Monday, December 30, 2019

Reading Resolutions for 2020


I was kind of dreading writing this post because I feel like I have not done very well on my reading resolutions. But then I started looking back at past years and it seems like nearly every year I have failed to meet at least some of my resolutions. So I guess we are par for the course! And the important thing is to be checking in and thinking critically about what (if anything) we want to achieve with our reading and how we want to get there. And if the answer to that is that we just want to read for fun, that's a-okay with me! 

So, let's look at last year's resolutions

I set a GoodReads goal of reading 100 books and increased that to 250 books when I started tracking picture books this summer. I'm clocking in at over 300 books tracked on GoodReads this year, so I managed that one. 

I didn't attempt Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge last year, but I did intend to make some book lists for it that I never got around to. I had a long blog hiatus while I was trying to figure out the scope of this space. I do love figuring out children's and teen options for the categories, so maybe that could be something I'll try this year? 

I set a goal that at least 40% of the books I read would be by authors of color. As of this writing, I have logged 319 books and 97 of those were by authors of color, which is 30%. Adding picture books to the mix threw me off my game a bit this year! 

I set a goal to nominate at least 15 books by authors of color for LibraryReads. Although this is something that remains important to me, I did not manage to submit that many nominations for LibraryReads. In fact, I hardly nominated any books at all for LibraryReads this year! 

I wanted to focus on romance this year and I didn't set a numeric goal, but I read 13 adult romance novels this year. I really enjoyed my foray into the romance genre and discovered a particular love for contemporary rom-coms. 

Let's look ahead to 2020!

Reading diversely and inclusively is very important to me, so again I want at least 40% of the books I read to be by own-voices diverse authors. This includes authors of color, LGBTQ authors, and authors with disabilities. I know I need to be better about picking up own-voices picture books, so I can definitely work on that this year. And I need to be better about tracking it and being intentional, particularly with picture books. 

Since I am doing some work for NoveList, it's become really handy to document the picture books I read on GoodReads, so I'm going to continue tracking those and aim for 500 books read and tracked this year

I loved focusing on romance this year! I had thought about different genres that I could attempt this year to round out my reading, but to tell the truth I'm hopeful that I'll be getting another collection development staff member in my department this year and planning to delegate adult selecting if/when that happens. Since I'll be concentrating on youth materials, I'm just going to say that I'll continue my romance project for another year

I have loved participating in the Early Word Galley Chat and the Middle Grade/YA Early Word Galley Chat each month and it's the most fun when I have some recommendations to contribute. So I'd like to try to have at least two pre-pub titles read each month to share at the chats. I know I'm better at this with youth books than with adult, so I'm giving myself flexibility by saying two each month rather than one for each chat. :) 

And I think that's really it. I'm looking forward to another great year of reading! 

And how about you? What are your goals to read better this year? 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Romance Project: Update #3

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In 2019, I started my romance project to read more from this super popular a growing genre. I've been having so much fun with it that I'm going to continue the project into 2020 (more on that in a few days when I post my reading resolutions). Here's a last update from this year with the books I've been reading.

 

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (Berkley, 2019). This modern-day Muslim retelling of Pride and Prejudice has super great characters that I enjoyed spending time with. Ayesha dreams of being a poet, but has taken a teaching job to pay the bills. Khalid is a conservative Muslim who faces prejudice at work for how he dresses, but he stands up to his convictions. When Khalid and Ayesha's younger sister announce their engagement, Ayesha grows concerned about the gossip she hears about Khalid's family and she also has to confront her own feelings for him. 

 

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (Avon, 2019). After a near death experience (and a depressingly spare life flashing before her eyes), Chloe Brown decides to get a life and makes a list of experiences she wants to have. Her building superintendent, sexy artist Redford, becomes entangled in helping her with her list and as they get to know each other, sparks start to fly. While I don't have the expertise to judge how accurate the representation is, I really appreciated a story with a protagonist living with a disability. I enjoyed getting to know both Chloe and Red as they sped towards the inevitable.


Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (St. Martin's Griffin, 2019). What happens when the First Son of the United States falls in love with a prince of England? Alex can't stand Prince Henry at first. He's always been a smarmy jerk in Alex's opinion. But when his dislike of Henry causes an incident at a royal wedding, Alex's staff insist that he has to make good. It's an election year, after all. So Alex and Henry are forced together to perpetuate the appearance that they're best buds. And along the way... well, you know what the trope is. This was a fun and sexy story, and although I admit that I skimmed some of the more political bits, I really enjoyed it!

