent affects people. And the sweet Italian widow, Estelle, sweats sugar. For real.

I just loved this. For all the sweet magical recipe stuff and comically outlandish bully, there are serious flashbacks to the girls’ life in Iran before they escaped. It was truly awful and traumatic.
I just found out there’s a sequel, so I can’t wait to read it!

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

When this came out as a mini-series last summer we watched the whole thing as a family and we all loved it. I had never read the book but I knew I liked Neil Gaiman and I like Terry Pratchett in theory (the truth is, I’ve only ever read one of his books-Nation-and I did love it but somehow haven’t read anything else. Not even those Tiffany books that were the darling of the YA world. Paul is a huge fan and owns every single book he ever wrote including various editions of things. ) I really liked the show a lot and tucked away the idea of reading it in the back of mind. While doing some recent basement clean up/basement library browsing I came across it and thought “maybe now.” And indeed, this was perfect for right now. It was such a quick read and it was so funny and fun. Comparing the show and the book: one part of the show I didn’t love wasn’t originally in the book, so that was nice, although one thing I loved in the show isn’t originally in the book. Other than that, I thought it was a faithful rendition and even more now feel like the casting was absolutely spot on perfect.

Highly recommended.