On My Radar: Late Summer & Fall 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these On My Radar posts. If you don’t know what they are, these are basically my version of a TBR post. There’s no guarantee that I’ll ever get to any of these books, but they’re the ones that I am currently looking forward to and hope to read before 2018 is upon us. Here we go!

Picture Books

A Stick Until… by Constance Anderson

And the Robot Went… by Michelle Robinson

Grumbles from the Town: Mother-Goose Voices with a Twist by Jane Yolen

Henny, Penny, Lenny, Denny, and Mike by Cynthia Rylant

LMNO Pea-quel by Keith Baker

Do NOT Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman

Giraffes Ruin Everything by Heidi Schulz

One Lonely Fish by Andy Mansfield

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey

Share, Big Bear, Share! by Maureen Wright

Little Elliot, Fall Friends by Mike Curato

Milo’s Museum by Zetta Elliott

Elementary & Middle Grade

This is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

Brambleheart by Henry Cole

Katana at Super Hero High (DC Super Hero Girls)

Young Adult

Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin

Bad Romance by Heather Demitrios

Lucky in Love by Kasie West

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

Boundless by Jillian Tamaki

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

Adult

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: a Memoir by Sherman Alexie

 

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TLDR; Underutilization

I have officially made it to the halfway point of Summer Reading. It’s been a lot of hard work, problem solving, book recommending, OverDrive helping, and YAS QUEEN-ing myself at the end of some interesting days.

In the midst of it all, I’ve been having what I’ve been thinking of as my second quarter life crisis. I’m a millennial, I’m entitled to having more than one quarter life crisis, mmmkay? I had the first one when I graduated from undergrad and realized the only place that was going to hire me was Walgreens. Basically, I found out really fast that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, was even LESS personable than I thought I was, and much, much less employable than the girl who spent four years in a trade straight out of high school while I wrote mediocre poems in the Berkshires to the tune of $24,000 in debt.

I made the mistake that lots of Americans make. I derived pretty much all of my self worth from what I was ~doing~ rather than the kind of person I was. No longer a high achieving undergrad, I become a cog in a wheel. And I was miserable. So, I did what many people do: I went to grad school.

Now, I was lucky in the sense that I actually sat down and thought about a way to combine both my interests and my skills in a way that was going to keep the lights turned on. Did I envy my friends who went on to PhD literature programs at ivy league schools? You fucking bet I did. I still do. But I went to library school because I loved books, kids, and helping people and I knew I’d have better luck finding work in a library than finding a tenure track professor position. I’ve been poor my entire life. I wanted more for myself and my family. So, I made the choice. And for three years, I didn’t look back. Until now.

I’ve talked a lot about how my first job sucked horribly. I was in survival mode that entire first year of professional librarianship. There was no time to even look around and consider that there might be something more out there for me that wasn’t public librarianship. Then, I landed this job. With these amazing co-workers in this beautiful area. And I learned a shitload in the first year. I got to do things that I didn’t even know I wanted to do and now love. I ran some great programs. I also failed a fair bit. It’s all trial and error.

Things have become quite easy of late. Maybe that’s something that I’m supposed to aspire to but I’m not a big fan of sitting around and staring at the walls. I like to work. I like to try new things and do old things with a new approach. I like to make big goals and do everything I can to meet them. I know what you’re thinking and, yes, I am a Capricorn.

Unfortunately, the more I look around the more I see people who just want to fulfill the status quo. Have the same storytimes for the same age group month after month, year after year. Invite outside programmers to do all of your summer reading programs. Toss in a craft and be done with it. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is year 3 of my career and I can’t imagine working within that mindset for another 30 years or so.

I guess I’ve been feeling underutilized lately and I’ve been considering what I should do to remedy that. People always say that they want to be liked. I’ve never particularly wanted to be liked. I’ve wanted to be useful. I’ve been thinking of ways to maximize my own utility. Am I doing myself and everyone else a disservice by sitting in this small community library? Should I go back to school? For what? When? Where? How will I translate my current skillset into a new career? Do I even want a new career? What about my husband’s career goals? Do I really want to sacrifice creature comforts for the greater good? How far can I push myself in pursuit of this ideal before something has to give?

