Wild Librarian Bookspot

Welcome, book-lover types and interested others! After years of running a bookclub, it's clear that folks need to spread the word about good books ... and bad ones. I'll be uploading as many titles as I can. Read on.

Monday, June 18, 2018

"A Skinful of Shadows" by Frances Hardinge

Honest to goodness if my life was a little different I would have sat down in a big comfy chair to read this and not gotten up until it was done.  At 415 pages it isn't short but it is very, very good.  Ms. Hardinge takes the troubled times of Charles I in England and interweaves them with a gothic tale of soul-eaters.  The result is a tale which is unexpected and engages.  The story unfolds around central character Makepeace, a Puritan by birth and heretic by nature.  Contrary and strong-willed, it is her unshakeable core which allows her to survive the unthinkable.  The world-building here is without flaw and the story weaves in such a way as to pull the reader in.  A page-turner with complex language and imagery I was surprised that this was a Middle School pick but an advanced reader will appreciate the richness of the narrative.  Makepeace is committed to survival -- a trait I love in a heroine.  Brava to Ms. Hardinge for taking a mystical creature in a strange time and making her feel dimensional and real.  A worthy, delicious read.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"The Seventh Most Important Thing" by Shelley Pearsall

Another quiet book about a young boy coping with loss, this one had a surprise for me -- it is based on a true story!  Kind of.  The main character, the inciting incident, etc. are all fictional.  The subject, however, James Hampton, and his artistic creation, are real.  In the novel, a boy named Arthur Owens takes a violent action against a man he perceives to be homeless.  The complexities of the action, of Arthur, and of James Hampton, however, make for a revealing, healing tale.  Arthur escapes prison for his crime and is allowed a chance to make up for his actions.  The assignments he is given are mysterious to him and the lessons are subtle, more allusions than pedantic.  The thread of the book is one of discovery.  Along with Arthur, the reader goes on an internal journey to learn what redemption can mean.  Sweet, touching and unexpected.  Worth the read.  For more on James Hampton and his work, see:  https://americanart.si.edu/artist/james-hampton-2052

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"The Stars Beneath Our Feet" by David Barclay Moore

Mix Jason Reynolds' "The Boy in the Black Suit" with a healthy dose of Jacqueline Woodson's lyric style and you get a sense of the gentle novel about a boy struggling with the violent death of his older brother in Harlem's rougher neighborhoods.  Wallace, aka "Lolly", is thoughtful and sweet.  Most of the tale is told through his internal reflections as he uses the construction of Lego buildings to salve the wound of emptiness left by his brother, Jermaine.  Mr. Moore does a great job portraying the cycles of grief -- the anger, guilt and more.  Add in a host of interesting and unexpected characters and you have a story which meanders more than moves but it will touch your heart.  This winner of the Coretta Scott King Steptoe Award for New Talent is promising.  There are some questionable jumps in the narrative but this is a minor complaint.  The story isn't about A to Z, it is about feelings and those feelings take Lolly where they take him -- physically and emotionally.  The voices of each character are well-rounded and compelling.  I look forward to more works by Mr. Moore.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"You're Welcome, Universe" by Whitney Gardner

This novel is fascinating, frustrating and a bit fun.  Julia, a Deaf high schooler who loves creating street art, has been expelled from her deaf school for a work in the school gym.  Her new school is "hearie" and she struggles on multiple levels ... with her interpreter, her lack of friends, her Moms, her desire to create, and more.  Julia's voice is strong, powerful and real.  The issue of signing vs. lip reading is well portrayed and this book is the first I know of to address the topic so seamlessly.  I didn't even understand the emojis at the beginning of each chapter but it speaks to the visual nature of those who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing.  The story isn't perfect.  Julia is a passionate young woman who flies off the handle at every provocation and her whining/fury did get a little tiresome but I can't say it is an inaccurate depiction of a teen girl -- right down to the girl drama.  Transitions are sometimes abrupt and some will bemoan a hearing author writing about the d/Deaf and hard of hearing community.  That being said, credit to Ms. Gardner for creating a fairly edgy, crunchy character you still care about.  Despite her many faults Julia's heart shines throughout.  Secondary characters are created with multiple layers of complexity and the artwork depicting the various creations enhances the tale a good bit.  This won the Schneider Family Book Award for best story of the disability experience for teens this year (even though deafness is not seen by many in the deaf community as a disability -- read the book for more).  Not bad for a first work.  Well deserved.

