My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

A million billion years ago I read The Object of My Affection and I adored it. I don’t even remember why or what it was about, just that I really loved the book and found it special and was consequently super irritated when it was turned into a movie that I thought did not reflect anything I liked about the book. Is that why I didn’t read any more of his books?? Or I just somehow missed out on them? Whatever reason, I haven’t kept up with him, but did know about this coming out and was really looking forward to it.  And I thought this was terrific. There were so many sentences or passages that I thought were very clever or very well written (and thought “should I flag this as an example?” but I did not, so just trust that there were many times I paused or reread a sentence to really enjoy it.)
One interesting thing is that while I liked Julie and David, the main characters, I really disliked basically every other character and/or person in their lives. I guess that’s why I was especially hoping for some kind of a happy ending for them-they may have been flawed people but they were not unlikable, and it just seemed like everyone else in their lives was disappointing, or offensive, or hostile.
I also really enjoyed the consideration of a close relationship that was not sexual (since they divorced at a young age when David came out), but took into account their closeness and shared history.
Overall a big thumbs up from me.

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Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

This was so charmingly written and so very Cynthia Rylant. The writing reminded me most strongly of Van Gogh Cafe and I just loved-simple, straightforward, moving.
A quaint town in Indiana is the setting and at its center is a young girl, her new friend this year, and her parents who are separated. There is also a bookstore. Except for the parents being separated and 4th grade being a little bit unsettling, everything seems great. I did find it odd that it was very specifically set in 1970something, since it almost could have been anytime. But maybe that makes the small town a bit more believable.
Bookstores, cats, things working out, interests, noticing details-these are things that seem very Rylant to me and the things that speak very directly to me. I thought this was a very nice book.

Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

This was a very fun graphic novel, although there were some things that just didn’t flow to me. Danielle has just started middle school and it seems to be one that a bunch of elementary schools feed into. Her best friends from elementary school are in a different group than she is, leaving her facing middle school classes, lunchtimes, and everything else all by herself as she struggles to make friends.  Meanwhile a great aunt has died and the end result of an enormous family squabble is that Danielle gets the aunt’s old sketchbook. While drawing a doodle of her favorite anime character in it she discovers the sketchbook has some magic as the character comes to life. Only, she only drew his head. He believes she is a princess and tries to help her make friends. Except he’s kind of a jerk. There were lots of details I really liked in the illustrations, such as every brand name being not quite right (i.e., “Newtflax” instead of Netlfix.) I liked it when Danielle knew so much about it and referenced the show and books the Prince are in. But I didn’t care for the family scenes, which were kind of odd and didn’t really fit into the rest of the story.  Her uncle is a terrible nasty man? But only shows up in a couple scenes? To what end??

I was surprised by the turn the story took at the end but I really enjoyed the resolution. So, while the fantastical elements make this not quite the same as According to Aggie or Real Friends, I do think the theme of maintaining old friendships and making new ones stands out enough that fans of those other titles would enjoy this.

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass (again)

I recommend this book all the time (and have somewhat forced it to become popular at my school, even buying more copies) and have had it in the back of my mind as a book to re-read when at loose lends, which happened a couple weeks ago. And this was just the ticket.  I’m curious to see what I originally wrote about this, but will wait until after I’ve written this. But here’s my original post from 8 years ago.

One of the things I remembered about this book that made it a stand out for me (and the hook I use to tell kids about it) is that the story is told from the point of view of one character and then abruptly starts and starts over again, telling the same story from a different character’s point of view. There are four characters and each time the story is retold (a bit shorter each time) it’s not a boring repeat, but another version that reveals the characters are not all who they say they are and all the pieces come together. Also, it’s an adventure set in a candy factory, so yum. And fun.

I’m pleased to report that this holds up and was just as delightful as the first time I read it. Now if I could only persuade my own child to read this….

Now let’s see what I said the first time…  looks like I agree with my first time read through! (but was way more descriptive.)

The Broken Vow (Spill Zone #2) by Scott Westerfeld

Boy was I excited when I found that #2 had come out and was immediately available for me to read. Unfortunately, though I remembered that I’d loved the first one, I couldn’t really seem to remember too much of it. And I counted on it just coming back to me as I read and it didn’t. Honestly I was pretty perplexed by everything and not caught up in the story at all. A lot of it just didn’t make sense (logically) to me.  However, I really enjoyed the ending/epilogue. Which I guess means I’ll like book #3 better than book #2?

Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant

This is part of my school collection and I wanted to give it a read to see what it was all about and who it would be good to recommend it to. I think for my 4th and 5th graders it may be a tiny bit mature–I think 6th grade would be a more ideal audience. But that stuff aside, I thought this was a lovely book. Written in free verse that is mostly more like short text so it all just flows very quickly, this was a fairly quick read. Georgia is a talented artist who lives with her dad. Her mother died very quickly 3 years ago and since then they’ve been shut off from any family. Georgia’s friendship with Tiffany, a girl who is everything Georgia is not (rich, athletic, popular, etc.) is a really nice solid center of the story. When Tiffany begins to not act like herself Georgia is worried but, realistically, not sure what to do when she realizes that Tiffany is taking pills to handle her busy schedule. (They are in 7th grade.) The other main part of the story is Georgia’s development of her artistic skill, which she inherited from her mother and thus, she feels she has to hide from dad. An anonymous gift of a membership to an art museum provides inspiration, reflection, and artistic growth for Georgia. I really liked the parts of the book where she observes and thinks about the Wythe paintings. I also liked the commentary about artists being observers. A solid thoughtful story.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

This book and I had quite a time together. According to Goodreads I started it on August 10, and I’ve just finished it on September 23rd! Kate Morton does write long books, but that’s pretty preposterous. I started it and had a bit of trouble getting into it. And then….left it outside overnight and it rained. It got pretty wet and damaged. So I dried it out in the oven, took the plastic cover off, paid for it at the library, and figured I could now take my time with. I didn’t take it on vacation with me and thus lost interest. I finally picked it up again a few days ago and got into it, but then-likely due to the bumpy pages-I was reading along and thinking that the big delay in continuing the book was really affecting my ability to follow the story. Then I realized that I had accidentally skipped about 100 pages. And they were fairly critical! It took me a long time to realize, though, since her storytelling is not chronological. Well, once I was back on track I was eager to see how it all came together.

If I’m being honest this is very similar to her other books, in content and not just style. But that’s the hallmark of her stories, isn’t it? Something of a mystery or misunderstanding surrounding a secret or tragedy that happened in the past, someone connected in the future is trying to figure things out, there are characters who are deeply flawed, and there are also good historical details.

In this case there’s a kooky family of troubled writers. Our present day protagonist is curious because the head kooky writer was a very famous writer of a beloved (frankly strange sounding–this mud man story was the least believable part of the whole book to me) kind of fairy tale and she adored that story. She finds out that her very own mother had once lived at the castle with him and his daughters as a WWII evacuee. Everyone is keeping secrets, of course.

Overall, this was not my favorite of her books, but I still really really liked it. As usual I really enjoyed the multiple changing perspectives and time periods (even though it tripped me up this time!) I really wanted to shake some of the characters because I hated the way they were acting.