Month: August 2021

by David Small

Another I won’t easily forget. So fraught and vivid with imagery. Love the way this artist handles line and expressions, I read several parts all over again after finishing. But- the coldness. It’s beyond depressing: growing up in a tough household, not like the last, but tough with bitterness handed down from prior generations, with physical punishments, harsh words, unspoken resentments. Meager meals, unloving hands, and an x-ray technician father who turns the machine on his own son hoping to cure his ailments, only to (probably) give him cancer. The boy needed surgery on his throat when he was a teenager, leaving him unable to speak for a long time afterwards. He plunged himself into his artwork (some of the drawings depict this quite literally). I was absolutely appalled when his mother burned his books (I don’t care for Lolita myself, but I wonder what else was in his collection). I was alternately saddened and horrified all through this book, but couldn’t look away. You really ache after reading this one. It’s another showing how the author practically clawed his way out of a bad situation (leaving home at sixteen), found his place at art school, made a better life for himself. Hard to believe he went through all that, and was able to rise above it.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 5/5
334 pages, 2009

by Jarrett Krosoczka

Another graphic novel memoir. This one very sobering. The author grew up in his grandparents’ home, because his mother was in and out of rehab (and jail) due to a heroin addiction. How different he felt at school, because of his unconventional family structure. His grandparents themselves were rough around the edges, but loved him and did their best to care for him. They had little appreciation for art, but still encouraged his interests, getting him into art classes at a local museum when funding for art programs was cut at his school. With their support, and that of a neighborhood friend, he made it through a tough childhood, not understanding or knowing what was going on with his mother until he was much older (she did encourage him from afar, sending letters asking for his drawings, etc). Never meeting his father until he was seventeen. At the very end of the book finding recognition for his art- getting cartoons published in the local newspaper and the school one. Then meeting half-siblings he hadn’t known he had, and starting his own life. The afterword by the author fills in some details and tells how he found the courage to tell the story of his family’s struggles with addiction, after doing a TED talk about it. It was heartwarming in the end, to see how he built a relationship with his half-siblings, made peace with his father, and a successful career out of his passion- but the novel doesn’t at all shy away from showing the troublesome and difficult things he faced while growing up. So just fair warning that there’s content depicting drug and alcohol use, other illicit activities, violence. I am sure this book is invaluable for teenagers and other family members going through similar things. To know they’re not alone, and that you can make something new and positive for yourself, no matter what your past holds. I won’t easily forget this one.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
320 pages, 2018

More opinions:
YA Book Nerd
anyone else?

Nine Months of Careful Chaos

by Lucy Knisley

Soon after getting married, Knisley wanted to have a child. Getting pregnant was difficult for her- she suffered two miscarriages then a severe bout of depression, and illnesses that doctors dismissed or failed to recognize the symptoms. After surgery to correct something, she was able to carry a child to term- but had more illness along the way, ups and downs of emotions, and then finally a very frightening birth experience with some serious complications. The ending had me biting my nails, even though I knew she would be okay and have a healthy baby boy. Throughout the story she not only shares with candid honesty her feelings (often negative or uncertain) and reactions to things, but debunks some myths surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, and shares bits of information on the history of women’s health that she learned. Her friends and family were amazingly supportive, and some of the scenes near the end of the book where her husband shared his part of the story- waiting to know if his wife was still alive- had me almost in tears. Then there’s a brief section about difficulties learning to breastfeed, the exhaustion of having a newborn in the house, and the joys too. Some of this memoir was tough to read- and I might caution any expectant mothers because the birth story was traumatic- but also delightful in parts, with her usual humor and fun drawing style. If she writes another graphic novel about new motherhood and her son’s early years, I’ll look forward to reading that.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
248 pages, 2019

Tales from a Makeshift Bride

by Lucy Knisley

I didn’t think I’d really be interested in reading a book about a wedding, even though it’s a graphic novel. But this one was on my TBR, and I did like a previous book I enjoyed by the author, so I tried it. While some parts really got into the minutiae of things that didn’t interest me as much (the history of wedding traditions, her rants about marketing ploys and expenses) most of it was so down-to-earth, honest and funny I laughed my way through, alternately nodding my head, or chuckling in disbelief. It’s a very personal story that’s also easy to relate to- trying on tons of fancy dresses you don’t really like and can’t afford to buy, headaches about seating charts and agreements with her family on small details, fretting over mishaps and late arrivals of needed items, etc. Tells how she first met and dated her husband, and the entire year of planning that went into creating a wedding that included enough of the traditions she felt were meaningful to them, while forging their own way with other aspects of their special day. Including how many things she made by hand! Pretty impressive. Plenty of pages that seem to be offering advice to other brides-to-be who might want tips on planning a wedding within a reasonable budget. I shared a few pages of this with my ten-year-old, who is also very far from any need to plan a wedding! but found it humorous as well. I think she liked seeing that there’s also adults who are annoyed at the lack of pockets in clothing for women, or can loose hours of sleep over worrying about disasters that are unlikely to happen. Next up on my reading pile: Knisley’s graphic memoir about having her first baby.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
304 pages, 2016