There are a lot of questions there. I haven’t answered many of them. I suspect that I probably never will. For now, I’m setting new goals for myself and working toward them with vigor until they’re complete. Once that’s over, I’ll find some new goals. If there aren’t any new goals to be had or I start running into a lot of resistance, I’ll look for a new opportunity.

Hopefully I’ll know when it’s time to move on.

Review: A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human by Kay Frydenborg

51dhyckpavl-_sx331_bo1204203200_The direction in which we look tells those who can read this signal something about our intentions. And here’s where dogs come in: it turns out that dogs can follow the human gaze, too, and they’re very good at it…Tellingly, dogs also understand our gaze far better than our closest relative in the animal kingdom, the chimpanzee. So why did modern humans evolve the white sclera, and when did it first develop? We don’t yet have the answer to the latter question, but dogs’ innate ability to read the human gaze suggests…something remarkable: in domesticating dogs, humans may have inadvertently evolved another feature that makes us unique among primates.

 

What happens: This is a book about the coevolution of dogs and humans. It tells the story from the very beginning of our recorded history with domesticated wolves and examines several aspects of the canine-human relationship throughout the book. Using scientific studies and scholarly opinions in genetics, biology, zoology, and anthropology, Frydenborg tells and compulsively readable and fact based tale of the interdependent relationships between humanity and our best friend.

The good: There is some real science here. Too often, books for the juvenile/ young adult set don’t get specific enough when it comes to a current scientific conversation. Frydenborg avoids the vagueness and conjecture that you might see in other texts for these age groups. She relies on classic research by people like Darwin while situating herself in the current scholarly conversation with new research and the opinions of current experts in the field.

The book flows nicely and doesn’t read like an article in a journal. This is readable, so much so that I intended to skim this puppy (ha) but ended up reading the whole thing. The chapters are nicely separated and the narrative moves from one point to another without feeling disjointed.

The not so good: I wish there had been just a bit more counter evidence presented here. A lot of what the author was propping up is pretty contentious. Where a hypothesis wasn’t proven, the author said so. That said, I wish there could have been, like, an end chapter talking about the different theories for some of her points–not to bog down the narrative but to let the readers know that there’s a wealth of information out there on this topic if they’re interested in exploring further.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Review: Mrs. Patty is Batty by Dan Gutman

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Teachers are always telling us to stay “on task.” That means we have to talk about boring stuff instead of interesting stuff, like candy bars.

 

 

 

 

 

What happens: It’s Halloween at Ella Mentry School! That means the weirdness is about to get even weirder than normal. Mrs. Patty, the school’s Halloween enthusiast, is giving away candy at her house. The weird part? You have to face somet spooky tricks to get your treat.

The good: This is my first Weird School title. Yes, I know of the series. Of course I do. But I’ve never actually ready one until now. I definitely see the appeal from the child’s perspective, especially male* children. The book is funny in the crude childhood sort of way. It’s not something that I think adults will be particularly attuned to but it is something that will go over well with the kids. I think this would be a nice series for reluctant or emerging readers.

The not so good: Let’s just get this out of the way: I did not like this book. I think it has a lot of flaws and that it’s pedaling the same old bullshit to kids without providing anything original or particularly interesting. I found the not so subtle misogyny here really off-putting. Will kids notice that this book is sexist? No, and that’s the problem. Since this is the first book I’ve read from this series, I don’t know if the boys are always the main characters are not. Maybe in other installments the girls get to talk nonstop shit about the boys. But that’s not the case here.

Andrea is presented as an annoying know it all deserving of outright bullying. Emily is portrayed as the typical hysterical mess. The bitch and the crazy lady–the whole cast is here, folks. The boys hate the girls without question. There is even a scene in which the male main character disrobes Emily in public. This happens accidentally but it does happen. Jesus Christ.

If you want to give a book to kids that teaches them it’s cool to be misogynistic little bullies, then this is the title for you. If not, steer clear.

Rating: 1/5 stars. Yucky.

Review: Mine by Jeff Mack

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MINE!

 

 

 

 

What happens: The blue mouse declares the rock his. He plants his little mouse flag and feels very pleased with himself. But orange mouse also wants the rock. Blue mouse and orange mouse go back and forth enticing one another with things like cheese and presents in order to lay claim to the rock themselves. In the heat of their argument, the rock beneath them starts to rumble, shake, and move–what’s happening? Is this rock alive? Rock =/= rock. Rock=turtle shell that, of course, belongs to neither mouse. The piece of cheese, on the other hand, is a different story.

