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.

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.

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.)