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.

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.

Monday, February 05, 2018

"Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America" by Firoozeh Dumas

I wish two things.  #1 That I had read this before reading "It Ain't So Awful, Falafel" and #2 That I had read the "extra chapter" at the end, added in this reprint, before reading the book.  It is obvious that the fictional middle school tome "It Ain't So Awful, Falafel" was an attempt to synthesize this story in a palatable form for younger readers, but this book is so much better.  Essentially, this is a collection of short essays.  Some are about the author's time here as a child, others are about her Berkeley years, her Iranian homeland, her travels, her husband, etc.  But mostly, this book is about family.  The reason I wish I had read the extra chapter first is that Firoozeh is a bit caustic in her humor, making frank (very frank) comments about her family, particularly about her parents.  I kind of laughed and winced at the same time.  The extra chapter lets the reader know that all parties were mostly okay with the content.  That being said the stories are hugely relatable.  I can't imagine a person with a large family ~not~ finding something familiar here.  It was "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and my personal "Big Fat Irish Catholic Family" all rolled into one.  Hence the laughs, and the understanding.  Ms. Dumas' writing style is accessible and engaging but I'm not sure I saw the "flow" she mentions in her notes at the end.  The short essays sometimes seemed to have a connectedness, sometimes they felt like stand-alones.  They are not arranged in any kind of time-line and often feel like the free-form ramblings you might experience in a story told at a dinner party.  You may not get the point at first but then you do (mostly).  Even when you don't get the point, the tales are engaging.  Some pull at your heartstrings as we experience yet another questioning of immigrants here in this great nation.  It is for that reason that this 2003 book has such power -- it should be a must-read for every member of the U.S. Congress.  Worthy of its status as a bestseller and hugely applicable to our current world.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

"The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves" by The Arbinger Institute

One of three books focused on the workplace and human interactions, this is the second I have read ("The Anatomy of Peace" was the first).  While it didn't have the emotional impact of "The Anatomy of Peace" I liked this work somewhat better in that the stories were real.  The artificiality of the previous book allowed me to distance somewhat.  In this one, which opens with a powerful story of the actions of a member of a SWAT team, I found myself drawn in more to the complexities of how we function at work and how we see others around us.  Like the other book the prose is clean, clear and to the point.  It makes for a fast read and there are multiple takeaways.  I like the authors' efforts to drill down.  While the presented graphics are very simplistic the writers make sure not to stop at the first point but to continue unpeeling layers.  At the end the wrap-up goes on for several chapters (perhaps more than is needed) but the book is hugely palatable and quite accessible.  Very much worth the effort for anyone dealing with the day-to-day challenges of working in a large organization.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

"The Great American Whatever" by Tim Federle

I thoroughly enjoyed "Better Nate Than Ever" and didn't connect it to the same author (that was an upper Elem/Middle School title) as I began reading this book, which is distinctly high school and up.  This one is more personal than the Nate series, and it shows.  Mr. Federle's evident passion, fully-fledged characters and powerful "inner voice" saves this jumble of a story.  It's not bad, it's just not "smooth".  Written almost as a stream of consciousness, there is a jumpiness about the narrative and many elements (many many elements) do not connect.  In the end, our protagonist Quinn has had some huge life moments but there is not a sense of what happens next.  At some points, sentences aren't actually sentences.  Take this example:  "And just when that's the saddest little memory -- because all of the saddest memories are the small ones that creep up on you quiet and scary as a summer bug -- Geoff does a cannon ball right beside Carly, and soaks her, and we all laugh and shriek."  It made for choppy, slow reading for me.  I connected because the characters are so real they leap off the page.  No single character is two-dimensional and every person in the book has layers upon layers, more than you really get to see as a reader.  Teens will identify with Quinn's burgeoning sexuality and everyone will understand the deepness of his grief over a family loss.  Federle doesn't spare here and delves into this pain from page one right through to the end.  What could be a moralistic tale to teens about texting while driving becomes a complex story of loss, pain, growing up and moving on.  The novel is a mish mash but it is human, which makes it work.  (Picky note -- Pittsburgh isn't in the Midwest.  Not even close.)

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Savvy" by Ingrid Law

Took me long enough to read this book!  This fast-paced award winner is an enjoyable read with remarkable similarities in theme to Lisa Graff's "A Tangle of Knots" (which was published four years later than this book). 

This book injects magical realism into the horrors of turning 13 and having your body basically betray you.  In this tale there are those who get psychic "gifts" on their 13th birthday.  The gifts are often unexpected and sometimes unwanted but, like any gift of this kind, have a silver lining.  Mississippi (aka Mibs) is dealing with many things at once -- her father has been in a car accident, her 13th birthday is approaching and a boy likes her.  The do-good parson's wife decides to take on the birthday party with a tumultuous tale ensuing.  Written in a highly accessible way with a compelling first person voice this story has had broad appeal for readers.  And yes, there are sequels.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

"Save Me a Seat" by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

This delightful upper Elementary/lower Middle School title takes place in only one week -- punctuated by five days of the cafeteria menu.  Ravi and Joe tell the tale in alternating chapters.  It is the first week of school and each is struggling with 6th grade.  Joe is an observant boy with a learning challenge.  Ravi is a "new to America" immigrant who doesn't understand the cultural norms.  There is, of course, a bully and there are some "lessons" which are clearly punctuated here and there but the story avoids cliché by being real.  The inner voices of each boy are compelling and resonate.  It is a great "point of view" book as the two boys learn to understand each other as they see the same events very differently.  This is the kind of book kids will greatly enjoy and will identify with.  Brava to both authors, who make the flow of the novel seamless.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"All's Faire in Middle School" by Victoria Jamieson

Fans of "Roller Girl" will enjoy Ms. Jamieson's latest work, which also features a girl "in search of" herself.  Imogene, aka "Impy" has parents who work the Florida Renaissance Festival each year (eight weekends in the fall) and Impy works to tolerate an annoying younger brother.  She has been home-schooled up until now and is beginning public school as a sixth grader.  Like the previous book, this one has bold artwork and the facial expressions which add to the story.  The artwork helps make the characters, which could be stock from any CW TV show, more dimensional.  Students will identify with the pre-teen girl drama, even if the tale was a bit too familiar for me.  On the plus side, Ms. Jamieson gets ren-fest right, clearly having done her research.  She touches, ever so briefly, on the challenges of racial identity these days (Impy's father is a man of color) but the references are so subtle that it is unclear if the typical reader would get them.  The darker-skinned father always plays the "bad guy" at the festival, an unhappy client at the retail store where he works intimates he doesn't belong.  Ms. Jamieson also doesn't shy away from the misery of life's mistakes and takes her time letting Impy dig a her own hole and suffer the consequences.  It is that part, two-thirds of the way through the book, which saved it for me.  On the negative side the plot was screamingly predictable and the ren-fest school allusions forced (hugely forced, Incredible Hulk forced).  The ending was very neatly tied up, which, again, will make this a win for younger readers.  The book is very "palatable."  It isn't brilliant or memorable but it should please the audience it was designed for.