RA Booklist 2017

Soon I’ll begin teaching my Readers’ Advisory Services course again. For you non-librarians, Readers’ Advisory (RA) is what we librarians call how we help people find books they want to read, so I help students figure out how to answer the question, “Can you recommend a good book for me?”

That’s a pretty simplistic definition of RA, because it does include more than just recommending books. However, one big part of the course is analyzing genres/categories of books so students are more knowledgeable and can feel confident recommending a variety of books.

To learn more about genres/categories of books, they read a variety of books in my course, and people always ask me for my booklist, so you’ll find it below. But just know, I don’t make students read every book on this list. They read a couple in each genre/category.

If none of these books appeal to you, don’t worry, I don’t like all of them either. Each of them represents the genre/category in a certain way so students learn about the variety in each group. If you don’t like cozy mysteries you’re not going to like the one under Mystery / Thriller (Mission Impawsible).

Literary Fiction / Short Stories

Wintering by Peter Geye
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Mystery / Thriller

Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley
All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Mission Impawsible by Krista Davis

Historical Fiction

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Science Fiction

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers


Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Romance / Women’s Fiction

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
If I Only Had a Duke by Lenora Bell
I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan
Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
Irena’s Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto by Tilar J. Mazzeo
The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang

Graphic / Comic

Saga, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden
Patience by Daniel Clowes
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

Young Adult Crossover

Naked ’76 by Kevin Brooks
The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

If you want other book recommendations, let me know.

Happy reading!


39th birthday

It’s my 39th birthday, the final year before I turn the big 4-0. I have no real reason why, but I’m not looking forward to 40.

I should be ecstatic. I feel more stable in life, with a home, wonderful family members, a job I love, and some fantastic friends who are like family. I’m not in my 20s and scrounging to make it, or in my 30s and still trying to figure out where I belong. I feel more stable than ever before, and it’s a great, satisfying feeling, but 4-0 still weighs heavily on me.

I still remember when my mom turned 40. It was old. It was really, really old. And back then she looked old. Of course, I was only 8 at the time, so 30, even 20, looked old, but something about 40 seemed exceedingly old.

But how can I be exceedingly old? I’m not old. I still feel like I’m just about to hit 30, so how in a year will I be 40?

It’s silly, and I know it’s silly, because my mom was not exceedingly old at 40 and neither am I, but this unrealistic fear of the number hovers over me.

To help me try to embrace 40, I decided I needed to do something to celebrate it, so I’m stealing an idea. My friend Megan did a 40 in 40, 40 things to do during the year leading up to 40, and I thought it was such a great idea. I’ve been so excited trying to come up with my list of 40 and I’ve been talking about it with everyone. Even yesterday I got my dentist excited about the idea and she’s stealing it to do a 30 in 30 with her husband to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

So I’m going to do a 40 in 40. 40 fun things leading up to me actually turning 40. These are things I haven’t done in a long time or  I’ve never done. Some are bigger, like taking a trip somewhere new, and some are more simple, like baking bread from scratch, but I’m hoping if I do these things in the year leading up to the big 4-0 it won’t look so grim.

Check out my 40 in 40 list. Want to do any of them with me?

This year, for real

Last year I said I’d blog more. Even though I don’t really do resolutions, I declared blogging was mine.

So, about that. This is my first post since last May.

But this year is going to be the year because this year I’m doing a 40 in 40.

At the end of February I turn 39. I have not fully accepted the fact that I’m this close to 40, but I decided I’m going to embrace it. To help me embrace it, I’m going to come up with 40 things I need to do in my 40th year. Some things will be silly, like sending $20 to different people and having them tell me how they spent it. Some things will be more elaborate, like visiting a state I haven’t visited before. But there will be 40 of them and I will blog about all of them.

Now, to start that 40 in 40 list…

TV focus group

I recently participated in a TV focus group. It paid $125, but I did it more for the experience of it than anything.

I was contacted about a TV study and asked multiple questions about whether or not I watched certain TV shows and how much of them I watched. For more than half the shows they asked me about I hadn’t watched them at all, like “Modern Family” and “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” but when I said I had seen all the episodes of one TV show, “Younger,” I was in.