Monday, April 02, 2018

"Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box" by the Arbinger Institute

Of the three Arbinger books I have read this year, this was the hardest.  Not that it was bad but each of the other two had a hook while this book was slower and more introspective.  "The Anatomy of Peace" blew me away with the take-away messages and stress reduction. "The Outward Mindset" was impressive for the real-world stories and application.  Like "The Anatomy of Peace" this one has a pseudo-setting (taking various clients and combining them into a narrative) but instead of a group setting, this narrative focuses on a single person, "Tom" meets with his new boss and gets challenged in ways he doesn't expect.  If you can get past the artificiality of the premise, the lessons are still there -- clear and simple and powerful.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse" by Joseph Marshall III

I wanted so badly for this to be good.  Apparently so did the Virginia State Reading Association in selecting it for their annual Readers' Choice event.  I know why they picked it.  In striving for diverse titles we are woefully short of material on Native Americans.  This should have fit the bill.  It is authentic (the author is a Native American) and covers "the other side" of history by telling the tale from the side of the Lakota tribes.  Unfortunately, Mr. Marshall primarily writes nonfiction for adults and his attempt at writing a fiction tale for youth is predictably strained.  The book is a story within a story.  The better part of the tale is the inside story.  Snapshots of critical moments in the life of Crazy Horse are covered in the style of Native American storytelling.  They have an authentic cadence and structure and are compelling.  The outside story bogs the whole thing down.  The idea is that a Grandfather takes his grandson, Jimmy, on a journey through the various monuments of the upper Midwest, following the path of the famous warrior Crazy Horse.  Just when you start getting into the stories there are needless insertions of pointless information, which is often repeated ("Remember, it was very cold").  There are also inaccuracies.  The Grandfather points to a "photo of Crazy Horse" which has been proved bogus in recent years.  Mr. Marshall wouldn't know this as most of the sources he used in researching the topic are significantly dated.  The details of each stop along their route also include so much specificity that we learn things like "the restrooms are in a brick building to the right of the main building".  Do we really need to know this?  How did this kind of detail contribute to the story?  Answer:  It didn't.  Also problematic was the fake wholesomeness of the relationship.  Young Jimmy often says "For reals?" to which Grandfather smiles and says "For reals!"  It was so cheesy it made the Andy Griffin Show look like 60 Minutes.  We need good stories about our troubled history from the point of view of those whose families and culture were annihilated.  This just isn't it.  Frankly I find more compelling stories in the 1990s TV show, "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"When I Was the Greatest" by Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds writes quiet books.  This story is no different.  Often set in New York's inner city he creates lead characters who are reflective, who care, and who observe their surroundings with a kind of depth which draws in the reader not only to the setting but to the world created by the author.  I like reading Jason Reynolds books.  "When I Was the Greatest" is no exception.  Despite the provocative cover the story here is just a story -- a slice of life.  There are lessons learned and lots of levels and complexities to every character introduced.  This is one of Jason Reynolds' greatest skills.  He creates characters who feel real and you can't help but care about them and connect to them.  In this novel "Ali" makes friends with a pair of brothers who live in the run-down brownstone next door.  "Noodles" is fun, mouthy and hugely protective of his brother "Needles" who suffers from Tourette's Syndrome.  Most of the story takes place over a few days of a hot New York summer with a good bit of reminiscing about how the friendship grew.  Ali is close to his family, which creates a point of grounding not only for him but for Noodles, who tends to walk on the edge.  While events do happen the point of the book is the internal journey.  It always is, which is why his works are so universal.  Almost everything Jason Reynolds writes wins an award.  And well they should.  Enjoy.