 

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (Avon, 2019). Dating app developer Rhiannon Hunter has a few rules for her own dating life. When former pro football player Samson Lima, the guy who ghosted her after one date, suddenly reappears in her life, she's wary. But them working together just might be the best thing for her company. I loved successful, business-savvy Rhiannon and Samson is totally dreamy. 

 

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books, 2019). This breezy read is perfect for poolside or summer reading. Olive Torres has hated Ethan Thomas since she was first introduced to him, the brother of her twin sister's boyfriend. Now Ami and Dane are getting married and Olive's just hoping she can avoid Ethan at the reception. But when the entire wedding gets food poisoning from the seafood buffet - except for Olive (allergic to shellfish) and Ethan (germaphobe who avoids buffets), the two best enemies end up taking Ami and Dane's nonrefundable honeymoon to Hawaii. Can they pull off ten days pretending to be newlyweds without killing each other? Not only is this a fun and funny premise, but it's set in paradise!

Monday, December 23, 2019

What My Book Club Read This Year

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2020's right around the corner and I got to thinking back on the books my book club has read in 2019. We're a multigenerational group, originally started in 2015 with my mom, my sister-in-law and her mom. We've now expanded to a group of eight women and we try to meet monthly, but sometimes skip a month here or there if things get busy. We tend to like books with strong female characters and tend to pick new releases because several of us are big readers and we try to pick books no one has read before. It's been a really fun group of ladies to get together with and we've read some really great books over the years.

If you're looking for even more suggestions of titles to try with your book club, check out last year's post with some of our top book club reads of 2018.

Here's what we read in 2019:


Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Flatiron Books, 2018). This was our January book and it made a great start to the year by sparking some great discussion. Liane Moriarty is an author that we generally enjoy, so this may have been a sure bet, but I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. When nine strangers meet at a retreat in the Australian desert, none of them could predict what happens. The quirky characters and mix of poignant and humorous tone made this one a winner for me, even if the plot does go a little off the rails.


The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (Little, Brown, 2018). This beautiful, surreal book explores a teenage girl's grief after her mother's suicide. Reeling from her mother's death. Leigh is visited by a large red bird she's convinced is her mother. The bird leaves her a box of things and instructions to visit her mother’s birth home Taiwan. As Leigh searches for the bird - her mother - in Taiwan, she gets to know the grandparents she never knew and learns things she never knew about her mom. She also ruminates on what happened with her best friend Axel, the boy she’s in unrequited love with, in the months leading up to her mom’s death. Throughout the book, surreal images and colors leap off the page. All the members of our book club agreed that the artistry and imagery in the writing was fantastic, although this was a little too heavy for some.


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Putnam, 2018). Yes, our book club, like every other book club, read this book this year. Our holds lists are a mile long for this book at my library! And I can tell you that it's a great read. Seven-year-old Kya is abandoned by her entire family except for her abusive dad in their shack in a North Carolina swamp. The story switches between two timelines - Kya's childhood and young adulthood in the 1950s and 60s as she copes with her abandonment and learns how to survive in the marsh - and 1969 when popular former quarterback Chase Andrews has died in the marsh and foul play is suspected. You know that Kya and Chase are connected and you find out how as the story slowly unrolls. Kya is an amazing character and I loved the nature writing in this book.


The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (Scribner, 2017). This one was probably my personal favorite of the year. Li-yan and her family live in a remote Akha village in China, growing and selling tea to eke out a living. It's a harsh life and when Li-yan has a baby out of wedlock, she starts to explore life outside her village, eventually leaving for the city to get an education and build a business empire of her own. There are a lot of coincidences that stretched my disbelief at times, but I was enjoying the story so much that it didn't bother me. We talked a lot about the role of women in the Akha society (and society in general) when discussing this book. 


Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper, 2018). Willa has arrived at middle age with a pile of problems to deal with. She and her husband have both recently lost their jobs, her adult son has recently lost his wife just after his baby girl was born, and they've inherited a ramshackle house that is falling down around their heads. Willa's last hope is to get the house put on the historic registry in hopes that there will be some money for preserving it, so she starts to research. Alternating chapters tell the story of science teacher Thatcher Greenwood who lived in the house in its heyday. Although most of us are fans of Barbara Kingsolver, I'm not along in thinking this one was a bit slow, although some really enjoyed it. 