Season Two Group Shot

Season Two Group Shot

Let me first tell you about “Younger.” It’s a half-hour sitcom on TV Land that is from the creator of “Sex and the City.” I loved “Sex and the City,” and since “Younger” started on a Tuesday night in January, when I’m in hibernation mode, and when I didn’t have any other show I watched on Tuesdays, I checked it out. It’s about a 40-year-old woman, played by the fabulous Sutton Foster, who gets a divorce and needs to head back into the workforce, but she was a stay-at-home mom and hasn’t been in the workforce for awhile. Interviewing in the book publishing industry, she tried to get entry level jobs, but they weren’t hiring her because of her age, so her best friend, the amazing Debi Mazar, told her to pretend she was 26. She gets a job and then has to carry on the facade of being 26, and you can imagine that a lot of silly situations happen because of it.

It’s not a great, award-winning show. It’s sweet, with some funny and touching moments, but it’s pretty fluffy. We all need a fluffy show from time to time, so I do enjoy it when I watch it, but I don’t have to watch it. It’s not like “Orphan Black,” which I can’t miss, but if I’m home and it’s on I’m going to watch it.

At the focus group, it was me and about 8 or 9 other women between the ages of 25 and 50. We were ushered into a boardroom where one whole wall was a two-way mirror, a TV was on the other side of the room, and a camera system was at the end of the table, right behind where the moderator sat. The moderator told us there were people watching us and that we were being recorded so we should speak up and make sure not to interrupt each other.

She first started asking us questions about what TV shows we really loved and I was surprised at some of the shows the women mentioned. Women in their late 30s/early 40s loved shows on MTV, like “Awkward,” which I had heard of, but they mentioned a ton of other shows I had never heard of that were on MTV and E. The only show I can say I’ve watched on MTV is “Catfish.” I can’t help it. It’s fascinating. But I can’t think of any E show I’ve watched, except for “Chelsea Lately” when that was on.

Anyway, it really surprised me that a bunch of 40-year-olds watch MTV shows. When I was younger I was big into “Real World” and “Road Rules” on MTV, and I have no idea if those franchises are even in existence anymore. I suppose I could find out easily if they are, but I really don’t care, so it surprised me that women around my age loved shows on MTV.

So since that surprised me, I shouldn’t have been surprised about their answers to some things on the show “Younger,” but I was. One thing you need to know about “Younger” is that there is a love triangle between the woman pretending to be 26, the 26-year-old boy she starts dating as she’s pretending to be 26, and a 40-year-old executive at the book publishing place where she’s working who thinks she’s 26.

The 26-year-old she’s dating is very good looking, as is the 40-year-old book publishing guy, and when we were asked whose team we were on, as in which man should our main character end up with, almost every woman said the 26-year-old. Only me and another woman who was 31 said that she should be with the book publishing guy. Seriously? The 26-year old who lives in a dirty apartment with roommates and plays video games? The 26-year-old who wants to go to overnight outdoor festivals that are muddy and dirty and full of bad music? The 26-year-old who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed?

I am team 40-year-old book publishing guy all the way. I told them that the 40-year-old guy would take you to nice restaurants, maybe a play, and you could fly off to Paris together and stay in nice places. If the 26-year-old took her to Paris they’d be staying in hostels.

But no matter what I or anyone else said, they were team 26-year-old all the way. I honestly thought that we’d be split by age, that the women in their 20s and early 30s would want the 26-year-old, and those of us in our late 30s and 40s would want the book publishing guy. I still think those women are totally crazy, but hey, to each her own.

Another thing I found interesting is that I was one of the only people in the room to say they watch live TV. Most of these women watch TV shows using their DVRs, Comcast’s On Demand or services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Only a couple other people said they’ve watched the show live. I don’t always watch things live either, especially not for shows I don’t love, but for shows I love I try to watch them live. I guess I’m in the minority on that one.

But one of the biggest things I found doing this focus group: I do not watch as much TV as I thought I did. These women watched a lot of TV. They were going on and on about “The Bachelorette” and “Dancing with the Stars” and a ton of other shows I wouldn’t watch, and then they started talking about shows I’d never heard of. There was a big portion of the focus group where I just watched and listened to everyone else talk about TV.

Or maybe it’s not that I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I don’t watch the TV they watch. Only one other person watched “Orphan Black” and “Game of Thrones” with me, and they all hadn’t heard of “Mr. Robot.”But one thing is crystal clear after the focus group: I’d much rather date a 40-year-old than a 26-year-old. Most definitely.

Book review roundup

Another roundup of my latest book reviews, and all I can say about this bunch is: we need more Lumberjanes in our lives!

NimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson

A few months ago Jodi praised Nimona by Noelle Stevenson and I kept hearing about it from other people, too. I finally read it and I’m happy to say the praise is well deserved. Nimona is a damn good time.

