Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting

by Clare Pooley
First sentence: “Until the point when a man dying right in front of her on the 08:05, Iona’s day had been just like any other.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some swearing, including some very well placed f-bombs. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Iona has been a magazine advice columnist for 30 years. She has a routine, and she sticks to it She gets up, rides the train into the city and works, and comes home. She is happy with her life the way it is. That is, until the day it all changed. It starts with a man chocking in front of her and spirals out from there: she has trouble at the magazine, she’s “too old” and out of touch. But she also makes connections with these fellow commuters, whom she only knew by the nicknames she gave them. Suddenly , they have names, and problems, and she has a purpose. But it’s not just a book about Iona. While she is the axel on which the wheel of everyone’s lives turns (as was very helpfully pointed out by a inor charaer), it’s also about the lives of the people Iona comes to interact with. It switches perspectives, giving us the background on a few of the characters, as they, too, go through changes.

Oh, I adored this book. I loved Iona – she is a fantastic character, so full of charm and wit and life — but I also loved the way Pooley explores all the little ways that people are and should be connected. It was charming, it was funny, and I was thoroughly touched by Iona and the lives of the others in the book it made I was absolutely delighted by this book, and I wish there were more so it wouldn’t have to end.

The world needs ore Ionas in it, and I hope that maybe I can be one. Someday.

Swim Team

by Johnnie Christmas
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Content: There’s some conflict and some bullying by adults and other kids. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Bree and her father moved to Florida and with that came a new school and a new schedule. All the classes Bree wants to take are filled up, so she’s put in Swim 101. The problem: Bree doesn’t know how to swim, and she’s afraid of learning. She skips class until her father finds out, and then he enrolls her in swimming lessons. Hweer, she’s bullied, and so she runs away. it’s not until a near-drwoing incident when her upstairs neibero, Ms. Etta, rescues her that she realizes that she needs to learn to swim, making a deal with Ms. Etta to each her.

But no one of There is a small side lesson wno why there’s a stereotype of Black people not swimming, but the bulk of the story is Bree joining the middle school’s failing swim team, and learning how to compete and how to work as a team. There are ups and downs, but the girls learn that it’s better to support each other than compete against each other.

The thing I thought about most while reading this book was how representation matters. It will be wonderful for young Black girls to see themselves in this story. It’s a good story that centers on their experiences, and one that makes them the center of the narrative. On top of that, though, it’s a good story about teamwork and perseverance, and Christmas is a good storyteller and artist. Definitely a recommended graphic novel.

The Ogress and the Orphans

by Kelly Barnhill
First sentence: “Listen.”
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Content: It is long, and kind of old-timey sounding. It’s probably not for every kid. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the booktore.

Things are amis in the town Stone-in-the-Glen. The neighbors, who used to be neighborly, are now suspicious of each other, and who didn’t really interact as a community. The orphans at the Orphan house are struggling with supplies; the community has gone back on their promise to keep them funded. And the mayor, well, he’s shiny and charismatic, but there’s something Not Right about him. And when an ogress moves in outside of town, everyone (well the mayor) decides that it’s all her fault that things seem to be going wrong.

On the one hand, if you don’t realize that this is a fable, an allegory for the United States in the past few years, you’re probably a clueless reader (or young? Will kids get this?). The fear of the Other, being hoodwinked by the shiny (and corupt), thee reteating into our own holes, and the decline of what it means to be a neighbor. It’s all there. But: Barnhill is a gifted writer, and she has spun this classic fable, this touching story about belonging, about what itmeans to be a nieghbr and a friend, and about community. The ending made me cry, the characters were super charming, and it’s a reminder that we’re not alone in this world.

It may be more for adults, but it’s still a very good book.

Network Effect

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “I’ve had clients who thought they needed an absurd level of security.”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f0bobs. It’s in the science fiction section of the bookstore.
Others in the series:  All Systems RedArtificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy

Spoilers for the first four, obviously. Although you don’t have to read those to read this, it really does help.

Murderbot has come to Preservation a non-Corporation planet, to live, to figure out what it wants to do and to be Dr. Mensah’s bodyguard. It’s sent on a mission with several people from Preservation, including Mensah’s daughter and brother-in-law, and that’s when things go sideways. They are attacked by a ship as soon as they leave Preservation space, and Murederbot and another team member are kidnapped. The others manage to come along (unfortunately, it means more humans to protect), and the greater plan is revealed: ART’s (the asshole research transport from book 2) crew has been taken by some people who are on a planet that has been compromised by alien remnants, and he wants it back. So, he sent the kidnappers to get Murderbot, because ART knew Murderbot would be able to find and retrieve them for it. Murderbot is not happy about being taken forcibly, but it cares (that’s a strong word) enough for ART that it’s willing to do what ART wants.

That’s basically what happens – sort of – but the real pleasure was having the ART-Murderbot relationship back. It was hilarious and sweet and delightful, and Murderbot would hate all of those words if it knew. There was one point where one of the other characters decided ART and Muderbot were in a relationship, and Murderbot got incredibly angry about that, mostly because it’s true. but, it’s also still a well-plotted book: a mystery to solve, corporation/non-corporation dynamics to explore, a weird planet (gotta love those), and a lot of fun, cranky inner dialogue on Murderbot’s part. U was a little wary that the longer form would dilute some of the charms of these books, but thankfully, II was wrong. It was still just as fun as a full-length novel.

These are such a delight to read.

The Legend of Auntie Po

by Shing Yin Khor
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Content: There is a death, but nothing graphic. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Mei bakes the pies for the loggers and workers in a camp in the Sierra Nevadas in 1885. Her father runs the kitchen, and the two of them make a good team. She’s happy enough, even though she’s Chinese and knows that she won’t have the same opportunities as her best friend Bee, who is white. That doesn’t stop her from trying to learn more, from telling stories of the legendary Auntie Po, and from being the best person she can be.

