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broodings from the burrow

February 3, 2019

into the stacks 2019: january, part 2
posted by soe 1:07 am

During the second half of January, I finished four books (the first half’s are here):

The Lido, by Libby Page

Katie is a 20-something wannnabe journalist who suffers from panic attacks. Rosemary is an 80-something former librarian who swims daily at her neighborhood outdoor pool in South London and has since she was a child. When gentrification portends the closing of the pool, Rosemary mounts a campaign to save it and Katie is assigned to cover the story for her local paper. Rosemary agrees to be interviewed, but only after Katie has gone for a swim herself. The two commence an unlikely friendship and Rosemary helps Katie begin to view their neighborhood as home and her neighbors as friends. While the book glosses over Katie’s failure as a journalist to remain remotely impartial in reporting an ongoing story, it is otherwise a heartwarming tale of intergenerational friendship, anti-gentrification, the power of the people to effect change, and making your own sense of home as an adult.

Pages: 384. Audiobook borrowed from the library via Overdrive.

The Tea Dragon Society, by Katie O’Neill

Friends, if you are looking to read an utterly charming graphic novel purportedly aimed at kids, but just as appropriate for adults, quickly check this one out. In a world where all the characters are people-ish animals or animalish people, our main character is Greta, an apprentice blacksmith, who discovers a small creature one afternoon in town. Her father is able to identify it as belonging with the owner of a tea shop out of town, and she heads out to reunite them. Turns out that the creature is a tea dragon — a small, petlike dragon on whose head and antlers grow flowers and leaves that can be harvested (like cutting your hair) and brewed to a tea that reminds the drinker of past experiences — and that Greta has a way with them. Hesekiel and Erik each have bonded with a tea dragon, as has a young woman, Minette, who showed up on their doorstep a while back and who suffers from memory problems. Bad things have happened in the past, but nothing bad happens in the year of the book, which is drawn in such a sweet way that you’re going to want to live in it. And acquire a tea dragon, which the back of the book helpfully details the varieties of, so you can find one that best fits your personality. Read the book. Buy prints from the book. Check in later in the month to see if it wins the graphic novel category of the Cybils. Adorable.

Pages: 72. Library copy.

The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui

In this graphic memoir, Thi Bui uses her own experiences as a first-time parent as a catalyst for looking back at her own confusing upbringing, as a child immigrant from post-war Vietnam, and those of her parents, who also came of age during a period of strife. She has two older living sisters, two older sisters who died as infants, and a younger brother who was born while they were in a refugee camp. Her parents had both been teachers prior to the war, but once they moved to the United States and settled in California, despite both of them being able to speak English, they were told their certifications were no good.

A moving refugee story that explores how even people living together can be strangers in some ways and how coming to understand them and their pasts can help you understand your own — and help you appreciate what you have gained from them.

Pages: 329. Library copy.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

In this middle-grade fantasy novel, Brangwain Spurge is an academic who volunteers/is voluntold to take a recently unearthed Goblin ornament from the Elven capital city to the capital of the Goblins and deliver it to their leader as a gesture of goodwill between their peoples in the hopes that they will be able to prolong their shaky peace after a thousand years of warring — and to spy on the Goblins while there. So he is loaded into a large orb and shot toward their land via a giant catapult. While in the land of the Goblins, he will stay with one of their archivists, Werfel, who takes his job as host very seriously, in that he must pursue every opportunity to make his guest feel welcome and safe, which conflicts with his orders from the secret police, who order him to spy on Spurge, who is both the most disdainful guest in the history of gusts. He also is sending nightly messages via a spell that allows him to transmit only still, recalled images back home, where we discover that the Elven lord who assigned him his task may have had ulterior motives for the trip.

Unfortunately, Brangwain ends up being an unintentionally biased spy, because the reader is privy to the fact that what his message images depict do not perfectly match the nuanced action in the text and that they are frequently even are in direct conflict with it. Remarkably well executed in this finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and recommended for everyone who loves fantasy and the interplay between words and images in a story. If you like Brian Selznick’s recent tomes, I think you’ll find this right up your alley.

Pages: 525. Library copy.

January stats:

Total number of books read: 7.
Total pages read: 2,084
Intended audience: 3 middle-grade; 4 adults.
Source: 6 from the library, 1 owned.
Format: 5 in paper, 2 in audiobook.
Classification: 6 fiction, 1 nonfiction.
Diversity of authors: 4 Americans, 2 Brits, 1 New Zealander. 1 author of color (Asian American)

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