Back in March, I shared half the books I read in February and then neglected to circle back around to share the rest (even after I shared my March reads). I’d like to get caught up on book reviews now that we’re into the second half of the year, so let’s get going:
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
If you’ve heard anything about this award-winning book, you’ve heard it described as adorable, charming, and life-affirming. It is all of those things.
Simon is 16. He’s been having an anonymous and covert online correspondence with a boy known to him only as “Blue,” on whom he has a crush. But he forgot to log out of a school computer and now a classmate knows he’s gay and has threatened to out him to the school if he doesn’t help the guy get a date with Simon’s pal Abby.
As Simon struggles with Martin’s demand and the other day-to-day hardships of being a high school junior, he takes solace in continuing to email with Blue, opening up in ways that he doesn’t feel he can with the people he knows in real life. And Blue replies, charmingly and grammatically, but seemingly without interest in meeting up in real life. For a while that’s enough, but Simon is starting to wonder if things need to change.
There’s high school drama (literally! they’re putting on a show!). There are questions of self-identity and bullying. There’s social media fun and abuse. (There are Wesleyan mentions!) And there are Oreos. Lots and lots of Oreos. Buy yourself a bag, procure a copy of the book, and start reading now. You won’t regret it!
Pages: 303. Library copy.
Murder Most Unladylike, by Robin Stevens
Historical fiction for the middle-grade mystery series fan. It’s 1934 and Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are classmates at a British boarding school, where, to pass the time, they’ve set up their own detective agency. Daisy, one of the most popular girls in the school, sets herself up as Sherlock, and tasks Hazel, her best friend and a recent transfer student from Hong Kong, with taking on the Watson role. Now they just need something to investigate.
When Hazel discovers their science teacher lying dead in the gym but the body is gone minutes later, the girls know they have their first real case. Who would have wanted to kill a teacher? It was someone savvy enough to hide the body and then author a fake, but convincing resignation letter to their headmistress. Was it another teacher? A student? The ghost of the girl who’d died in the same spot last year? We don’t know yet, but as long as Wells and Wong can put their power struggles aside long enough to work on the case together, we know they’ll figure it out.
Recommended for those who enjoyed the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer or The Mysterious Benedict Society or who want something Nancy Drew’ish, but with younger protagonists.
Pages: 324. Owned.
Trombone Shorty, by Troy Andrews
An autobiography by a phenomenal young jazz artist out of New Orleans, this picture book was named a Caldecott Honor book. It also won a Coretta Scott King Award for its illustrations by renowned artist Bryan Collier who combines collage and watercolors. The book focuses on Andrews’ youngest years growing up in the impoverished Tremé neighborhood, where he and his pals would make instruments out of whatever they could find lying around and how he took up the trombone at the age of four. By the age of six, he had his own band, by twelve, he was touring, and at 19, he joined Lenny Kravitz’s band. He’s all of 30 this year. The book is joyful to read and to look at, with its photograph-like artwork and a balloon theme running throughout. I do think this is the sort of book that would have benefited from an accompanying album, but maybe in an era of digital media that just doesn’t happen anymore. Anyway, if you read this book (with or without small people), I’d suggest playing some of his music as an accompaniment.
Pages: 40. Library copy.
Love Letters, by Katie Fforde
I really enjoyed one of Katie Fforde’s light romances last year as a Valentine’s Day read, so I decided to pick another one up this year. Love Letters focuses on Laura, who works in a bookshop that’s closing when its owner retires. Having handled author events for the store, she is asked to join a committee of people putting together a new music and literature festival. When a potential patron of the festival offers to foot the cost if they’re able to get his favorite reclusive author to be a part of it, Laura must head to Ireland to see if she can convince him to attend. Dermot Flynn is a crank, but a gorgeous and talented one (and one of Laura’s literary heroes), who hasn’t published a word in years and who hates to leave his hometown. But when Laura asks him to appear at the festival, he agrees to if she’ll sleep with him. When she wakes up early the next morning in his bed, she has no recollection of the night before. Fully horrified at her drunken behavior, she does a runner before he awakes, leaving only questions in her wake. What, exactly, happened that night? Will Dermot show up at the festival as promised? And what will Laura do after the festival is over?
Fforde’s books are fluffy and formulaic, but sometimes you just need a cute romance to get you through a dark day. Pick the occupation of the protagonist you like best and off you go!
Pages: 400. Library copy.
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein
Kyle, Miguel, Sierra, and Akimi are heading back to the stacks in the sequel to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. After their team wins board game creator Mr. Lemoncello’s challenge at the opening of their town’s new (and fabulous) library, complaints rain in from all quarters: essentially, they claim, this group of kids wouldn’t have won if WE’d been allowed to participate! So, Mr. Lemoncello decides to hold a rematch of sorts. The hometown team would face off against regional teams comprised of the best seventh-graders those areas had to offer, as winnowed down by local librarians, in a weeklong library dodecathlon. It is no surprise that the teams include some of those vocal critics.
While Kyle is fending off challenges from the likes of Marjory Muldauer, who has memorized the Dewey Decimal System to at least four places and who likes libraries qua libraries, Mr. Lemoncello is fighting off a league of concerned citizens who want to take over the running of the library and eliminate all the fun, wonderful features and remove any book they deem unsuitable. At the head of the league? None other than the mother of the sore loser from Book 1.
Will Kyle and his friends get lucky again, or will they be outmatched by their new opponents? And will Mr. Lemoncello hold on to the control of his library long enough to hand out the final medals (and full college scholarships)?
If you enjoyed the first book, The Greenglass House, The Book Scavenger, or The Westing Game, I recommend you pick this up at your earliest convenience. A must-read for fans of middle-grade books about books. (As an aside, or maybe not, if you have an upper-elementary school bookworm you need to buy gifts for, I’d totally suggest that group of books. They’re the sort of book I would have (and still will, even as an adult) read a bunch of times.)
Pages: 288. Library copy.