That makes it sound trite because this was a really solid graphic novel. I enjoyed the historical context, knowing that the conflicts that existed between the white people and the Chinese workers were real. But I also enjoyed the larger-than-life feel of it, as well. Is Auntie Po real? Did he help the loggers? Did Mei see her? I also thought the adult characters were pretty great from Hels the foreman to Hao, Mei’s dad.

A really solid book from Khor. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

My Last Summer with Cass

by Mark Crilley
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Content: There is some teenage drinking and nudes in art. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Megan and Cass have known each other their whole lives. They used to spend summers together in a cabin by a lake in Michigan, and that’s where they discovered their mutual love of art. But., as they got older, Cass’s family stopped coming and they grew apart. But the summer fore their senior year, Megan begs her parents to go spend the summer in New York City with Cass. What Megan experiences when she gets there, though, opens her eyes to a whole new art world.

This in some ways is very much a small-town girl is changed by big-city ways” book. Megan is a midwesterner, Cass is a New Yorker. Her ways, especially when it comes to art, are better. Of course. As a midwesterner, I kind of resented that. There is personal growth for both Megan and Cass, which is good, but I really felt the story felt flat. What did amaze me is the art. It’s a gorgeous book. Simply stunning to look at. But that wasn’t enough for me to really love it.

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms

by Crystal Frasier, illustrated by Val Wise, lettered by Oscar O. Jupiter
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Content: There is some bullying and a boy who won’t take no for an answer (though nothing “bad” happens). It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I’d say 5th grade and up would enjoy it.

Annie is smart, but has a problem: she’s often antagonistic and her high school counselor thinks she needs to join something to show colleges that she can actually work with other people. She suggests going out for the cheerleading team. Bebe is an out trans girl, the captain of the cheer squad, but her parents are unhappy with her grades. The two of them form a team: Annie will help Bebe with her grades, and Bebe will help Annie become, well, more likable.

I went in thinking this was going to be a “cheerleader” book – yes, I have some deeply ingrained biases against cheerleaders — but came away absolutely loving this one. I liked the diversity on the team, not just ethnicities, but also shapes and sizes. It defied the expectations that a cheerleader has to look one certain way. I also appreciated how the cheerleaders were allies — the book very subtly teaches allies how to be better ones — and accepting of Bebe. It’s a simple story, but there are complex emotions and the art is good at reflecting what the characters are feeling.

I hope there is more in this series; I would love to spend more time with these characters.

Cranky Chicken

by Katherine Battersby
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Content: To be honest, this is more of an early chapter book than a graphic novel. Think of it one step up from Elephant and Piggie. It’s in the Beginning Chapter book section (grades 1-2) of the bookstore.

Cranky Chicken is cranky. That’s just how it is. And then one day, she inadvertently kicks a leaf off a worm, and suddenly Cranky has a friend (which she’s not sure she wants): Speedy the Worm. From there, the book is a hilarious exploration of them getting to know each other and becoming friends.

Oh my goodness, this was so funny. I haven’t laughed this hard at a book this simple since Elephant & Piggie. Cranky Chicken is supposed to be cranky, but really he’s just charming and funny. I enjoyed Speedy’s optimism — it was just the right amount — and their adventures together. The drawings are simple but evocative and funny.

I know humor is subjective, but I found this one just delightful.

Love & Saffron

by Kim Fay
First sentence: “Dear Mrs. Fortier, I hope this letter finds you well.”
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Content: There’s really nothing objectionable. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I haven’t read a good epistolary novel in a long time, and this one fit the bill: short enough to read in an afternoon, and charming enough to keep me entertained.

The correspondence takes place in the early 1960s between two women, Joan – a 27-year-old single woman living in LA, and Imogene, – a 60-something woman living in the Seattle area. They start corresponding because Joan writes a fan letter to Imogene who writes a column for a national magazine. From there, they develop a deep friendship that lasts years, sharing details about their lives and bonding over food.

It really is a charming little novel. I know the title is “Love & Saffron” but it made me hungry for tacos. It’s a love letter to food and friendship and definitely worth a couple hours to enjoy.

Devil House

by John Darnielle
First sentence: “Mom called yesterday to ask if I was ready to come home yet I went directly to San Francisco from college, and I’ve been in Milpitas for five years now, but she holds fast to her he story that eventually I’m coming back to San Luis Obispo.”
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Review copy passed along to me from my boss.
Content: There is some mild swearing, including a few f-bombs, descriptions of grisly murders, and domestic abuse. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

The problem with a book like this is that the plot is secondary. The why you need t read the book, the reason to keep coming back, is for, well. Hm. I was going to say the story, but that’s what the plot usually is, right?

The “plot” is following true-crime writer Gage Chandler, as he works to unravel the mystery of a set of grisly murders in the “Devil House” in Milpitas in the mid-1980s. But, it’s more meandering than that. It explores the story of Chandler’s first book, about the White Witch, and the story of the Devil House murders, with a side detour through a weird medieval section.

But, while the story was interesting, and kept me engaged (they usually say “nonfiction that reads like fiction” but this was “fiction that reads like memoir”), I think it was the slow burn that kept me coming back. I wanted to know where Darnielle was going to take me next, what thing Chandler was going to think or find or reveal. And in the end, I realized this book was about the myriad of ways we look at each other, and about who is entitled to tell someone’s story. And maybe that’s what kept me coming back and turning pages.

Whatever it was, I found it fascinating to reflect on, and interesting to be immersed in. Definitely worth the time.