Category Archives: adult

When 63 pages = powerful…

dear ijeawele

If you’re a feminist, you’ll love this engaging, funny, thoughtful essay on raising feminist daughters.  It works for grown-ups, too, since many women rethink their place in society at challenging moments.

“Being a feminist is like being pregnant,” Adichie says.  “You either are or you are not.  You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not.”

I am a feminist.  I did love it.

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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When to stay and when to go – 40 years of tough choices

fortyautumns I don’t read a lot of books for adults these days.  It might be my abysmally short attention span.  It might be the pretty colors in the graphic novels and picture books.  It might be the fact that reality is feeling a little surreal these days, so nonfiction is usually out.  I’m just not enough of a smartypants to read literary fiction anymore.  The genres just fall away as my excuses pile up.  Too preachy, too cute, too violent, too angry, too much substance abuse….

But then something happens.  Like the flu.  On New Year’s Eve.  Perfect for avoiding my many social invitations but not so great for actually doing anything fun.  And with a strangely small stack of books-to-be-read, I picked up Forty Autumns, read the preface, then a few chapters.  And before you know it, I was halfway through it.

My brain on a virus can be a little confused, but I’ve found that certain things actually work better when I’m not able to do anything but lie around for long periods of time.  It’s the only way I could ever get myself to watch Schindler’s List, for example.  Usually I read or watch a lot of Jane Austen, which I find exceptionally comforting and can dip in and out of.  Today, in recovery, I can do the entire collection of Harry Potter movies, but that doesn’t work when I can’t move my head because it hurts too much.

So Forty Autumns ended up being perfect.  It is a really good read, but reading it mostly in one go – something I’m not usually able to do — made it even better.  The lingering and unsettled feelings surrounding those left behind in what became East Germany stayed with me.  In addition to the family stories, there is a lot of history here – how leaders supposedly working for the good of the people let everyone else suffer while they lived in gated communities with fancy cars and imported food, keeping others trapped in a twisted system that actually built walls to stop them from depriving the government of their labor.

It might be a strange thing to recommend on the beginning of a new year, but sometimes looking back can help us see our own moment in time more clearly.  And we can use all the help we can get right now, right?

Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner

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2016 – Finally over?

1,165 books later, we’re almost to 2017.  Or was it 1,265?  I lost count and either added or dropped 100 in my count, and that’s sort of how the year seemed to go sometimes.  I don’t feel like going back and re-counting, though.  It was a long year any way you look at it.

I didn’t read all of those – some were for my family, some were books I was taking to show kids at school, some of those items were DVDs, and some just never got read, even if I renewed them a time or two.

Although I mostly write about picture books and middle grade these days, some others for teens and adults also stood out to me.  So here, finally, is the last of my favorites of 2016:

March, Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Snow White: a graphic novel by Matt Phelan

Secrets in the Snow by Michaela McColl

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Britt-Marie Was Here  by Frederik Backman


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It takes a village…or a book…or a soccer ball

britt-marie-was-here-9781501142536_lgI’m taking a step outside my box today, people.  I read a lot of middle grade, teen, picture books, and more graphic novels, too, as time goes on, but I’ve moved away from most adult fiction other than mysteries.  The last several “big” books have been a disappointment,  you see, and the ones that are supposed to be heartwarming are often just kind of saccharine and annoying.

However.  Just when I get to be a little bit of a snob about something – as I’ve noted in recent posts about the body count heading up some middle grade and teen books – I can be blown back by books that work for me. Books which might seem on the face to be set up to trigger warm and fuzzy feelings about quirky and/or crotchety characters. Who knows?  Maybe the timing was just right and I’m a sap.

Sometimes, though, broken wheelthe way that books land in your lap or your ebook bookshelf is just serendipitous, as it was with both The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (Katarina Bivald) and Britt-Marie Was Here (Frederik Backman).  Both have socially awkward, female main characters.  Both find themselves in a new community without understanding all the rules and expectations.  Both make mistakes, a lot of them, and develop relationships with other outsiders.  Both finally find a home.

If you made an outline of these two books, they might not look much different.  Maybe their similarities would put you off from reading them one after the other.  Perhaps I just needed a little connection with some women taking uncomfortable chances and finding out who they really are after years of being told what they are.  Whatever the reason, I’ll carry them both in my heads for at least a little while, and I’m grateful for that.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (Katarina Bivald) and Britt-Marie Was Here (Frederik Backman)

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365 days – 1,342 items in the book bag, give or take a few

book stack

Why would one person check out this much stuff? Books, magazines, graphic novels, movies, music, picture books, middle grade, teen, mysteries, history, sci-fi, tv series, the occasional puppet and so much more. E-books and e-audiobooks aren’t even included, nor are the things which never end up in my email folder of library receipts. If I actually buy something, it’s not counted – and those are often the books I’m most excited about and can’t wait for the library to get. My husband and son also figure into this number; it’s usually just easier to check out what they want when I’m at work. And some things never get read or watched, even though they come home with me.  So I’m never sure exactly how many books I read.

