Audiobook: Soil

by Camille T. Dungy
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Content: There is some mild swearing (I think? Maybe not?) and frank talk of racism and violence against Black people. It’s in the Creative Non-fiction section of the bookstore.

The premise of this is simple: Camille Dungy owns a house in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and she wants to make her overly-chemicalized turf lawn into something more environmentally friendly and sustainable. She writes about the process the “prairie project” as she and her husband dub it, but the book is more than that. It’s a reflection on environmental writing and the people who usually write (read: white, rich, often men) about the environment. It’s about the intersection of social and environmental justice. It’s how, as a Black woman, Dungy feels not only called to work the land but also compelled to protect it and welcome all living things.

This was such an enjoyable audiobook experience. Dungy is an excellent narrator, and I felt myself not only learning from her but having my own need to garden and see growing things affirmed. I should be better about growing things that are native here, as opposed to just planting any old thing (and seeing what grows), which is kind of what I do now. But, I loved and respected what Dungy had to say about the earth, the environment, and about social justice.


Walking With Sam

by Andrew McCarthy
First sentence: “When I was a very young man and became very successful in the movies very quickly, I harbored a notion that I had not earned my accomplishments, that I hadn’t done the requisite work, that it was all merely a fluke, that I didn’t deserve it.”
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Content: There is some mention of drug use, several f-bombs,, and other mild swearing. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

I was probably always going to be interested in this book; I love travel books, and I have a friend who has walked the Camino twice. Plus there’s the celebrity factor. But, after finishing The Longest Way Home, I have immense respect for McCarthy as a travel writer. And he delivers in this book.

When he was in his early 30s, McCarthy walked the Camino – inspired by a book – and had a life-changing experience. As his oldest son grew up, McCarthy wanted to share that experience with him. His son wasn’t interested until he was 19 and had just broken off a bad long-term relationship. McCarthy jumped at the chance, and they were off. They walked the northern route – the Camino Frances (or at least that’s what I’m guessing from what he writes) through the Pyrenees and the Meseta, into Santiago. I’m not exactly sure how long it took them – the chapters were labeled with miles until Santiago. But McCarthy is strikingly honest about their walk. The ups and downs, both physically and emotionally, the stresses and joys of their relationship, and yes, you can see the growth in both McCarthy and Sam and between them.

Like the first travel book of his I read, I loved that he gave you a sense of walking the Camino with its own joys and hardships and dull moments, while being introspective. He both compared this walk to the one he took 25 years prior, and reflected on the nature of both his relationship with his son as well as the one he had with his own father. It’s engaging and interesting, as well as being introspective and thoughtful.

I found it an absolute delight to read.

The Longest Way Home

by Andrew McCarthy
First sentence: “‘Are you awake?'”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, maybe one or two f-bombs, and mention of past alcoholism. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

First: yes it’s that Andrew McCarthy. I knew he’d written a couple of books – I had put in a proposal for him to come to Wichita when he released his YA novel – but I thought it was more along the lines of “he’s got a vanity project” rather than “he’s a real writer.” Well, color me wrong: he’s an actual, real writer. And this book was quite good.

Seven years into his relationship with his now-wife, D, and four years after they first got engaged, she decided that they really Ought to get married, and started planning their wedding. McCarthy, reacting the only way he thought he could, immediately took off on writing assignments. The book follows his path through Patagonia, Costa Rica, the Amazon, Venice, Baltimore, up Kilimanjaro and ultimately to Ireland, where he and D do, actually get married (not a spoiler; the book opens with their honeymoon). It’s an introspective book, one where McCarthy examines his past relationships – including with his first wife and their son – and history as he tries to reconcile why he doesn’t, actually, want to get married. But it’s also a good travel book: McCarthy is a generous traveler, one that doesn’t mind being adventurous or solitary but also will interact and participate in a group (though he complains about it). I found myself captivated by his writing, and enjoying the time I spent in his reflections. It’s a good thing he’s got a few other works of non-fiction (including his new one, about walking the Camino) that I just might get around to reading. (Bonus: he’s coming to Wichita as part of the tour for the Camino book. I just might have to go!)

Audiobook: B. F. F.

A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found
by Christie Tate
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Content: There is talk of eating disorders, alcoholism, and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

In this memoir, Tate deconstructs her friendships with women, from the way she abandoned her high school friends for a (alcoholic, abusive) boyfriend, to the way she compared and sabotaged friendships as an adult. The throughline for all of this was, yes, her group therapy and recovery sessions, but also a woman she calls Merideth. A woman 20 years Tate’s senior with problems of her own that she is recovering from, Meredith became not just Tate’s rock to lean on, but her conscious and guiding hand. 