The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster, 2018). This one was my pick and unfortunately it was a dud for our group (although I know lots of other groups and readers who have LOVED this book. It was even the LibraryReads TOP pick of 2019!). This true crime book investigates the 1986 burning of the Los Angeles Public Library, presenting a history of the library along with the search for a suspect in this devastating crime. I personally did find the history of the library interesting (of course I did!), but I think most in the group were disappointed by the anticlimactic true crime angle. 


Whisper Network by Chandler Baker (Flatiron, 2019). This twisty turny #MeToo mystery is set in a high-powered legal department in Dallas where an anonymous list of "bad men" has started circulating among professional women. Sloane, Artie, Grace, and Rosalita have worked at Truviv, Inc. for years and they have each kept secrets. When the sudden death of Truviv's CEO means that their boss Ames will likely take over, whispers start spreading... this time the women have decided enough is enough. Our group often likes novels with a feminist viewpoint and this book encouraged lots of discussion about our experiences with sexism that we've experienced. 


The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (Gallery Press, 2019). This was our October read and it was a perfect spooky mystery for that month. When Rowan Caine starts a new nannying job - a job she came across when she wasn't even looking for anything - it seems too good to be true. The salary is amazing and she gets to live in a high tech mansion in the Scottish Highlands. But she quickly changes her tune when her new employers leave her alone with the kids to jaunt off to an out of town job and truly spooky stuff starts happening in the house. This is a thriller with lots of twists and turns and we had a lot of fun talking about the twists we saw coming and those that were total surprises.


Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte, 2012). Andy Barber is an experienced attorney, but this latest case has thrown him for a loop. A kid at his son's high school has been murdered in the park and Andy's son is a suspect in the case. This book really gets you thinking about how well you actually know the people in your life. As many of our book club members are parents, I think this book touched some nerves and we talking a lot about kids and parenting and whether we thought Andy was a good father. 

Our last meeting of the year was in November, so this is our complete list of 2019 books, but we've got the next two picked out. I haven't read them yet, but I'm looking forward to both of these:


Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton (Penguin, 2018) 
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books, 2019)

Here's to another year of great reading in 2020!

Are you in a book club? What books has your group enjoyed? And if you've read any of these, what did you think? 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

12 Days of Giving: Great Graphic Novels


Graphic novels are a super high appeal format that make a great gift for the kids in your life. They are real reading, so please don't shy away from them. I wrote a graphic novel post last year, so check out that list if you want even more great suggestions!

For kids:


Best Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (First Second, 2019). Shannon Hale is back with a standalone sequel to her excellent graphic novel Real Friends. This is a perfect choice for any elementary or middle schooler who's dealt with friendship struggles and/or anxiety. 


Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop (DC, 2019). This is a perfect choice for young superhero fans. DC superheroes answer fan mail in these sweet, funny shorts. 


Guts by Raina Telgemeier (Graphix, 2019). Yup, bestselling comic author Raina Telgemeier is back and I'm here to tell you that her latest graphic memoir is awesome. Buy for the Raina fans in your life. If they already have this one, keep reading for another suggestion for them. 


New Kid by Jerry Craft (HarperCollins, 2019). Both funny and serious, this book tackles starting at a new school where you're different from everyone else. And although it deals with serious things like racial microaggressions, it uses a lot of humor. Grab this one for Wimpy Kid or Big Nate fans. 


The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner (Aladdin, 2019). This is billed as Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Rollergirl and I couldn't agree more. When Moth turns 13, her magical powers come in, a fact she discovers in the middle of a fight with some bullies. But magic is harder than it looks.


Share Your Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Graphix, 2019). Perfect for the Raina Telgemeier superfan, this book is about how Raina wrote her bestselling graphic memoirs and provides space for kids to brainstorm their own stories and comics. If you have a budding comic artist, this is a great choice!


Stargazing by Jen Wang (First Second, 2019). Christine and Moon are complete opposites, but when their lives collide they become friends. Soon, though, Christine wonders if all the kids like new kid Moon better than her. This is a poignant, funny friendship story perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier or Shannon Hale's graphic novels. Jen Wang is the author of last year's teen sensation The Prince and the Dressmaker.