The good: It’s been a while since I read a wordless/nearly wordless picture book. I don’t find myself getting all googly-eyed over those suckers as much as other librarians do. I find those books difficult to utilize. Since I’m such a minimalist storyteller, I really need the aid of the text in a storytime.

This book, however, manages to be quite fun in spite of my preferences for other types of the books. The escalating conflict between the mice is humorous and I likely to be easily understood by any preschooler with any kind of social relationship whatsoever. I didn’t see the twist at the end coming and I liked that the last photo left the book open to the plot continuing without leaving some massive cliffhanger. You kind of know that it’s going to happen but it’s doesn’t feel trite when the moment finally comes.

The illustrations are bright and simple. This is good for very young kids because it’s very easy to see what is happening. There is nothing worse than a wordless book with shitty pictures.

The not so good: I mean, like I said, I’m not necessarily into these text lacking books. It’s cool to see a simple story for young kids with limited vocabularies but it doesn’t get me excited to share this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to read this book to toddlers, mostly because their favorite words are “no” and “mine” and I think it’ll be fun to have them yelling it in unison throughout the book. But will it go down as the best storytime ever? Unlikely. Will I reach for this more than once? Anything can happen but…probably not.

Rating: 2.75/5 stars.

Review: Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

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Jabari looked out, as far as he could see.

He felt like he was ready.

“I love surprises,” he whispered.

 

 

 

What happens: Jabari heads to the pool for a fun day with his dad and his sister. He’s determined to make today the day that he finally jumps from the diving board. But it’s high…really high. With a lot of family support and a dash of courage, Jabari discovers that new experiences don’t have to be scary–as long as you let life surprise you.

The good: I love this book. Not because it’s a great book for storytime. Just because it’s a great book, full stop. That’s not something you always get with picture books. Let’s talk first about the plot and the central message of the book: Jobari is like a lot of kids his age. He wants to do the fun things that the other kids do but he’s also a little bit scared to do something new. Jabari’s dad knows that and he plays an awesome supporting role here. Seriously, he’s an awesome dad. When Jabari wants to jump off the diving board, his dad lets him try. When Jabari is nervous and can’t quite bring himself to follow through on his big talk, his dad makes space for him to step back and reevaluate without forcing Jabari to do something he isn’t ready for. Jabari’s dad gives him support and allows for independent decision making. Can he teach a parenting class, please? Jabari ends up jumping off the diving board and having a blast while doing it. The general message of the book is that new things can be scary but they can also be really fun.

I loved that the message of the book was bravery and featured a male character but that Jabari was allowed to be scared without being called weak or lacking by his male peers. There’s not one single once of toxic masculinity here. I also LOVE that Jabari’s dad’s character is so warm and supportive. He was a great dad. We do not see nearly enough examples of exceptional Black fatherhood in our culture (not because there aren’t great black dads but because their narrative is eclipsed by the “super predator” BS that we have of Black men).

One other small thing that I noticed and appreciated–this is a Black family with varying skin tones! That’s right, not all Black people are the same brown crayon color. Jabari, his dad, and his sister are all different tones and even the other brown kids who only get a cameo are different shades. Just awesome!

The not so good: The only thing that’s not great about this book is that it’s the only one of its caliber that stands out in my head. I look forward to seeing more titles like this as we continue to work hard to make kidlit more diverse.

Rating: 5/5 stars!

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

Warning: HERE BE SPOILERS!

 

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I didn’t know how long my sisters and I lay there together, just like we had once shared that carved bed in that dilapidated cottage. Then—back then, we had kicked and twisted and fought for any bit of space, any breathing room. But that morning, as the sun rose over the world, we held tight. And did not let go.”  

