Category Archives: Sarah’s Book Reviews

Books that Sarah reads, updated monthly. Some of these books are free review copies, the rest are mostly checked out from the library.

November reading

Son, Lois Lowry
As the book jacket says, “The thrilling conclusion to The Giver,” it’s the fourth in the series and wraps up the plot lines from the previous books. Sort of. You know what happened to all the major characters, another village is introduced, and ROCK CLIMBING and TRAINING FOR ROCK CLIMBING are described in aggravating detail. But like the unsatisfying conclusion to a mysterious television show, not all questions are answered and one begins to wonder if there was any planning or forethought given to the series as a whole. Minor inconsistencies abound and I was left annoyed. Bah!

The lost cyclist : the epic tale of an American adventurer and his mysterious disappearance / David V. Herlihy.
When cycling was a booming trend and cycling clubs popped up everywhere, speed and endurance races were popular and frequent, there were also people making and breaking records for bicycling around the world. One guy made it halfway and then vanished. A cool story of almost insane adventuring and then a mystery with foreign-policy implications. Pretty fun.

Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan: the true story of how the iconic superhero battled the men of hate / by Rick Bowers.
The story of the radio show is almost overshadowed by the wonderful job Bowers does in giving background on Superman and the KKK– I don’t think I’ve read better. Really interesting and well-done.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, Guy Delisle
Another great book of observation and art by Deslisle, well worth your time. He gets better and better, and as always his books should be required companions to current events.

Rebel in a Dress: Cowgirls, Sylvia Branzei, Melissa Sweet
Brief biographical sketches of cowgirls new and old emphasizing their bravery in challenging society’s limits on women. There were only a few of the women I had heard of before. There are some odd spots where non-military gunplay gets more of a heroic treatment than it usually gets in books for youth. Cool collage illustrations.

TeenBoat! The Angst of Being a Teen, The Thrill of Being a Boat!, Dave Roman and John Green
Light and fun, totally worth it. Good gags for grownups, too, like all the best comics and cartoons for kids.

October Reading

Darth Vader and Son, Jeffrey Brown
A gentle combination of Star Wars jokes and Having a Son jokes. Nothing groundbreaking, but nice.

Dead Mann Running, Stefan Petrucha
Sequel to Dead Mann Walking, it brings the creepy noir mystery and heart-pounding chase again. So great.

Accidental Salad, Joe Decie
Part of a new series of large-format books for comics artists, this one really deserves it. The comics are often thoughtful and atmospheric, in gorgeous ink wash. Decie’s work can be seen here.

September Reading

Lost and Found, Jeffers
A very very very sweet picture book about a boy and a lost penguin– or is he found?? Oh my goodness, so great.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy, Jeffers
I liked this picture book, too, and the backgrounds for the paintings are book pages and covers.

The Hueys in The New Sweater, Jeffers
This was more abstract, about a trend in a group of identical Hueys. It’s a series?

Three Word Phrase: Volume One, Pequin
Great collection, nice and dark. Mmmm. Check out the online comic and buy the book to support the arts/

Mail-order mysteries: real stuff from old comic book ads! / by Kirk Demarais
Those intriguing ads in comic books paired with what you actually got. This satisfied a near-lifelong curiosity. Many of the items I saw in Archie McPhee’s, back when they were on Stone Way.

Master of deceit : J. Edgar Hoover and America in the age of lies / Marc Aronson
Very complete book on a mind-bogglingly influential, secretive, and controlling person. Lots of primary source material and does a really good job of putting events in their cultural and chronological context. Recommended and an unsettling companion to many of the dog-whistle phrases during the election.

August Reading

The Best American Crime Writing, 2006
I’m working my way through the volumes I haven’t read, now that the series seems to have ended. One essay made me wonder if I had read and then forgotten this one. Nope, it was an essay on someone who had been in a previous volume for a previous crime.

Thicker Than Water, Carey
I’ve been saving the installments of the Felix Castor series for when I really need a fast-moving paranormal noir mystery. Good stuff, though the gradual reveal of the truth behind the new cosmology of a world with returning dead is limiting Our Hero’s actions more and more…

July Reading

Stickman Odyssey, Book Two: The Wrath of Zozimos, Christopher Ford
Fun, funny, entertaining nods to mythology and odysseys (we finally get the ship Stickos and its crew the Stickonauts). No poop jokes this time, but several fart jokes. A worthy sequel.

The Star Wars Craft Book, Burton
Skimmed rather than read, but I can see why this has had a holds list for a while: the crafts are pretty cool and original. Nothing I can’t live without (though the R2D2 crochet beanie was awfully close).

Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine
Mostly looked at the pictures, and what pictures they are! A selection of historic documents and illustrations from the vast collection at NLM, including some really neat medical lift-the-flap books, early studies of anatomy, and some grisly photographs of early cadaver cross-sections. I’ll have to plan a visit.

Diary of a Provincial Lady, E.M. Delafield
Delightful diary-style comedy from rural England in the 1930s, full of social obligations, village fetes, boarding school, book of the month club and everything. Very funny, I will have to track down subsequent volumes.

The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch, Marty Gitlin & Topher Ellis
More factoids than history, but fun factoids and photos of neat stuff from cereal collectors’ stashes. An entertaining browse.

Redshirts, Scalzi
Not just a good book, but three or more good books. Well constructed, many threads and many threads woven in. Delightful.

June Reading

Thoreau at Walden, John Porcellino
Porcelino uses bits of Thoreau’s words (oft-quoted, as he notes) and combines them with illustrations to re-introduce the vast silences and observation that was a vital part of Thoreau’s experience. I would totally use this with a teen class.

, Tom Gauld
Deceptively simple art (but wow, that shading! Blew me away.) with deceptively simple storytelling and heart-wrenching foreshadowing. This one could be a book of the year. Great.

How to Sharpen Pencils, David Rees
Inspired by vintage how-to that waxes lyrical about the importance of simple tasks, it reminded me of my favorite library writers, L. R. McColvin and Ranganathan. What you do can be transcendent and also funny. Much more than a novelty, quite worth a read. Good wine & pencil pairings.

The Gentle Art of Knitting, Jane Brocket
Just as gorgeous as her blog and inspires one to get back to the tactile and visual enjoyment of knitting rather than slaving over (possibly ill-fitting) gifts. Good wine & yarn pairings. Delightful.

May Reading

Americus, MK Reed and Jonathan Hill
On the surface, a book challenge in a small town, but underneath is all of the difficulties in living in a town that demands conformity in belief and appearance. Lots of heart and great characters. I liked it a lot.

Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940s-2000s, Richard Graham
An astounding array of comics (many with the full contents, some with only covers or excerpts) published by Federal or local government agencies to convey important information. Lots of cool weird stuff and a surprising variety of artistic styles from artists both famous and anonymous. A fascinating collection.

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917, Walker
Well told and unsettling. How the explosion came to happen, the astounding power of it (the biggest until Hiroshima), and the people who were killed and injured. Most telling is that none of the adults would ever speak about it again– all of the stories are from the children and the primary sources and artifacts from the time. The grief is almost palpable.

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, Lambert
Not only a well-told biography (better even because it is limited to a shorter span of time than Sullivan’s whole life) but the visual aspect conveys the significance of Keller’s eduction in allowing her access to the world beyond her own skin. The trials part is an accusation of plagiarism and possibly fraud in a story that Keller wrote, an issue left unsolved in the story but that allows the complications of relationships to show. I liked that Sullivan’s and Keller’s handwriting styles were used for their own voices. Big thumbs up on this one.

April Reading

Dar, volumes 1 and 2, Erika Moen
This will be the first of many entertaining books I bought at ECCC. Gene had recommended her work, and it is indeed delightful diary comics with some nitty gritty talk about sexuality and sex (and even messier, love). The series ends with her moving on to work on fiction, so let’s all look forward to that. Three stars.

Strange tales II.
Just read Kate Beaton’s pieces and she’s great as usual! Four stars.

Nano House : Innovations for Small Dwellings, Phyllis Richardson
Skipped the architecture text, enjoyed the pictures of innovative tiny houses. Three stars.

Planesrunner, Ian McDonald
Overall, a good book. First in a series, excitement, parallel London, math, intrigue, and good cooking. I did have to write an extended screed about the things I didn’t like about it in order to write a positive review. These complaints may be unique to only me, since the reviews are pretty unanimously positive. Someday you may see that screed. Three stars.

Johnny Wander 1
Johnny Wander 2

The deceptively simple and evocative art plus the humor in daily (artistic) life combine to make one of my absolute favorite webcomics. I recommend the collections, though there are some strips from the web that didn’t make it. Four stars.

East Dragon, West Dragon, Robyn Eversole
Have I already mentioned how much I like all of the action going on in Scarry’s Busytown? All of the great detail and more is in Scott C.’s illustrations in this book. Enjoy it on your own or with a kid. Four stars.

Zombie in Love, Kelly S Dipucchio
Another one illustrated by Scott C. This one demands to be read aloud and the moldy hero is delightful. Also: worm pals in bow ties for the big dance. Four stars.

