Audiobook: Spare

by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
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
Read by the author
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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.

Slip
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.

Unretouchable
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
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
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.

Audiobook: Dinners with Ruth

by Nina Totenbrg
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some mild swearing including one f-bomb. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

The book’s subtitle is “A Memoir on the Power of Friendships, ” which really sums up the book. Nina (I can call her Nina from having listened to her on NPR for decades, yes?) reflects not only on the close friendship she had with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg but on the friendships that have gotten her through her life. She spends a lot of time not just reflecting on having friends, and how it’s possible to be friends with people you disagree with (which is something we’re losing I think, as a society), but also on how those friendships have enriched her life. It ranges from supreme court justices to her colleagues at NPR to her family and the friends that introduced her to both of her husbands.

I really recommend getting this one on audio. Totenberg is a radio journalist, which means she knows how to tell a story. And she is delightful here. From her small chuckles when she reads something funny to the emotion in her voice when she talks about RBG’s death. It’s truly delightful to listen to.

Very highly recommended.

Audiobook: Radical Love

by Zachary Levi
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, plus instances of verbal and emotional abuse. it’s in the Self-Help section of the bookstore, but it really could have been put in Biography or Thought/Religion.

I have a fondness (call it guilty pleasure) for celebrity memories, especially when read by the author. I adore them. I want to sit and listen to them tell their story. So, when I saw that Zachary Levi had one out, I jumped on it. I like him well enough though I know him best from his Operation Smile NerdHQ he used to do at Comic Con (back when i was obsessively watching that kind of stuff), though my kids loved him as Flynn Rider in Tangled (as did I).

What I expected – Zachary Levi seems like a pretty cheerful guy – was not what I got. He’s had a rough life, and the purpose behind this memoir is to be open about his struggles with mental illness and the in order to hopefully make discussing mental illness more mainstream. I did enjoy hearing his take on things – from living with a bipolar, narcissistic mother to acting to his failed marriage and his breakdown – especially since he’s a lot more spiritual than I expected (I don’t know why it surprised me when actors talk about God, but it does. It shouldn’t: they are people with beliefs too!). I liked that he was candid about everything, from having suicidal thoughts to how hard maintaining a healthy mental state is. He’s honest and candid and it is good that there is someone like him (pick one: white, male, famous)honesttalking about mental illness and the importance of mental health. The biggest disconnect was hearing this cheerful voice talk about non-cheerful things. But he was even honest in his reading, choking up a couple times.

So, while it wasn’t what I expected, I liked what I got.

This is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch

by Tabitha Carvan
First sentence: “What are you thinking about?”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some talk about erotica and some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the CreativeNon-Fiction section of the bookstore.

So, this is kind of a book about Benedict Cumberbatch. Or rather, Carvan’s obsession with the actor. It sounds silly going in: she’s writing about how she became obsessed and all the emotions and thoughts that went through her head after she realized her obsession. But, it’s more than that: it’s an exploration into the nature of obsession, of what it means to passionately love something and the nature of female-centric fandoms. She touches on how obsessions seen as acceptible for men (birdwatching, loving music, being into sports) are deemed “unacceptable” and “weird” for women. Caravan is a funny writer, and she often made me laugh. I absolutely related to what she was saying — especially how she lost herself once she became a mother — and how being obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch (you really kind of have to say his full name, don’t you?) helped her find her way back to herself. It’s a reminder that it’s good to have something you’re deeply in love with, something to call your own, and how important that can be to one’s identity.

I found it not only to be entertaining, but enlightening, and I appreciated it.

Audiobook: Easy Beauty

by Chloé Cooper Jones
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: there are some disturbing conversations about people with disabilites, and swearing, including some f-bombs. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

I’m not sure what I expected when I started this memoir about a woman who has gone through life with a rare condition that affects her physical appearance and the way she interacts with the world. But, it also affects the way other people see her, the way she is regareded in the world. She literally sits in aa conversaiton where friends of hers (friends!) debate whether or not her life was worth living. She is told by doctors that she can’t get pregnant and then she is left ot wonder if it’s “fair” to bring a child into her world.

The book also muses on connections humans make as she goes through dealing with her father’s multiple affairs, and on art as she tries to make sense of her world through the beauty of someone else’s imagination. She travels and experiences the world that way. It’s got stories, yes, but also thoughts about art and connection and life and motherhood that I found both insightful and valuable. I learned a lot about how Jones looks at the world and how being dismissive of the experiences of those with disabilities is damaging and limiting.

Jones was a good narrator, telling her own story and keeping me engaged throughout. It’s not what I usually read, but I am really glad I did.

Audiobook: Call Me Chef, Dammit!

by Andre Rush
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: there is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, as well as talk of suicide. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I am a sucker for foody books, and usually, something with “chef” on the cover is going to make me happy. I wanted to really like this — and I did like it enough to finish it — but, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.

Rush grew up in Mississippi, poor but hard-working, and joined the Army right out of high school. It was there, she rose in the ranks of enlisted people that he learned he had a talent for cooking. He worked at it, and through talent and being in the right place at the right time, leveraged that into a job as a chef at the Pentagon and the White House as their chef. It’s a bit more than just his journey to becoming the chef at the White House; it’s his ruminations on being in the military, his reflections on his experiences in the military, and the trauma that the military caused him. It’s a very military-centric book, which I wasn’t expecting. Still, he had an interesting life, and he has some interesting thoughts and even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was still a pretty good book.