So what does one do when Meredith is diagnosed with an incurable and advanced form of cancer? How can she deal with being present for Meredith and with her own grief? How can she learn to be better?

I do have to say up front that, assuming all this is true, Tate is remarkably brave for putting it all out there. She is not likable for a good half of the book when she’s talking about how she abandoned friends due to jealousy and anger. She comes across as petulant and insecure, and yes I was judging her until I started really listening and figuring out where I’m like her. She has much to say about friendship, not just her friendships, and I think that part is worthwhile. The second part is Meredith’s decline and death, and I think Tate has a lot of good things to say about supporting people through that – not just the person who is ill, but the people around them as well – and about grief. But, the final section, after Meredith has passed on, where Tate writes letters about her healing and rekindling friendships she had thought she had permanently destroyed – that was the best section. I think it all had to be there, though. You had to get through petulant Tate to truly understand the healing process. 

While I think it’s kind of uneven in spots, it’s worth it for what Tate has to say about friendship, overall.

Audiobook: Lost & Found

by Kathryn Schulz
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Content: There’s some mild swearing and frank talk of dying. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

The subtitle of this one is “Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness” and I think that sums the book up really well. Schulz divides the book up into three parts: Lost, in which she reflects on the death of her father, and the process of grieving him; Found, in which she recounts the story about how she met and came to marry her wife; and And, in which she talks about coming together, and the importance of community. It’s a simple premise, but Schulz pulls it off beautifully.

I first heard about this when one of our Random House reps, Bridget, spoke highly about how this book about grief and loss wasn’t sad but filled her with gratitude for living. And she’s right: yes, it’s a book about loss and grief, but it’s also a book about learning to live with loss and grief, and gratitude for the simple act of living. It’s reflective and poignant and sometimes quite funny. And Schulz is a good narrator; she reads well and is captivating to listen to.

In short: the RH rep was right: it’s one of the best books about loss that I’ve read in a long time.

Audiobook: Spare

by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
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Content: There is some swearing, including a few f-bombs, as well as talk of drinking and drug use. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

Okay, I recognize that by reading this book I’m caving to peer pressure – everyone is reading this to find out the gossip. But, in my defense: I love celebrity memoirs (especially on audio), and Prince Harry is probably more of a relevant celebrity than, say, Bono. So, it was probably inevitable that I was going to listen to it.

Is this the point where I mention that while I’m not ignorant of the royals, I’m also not a super royal watcher. They’re interesting because, well, they’re the Royal family, but I’m not super invested in what Kate’s wearing right now.

That said, I was floored by the life Prince Harry has led. He had some smart observations on the nature of celebrity, musing at one point that the only thing he ever did to deserve having paparazzi chase him was be born. He’s not talented, he’s not a musician or an actor. Why is he a “celebrity”? Because he was born into this particular family. It’s a smartly written memoir (I’m assuming he had a ghostwriter help him), and he reads it well. And, well, if the purpose of the book was to work through the trauma surrounding his mother’s death and to explain why, ultimately, he and Meghan had to leave the family, then he did his job. It starts with his mom’s death, and moves forward through to the present day, and let’s just say that he has a deep resentment of both the paparazzi (who more than once just made up lies about him, his girlfriends, and now his wife) and the monarchy as an institution. He loves his family, and wishes he didn’t need to fight with them, but the monarchy? It’s not that great. It messes with people’s lives, it’s complicit in the bad press, and it desperately needs to be updated. And maybe Harry’s the person to do it.

It really was an interesting and engaging book, and surprised me with how engrossing it was. I definitly don’t regret reading it at all. And I wish Harry and Meghan all the happiness in the world. They deserve it.

Audiobook: Beyond the Wand

by Tom Felton
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Content: There is talk of substance abuse, and swearing including a handful of f-bombs. It’s in the film section of the bookstore.

An admission: I’m not really a fan of Tom Felton’s. To be honest, while I liked the Harry Potter movies well enough, I was too old to get into being a fan of the child actors. It’s kind of creepy, at any rate. Let them be kids.

But, on the encouragement of a co-worker, I picked up Felton’s memoir on audiobook. And honestly? It’s delightful. I liked Felton’s devil-may-care attitude and the humor that he expresses looking back at the sort of kid that he was to land the role of Draco. He talks about how he ended up acting (it was a good way to skip school!) and talks fondly about his older brothers keeping his ego in check. He devotes a chapter to each of the people in the Potter films that influenced him (he has very kind things to say about Emma, Ruper, Daneil, and Jason Isaacs among others) and then goes into the past ten years after Potter. It wasn’t a great time for him. But he found his way through, and honestly, he sounds like a pretty decent man. He’s a delightful narrator (and does a spot-on American accent!) and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this one.