Still, why so many?  It’s not just that I love the library and work in one. My healthy holds list means that I’m never short on new things to look at. (Often there are 80-90 things on that list in addition to everything I have checked out.) I also follow authors and what’s new in publishing, and I lead a writing group, which frequently has me thinking about storytelling or word choice or past favorite reads. Teaching a college class this fall also meant I needed books to look over and consider for student assignments. Some of those items are books or cds I requested when I was scheduled to lead story time or wanted to talk about a particular topic at one of my volunteer gigs.

When I look at everything the library shared with me (for free!), I see new favorites and things to laugh about, scary stories, great friendships, love, grief, fear, and hope. My life is so much more exciting and full because I read. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds – more books, more tears, more laughter, more joy.

Not everything I read was published in 2015, but many were. Here are just a few of my 2015 favorites, in no particular order, grouped by loose categories:

Picture Books

Wolfie the Bunny

Rude Cakes


Last Stop on Market Street

Please, Mr. Panda

Boats for Papa

Leo: A Ghost Story

Imaginary Fred

Nerdy Birdy

We Forgot Brock!



Middle grade

The Terrible Two


Gone Crazy in Alabama


The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

Beware the Power of the Dark Side

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend

The Thing about Jellyfish

Circus Mirandus


Graphic Novels

The Graveyard Book, vol. 1 & 2


The Sleeper and the Spindle (I’m putting this one with the graphic novels, because it’s such a beautifully illustrated version.)

The Phantom Bully

Little Robot





Teen Fiction

Under a Painted Sky

Silver in the Blood

Carry On

Everything, Everything


Library of Souls


Teen Nonfiction

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Most Dangerous

I Will Always Write Back



Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

A God in Ruins

Between the World and Me

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Light and fluffy mysteries – when you need a break from the grim, dark, violent and CSI-inspired


Lady Georgianna needs to save the monarchy from scandal? Small town ladies jump in and protect the community from sneaky bankers and cads? Down-on-your-luck society folks stop murderers and evil-doers? Light and fluffy? You bet!  Loads of jumping in.  Loads of risky behavior that ends well enough.  A few handsome men.  A few men who underestimate women.  Plenty to keep things rolling along. Good for an end-of-summer kind of read? Absolutely!

Rhys Bowen’s latest, Malice at the Palace, brings back Lady Georgianna Rannoch, thirty-fifth in line for the throne and always in the middle of something. The queen seems to keep finding little jobs for her to do which spare her from being forced to marry creepy aristocrats or live with her brother and unpleasant sister-in-law at their drafty castle in Scotland. This time, she finds a body just after taking Prince George’s fiancée to meet her new family. Lady Georgianna’s love interest with a mysterious past also reappears. It’s fun, it’s fast, and things keep moving along without too much gore and gloom — just what I needed as summer starts to wind down and that to-do list is growing.

It reminded me of how much I enjoy similar light mysteries – nuns who specialize in herbal poisons, spinsters who are just too nosy and all of the other characters above, too. If you’re looking for something similar, try one of these:

Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series or her Molly Murphy series. Learn more here.

Margaret Frazer’s Sister Frevisse series. Learn more here.

Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma series.

Jill Churchill’s Grace and Favor series.

Susan Wittig Albert’s Darling Dahlias series. Learn more at

Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series. Learn more at The Phryne Fisher stories have been made into a great TV series, available through some online streaming services and at many public libraries – Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I would watch them just to see Phryne’s clothes—simply wonderful!  Light and fluffy and oh, so fun!

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Secret Garden, Tangled Up and the joys of coloring

 secret garden inkyNow that I’ve de-cluttered my life through The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I should probably work on de-stressing it, too. Adult coloring books seem to be kind of hip and happening right now, so maybe that’s my next thing?

A few months ago, I came across Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, both by Johanna Basford. I passed one on to a good friend who seemed in need of some serious coloring relaxation, and I kept the other. Then I came across Tangled Up by Penny Raile, a guide to creating your own low-stress, groovy designs. All of them are beautifully drawn and just fun to look at, and if I had gotten around to actually creating or doing any coloring since the idea hit me, I’d probably have something cool to put up on my bulletin board and would be a lot less wound up. Well, it’s calming to look at them and imagine, too.

While this recent wave of interest in coloring has definitely brought some new energy to what’s out there, I also dug up a few older Dover coloring books with botanical designs, as well as one of inventors and another of famous women, and those work just as well when your brain needs a break. In my past work with kids and teens, I actually colored quite a bit. We put things out in the office for the kids to use, and I’d sometimes sit down with them to color and talk. Like serious conversations that pop up during car rides, we talked through some pretty heavy topics while switching between markers and colored pencils. Talking. Laughing. Coloring. Not such a bad way to spend an afternoon.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — Really?


life changing magicSo I’m out here in the Midwest, not part of all the trendy coastal things, doing my own happy thing. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t sleep, so I was scanning through the catalog of downloadable books from my public library – can I just say how WONDERFUL that option is? AMAZING! There, on the list of available books, was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

I had not heard the buzz about the book. I didn’t realize the Wall Street Journal was saying there was a cult around it. It looked peaceful. It looked a little silly. Life-changing? Really? No need to put yourself out there on a ledge, Marie! You could have just called it The Magic of Tidying Up or even The Art of Tidying Up, and a lot of people would still read it. Life-changing? Kind of self-helpy for me, I thought, but what the hey…

So I skimmed it, the whole thing, from about 3:30 in the morning until I had to get ready to go to work. Mind you, this happened at the same time my son was obsessed with a home renovation show, and I’d decided to do a quick re-organization of the living room while he and his dad were out fishing as a kind of joke. “Do you like it, or would you lump it?” I asked.