by Tillie Walden

Memoir about the author’s childhood, when she was immersed in the world of midlevel competitive figure skating. She got up at four a.m. for practice at one rink, and directly after school went to another to do synchronized skating with a team. She details the rigorous training, long hours, performance stress, the meanness of other girls who saw her as a threat, the way judges expected young girls to look very feminine, which made her uncomfortable. Gradually as the narrative unfolds she tells about why she really became a skater in the first place, and how as the years go on she realizes it’s not her main interest anymore, although she still loves the feeling of being on the ice, the freedom of motion, the thrill of getting a difficult move right, or passing a test. The competitions were another thing altogether. Especially tough since it seems she had little parental support- they drove her to practice and that was about it. Not a lot of explanation why her parents were so distant.

Also relates how she knew she was lesbian from a young age, but was afraid to let anyone know, and when she finally came out as a preteen, the varied and sometimes troublesome reactions of those around her. Falling in love for the first time and then loosing that friendship painfully. Realizing perhaps she enjoyed art or even her cello playing more than the demands of skating- and the solace she found in understanding and kindness from her cello instructor. (Although there was a gap there- a page where she was talking hesitantly about when a tutor attempted to assault her and the teacher asked what happened and the next page switches scenes- did she tell her teacher about it? or not?). There’s also a move to a different state where, in a manner that baffles me, she found that all the skating moves had different names! and the training didn’t seem to be taken as seriously. And a bully she has to deal with in school. And so much more. Skating is a main part of the story because it consumed her life for so many years, but it’s really mostly about finding herself- and a big part of that was finally realizing she didn’t want to be a skater anymore. She’d miss parts of it, but felt so much better when she abruptly left it behind. I know what that’s like, in a way. The artwork in this book wasn’t as compelling for me- I sometimes had trouble telling the faces apart, or reading expressions, but the story has so much to give I didn’t mind.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
396 pages, 2017

More opinions: Finding Wonderland
anyone else?

by Faith Erin Hicks

Maggie’s been homeschooled with her three older brothers. Mainly by her mother who recently left them, leaving the teens with their police officer father. Now Maggie’s starting public high school, with all kinds of new experiences to navigate. Not the least of which is how to make friends- the few kids who talk to her appear to be shunned by the others, and there’s history between her brothers and a group of popular jocks that she doesn’t know about. Her new friends have punk hairstyles, piercings and a style that might look threatening- yet they’re cheerfully friendly, unlike the polished-looking popular kids. Her twin brothers are annoyed that everyone expects them to still do everything together, and now they’re fighting all the time. The oldest brother is into theater, and pretty good at it (I liked that). Maggie’s also got this problem of a ghost that follows her around- she often walks through the graveyard- and I was really let down when the storyline didn’t complete that part. The ghost never spoke, never seemed to accept the help Maggie was offering it (based on a wild guess at what it might be wanting). Oh, and there’s zombies too- in a school play her brother performs in- and I don’t really care for zombie or ghost stories for some reason. But I liked the artwork, especially the early sketches in the back of the book. I do think the original title fit better (seen in preliminary cover sketches): The Education of Maggie McKay. The story was pretty good, but it left too many things unanswered and I wished for just a tad more depth with how Maggie was handling her new friendships. Maybe a sequel is coming that will address those things.

Rating: 3/5
224 pages, 2012

I finished the summer reading challenge I was doing with our public library. Here’s the rest of the books I read for the challenge:

Read a biography about someone you admire- Jane Goodall by Dale Peterson

Read a graphic novel- Primates by Jim Ottaviani

Read a book recommended by a librarian- The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

Read a book set in a place you’d like to visit- The House of the Deer by D.E. Stevenson (Scotland).

Read a book that took place in the state or country you’re from- The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

Read a book that was made into a movie, then watch the movie- A River Runs Through It. I watched the 1992 film version directed by Robert Redford. It was pretty good. I think the best thing about it (ha ha) was seeing Brad Pitt looking so young!

Check out a cookbook and make a recipe from it- Wild Sweetness by Thalia Ho. I didn’t review this one, might after I try a few more of the recipes. The one I made, for chocolate bark with toasted rye bread crumbs in it, was very good!