This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews (First Second, 2019). This modern fairy tale is atmospheric and perfect for fans of the non-scary parts of Stranger Things. Every year at their Autumn Equinox Festival, the townspeople release lanterns painted with fish into the river to be carried downstream. Local legend says that these fish go on to become stars in the sky. This year, Ben and his friends are determined to find out whether or not that's true. But what Ben will uncover will go beyond his wildest imagination.


For teens:


Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau (First Second, 2019). Ari desperately does NOT want to work at his family's struggling bakery. But his parents insist that they need his help, so Ari puts up an ad for a baker, someone he can train for the summer before he leaves for his big city life. When Hector answers the ad and turns out to be an awesome baker, it seems perfect. But there's a spark between them. Ari finds himself attracted to Hector and, even though he's always planned to leave, maybe he's changing his mind. This is a pitch perfect seaside love story and extra perfect for aspiring foodies. 



Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second, 2019). From two superstar authors, this is a book that hits readers in the falls (see what I did there?). For teens who like pumpkin spice everything or teens who just appreciate a sweet, seasonal romance. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

12 Days of Giving: Diversify Your Bookshelves


You may have read about the importance of diverse books for kids. If not, check out We Need Diverse Books for more information. Keep in mind that diverse books are not just for families of minority races (although representation and making sure all kids see themselves in books is super important, too). Books are wonderful windows to expose kids to families that are different from yours, even if you live in a homogenous area. I have tried to include diverse books on every list I've made this year, but if you're in need of diversifying your kids' bookshelves, this is the post for you. These are sure-bet choices by #ownvoices authors that make great gifts.

This is only a smattering of the great titles available! For more suggestions, check out my We Need Diverse Books tag or my authors-of-color bookshelf on GoodReads.

For babies and toddlers:




Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Simon & Schuster, 2002). This sweet and funny book going through all the things babies do (both endearing and exasperating) is illustrated by the award-winning Kadir Nelson, so it's beautiful, too. It's available in board book format (which I have bought MANY times for baby gifts).


Pride Colors by Robin Stevenson (Orca, 2019). This beautifully colorful board book endorses unconditional love for children who live in all different kinds of families. As it goes through the colors and meanings of the colors in the Pride flag, the book shows photographs of adorable children and families that your little one will love to pore over.


Besos for Baby by Jen Arena, illustrated by Blanca Gomez (LB Kids, 2014). This sweet board book incorporates Spanish words in a simple story perfect for sharing with the very young (along with many besos - kisses!).



We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett (Orca, 2016). This lyrical board book makes an awesome gift for new parents or grandparents. It was the very first book read to my newest niece - I brought it when we visited her in the hospital - and its moving message of welcome for sure made my mom cry (not difficult). The illustrations feature a First Nations family and the message of celebrating a new baby in the family is universal.

Picture books:



A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018). This darling picture book is perfect for kids who enjoy a pourquoi tale as this folktale-style picture book imagines why the moon changes shape in the sky. Pair this one with Grace Lin's newest that came out this year, A Big Bed for Little Snow, which is just as great.


Grandma's Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Knopf, 2018). My 3-year-old niece delights in nothing more than going through her grandma's purse. This adorable book shows granddaughter and grandma going through grandma's purse and all the wonderful things in there together.


Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (Kokila, 2019). A doting dad does his daughter's hair, taking a few tries to get it right in this adorable and super sweet book. I especially like the expressions on the little girl's face as her dad tries different styles before they settle on the perfect one.


Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick, 2018). Riding on the subway, Julian spies a trio of ladies spectacularly dressed up. To him they look like mermaids and he wants nothing more than to look like them, too. He's not sure how his abuela will feel about him dressing up like a mermaid, but to his joy she reacts with nothing less than love and support. If you have a little dress-up fan in your life, this is a great book to read together.


NiƱo Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook, 2013). If you have a young wrestling fan in your life, this is a really fun and action-packed book. A young boy dons his luchadore mask and wrestles everything that comes his way. This is particularly fun for any kids who have seen luchadore wrestling, but I think any wrestling fans or kids of wrestling fans would enjoy it, too.
Easy chapter books: 



The Buried Bones Mystery by Sharon Draper (Aladdin, 1994). Originally published in the 90s, but rebranded and repackaged in 2011, the Clubhouse Mysteries series is a great mystery series for readers who enjoy The Boxcar Children. A diverse group of African American boys build a clubhouse, but when they're building they find bones buried in Ziggy's backyard. Not only is this an engaging mystery series, but I love that the boys do research and learn things to solve each mystery in the books. A Clubhouse Mysteries box set would be a great gift!



Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbie Michiko Florence (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2017). Jasmine is a spunky heroine worthy of any comparison to Judy Moody or Clementine. In this series starter, she longs to be a part of her Japanese American family's mochi making, but the fun parts are reserved only for boys and men. Can she lift the mochi hammer and will she even be allowed to try?

Middle grade:




Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents, 2018). Aru Shah must save the world when she accidentally stops time in this fantasy adventure based on Hindu mythology. This is the first book from Rick Riordan's imprint and it's a phenomenal readalike for Percy Jackson. If you have fantasy adventure mythology fans, you can't go wrong with any of the Rick Riordan presents series, all of which are diverse and written by #ownvoices authors.


El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams, 2014). Okay, this one has a special place in my heart, being one of my Newbery books. I bought it for my niece who was 9 at the time and she read it over and over again and even slept with it under her pillow. Cece Bell's anthropomorphized comic memoir takes young Cece through starting at a new school while wearing a giant hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. It's hilarious and poignant at turns and a sure bet for readers who enjoy comic memoirs like Raina Telgemeier's.


Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, 2018). Mia Tang helps her parents run a motel in 1980s California, working the front desk while they clean rooms, in this spirited novel based on the author's own childhood. This has been a super favorite with kids all over the country since it came out last year and it's a wonderful book.


The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (Kokila, 2018). This historical novel takes place during the partition of India and Pakistan with one young girl caught in the middle. Hand this to readers of Anne Frank's diary or fans of Malala.


Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai (Henry Holt, 2019). In this hilarious and highly illustrated novel, Jingwen writes about immigrating to Australia and feeling like he's on Mars. He can't understand the language, it's hard to make friends when you can't really talk to anyone, and the only thing that makes him feel better is baking elaborate cakes. This is a great choice for kids who enjoy humorous stories like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate.

Teen:




The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (Putnam, 2019). Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid, but by night she writes a column for an Atlanta paper, published pseudonymously as "Dear Miss Sweetie". Jo tells it like it is, but as her her column gains popularity she risks being found out. This historical novel has a fun, plucky main character and a ton of crossover appeal for adults as well as teens.


Frankly in Love by David Yoon (Putnam 2019). Frank Li, caught between his Korean immigrant parents and the expectations of his American culture, is in love. But not with a Korean girl, like his parents demand. With a white girl. So, to hide his relationship, he starts fake dating a Korean-American friend. What could go wrong? This is a funny and moving teen love story.


I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (Farar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2017). An overachieving high schooler makes a plan to win the guy of her dreams and her plan is based on the Korean soap operas her father loves to watch. This is a fun, funny light-hearted romance perfect for tweens and teens who loved To All the Boys I've Loved Before.


With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen, 2019). Emoni keeps her head down and works hard to support her two-year-old daughter and finish high school. She finds solace in the kitchen and dreams of being a chef. When a new culinary arts elective is offered at her school she enrolls even though it would probably be smarter to stick with her study hall. The class is more challenging than she suspected, but it just might open up doors to her future... if she can afford them. This is a great choice for foodie teens.

Adult: 



Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob (One World, 2019). This is a book that has stuck with me all year since I read it. I couldn't put it down once I started it. Through conversations with her young son, author Mira Jacob looks back on her childhood growing up as an immigrant, her young adulthood, her interracial marriage, and what it all means in the era of Trump. This one's not for your conservative friends, but it's a riveting, eye-opening true story for those ready to hear it.


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton Books, 2019). After a terrible accident in the "miracle submarine", a hyperbaric chamber alleged to cure ailments as diverse as autism and impotence, two people are dead. But was it an accident or could one of the parents have set fire to the chamber on purpose? This courtroom thriller is a great choice for anyone who enjoyed Big Little Lies.


There, There by Tommy Orange (Knopf, 2018). The Big Oakland Powwow brings all kinds of people together for all kinds of different reasons. Readers meet a large cast of characters and slowly begin to find out how they're all connected as the story unfolds. But something unexpected will happen at the Powwow. This is a great choice for readers of modern literary fiction, particularly set in urban locations.