 

 

 

 

I make no secret of the fact that I am not generally a Sarah J. Maas fan. I know a lot of people are (I mean a lot) and, if that’s you’re thing, that’s cool. It’s just not for me. I picked up A Court of Thorns and Roses to give her another shot after hating the bullshit series that is Throne of Glass. It was pretty decent and I decided to give A Court of Mist and Fury a go. ACOMAF was my favorite book of 2016. In many ways, I think that book represents the best of YA fantasy. It’s original, character driven fantasy set in a well developed world and it doesn’t rely too heavily on tropes. It’s expertly plotted and every single character is multidimensional and just so. fucking. interesting. Naturally, A Court of Wings and Ruin was my most anticipated read of this year. Let’s launch into the review to see how I felt about it.

The good: There were a lot of things that I liked about this book, namely that we get to see a lot of characters come full circle. I am more partial to character driven books than I am to plot driven books. So, it was nice to see Rhys and Feyre explore their relationship and to spend more time with our lovely cast of sidekicks. Arguably, we learned the most about Mor in this book but I think we also gleaned new insight into Amren, Cassian, and Azriel as well. I also liked that Elain and Nesta played a fairly large part, mostly because I just really like and identify with Nesta’s stubborn ass. Also, #JURIAN.

The pacing at the beginning of the book was spot on. Things picked up right where we left off and SJM let us hit the ground running. Tamlin remained a piece of shit, which was nice. We all know how much SJM likes to do lovely little character switcheroos that make no sense whatsoever so I was happy to see some consistency.

The not so good: Unfortunately, there was quite a lot that I did not enjoy here. I think the more fantasy I read, the better I get at identifying fantasy that I think is bad because it’s actually poorly constructed and fantasy that I think is bad just because of some personal preference. Unfortunately, this book falls into the first category. While it’s certainly not the worst fantasy I’ve ever read (I’m looking at you, Lightbringer series) it’s just not that great. It’s kind of hard to believe that this book was written by the same author that wrote ACOMAF. I was hoping that SJM would be able to deliver that level of awesome in the next installment and it just did not happen. If you want to see what I didn’t like in greater detail, keep reading.

The first issue that I had with this was how many time someone gave a nondescript “vulgar gesture.” Seriously, come on! Authors should be much better equipped at description than that. I wish I’d counted how many times this appeared in the book before I returned my library copy. Once I started noticing it, I couldn’t stop and it honestly made me die a little every time it was used.

The second issue that I had is with the sex scenes. Now, I am not a romance reader and I certainly don’t read any erotica. It’s just not my thing. The sex scenes in the first two books didn’t really bother me and I thought they actually gave us quite a bit of character development in the second book. This book, however, has the driest sex scenes of life. Seriously, Rhys and Feyre are newly mated immortal beings and their sex life is more boring than this human who has been with the same dude since she was 16. They’re routine, boring, and they offer absolutely no insight into their relationship whatsoever. I honestly have no idea what those scenes are actually doing in this novel and I deem it a failure of SJMs editors that they weren’t either improved or totally omitted.

The third issue is the pacing. The first half of the book is BOMB. I was so excited to be back in this world and to be badass and scheme and plot and fight Hybern etc. Some of that stuff happened in the beginning. The Spring court fell a lot faster than I thought it would but I was happy to get Feyre back to Rhysand. The issues happened after that. For someone as smart and calculating as Rhys, he had absolutely no idea what the hell he was doing in this book. Everyone was always one step ahead of him. I think that was supposed to create tension but all it did was give me a deep sense of dissonance after what we experienced in book two. It made the pacing so, so slow. We’d lurch forward bit by bit. Something would happen and the characters would react. On and on it went. Until it ended. Which brings me to my fourth point.

Ah, the end. And make no mistake, friends, this is the end of this series. Yes, there are spinoffs coming but the main storyline here has come to a close. And yet. There are so, so many unresolved things here. It feels less like SJM was trying to keep things somewhat open ended for the remaining books set in this world and more like she just didn’t quite have the balls to really end things. After an extremely slow middle, we’re rushed through the ending in a matter of, like, 20 pages. Feyre wields the cauldron, Amren dies, the cauldron breaks, Rhys dies, the cauldron is remade, Rhys is remade, Amren is remade, and then we all just magically go home to Velaris and live our lives. HUH?!

Rating: Overall, I did like this book. It’s easy to sound negative after the fact and to focus on things that you didn’t enjoy as much. Like the rest of the series, this was compulsively readable and entertaining. Is it the best high fantasy out there? Absolutely not? Should you read it anyway? I think so.

3.5 stars.