I loved Nimona by the end of chapter one, which is actually only two pages. No exaggeration, two pages was…continue reading

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Andersallthebirdsinthesky

I started reading All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders while I was getting new tires put on my car and when they finished in under an hour, I was annoyed. I loved the 50some pages I had read and didn’t want to stop. I felt that giddy excitement as I continued with the story, but midway through it slowly started going downhill. I still don’t quite know how I feel about it, but maybe when I finish writing this I’ll have a better idea. …continue reading

thefloodgirls-185x280The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

I grew up on a farm, near very small towns, and small towns have their good and bad. We often hear about the bad, like gossip running rampant, but the good outshines that, like when people brought us weeks of food, pop, and supplies after my dad recently passed. That sort of goodness is why I’m drawn to stories about small towns, like The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield.

In The Flood Girls, Rachel Flood has returned to Quinn, Montana to make amends. …continue reading

Lumberjanes by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, and Noelle Stevensonlumberjanes-vol-1-185x280

I wish I had the Lumberjanes when I was young. Following five girls – Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley – at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types, Lumberjanes is a female-centric, girl-power, fantasy romp that is so much fun it’s ridiculous.

At camp, the girls continually sneak out of their cabin, and away from their uptight scout leader Jen, to have adventures in the nearby forest. They save…continue reading

thereadersofbrokenwheelrecommend-185x280The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald is a sweet, small town story filled with secrets, romance, and a bunch of books.

Sara, a young, twenty-something bookseller from Sweden, has been carrying on a correspondence with Amy, an old, retired woman from a small town in Iowa, for years. Their correspondence started when one sold a book to the other and they have been writing letters to each other ever since, letters filled with book love…continue reading

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Riversthegirlinthewellisme-185x280

Taking place almost entirely inside the well where Kammie Summers is stuck, The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers is a great middle grade novel about bullying, family, friends, and being true to oneself.

11-year-old Kammie and her family moved to be closer to her dad, who is in prison. We don’t see this, but we learn about it after Kammie gets stuck in a well as part of an initiation gone wrong. …continue reading

theimitationgame-185x280The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottavani

I recently watched the movie “The Imitation Game,” and it’s a great movie, even if it’s not very accurate. For instance, did Alan Turing name his decoding computer Christopher after a childhood friend he crushed on? Nope. Did Joan enter Bletchley Park after solving Turing’s crossword puzzle? Another big nope. How about Turing proposing to Joan so she could stay at Bletchley? No again. They were engaged, sure, but that’s not why or how it happened. And did Turing know the Soviet spy at Bletchley? Another no-no. It’s still a great movie, but there’s a lot of Hollywood shine added to it.

I say all of this to tell you that if you want to know the true story of Turing and his computer (named Bombe), then you might want to start with the graphic nonfiction The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani. …continue reading

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Fayejane-steele-185x280

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is being called a retelling of Jane Eyre, and in this retelling Jane is a serial killer. But I don’t think either of these things is completely true.

In Jane Steele we follow the Jane from the title. She has read and is a fan of Jane Eyre. Looking back on her life she makes comparisons between herself and Jane Eyre, quoting the book throughout the story. …continue reading

The one where Roseanne Barr liked my tweet

On Monday night, Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” premiered on TBS. I’ve been waiting for this show for months. I wanted it before I even knew it existed, which is basically a week after Trevor Noah took over “The Daily Show.” I’m not saying Trevor Noah is awful, but he’s not good. He lacks the political satire I watched “The Daily Show” for, so when I heard about “Full Frontal,” I was excited. I wanted Samantha Bee to take over for Jon Stewart, so I hoped this would be good.

I was not disappointed. Within the first 10 minutes, I was in and I tweeted this:

I wasn’t alone in thinking that “Full Frontal” was kicking “The Daily Show’s” ass, because a bunch of people favorited my tweet. I’m not claiming it went viral, far from it, but a few handfuls of people favorited it so I’m hoping “Full Frontal” sticks around for awhile.

But it wasn’t until later in the evening I really looked at who favorited my tweet. Most of them were people I’m not friends with on Twitter, and they’re just like me, tweeting things they like ranging from job stuff to television favorites, but then I saw it. Amidst all of us regular people there she stood. Roseanne fucking Barr. THE Roseanne Barr:

I can only imagine that Roseanne also enjoyed “Full Frontal” and was checking Twitter when she saw my tweet and clicked the heart icon. For one second, Roseanne and I were connected. She thought something I said was funny or snarky or clever or just simply true.