YA Graphic Novel Roundup 7

This is the last roundup for the year. My panel has met, and we’ve talked about all the books and come up with her our lists., which I’m quite proud of. It’s a good list, reflective of all the good graphic novels that have been published hits year We’ll announce it on January 1st!

Victory. Stand!
by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabile
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Content: There is racism and depictions of injustice. It’s in the Middle Grade Sports section of the bookstore.

This is the story of how Tommie Smith got to the 1968 Olympics, and the story behind the famous picture of him and John Carlos raising their fists at the medal ceremony. It’s a remarkable story, one full of sacrifice and good luck and determination and support. There is fighting for equality and civil rights, as well as excellence in sports.

I know I’ve seen the photo lots of times, but honestly, I’ve never thought about the story behind it. As a result, this book was incredibly fascinating. I liked hearing Smith’s story and the sacrifices and hardships as well as the opportunities he had on his path toward the Olympics. it was a reminder that racism was (is) everywhere, not just in the South, and that things were (are) much harder for Black people than it needed to be. The amount of racism that Smith faced is astounding, and it’s a little-known civil rights story that deserves to be told. An excellent book.

Tiny Dancer
by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel
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Other ins the “series”: To Dance
Content: There are some mild swearing, divorce, and body image issues. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

About 16 years ago, the Siegels wrote a middle-grade graphic novel about Siena’s experience being a ballerina. It’s a good book, one that talks about the path to being a professional ballerina, and the subsequent injury that derailed Siena’s career. I thought it was a good story, a complete story, but the Siegels must have thought there was more to tell. Enter Tiny Dancer, where Siena goes deeper into what it takes to be a ballerina on the highest level and the consequences and aftermath of her injury. I don’t know if this book was necessary, but I found it interesting and worth reading. It hits some of the same beats as To Dance, but it adds another, deeper layer to the story. And, as usual, Mark Siegel’s art is beautiful, capturing the elegance of the dancers as well as the pain and indecision post-injury. A good book, overall.

by Marika McCoola and Aatmata Pandya
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Content: There is talk of mental illness, as well attempted suicide, and some swearing, including a couple f-bombs.

Jade has gotten into a prestigious art camp, a place for her to hone her art and get ready for art school. Right before she leaves, she finds out that her best friend Phoebe has attempted suicide and has been hospitalized. Jade still goes to the camp, but finds that she can’t focus because she’s worried about Phoebe. She also feels guilty as she develops feelings for another camper, Mary. It’s compliated dealing with everything, and Jade is not quite sure how to move on.

I really liked this one. I liked the discussion of mental illness and the difficulty it is when friends don’t know what to do when their friends are sick. I liked the art aspect, and the slight magical realism in it. It’s beautifully drawn, and I think it opens up an avenue for discussions of suicide and how to deal with friends who are suffering. Really really good.

YA Graphic Novel Roundup 5

Clementine: Book One
by Tillie Walden
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Content: There are zombies (duh), violence, and several deaths. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

This book is nominally set in the world of the Walking Dead (which I haven’t seen for Reasons), but all you have to know is that there are zombies all over, and non-zombies are rare. Clementine is traveling through the land, looking for… something… She finds an Amish community and then goes off with Amos who has started his rumspringa. They head north and end up in Vermont, on the top of a mountain, with three other girls. Trying to build buildings. In the winter. In Vermont. Of course, it goes badly.

I wanted to like this more than I actually did. Zombie stories can be pretty cool, but I don’t think that Walden did much that was new or interesting with the zombie threat. I did like Clementine and her fierce will to live – at one point she has someone cut off her bitten leg so she won’t be infected. But mostly, it was forgettable (and a bit implausible) for me.

перемога (Victory): Victory for Ukraine
by Tokyopop (there are a lot of writers and illustrators)
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s war, so there is violence. It’s in the Graphic Novel section.

Written in the early days of the Russian invasion, this book is a series of short stories about how (and why) Ukraine will prevail against the Russian invading force. There is really no through plotline, but rather a bunch of different writers/artists being “Yay Ukraine!” and “Boo Russia!” In one story, there is a Ukrainian witch who defeats the Russians (every Ukrainian woman is fierce, and every second one is a witch!). And another story about Russians looting Ukrainian homes to send home state-of-the-art technology to their dirt hovels. And more stories about the sacrifice the Ukrainians are making and about how evil the Russians are.