Well, Marie Kondo, you did change my life. I can’t guarantee it’ll be forever, although I’d love it to be, but it’s a start. I especially like the way you look at each thing individually and set aside those that don’t bring you joy. Maybe they did once. Maybe they’ve served their purpose and can move on to someone else. Thank you, black shirt that never really fit right. You can go. Goodbye, coat from an old boyfriend which kept me warm through my student travels around Europe. It’s ok to pass you on.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve cleared out and reorganized and donated and piled up a whole stack of things for the boys to sell in a garage sale. I can be sentimental about almost anything, and I’m still not completely done with the Fisher Price farm my younger brother played with or the dolls I made when I was a teen for which I now have no earthly use. It may yet happen, but those things still bring me joy, even though I know I don’t need the thing itself to remember the good memories I attach to them. And my socks are resting, too. They’re folded in thirds and tucked inside an old shoe box in my drawer, relaxing. That’s really my favorite part.

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One year – 1,086 books

Last year, I checked out at least 1,086 books from my local library. That’s not counting e-books I checked out through the online library, or the extras that came into our house through the school library, book clubs or other means. I check out some books for other people in my house, and some are cookbooks or gardening books or other things I just feel like skimming through. However, I’m guessing I read almost half of those books, maybe 500 for the year.

500? That seems like kind of a lot, doesn’t it? How could I read that many books in a year? Really, it’s not that hard. I read a lot. I love to read. I frequently wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning and read my way through the night. I read a lot of picture books and middle grade books and sometime teen books. They’re not all 771 pages, like The Goldfinch, although I read that, too. Usually I prefer the kids’ books, however, and usually they’re a lot shorter.

While looking over 2014’s 1,086 library books, I jotted down my favorites, and without even trying, I hit 55. I’m not evaluating them on their literary merit or their sales. I don’t have years of experience in the publishing industry. They’re just books I liked for one reason or another. I came across them at a time when they brought me joy.

I’ve split them into rough categories, but I’m by no means an expert there, either.

Younger readers

Mix It Up, Hervé Tullet

The Book With No Pictures, B.J. Novak

The Farmer and the Clown, Marla Frazee

Princess in Black, Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

The Pilot and the Little Prince, Peter Sís

Middle grade and early teen

Battle for Wondla, Tony DiTerlizzi

The Witch’s Boy, Kelly Barnhill

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, Karen Foxlee

Under the Egg, Laura Marx Fitzgerald

The Glass Sentence, S. E. Grove

A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Katherine Rundell

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee, Barry Jonsberg

Space Case, Stuart Gibbs

Greenglass House, Kate Milford

I Lived on Butterfly Hill, Marjorie Agosín

Poached, Stuart Gibbs

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke

Now Look What You’ve Done, Stephan Pastis

Young adult

The Boundless, Kenneth Oppel

Hollow City, Ransom Rigss

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, Julie Berry

Revolution, Deborah Wiles

Mortal Heart, Robin LaFevers

Waistcoats & Weaponry, Gail Carriger

The Graveyard Book, Vol. 1 &2 (graphic), Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell

Cress, Marissa Meyer

Skink No Surrender, Carl Hiaasen

The Summer I Saved the World – in 65 Days, Michele Weber Hurwitz

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Youth Nonfiction

Searching for Sarah Rector, Tonya Bolden

Feathers: Not Just for Flying, Melissa Stewart

The Port Chicago 50, Steve Sheinkin

The Girl from the Tar Paper School, Teri Kanefield

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain, Russell Freedman

Hidden: a Child’s Story of the Holocaust, Loïc Dauvillier

Hidden Like Anne Frank: Fourteen True Stories of Survival, Marcel Prins & Peter Henk Steenhuis

Freedom Summer: the 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, Susan Goldman Rubin

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, John Hendrix

Adult fiction

Mermaids in Paradise, Lydia Millet

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

The Book of Strange New Things, Michael Faber

The Shadow Hero, Gene Luen Yang

Landline, Rainbow Rowell

A Star for Mrs. Blake, April Smith

The Long Way Home, Louise Penny

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

Bark (short stories), Lorrie Moore

The Outcast Dead, Elly Griffiths

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

Adult nonfiction

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Karen Abbot

Neil Patrick Harris – Choose Your Own Autobiography, Neil Patrick Harris

Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

As You Wish, Cary Elwes

A Village of Secrets, Caroline Morehead

The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Madwoman in the Volvo, Sandra Tsing Loh

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