Or maybe it was Roseanne’s employee, because I’m not silly enough to think that she is the only one monitoring and using her Twitter account, but even knowing that, I don’t care. Roseanne Barr favorited my tweet without any sort of prompting or tweeting to her and I’m stoked.

This may seem simple to some people, and it really is, but the reason I’m stoked is that I love her. When “Roseanne” aired, it was a big deal to me. A fat woman had a life. And a family. And it wasn’t about her being fat. And there weren’t jokes about her being fat, unless she was telling them. And it wasn’t about her losing weight. And she wasn’t shy or reserved but loud and proud. And she was smart. And sassy. And behind the scenes, she was the boss of this show. A fat woman was the boss.

I didn’t have that image of fat women growing up. Being fat was bad, and being a fat woman was especially bad. Fat men were okay and had lives, ever since “The Honeymooners,” but for fat women it was drastically different. Fat women were wrong. And I was supposed to be ashamed of it. And I was supposed to always feel bad about myself. And I was supposed to want to change. And I was only ever going to have happiness if I was skinny. And I would never be desirable. And I was going to get turned down for jobs because I was fat. And I was never, ever supposed to be loud and proud. Being a fat woman was awful and shameful and disgusting.

These messages still permeate our society, and I’m sure always will, but Roseanne wasn’t buying it. That was so powerful to me.

You have to know, before and when “Roseanne” was on, it wasn’t that fat women weren’t on television, but the conversation was quite different. Any fat women on “Married with Children” were ridiculed by the (ahem) stunningly gorgeous Al Bundy. And every single show on ABC’s TGIF line-up had episodes where the young girls were trying to lose weight in awful ways (remember when DJ passed out after not eating and working out too much on “Full House”) because they didn’t want to be fat. And any after-school TV special with a fat girl was always about eating disorders. And oh my god, did Oprah get such flack for being fat, so much so that it’s still bothering her and she’s now touting that she’s found the magical Weight Watchers cure.

The only fat women that were acceptable on television were fat, old mothers or grandmothers. They were old so it was okay, but young women, fuhgeddaboudit. Being fat was bad and they’d only have a life once they got thin.

Except Roseanne. She wasn’t perfect, and she certainly didn’t have the life that I wanted, but she had a life. She wasn’t shy and scared and degraded. She was living a life just like anyone else and that was the first time I saw a fat woman doing that on television.

So, yes, all Roseanne did was favorite my tweet, and I’m sure she forgot about it soon afterwards, but I won’t forget for awhile. It still makes me smile, me, in my adult life, not hiding in the corner, not feeling bad for myself, and definitely not being quiet.

My life in books

ALA recently announced the winners of children’s and YA book awards, and it got me thinking about all the books I loved as a kid.

monsterendGrowing up with three older sisters, who were much older than me (seven, eleven, and twelve years older), books were read to me since the day I came home from the hospital. My sister Tammy is probably the best book reader, especially when she read The Monster at the End of this Book. She has Grover’s voice down and the more scared he got with the prospect of a monster at the end of the book, the more scared she sounded.

FrogandtoadBut it wasn’t just Grover. We had an overflowing bookshelf of books that I grew up with, as my dad said about me, “You were always up in your room reading.” I re-read books until the pages fell apart. Frog and Toad were my good friends. I had tea with Frances. And all the Sweet Pickles animals taught me things, though I probably should’ve read Yakety Yak Yak Yak a few more times.

bfgBy the time I got to 2nd grade, one of my favorite books was The BFG. I don’t remember the name of my 2nd grade teacher (Mrs. Dixon, maybe?), but she read The BFG to us in class, and I was so proud that I had already read it and that I had my own copy of the book I could bring to class and read along with her. The story of Sophie and bone-crunching giants and snozzcumbers fascinated me, but I just really wanted the BFG to come blow dreams into my bedroom window at night.

ramonaI read a lot of other chapter books when I was young, too, like the Encyclopedia Brown books, a ton of different Choose Your Own Adventure books, and I loved Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, but if I had to pick chapter books that I read again and again and again, there are just two authors you need to know – Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume.

I wanted to be Ramona Quimby. She was ballsy, up for anything, and she’d get in trouble, but she always had the best of intentions. Well, almost always.

And who didn’t love Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Blubber? And what girl didn’t whisper to other girls about Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? or Forever? Judy Blume told us about bullying and made us sympathize. Judy Blume told us things adults shied away from telling us and she didn’t make them scary.

I still read quite a few young adult books, and some middle grade books, too, because there are still great stories being published. And now, it’s time for me to dive into one. I hope Dumplin’ holds up to all the praise.