There’s not a whole lot else to say about this one. In the end, I took it for what it was: War propaganda at its most.

Magical Boy
by The Kao
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Content: There is some cartoon violence. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Max is a trans boy and all he wants to do is figure high school out. The problem is that his parents – especially his mom – aren’t accepting of his being trans. Plus there are bullies at school who think that Max and his best friend, Jen, are an item (which makes them gay, if they don’t accept Max’s trans-ness) and make a big deal about it. It also doesn’t help that Max is part of a long line of magic girls who fight evil for this Goddess. What does one do if they’re supposed to be a magic GIRL if they are a BOY?

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s got a manga vibe to it, and I liked how inclusive it was. But, it just didn’t do much else for me. I think Welcome to St. Hell addressed the awkwardness and anxiety over gender dysphoria better, and even though this had a super-hero/chosen one element, it didn’t land for me. And it’s a volume 1? I’m not entirely sure where else this story has to go. Not bad, but not my favorite, either.

by Sofia Szamosi
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is mention of body image and eating disorders. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Olivia is a recent high school graduate living in New York City with her mom, who works at a high-profile golf magazine. She wants to go to an art school, and her mom sets up an internship with a digital-imaging specialist at Fash, the top fashion magazine. Olivia is excited to learn more about how art can be used commercially, but then she actually gets into it. She learns that pretty much any image that is published has been retouched: every model is made thinner, perfect, and flawless. And it’s not just the fashion industry: digitally altering/retouching images is everywhere. Olivia even learns that one of her favorite influencers is a digital construct. It makes her question everything: the purpose of art, the prevalence of digital images, and what she wants to be when she grows up.

I really liked this one. The art is reminiscent of Persepolis, done all in black and white and with angular lines. But I really liked the exploration of body image and our perceptions of our bodies and how media/industry uses that against us. it was fascinating and important and just a good story of a girl figuring (some) things out.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands
by Kate Beaton
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including many f-bombs. There are also instances of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

After college, saddled with debt and no lucrative job prospects, Beaton decides to head out west to Alberta to work for the companies that mine the oil sands. It’s hard work – though she mostly works in the tool shed and the offices – in camps with very little time off. The workforce is mostly male; Beaton comes across very few women in the two years that she works out there. She puts up with a lot: harassment from the men, being hit on, being put down. She is even raped (twice? I think?). But, it pays well, and by the end of the two years, she is completely debt-free.

This was a hard one to read. The oil sands are a hard place, and Beaton doesn’t shy away from the difficult things that happened. She is open about the harassment, but also not harsh on the men; there’s a panel where she explains that she understands that the men are far away from their families and have needs. I don’t think she’s excusing their behavior, just that things are different out there. I’m still not quite sure if I liked it, though. I do think it’s important – look at the things that capitalism and patriarchy have wrought – but it’s not one I’m going to read over and over again. Still: quite good.

Audiobook: Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story

by Bono
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Content: There is swearing, including a few f-bombs. it’s in the Music section of the bookstore.

I was never a super huge U2 fan, but I liked them quite a bit, in the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. War, Joshua Tree, Rattle & Hum, and Actung Baby were the albums that I really liked, and listened to a lot. I never did see them live, a nagging regret I have, and one that was definintley made greater after listening to this book. At any rate, when I heard that Bono had written a memoior, I was absolutely in: I adore celebrity memoirs, he’s reading the book himself, what’s not to like? (I even snagged a signed copy at work, yay!)

And I was not wrong. Listening to this book is an experience. Not only does Bono read the book, he sings the lyrics, and they got the rights to the U2 songs to play snippets at the beginning of each chapter. There are sound effects (bells ding, crowds yell, and they put echos on his voice sometimes). The book is loosely chronological, though he does jump around telling stories as they fit in. It’s also loosely thematic, as he chooses the U2 song that best fits the theme of the chapter. He ranges through evertyhing, from the forming of U2, to his relationship wih his wife, to his work in activism, to the many different directions fthe band has gone. He’s introspective and often hard on himself – every time the ban nearly broke up, he says that it’s his fault – and often brings up his faith and doubts. It was absolutely worth the 20 hours listening to it, as I fell into a reawaking of the affection I hd for U2 as a teenager, and rediscovered so many of their songs that I rememberd loving.

If you can’t tell, I absolutely loved this one. Yes, it’s a celebrity memoir, but it’s also so much more than that. Highly, highly recommended.