Science Ink, Carl Zimmer
A collection of science tattoos, explanations of the science behind them and why they are important to the person sporting them. Proof that the science field is brimming with intellectual passion. Do read Mary Roach’s foreword and marvel at its rat underpant diagram. Four stars.

Follow Your Art, Roberta Gregory
Gregory knows how to travel (though has more trouble sleeping away from home than I do) and shares stories and some useful info I will be storing away for future trips (apparently I may need to visit the towns in Spain and Sweden she went to). Good stuff. Three stars.

Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified US History,
Mia Partlow & Michael Hoerger
Get your conspiracy theories right, dudes. A for premise and illustrations, F- for checking your data and spelling. Boo.

TigerButtah, Becky and Frank
Good job recreating (on a very small scale) the look and packaging of a Little Golden Book, but the story isn’t anything to be thrilled with. Two stars.

Bigfoot, Pascal Girard
The same cheeks-burning evocation of awkward teenitude that made me love Freaks and Geeks. Ohhhhh. The memories. Three stars.

February Reading

Darkness, Boulet
A delightful comic made in only 1 day at the Angouleme festival. Three stars.

Anime Club, KC Green
A comic riff from Green that plunged me back into the crazy days I was in an anime club– all the arrogance, fury, and loathing are there. Great stuff. Four stars.

Secret Six: The Darkest House, wr. Gail Simone, Keith Giffen
The much anticipated final volume in Simone’s run with Secret Six (ended because of the DC-wide reboot). Again, full of human depth for the beloved villains plus some love and maybe some redemption, despite a trip to hell. Again I realize how much I don’t get the Marvel/DC style of storytelling that reboots characters, passes them from writer to writer, and some of the deep strangeness that can arise from generations of monthly publishing (like multiple characters who live in hell). I guess it would be similar if a writer I love took on a season of a soap opera I hadn’t previously followed? [Two other historical Secret Six teams- interesting] Four stars.

Midnite Surprise Vol. 1, KC Green
An anthology of art from Green’s tumblr, apart from his comic. Very pretty, though not always the pieces I would have chosen. Interesting. Two stars.

Horribleville, V. 1, KC Green
Green’s semiautobiographical comic from when he was 18-19 (!!). Pretty great early stuff. Three stars.

Saturn Apartments 3, Hisae Iwaoka
I will blame some of my lukewarm feelings about volume 3 on the experience of being interrupted for a year or more between installments, but I’m starting to wish that there were more movement in the various mysterious plotlines to go with the glorious evocation of time and place. I was also put off by an element of the supernatural that didn’t seem to belong. Two stars.

Black & White: The Confrontation Between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor / Larry Dane Brimner
A book that is under 300 pages on this topic would have a hard time containing all of the detail of the campaign for desegregation in Alabama, and this one is only 112 pages. It sometimes seems to be a recitation of events rather than a history with any depth. HOWEVER, it is still meticulously researched, even a non-footnoted comment had several sources, though I did have to email the author to find out about them (sorry I doubted you, Mr. Brimner). Interesting, yes, accessible to young readers, yes, sufficient for an adult history nerd to feel satisfied? No. Time for me to look for that 300 page book. Three stars.

The Always War / Margaret Peterson Haddix
An important thing for youth-service librarians to remember about their own childhood reading: we were enthusiastic but not discerning and did not yet have the broad knowledge of literature and literary conventions. I was totally blown away by the derivative and hackneyed books I read, books I would be embarrassed to be seen with today. Haddix is a fine writer, but boy has this premise been done to death. A quick and painless read with only a few unearned plot developments (we never actually see one of the protagonists reading old children’s literature, but it is quickly introduced and used to advance the plot when needed). Past me would love it. Present me? Two stars.

Hark!: A Vagrant / Kate Beaton
Beaton’s art deserves this gorgeous hardcover, heck, she deserves a slipcovered collector’s edition with heavy rag paper and gilt on the cover. I was delighted that the Nancy Drew and Gorey covers were included, the Wonder Woman strips too. Pretty great. Five stars.

The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel houses, Paul Koudounaris
Utterly astonishing and breathtaking photos of lots and lots of bones! Four stars

The Adventures of Hergé, Bocquet, Fromental, Barthélémy
Not a linear biography, but 2-4 page bits of his life at a time. Informative and the ligne claire art is a great tribute. Four stars.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Slate & Fleischer-Camp
Book version of the short film, but with paintings based on the stop-motion photos. Doesn’t translate well. One star.