Friday, May 03, 2024

Everything I Read in April, 2024


42. Ruby Parker Hits the Small Time by Rowan Coleman - Ruby has always been dramatic, so her parents signed her up for drama lessons when she was very young. At her Saturday drama class, at the age of 6, she was discovered and since then she's been acting in a soap opera called Kensington Heights and attending an exclusive drama school. At the time she began acting in the series, her blonde ringlets and dimples made her appealing. Now 13, Ruby is going through an awkward stage. When she overhears talk about killing her character off and then her parents announce that they're separating and her father is moving out, effective immediately, Ruby's world is turned upside-down. Can Ruby convince her parents that they should stick together for her sake (if they really love her)? Will Ruby's character be killed off the show? How will she survive school if she loses her job? She's already a bit of an outcast. With the help of her friend Nydia (who makes hilariously bad suggestions), Ruby pursues her goals. Not the greatest middle grade book but I liked the fact that part of Ruby's dilemma was about already being successful at a young age, which kind of turned the "dreaming of being famous one day" trope on its head. 

43. I Will Not Die Alone by Dera White and Joe Bennett - A book of interconnected comics, I Will Not Die Alone starts out with some very silly images saying things like, "I will pursue my dreams, regardless" (not necessarily the exact wording) showing a mole with a telescope. Haha, good one. I wasn't sure of the point, at first, but then midway through the book, someone looks through the telescope and discovers that a comet is headed toward Earth. The pithy comments below each image continue as you view the animals realizing what's coming, grieving, and then just going on with life in spite of knowing it's going to end, soon. Honestly, I was totally lost until the comet. Then, I got it: whatever happens, you just have to get on with your life. I read some reviews and a lot of people were left flat but I found the storyline both poignant and hilarious. 

44. Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan - Published in 1990, Mean Spirit is a fictional account of the murders in Osage County in the 1920s that are better known through the book and movie Killers of the Flower Moon. I've avoided reading Flower Moon because my hometown was maybe 5 miles from Osage County, so I can't compare the two (I thought fiction would be easier to handle — yeah, no). Wow, what a difficult read. It's told from the viewpoint of the Native Americans and I appreciated that, although it was awful reading about the horror and fear as people were being murdered left and right. Mean Spirit also brought back some unsettling memories, for me. For ages, I have remembered going to a big white building, where my father had a friend working and we would play with that friend's children, for a year or two when I was very young. But, I didn't know what the building was until the teenagers in the book were sent off to Indian school and I thought, "Wait a minute. Indian school." I googled Indian school near [my hometown] and yep, that big white building was Chilocco Indian School. Knowing what we now know about Indian schools, I was teary off and on all evening when I figured that out. As of the book's publication, people who stole land in the 1920s were still receiving royalty checks from the oil found on that stolen land. That's insane and should be fixed, if it hasn't already (I doubt it has). A 5-star read, painful but important and beautifully rendered. 

45. The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis - Francie's friend is getting married in Roswell, New Mexico, and she's the maid of honor. Knowing friend Serena has a tendency to get engaged to very strange men, Francie thinks her job will likely be talking the bride out of marrying. But, when Serena sends Francie to her car to grab some sparkly lights, Francie is kidnapped by an alien. The alien wants her to drive somewhere but she isn't able to communicate with it. Along the way, more people are kidnapped until there is an RV with an ensemble of nutty people, all trying to figure out what the alien (whom they call "Indy") wants, his intended destination, and why he's in such a hurry. Like Project Hail Mary and the movie The Arrival, there's a linguistic aspect to this story as Francie attempts to figure out how to communicate with Indy, which is enjoyable. But, in general, the tone is funny, light, even goofy. A great book to read after you've read something heavy, when you need a mental break. 

46. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice - Evan and his wife Nicole, and their two children are going about their lives in their small Anishinaabe community when they lose power and then phone service. At first, everyone is certain that the power will return and the food shipment will eventually arrive. But as time drags on, nothing happens and it becomes important for the community to band together to share resources, conserve energy, and help out the elderly as it's going to be a long, harsh winter. This story is very everyday but with a tense undercurrent. I liked it particularly for both the Indigenous influence (the descriptions of tradition and the use of native language) and the survival aspect. The pacing is slow but the pages flew and I'm really looking forward to the next book in the series. 