There were actually sixteen items to complete for the challenge, but for several I opted to just count reading time, and a few others were to use online programs and services offered by the library. I watched a few short films via Kanopy, and read some periodicals through Overdrive, both new for me. My reward at the end was to pick a free book! I found two on their library challenge cart I’ve been interested in reading: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, and The Dutch House by Anne Patchett. I brought home the one about the child soldier.

by Mariko Tamaki

Another graphic novel about pre-teen girls experiencing poignant growing moments during a particular summer vacation, different in mood and tone than my prior read. I got through this one in a single sitting when I had some insomnia at 3 am, couldn’t put it down. And then it kept turning in my head. It centers around Rose and her friend Windy, who have been spending summers at the beach in next-door cabins their families rent out, since they were little. They laze around indoors, watch horror movies (that they probably shouldn’t have), roam the beach, go swimming, and peek at the college-age kids that hang around the little convenience store. Speculate about what the older kids are up to, talk about sex and going through puberty- especially the prospect of growing breasts. Sounds like Windy is adopted and her mother is very into yoga, vegetarianism, etc. Rose has uncomfortable moments overhearing her parents argue, particularly over her mother’s refusal to go swimming, and her struggle with depression which nobody seems to want to discuss (other than the father blaming her for not enjoying herself and ruining their vacation- so insensitive). Then there’s things they overhear among the college-age kids that raises bigger questions- and from the younger girls’ eavesdropping we find out one girl is pregnant, the guy doesn’t seem to want to deal with it, the others gossip about her loose behavior. When the friends discuss this, Windy is rightfully outraged that everyone blames the girl, how sexist it is. The two seem to be diverging a bit. Lots of troubling content in this one, but I found it so real, I know there’s plenty of kids who have friendships and moments like these. Unsupervised watching of terrible horror movies, for example. The artwork by Jillian Tamaki is wonderful, I loved the texture and detail. I’d look for something else written by this duo. I could have done without the f-words, though (used a lot by the older kids in the story).

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
320 pages, 2014

by Vera Brosgol

Vera’s family are Russian immigrants. She feels that her family is poor compared to her friends at school. They all go away to summer camps but she’s never been. Until she finds out there’s a more affordable one for Russian Orthodox families- where the kids are encouraged to speak Russian all day long, learning some of their culture and history alongside the usual camp skills to earn badges, etc. Vera’s so excited to go, whereas her little brother drags his feet. Camp isn’t as she expected, though. She’s put in a tent with two older girls who are unfriendly. Not knowing all the camp traditions and etiquette (other kids have been coming here for years), she makes a few blunders. Tries to make friends by giving away drawings, but finds out later that those friends aren’t the kind you would want. There’s competitions between the boys’ and girls’ side of the camp. Bonfires, hikes in the woods, swimming in the lake. Uncomfortable with bugs, the horrors of the outhouse (and frightful stories made up about it), and shocking things the older girls reveal to her about going through puberty. Vera’s so desperate to be liked, I really felt for her. In the end, she does make a friend- and rescues a lost pet- and it’s her brother who dreads staying at camp longer, while she’s excited for one more week. This was pretty great. Although I can’t imagine sharing it with my ten-year-old, who fears things like the outhouse even more than Vera. Based partly on the author’s experience as a child.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
256 pages, 2018

More opinions:
Waking Brain Cells
A Backward Story
anyone else?

by Susan Wiggs

One of the items for the reading challenge I’m doing is ‘read a book from your home country or state’ and I looked for books from my library that were set in San Francisco. I suppose this one is considered chick lit? It does have some romance but light on that, and a bit of a mystery, all tied neatly together. I would say the writing style is lighthearted, even if the themes tend to be serious. It’s about a young woman who faces sudden tragedy when her mother and boyfriend die in the same accident. She ditches her high-paying but stressful job in Sonoma County to move back to the city and care for her ailing grandfather, taking over her mother’s struggling bookstore. There’s a lot in the story about how hard she works to keep the bookstore open in site of piling debts and expensive repairs needed on the old building. Made me feel kinda guilty for how many times I’ve gone into a bookstore and only bought a few items, or none at all! Added to the headache of how to manage the bookstore’s finances are her worries about her grandfather’s health, and his struggles with memory loss. I thought his symptoms were due to Alzheimer’s at first, but there’s a sudden turn of events at the end of the story that reveals something else was going on, too. Her coworkers in the bookstore are supportive and charming, and she feels attracted to the “hammer for hire” guy who spends weeks doing repairs on the building, becoming a regular presence- but assumes he’s married (has a cute daughter who loves reading) and thus off-limits. Meanwhile she hopes getting a hot bestselling author to do an event for the bookstore will boost sales, but things get more exciting (and complicated) when the handsome author starts asking her out. It seems too good to be true (and yeah, he was).

Well, it was a good enough read. Some events in the story I saw coming a mile away, a few took me by surprise. Reading a novel set in a city I’m familiar with was fun, although the environs this character inhabited weren’t the area of San Francisco I know well. There’s quite a bit of the city’s history woven into the story as well, as some items that were hidden generations ago are found during repairs, and some family history is uncovered. Past love stories are told in brief, at the same time that the current one is slowly unfolding. Of course there’s lots of bookish love, too- quotes and favorite titles and memories of tidbits from books the characters share with each other. Which was lovely, but of the few books mentioned that were new to me, I didn’t feel interested to add any to my TBR. At all.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
368 pages, 2020

More opinions:
Annette’s Book Spot
Lark Writes
anyone else?


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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