47. We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett - This month's Zoom book group selection is a fantasy based on the real-life WWII female pilots known as the Night Witches. Two women are being punished, one for using magic to save herself and someone else when her town was being bombed, the other for pretending to be a male and joining the army. Their punishment is to become part of a group of women who will use their special talents to fly the oldest, slowest planes available. The better planes are to be saved for the men. A good portion of the book is dedicated to the personalities of the pilots and how they learn to work together while also learning how to fly, navigate, and drop bombs. Then, they are sent to bomb the enemy. One problem: anyone who is shot down but survives and finds their way home is considered a spy. But, staying behind enemy lines means certain death. Who will live and who will die? I generally dislike fantasy but the basis in a piece of WWII history that I was familiar with kept the pages turning, early on, and then it eventually became very tense and exciting. 

48. Spy X Family, Vol. 11 by Tatsuya Endo - Quite possibly the best of the series, Volume 11 of Spy X Family focuses on a single story about the children from Anya's school. Out for a field trip in several buses, two of the buses are highjacked and the kidnappers threaten to kill the children if they don't get what they've asked for. Anya's ability to read minds is helpful as she's able to hear what the kidnappers are planning. Meanwhile, her fake father is off on a mission but her fake mother's brother is determined to become involved in the rescue. It was interesting seeing very little of the two main adult characters but what made this such a great entry in the series was that it was just a good story, all around, and Anya's mind reading made for some light moments. 

49. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson - I loved Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (and at least one short story I've read by Wilson in McSweeney's) so I bought several of Wilson's books before my book-buying ban started. The Family Fang continues to display his quirky style, bouncing back and forth between examples of the "art" the family makes, creating chaos and filming it, and the current chaos that's caused the grown children, Annie and Buster, to return home. Annie is now an actress and Buster is a writer. When Annie becomes tabloid fodder and Buster is seriously injured by a potato gun, they go home to recover but are no longer interested in their parents' form of art. But, then their parents disappear. Convinced that they must be creating art, again, rather than truly kidnapped as the police say, Annie and Buster attempt to draw their parents out. Are they dead or alive? I liked this book but about halfway through it I became rather weary of the story, so I took about a week off and then returned to it. In the end, I found it satisfying but The Family Fang is not a book I'll keep for a reread. 

50. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald - In spite of my vow not to participate in any challenges, I have been quietly joining in on a Wichita library challenge for which friend Carrie sent a bookmark with blanks beside particular categories. Since I'm not buying books, I'm using only books already on my shelves for this challenge. In 1959, Florence Green, a middle-aged widow, has decided to open a bookshop in her small English village. A place called The Old House has been sitting empty for years, so she buys it and moves in. But, then she's invited to a party hosted by someone she doesn't really know, a posh woman who wants to turn The Old House into an arts center. Florence is already living in the house and setting up her store, so she ignores the rude implication that she should move out and lives, mostly comfortably, with a poltergeist occasionally creating a nuisance and help from a couple villagers. While The Bookshop is a novel, it's a short one at 124 pages so it has the feel of a snapshot in time like a short story. I quickly realized that I've read this book before but it was just as enjoyable the second time around. Lovely writing with some sly British humor. 

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  1. So much to unpack here. I'll skip Mean Spirit for the time being, as I don't need to be depressed, but The Road to Roswell sounds like a good book to lift some of the heavier stuff. Moon of the Crusted Snow and We Rule the Night appeal to me. (The Huntress made me curious about the Night Witches!)

    1. Hi Jenclair! I can't say whether or not you'd find Mean Spirit as difficult to read as I did, since a part of that was my connection to the area but it's also just rough. It's an excellent book and both Carrie and I loved the main character, Belle. The Road to Roswell is a hoot. I think you'd enjoy it. Moon of the Crusted Snow was not at all what I expected but I closed it thinking it was deeply meaningful the way he showed that indigenous traditions were the perfect antidote to the end of modern electricity, running water, etc. The next book will go further into that and I'm quite eager to read it. We Rule the Night was our discussion book and the Zoom meeting made me realize that it has many flaws, yet it didn't matter while I was reading. Most were washed away by my interest in the way the author took the concept of the real-life WWII pilots and turned them into a fantasy. It's a fun read. The Huntress is where I learned about the Night Witches, too! Great book.

  2. I'm glad you are continuing to blog, even if not as often as you once did. I just want you to know that I do read what you post, and I am also still blogging.

  3. Hi Bonnie! It's so nice to "see" you here. Thanks for continuing to read my blog. I like to keep track of my books here but I confess that I don't visit other blogs, anymore. I will try to remember to drop by! I think most of the bloggers in my sidebar are no longer active so it's good to know you're still blogging.

  4. I felt exactly the same way about The Family Fang.

    1. It was pretty disappointing. But, I have several more of his books. Hopefully, they'll be the quality of Tunneling, etc.


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